The Social Turn in Analytic Philosophy: Promises and Perils (guest post)


“The linguistic turn is over. We partied hard, got hungover, and now we’re trying to live as respectable adults… Today, a new revolution is brewing. Analytic philosophy is in the midst of a social turn.”

This guest post is by Kevin Richardson, assistant professor of philosophy at Duke University, who brings together metaphysics, philosophy of language, and social philosophy in his work, writing about topics such as the metaphysics of social groups, social construction and indeterminacy, and ontological erasure. His post is about the “social turn” in analytic philosophy.

This is the eleventh in a series of weekly guest posts by different authors at Daily Nous this summer.

[Posts in the summer guest series will remain pinned to the top of the page for the remainder of the week in which they’re published.]

[Denyse Thomason, “Odyssey” (detail)]

The Social Turn in Analytic Philosophy: Promises and Perils
by Kevin Richardson

When I was a baby philosopher, I read Father Rorty religiously. Richard Rorty—the Patron Saint of Neo-Pragmatism, the analytic cousin of Jacques Derrida—edited a volume entitled The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical Method. Published in 1967, this anthology discussed the broad methodological shift toward language at the time.

Language was not only an important philosophical topic, but our approach to the study of metaphysics, epistemology, mind, and ethics principally required the analysis of language. Every philosophical subject would be approached through a linguistic lens.

I’m a 90’s kid, so I didn’t see the glorious linguistic turn in action. But I did go through a linguistic turn of my own, as an undergraduate. Robert Brandom and the Wittgensteinians convinced me that thought was impossible without language. I was a Goodmaniac: there is no Real World, only world versions. I tattooed the concluding section of Rudolf Carnap’s “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” on my back. (I actually didn’t do this but that was the energy back then.)

Of course, the linguistic turn is over. We partied hard, got hungover, and now we’re trying to live as respectable adults. When our kids (students) ask about this period, we pretend we didn’t partake.

Today, a new revolution is brewing. Analytic philosophy is in the midst of a social turn.

Every area of philosophy now has a thriving and lively socialized subfield. Social philosophers of language like Quill Kukla are discussing discursive injustice and analyzing the linguistic function of gendered discourse. Social epistemologists—e.g., Kristie Dotson, Miranda Fricker, Jennifer Lackey—are studying the ways that our epistemic practices contribute and constitute social injustice. Feminist philosophers of mind, such as Keya Maitra, consider the mind from an explicitly feminist perspective. Finally, social ontology—my own beloved field—is thriving more ever, thanks to the work of philosophical giants like Sally Haslanger.

Like a good analytic philosopher, you may question whether I can define a distinctively social turn in philosophy. After all, there’s always been discussion of social philosophy, depending on what one means by “social.” There are a few features of the social turn, as I understand it, that I want to highlight.

The social turn in philosophy is a critical turn. There is a broad agreement that we can do philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, and so on, with the critique of injustice as an explicit theoretical aim. Ahem, I recently published a paper in Synthese, “Critical Social Ontology,” in which I argue that fundamental metaphysics is well-suited for doing critical social ontology: social ontology done in order to critique ideology or eliminate social injustice. I draw from a rich history of feminist metaphysics. A similar dynamic exists in philosophy of language (conceptual engineering, new speech act theory) and epistemology (feminist epistemology, epistemology of ignorance).

Relatedly, the social turn is especially concerned with non-ideal (in the sense of actual or actually bad) conditions. Last year, Åsa Burman published a book called Nonideal Social Ontology. This year, Robin McKenna published a book called Non-Ideal Epistemology. The enterprising young philosopher of language should aim to publish Non-Ideal Social Philosophy of Language by 2025. (I expect to see myself in the acknowledgments, for the inspiration.) The attention to non-ideal conditions means that the social turn is concerned with what happens when things go wrong in the social world; it is not about The Social, abstractly conceived. In this way, the social turn is continuous with the trend in political philosophy toward non-ideal theory.

Finally, the social turn bridges the gap between “mainstream” metaphysics/language/epistemology and the subject matter of social philosophy. My distinctive genre of social ontology consists of mashing up analytic metaphysics (ground, essence, real definition, etc.) and social phenomena (gender, race, sexual orientation, social structures, etc.). Others have taken similar approaches to language and epistemology.

These three features make the social turn an exciting development in philosophy. The youth—I include myself here—are excited to do social philosophy. Asya Passinsky and I have organized a social ontology workshop for the last four years. Students and early-career scholars are typically more enthusiastic about social philosophy than their stated area of specialization. They say, “Kevin, I’m mainly interested in social [insert field here], but I have to put something else as my main area, in order to get job.” Once these kids get a job or get promoted, they’ll immediately make a social turn.

There are various reasons for the social turn. I suspect there may be a demographic shift that allows work in social philosophy to be taken more seriously. Or at least, there is less of a sense that social philosophy should be segregated from the rest of analytic philosophy. Another factor, I believe, is that social philosophy often feels more significant and interesting. As Dee Payton once said to me, social metaphysics is like metaphysics except fun.

With this in mind, I will briefly review a few promises of the social turn.

Promise #1: Popular appeal.
The social turn in philosophy is a great selling point to those critical of the worth of analytic philosophy. While I’m a fan of puzzles of modal variation and metaphysical grounding, the public is less interested in hearing about the modal flexibility of Flimsy the Bucket, and they definitely don’t want to read my papers on grounding. (Hell, most people who work on grounding don’t want to read my papers on grounding.) Social philosophy is great PR. Gender, race, sexual orientation—these are things that matter! At the very least, we may be able to get different kinds of students in philosophy. Students interested in social philosophy are more likely to enter the field if they think their work could be robustly supported by the profession. This may even help diversify the profession.

Promise #2: New philosophical terrain.
The social turn is great because it allows for new philosophical discoveries. If you want to write something new about the Special Composition Question, good luck! Those referees have a million papers that they think you should’ve read before submitting your paper. If you want to write about sex, you have a much better chance. (Even better: Sex and the Special Composition Question.) The point is that the social turn opens up new philosophical vistas. Junior academics can more easily establish themselves as new thinkers when they are in a field with significant amounts of unexplored terrain. This is good for the profession because, well, new philosophical subjects are exciting.

Promise #3: Increased potential for interdisciplinary work with other humanists.
A friend of mine is a literary scholar. One day she asked me what I’ve been reading lately. I was reading something on mereology at the time. I started explaining it, informally, but she insisted on reading the text, so I handed it over to her. Seeing the various formal definitions of Supplementation Principles, she burst out laughing. She said, “No one in my field is going to be able to understand this.” This is true of a large portion of analytic philosophy. To be clear: she didn’t laugh because she was opposed to analytical rigor; rather, the form of analytical rigor exhibited in philosophy, combined with the kinds of subjects philosophers discuss, can be quite different from what other humanists are familiar with. Social philosophy, at least, has the potential for more interdisciplinary work with other humanists. I think the isolation of philosophy from the humanities is disastrous. The social turn could spark more collaboration with humanists.

Now for a few perils, of which there are many.

Peril #1: Plug-and-chug social philosophy.
Social philosophy can be conceived as the mechanical application of non-social concepts (like essence) to the social world. This kind of simplistic application can lead to uninteresting or bad work. The danger is a failure of fit. It may be that talking about social philosophy of language using the frameworks of speech act theory or Gricean implicature is wrong-headed. Social philosophy should not be “plug-and-chug.”

Peril #2: Unrealistic expectations.
Social philosophy, at least insofar as it is critical, can create unrealistic expectations of practical significance. In my own experience, the practical or political implications of social philosophy are so exciting that they tend to be the only thing that audiences want to hear about. The social ontologist is expected to be a normative ethicist, political philosopher, and public policy expert, all rolled into one. When the social ontologist inevitably fails to deliver, they say “social ontology won’t solve our social problems!” as if that was ever on the table in the first place.

Peril #3: Philosophical Columbusing.
Consider sexual orientation. There is relatively little written about sexual orientation in analytic philosophy journals. However, there is a ton of relevant work on sexual orientation in non-analytic or non-philosophy journals. Philosophers, as Eric Schwitzgebel has pointed out, don’t like to cite. Citation rates in philosophy are very low. Combine this with the fact that there’s a lot of social philosophy that has existed prior to the social turn, and we have a recipe for philosophical Columbusing—the act of pretending to discover (or mistakenly thinking that one has discovered) a philosophical insight that has already existed.

There you have it. A new movement in philosophy—the social turn—along with its promises and perils. Like the linguistic turn, we will probably go overboard with our analytical rigor. (I am drafting my paper on topological theories of sexual orientation as we speak.) We will also probably overstate the significance of the turn: “Philosophy has been reborn!” we will say to each other at conferences.

Still, philosophy tends to be richer after it emerges from these bouts of irrational exuberance. With that in mind, I invite you to raise your glass and join me in a toast: to the social turn, let it change the shape of philosophy for the remainder of the twenty-first century. (With a nod to changing the world instead of only interpreting it, and all that.)

 

USI Switzerland Philosophy
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

97 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Peter Finocchiaro
Peter Finocchiaro
6 months ago

Thanks for this, Kevin. A lot of what you say really resonates with me, especially your worry about Columbusing. In fact, there’s a bit of a tension between that and Promise #2. If we want to be responsible scholars, we’re going to have to engage work outside of philosophy. Speaking personally, I wasn’t trained to do that and I found it took a lot of time to do it well when I began my social turn.

I wanted to raise another Peril and ask what you think about it. In the United States and elsewhere, there is an understandable worry that many ostensible nonpartisan institutions are losing their nonpartisan veneer and as a result are losing public trust and support. Now, of course in some sense it’s all a sham and everything is political and always has been. But there’s also value to people believing in the nonpartisanship of academia in general and philosophy in particular. Do you worry that the social turn will exacerbate this broader trend, especially given that much of our work is ameliorative/critical/based on explicitly political aims?

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Peter Finocchiaro
6 months ago

Thanks for the comment Peter.

I think there’ll always be a tension between trying to say something new and wrongly ignoring what people have said before. And mistakes are inevitable, so I don’t think we should demonize everyone who has inadvertently engaged in Philosophical Columbusing. I guess the question should really be: how do we navigate the promises and perils, knowing that we are fallible creatures bound to mess up, at some point?

The additional peril you raise is an important one. The social turn can be perceived, from the outside, as another instance of political indoctrination. Even professional philosophers sometimes get this impression. I don’t know how philosophers can avoid this, given the political climate in the US and across the globe. There are people intent on painting humanities disciplines as major sites of radicalization, despite evidence to the contrary.

That said, I do think social philosophers should think carefully about how they frame their work. I think it’s a bad idea to set the expectation that every article about the social world, critical or otherwise, is somehow supposed to revolutionize the social order. Then we get (a) people who think that social philosophy is trivial unless it saves the world, and (b) people who think social philosophy poses an immediate threat to the world as they know it.

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
6 months ago

There are people intent on painting humanities disciplines as major sites of radicalization, despite evidence to the contrary.

What contrary evidence do you have in mind? I’m not sure what “major sites of radicalization” connotes, but as I understand it there’s good data showing that while the U.S. electorate has shifted slightly leftward since the 1990s, the professoriate, particularly in the humanities, has shifted much farther to the left. This is the kind of thing the right likes to point to as evidence of ideological indoctrination in the academy. If there’s data we can point to that would undercut the claims made by those who think the humanities are radicalizing students, I’d like to be able to cite it.

Murali
Reply to  Peter Finocchiaro
6 months ago

I second this worry. There problem with theorizing in order to critique society presupposes that we already know and agree on what is wrong with society. But we do not agree.

Now, I don’t think that this is what Kevin is advocating for. But it’s not clear that the linguistic turn is played out yet. Everything that Kevin talks about seems compatible with extending the linguistic turn to social issues or just taking the linguistic turn more seriously. Attending to the social role our linguistic practices (language games) play seemed to be an integral aspect of Austinian and Strawsonian ordinary language philosophy.

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Peter Finocchiaro
6 months ago

Hi, Kevin. I’d like to put things a little more strongly than Peter Finochiarro does here. While Peter worries that some of these changes lead to philosophy _looking_ bad, I worry for related reasons that it could lead to philosophy _becoming_ bad.

Let me clarify what I’m not saying. First, my concern is not that these topics — race, gender, oppression, sexuality, etc. — are not good ones for philosophical exploration. I have read many excellent philosophical pieces on those topics, and I’m sure that there is much more to come. But I think we all recognize that there is tremendous social pressure for philosophers to arrive at a very narrow range of conclusions — and, suspiciously to me, the conclusions philosophers in these fields arrive at, are pretty consistently at the positions held by political radicals (always with the same valence) outside of philosophy, We often hear references to ‘the literature’ in these fields (as when people are dismissively told to ‘educate’ themselves by reading the literature, or when one sees discussions between instructors preparing reading lists for courses on these topics). But, while we can be sure that Judith Butler counts as part of ‘the literature’ on gender theory, say, the work of Kathleen Stock or Holly Lawford-Smith presumably is not meant to be. I have looked at several syllabi for courses on these sorts of topics, and don’t recall ever seeing readings from voices that go against the grain.

This is very different from how we tend to treat most other topics in philosophy. And there are good reasons for requiring a diversity of viewpoints: if philosophers are not regularly pressed by interlocutors and forced by disciplinary norms to respond to them seriously, what they produce will be poor. I think, actually, that this is one of the great lessons of the long history of philosophy. If any field of philosophy does not embody that principle, then it seems to me that we should trust the conclusions of the resulting work no more than we would trust the religious conclusions of philosophy professors who wrote at a time when a hint of atheistic doubt could cost them their reputations and careers.

Second, this problem I am raising is serious even if the people who take this ‘social turn’ are every bit as capable and sincere as other philosophers. The reason is that the problem of social pressures is recursive and systemic. If those who enter some field of study are not exposed sympathetically to a fair range of arguments on the key topics, then the arguments they were presented with will always spring easily to mind but it will be difficult for them to come up with any objections, having never heard anything like them. This will make it well nigh impossible for them to avoid becoming arrogant and dogmatic. Worse still, whenever they consider something that doesn’t fit in with the consensus view, it will feel somehow wrong and unenlightened to them, even though the consensus view was not reached by a fair and rigorous examination. This will give rise to apparent intuitions that many philosophers will regard as reliable, which will inform the next round of discussions and publications. The ‘literature’ that emerges will simply reinforce the same bias over and over, and it will be less and less feasible for any dissenters to be taken seriously, given the growing ‘literature’ of which they will be seen to be simply ignorant.

These are grave problems for philosophy. I think there is a way around them, but it must involve a vastly more robust commitment to free inquiry than most philosophers have insisted on recently, especially in these fields. Particularly if you are right (and I think you probably are) that this ‘turn’ is now dominant in philosophy, we need as a discipline to do far more to insist that all perspectives are welcome, and to cast shame not on those who think unpopular things but rather on those who marginalize them. Otherwise, the main problem won’t be that people claim that much philosophy has become a politicized sham — the problem will be that those people are right!

Those who are making this ‘social turn’ have a special motivation, and perhaps even a duty, to ensure that these branches of philosophy are beyond suspicion of ideological bias. If that is done, I think the ‘social turn’ could lead to an exciting and well-deserved revival of interest in philosophy, with great work being produced in these relatively new fields.

Axel Eljatib
Axel Eljatib
6 months ago

I really enjoyed your post, Kevin. I was thinking recently – in a similar vein – that analytic philosophy has, over the last few decades, come into contact with social theory. I think it’s not just that analytic philosophy is interested in social issues like race and gender, but that it draws on sociology. In short, I read feminist philosophers and philosophers of social epistemology saying basically the same things as sociologists of knowledge like Barry Barnes and David Bloor (the leading figures of the Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge) in the 70s and 80s.

formlessfog
formlessfog
6 months ago

Thanks for this discussion. A lingering question for me is what we’re to make of your talk of analytic philosophy and its persistence after we’ve chucked the linguistic/logical orientation received from frege, wittgenstein, russell and others, and still present in, say, v. descombes? despite appearances, you may be happy to say there’s nothing to a distinction between analytical and non-analytical social phi? In any case, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts. thx

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  formlessfog
6 months ago

Thanks for the question. I take “analytic philosophy” to be defined by reference to prototypes or exemplars like Frege, Russell, Carnap, Quine, Anscombe, and so on. Analytic philosophy is philosophy like that. While I agree that, in many ways, to do philosophy “like that” means to do philosophy through a linguistic or logical lens. Though I think there are ways of recovering the style of people like say, Carnap, without necessarily adopting their linguisticized or logicized conception of philosophy. It may be enough for analytic philosophy to persist as a style of philosophizing and shared influences as opposed to a set of substantive commitments.

That said, I’m not committed to policing the boundaries of analytic social philosophy or social philosophy itself. The boundaries could very well disappear over time, depending on how things go. As it stands though, there does seem to be a difference between approaches to social philosophy. I am thinking specifically of philosophy done in non-philosophy humanities programs and continental philosophy departments. When I’m over there, my methodology seems alien.

NnES
6 months ago

Thanks for your fantastic write-up! One point that caught my attention was this:

Students and early-career scholars are typically more enthusiastic about social philosophy than their stated area of specialization. They say, “Kevin, I’m mainly interested in social [insert field here], but I have to put something else as my main area, in order to get job.”

As an early career job-seeker myself, I find it quite interesting since many around me are feeling the opposite; many of us are under the impression that jobs will be even harder to come by if we don’t have “social [insert field here]” at least as an AOC in the CV. Thus, while it may be the chicken or the egg issue, I conjecture that many students and early-career scholars find the social turn to be more of a strong trend they need to follow, whether they like it or not; otherwise, they will perish in the market even faster.

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  NnES
6 months ago

Wow that’s surprising. I hadn’t heard from many people who’ve had that experience. My impressions may already be outdated. I’d be curious how many others have similar thoughts.

dcw
dcw
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
6 months ago

I’ve heard this advice from numerous faculty and so have other grad students in my program. As a result there is a widespread impression that you cannot get a job doing M&E unless you either give it a social spin or are the next Tim Williamson. Some of the grads are happy about that. Some are not. But most would rather take the advice and get a job than not take the advice and not get a job. As a result many people are pitching dissertation projects with a social angle who otherwise would not – at least in my program. For what it’s worth, I think the advice probably overstates things, but the job market being what it is (and given that recent job cycles don’t do much to contradict the advice), it’s reasonable to play it safe. Whether that is ultimately good or bad for philosophy I do not know. I do worry that this combined with Columbusing might be a problem for philosophy departments in the future: if a bunch of people rush in to the field to do things that are already being done by other departments, administrators will not see philosophy departments as good investments. I suppose I also worry about how much these efforts will help diversify the field insofar as these topics can be studied in other departments that already are more diverse and already have a reputation for being welcoming.

JM (A Grad Student)
Reply to  NnES
6 months ago

Yes, that’s my experience too. This and ethics are also stereotyped as ‘easy/non-rigorous’ fields by my more pragmatic fellow students, thus good ones to pick in order to cast a broader net.

Josh HC
Josh HC
6 months ago

Scooped!

Josh HC
Josh HC
6 months ago
Jeff Engelhardt
Reply to  Josh HC
6 months ago

See also Jessica Keiser’s Non-Ideal Foundations of Language (2023)
Non-Ideal Foundations of Language – 1st Edition – Jessica Keiser – Rou (routledge.com)

And maybe Jeff Engelhardt’s forthcoming Nonideal Theory and Content Externalism.

Also: Asa Burman’s book is Nonideal Social Ontology, not Non-Ideal Social Ontology.

Josh HC
Josh HC
Reply to  Jeff Engelhardt
6 months ago

Oh my bad! (I commented on Jess’s book, shoulda remembered that). Btw LOVE your paper on false double consciousness!

Jeff Engelhardt
Reply to  Josh HC
6 months ago

That’s so nice of you to say! Thank you!

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Jeff Engelhardt
6 months ago

Thanks for these corrections and additions.

Jeff Engelhardt
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
6 months ago

Thank you for this terrific post!

Manuel Heras Escribano
Manuel Heras Escribano
6 months ago

Thanks for the post. I would kindly add a Promise #0: Analytic Philosophers from English-speaking countries should be aware of the contributions provided by Analytic Philosophers from other parts of the world (Latin America, Africa, Continental Europe, Asia, etc). For example, what has been defined here as the social turn in Analytic Philosophy has been previously identified as the Political turn in Analytic Philosophy: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110612318/html

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Manuel Heras Escribano
6 months ago

Thanks for this! I knew I would end up Columbusing in my own post about its dangers.

Although I think I have something slightly broader in mind, because there are cases of the social turn, as I understand it, that are not distinctively political. Brian Epstein’s Ant Trap comes to mind, in the case of social ontology.

Manuel Heras Escribano
Manuel Heras Escribano
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
6 months ago

Thanks for the answer! I really want to read the next entries on the topic

David Ludwig
Reply to  Manuel Heras Escribano
6 months ago

It’s very kind of you to add this as a “promise” instead of a “peril”. The current reality of the “social turn” is that it largely follows the provincialism of the “linguistic turn”. I don’t see a structural shift in considering philosophical debates or social realities beyond the Anglophone world. “Diversity” is overwhelmingly conceptualized in terms of gender & race issues as they are structured in North America & Europe. Even when analytic philosophers have explicitly critical ambitions and discuss concepts like “justice” or “oppression”, they have often silenced the “rest of the world” so much that they don’t even realize that their frameworks may be inadequate for the vast majority of the world’s oppressed people. I hope internationalism turns into another “promise” of the social turn in academic philosophy but for now it’s one of its major limitations.

Last edited 6 months ago by David Ludwig
David Wallace
Reply to  David Ludwig
6 months ago

Is it necessarily unreasonable for philosophers based in North America and Europe to focus their work on gender and race issues as they are structured in North America and Europe? Insofar as these are social constructs, plausibly different societies will construct them differently, so studying them will end up being a bit society-relative. And it doesn’t seem unreasonable to focus your work on your own society.

David Ludwig
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

In terms of individual choice: sure, it’s not unreasonable to focus on the geographic or linguistic context you’re most familiar with. In terms of the “social turn” as a disciplinary phenomenon, there are at least 2 problems: (a) philosophers misunderstanding their theory of X (gender, race, whatever) as general when it actually lacks plausibility beyond a very restricted geographic context. I wrote a bit on that. Just as traditional conceptual analysis becomes vulnerable to cross-cultural data from experimental philosophy, much of the “social turn” is vulnerable to cross-cultural data from social sciences. (b) infrastructures of academic philosophy such as top journals largely being a forum for regional instead of global debate. In this sense, the literature of the “social turn” still seems rather provincial and lags behind much of the social sciences in considering social structures at a global level.

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

It’s not ideal, for intellectual reasons. It necessarily limits the work in terms of historical and cultural perspective, resulting in shallower analysis. This lesson has been well understood by scholars in disciplines that focus on the social world for some time.

David Wallace
Reply to  Grad Student
6 months ago

It depends on the question you’re asking, doesn’t it? If I want to say something about (e.g.) gender that applies to All Societies Everywhere, of course it’s going to be intellectually problematic to focus only on one society. But one might not have that goal; indeed, for some questions it might be in a different way shallow to suppose that there’s a good answer that’s not societally-specific.

Analogously, if you want to discuss social groupings at a sufficiently high level of generality, it would be a mistake to confine your case studies to humans, or even hominids, or maybe even species with two sexes. But of course there are a great many questions that are human-specific and are appropriately answered by confining attention to humans.

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

Fair enough. It’s a methodological question of course, and as you say the best methodology depends on the question. A couple more thoughts:

(1) I think inferences of the form ‘X is a construction of society S at time t, therefore we can make good progress on understanding X in S at t simply by studying X in S at t (or some other construction Y =/= X in S at t)’ are often, though of course not always, methodological mistakes. It is hard to get much purchase on socially constructed things in our own time and place without looking at similar or seemingly similar things in other times and places. This is true not only because of similarities across times and places; the differences can be equally revealing. E.g., if one wants to understand race in America today, it will help a great deal to look at the history of our racial categories, how race is constructed in other societies and historical periods etc. If one wants to understand how propaganda operates in the current US political landscape, it will help to look at how propaganda has operated in various historical circumstances. And so on.

(2) I don’t take you to be disagreeing with point (1). But I do think the dangers of parochialism are easy for American scholars in any discipline to underestimate (speaking as an American person myself!). My sense is that academics in other disciplines have thought hard about how to correct for various kinds of parochial bias; that philosophers for the most part haven’t really done so; and that it would be good for philosophers, perhaps especially in the US, to think more about this than they currently do.

Animal Symbolicum
6 months ago

This was a delightful read — punchy and interesting. But I do have some critical comments about “the turn.”

(1) There’s nothing — nothing here at least — demonstrating what real work the word “social” is doing. From the post, it appears to be a buzzword; it seems to be mere branding; it’s just putting out a vibe. Were Quine, Rorty, or Rawls not theorizing about the social? Were Kant and Hegel not? I assume there’s something more substantive to the appellation, so I’ll be happy to be educated.

(2) I have two fears about “the turn.” First, I fear that the critical part of it will be homogeneously and genteelly, and thus boringly, progressive and identitarian in content and tenor. Second, and not unrelatedly, I fear that it will stoke the illusion that publishing a fussy journal article somehow constitutes a political act.

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
6 months ago

Thanks for reading.

  1. In retrospect, my post emphasizes social philosophy that is distinctively political, as opposed to other kinds of social philosophy. For example, the metaphysics of social groups can be pretty abstract and not interestingly political. I take that to be an instance of theorizing about the social which is not straightforwardly in the domain of, say, political philosophy or philosophy of mind. So I think there is something distinctively social carved out, in cases like that. Though I take the point that I have no general systematic way to carve up philosophy into social and non-social parts. This is where vibes come in.
  2. Concerning your first fear: whether or not the social turn consists of largely leftist/progressive politics will depend on extra-philosophical factors. There is no principled reason why the social turn must be a left turn. Though there are practical reasons. I suspect that many emerging lefty philosophers are more likely to do leftist social philosophy than traditional political philosophy. I’m not deep in political philosophy circles, but I’ve heard that some leftists want a way to avoid traditional political philosophy debates because they believe they are inherently more conservative. Social philosophy, outside mainstream political philosophy, could be an opportunity for that. Though this seems like a sociological thing.
  3. Your second fear is a major concern of mine. I am fine with the broad idea that publishing an article is a political act, but only in an abstract sense of “political.” I don’t think we should put too much political weight on philosophy articles, no matter the content. I also don’t want philosophy professors to confuse what they do with robust political organizing. We have to be clear about what our work can, and cannot, do.
Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
6 months ago

Thanks for replying!

Re: your 1: I think you’ve given me a better sense of the “social” part. I obviously need to check out your Synthese paper. (But I do want to suggest that the dudes I mentioned in my original comment were theorizing about social construction, even if they didn’t call it that.)

Re: your 2: You’re right that the turn’s cooptation by identitarian tendencies will have less to do with what the turn is about and more to do with where the turn is taking place. But that’s sorta my point. I fear that social analytic philosophy, because of where it’s taking place, is going to become another branch of let’s-reproduce-and-rationalize-more-of-the-same-old-identitarian-preoccupations. “Critical” this and “critical” that might mean turning a critical eye on the status quo, but rarely does it mean turning a critical eye on the identitarian preoccupations that are the status quo in academia, NGOs, corporations, HR onboarding videos, and, increasingly, governmental entities such as the CIA and the military.

Re: your 3: I agree with you there. I also really dig your response to Peter Finocchiaro above.

Last edited 6 months ago by Animal Symbolicum
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
6 months ago

 I fear that social analytic philosophy, because of where it’s taking place, is going to become another branch of let’s-reproduce-and-rationalize-more-of-the-same-old-identitarian-preoccupations. “Critical” this and “critical” that might mean turning a critical eye on the status quo, but rarely does it mean turning a critical eye on the identitarian preoccupations that are the status quo in academia, NGOs, corporations, HR onboarding videos, and, increasingly, governmental entities such as the CIA and the military.

I share the worry, but I’m comforted in the belief that contemporary Anglophone philosophy is a vibrant field where reigning ideological orthodoxies are regularly put to criticism in open conversation, and where good-faith participants (no matter the politics) are treated with respect.

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Preston Stovall
6 months ago

I have little doubt in the good faith of the participants! My worry comes from seeing good faith being too easily digested by institutional capture. We’ve let market logic insinuate itself into the university, and nothing lubricates its further insinuation like identitarianism.

JM (A Grad Student)
6 months ago

I guess I have two questions, sorry if they are simplistic:

1) Is there a historical story connecting/separating the “old” analytic philosophy to social philosophy? It almost seems like a return to metaphysical and moral philosophizing that I am on Carnap and Ayer’s side about eliminating. But maybe that’s not what’s going on.

2) Why is philosophy, and not social science, the field for this? It seems all there is here is what social scientists can study, we can critique their methods and so on, but it doesn’t sound like you are advocating for specifically and only a philosophy of social science. So what is philosophy’s contribution?

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  JM (A Grad Student)
6 months ago

Thanks for the questions!

  1. I’m not a historian of philosophy, but I am assuming that people like David Lewis and John Rawls played a role in returning metaphysics and political philosophy to the center of analytic philosophy. Though there are those in the social turn, as I understand it, who are certainly against metaphysics. There is a more detailed story about the relationship between contemporary social philosophy and classic analytic philosophy, but I have to put that on my list of things to write in the future.
  2. This is an excellent question, and one I also plan to write more extensively about. My short answer is that there are many cases in which social science doesn’t exhaust theorizing about the social world. The simple case concerns the metaphysics of social groups and the metaphysics of social construction. Social scientists talk about groups and social construction, but a philosopher will insist on some kind of consistent and plausible metaphysical account of those things. That’s a place where philosophers can make a contribution. Another issue is that the social sciences can be quite diverse in their subject matters and methodologies. Social science will frequently overlap with social philosophy, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. (See: philosophy of language and linguistic semantics.)
Bharath Vallabha
6 months ago

Thanks for a great post. My perspective tends in a different way, more in a non-metaphysical Wittgensteinian, ordinary language philosophy direction. I am not for dismissing any traditions, let alone one such as social metaphysics which is new and exciting for many people as you have outlined. More power to your approach!

That said, a few thoughts from a deflationary approach, put in the form of a peril not mentioned in the post.

Peril: conflating professional needs with pressing social topics can lead to a scientistic picture of philosophy which alienates the public.

Rorty and Haslanger differ at least on two points: the value of metaphysics and the aim of changing professional philosophy. Rorty thought giving up metaphysics meant giving up some distinctive form of philosophical knowledge, which means there are only different “stories” people want to tell. This left him without a way to change the profession from within – if there is no special philosophical knowledge, it is also hard to make a normative claim on how philosophy profession should be different. Haslanger clearly went in a different direction: merging metaphysics with feminism opened up all the usual analytic topics to be reoriented around social issues. Practically this meant in terms of jobs, and so in terms of changing the profession, thinkers like Haslanger tapped into a path left unexplored by thinkers like Rorty: all those philosophy of language, mind, metaphysics, epistemology jobs which flourished from the 50s-80s could now be transformed from within into engines of changing the profession. This is a fascinating blend of intellectual creativity and institutional politics.

One issue though: part of Rorty’s point was that the metaphysical bent of analytic philosophy alienated it from the humanities and also from public philosophy. If now the metaphysical categories of essence, grounding, parts and wholes, etc are combined with categories of race, gender, etc – that does redeem the metaphysical talk by itself? Philosophers are late to the game of social change and diversity other humanities already started on decades earlier. Showing up late to the party with logic and metaphysics might make one wonder: why exactly is the metaphysics needed? Perhaps the metaphysical apparatus is an elaborate way of thinking philosophers have a domain of their own, a specialization which they can use to write new articles and distribute jobs.

In one way I am glad the Haslanger approach won out over the Rorty approach, because it was unclear how Rorty’s view might translate to actual change in the profession. But in another way, the Rortyian challenge to metaphysics seems to still hold for the new social turn. How much of this social turn is a reflection of the professional needs of how jobs are distributed among philosophy professors which the broader world doesn’t have to care about?

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
6 months ago

Haslanger clearly went in a different direction: merging metaphysics with feminism opened up all the usual analytic topics to be reoriented around social issues. Practically this meant in terms of jobs, and so in terms of changing the profession, thinkers like Haslanger tapped into a path left unexplored by thinkers like Rorty: all those philosophy of language, mind, metaphysics, epistemology jobs which flourished from the 50s-80s could now be transformed from within into engines of changing the profession. This is a fascinating blend of intellectual creativity and institutional politics.

How much of this social turn is a reflection of the professional needs of how jobs are distributed among philosophy professors which the broader world doesn’t have to care about?

Characteristically thoughtful and illuminating; thanks, Bharath.

(sorry for triple-posting)

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
6 months ago

 Showing up late to the party with logic and metaphysics might make one wonder: why exactly is the metaphysics needed? “

I think this is an excellent question that social metaphysicians are only just beginning to answer.

venus infers
venus infers
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
6 months ago

i think rorty’s notion of “pragmatism as anti-authoritarianism” can help guide us toward an “anti-authoritarian” metaphysics, which would be lightweight and normative. however, it will (and does) reveal that the majority of analytic metaphysics, which conceives of itself as a descriptive enterprise, is ideological… a form of self-deception. (come to my talk at the pacific apa for more)

Pete Mandik
Pete Mandik
Reply to  venus infers
6 months ago

Yessssss.

DanCT
DanCT
6 months ago

What a great post. Like others, this really resonates. Personally, I love seeing up-and-coming scholars working on issues of social importance–I find that really exciting. Also, I hope this will be good not just for graduate students, but undergraduate students too. “What’s the point of this?” is a muttered refrain I think a few of us will be familiar with when teaching some of the more abstract topics on our courses. I think students are not wrong to want philosophy to be more directly relevant for their lives than about teaching ‘transferable skills’ of critical thinking.

In terms of how this plays out in philosophy of mind, as well as increased attention paid to feminist philosophy of mind, I think the increased interest paid to philosophy of psychiatry is partly a social turn as well, viz. the question ‘what are the depths and varieties of human experience?’

Truth&Justice
6 months ago

Nice post. One thing I’m still unclear about is the “critical.” In your Synthese paper, you seem to use “critical” in a way that is continuous with the kind of inquiry analytic philosophy always seemed to involve: uncovering or clarifying the truth as distinct from what appearances would distortingly present, such as when the heretofore unnoticed distortion promotes injustice.

But others, and other fields, have used “critical” as a way to signal inquiry that – with very good intentions — rejects the goal, or sometimes even the possibility, of uncovering things as they actually are, independent of a particular camp’s values, presuppositions or biases. On this view, “critical” philosophy may have the goal, instead, of disrupting or revising certain paradigms, taken to be orthodox in a system, as a form of activism against that system, rather than because those paradigms necessarily misrepresent anything.

Do you mean to include that sense of “critical”, too, in the social turn? And if so, do you think it’s as widespread in what you call the social turn? Should it be? (And yes, I got the memo: the old analytic-continental divide is passe, forget the Sokal hoax, postmodernism, everyone now reads Derrida, or at least Merleau Ponty or Nietzsche, etc. etc. yeah, of course. Hear, hear. But anyway.)

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Truth&Justice
6 months ago

I don’t mean “critical” in the radical historicist or postmodernist sense. I don’t think generalized antirealism (for lack of a better term) is prominent among the social turn, as it exists today. In fact, I think many people are excited about the prospects of combining realism (of some kind) with a concern about injustice.

This attitude represents a radical break with a lot of traditional critical theory. Such theory seemed to presume, as a matter of course, that things like moral realism were an expression of a specific set of historical political values. While I don’t want to rule out those kinds of views, I don’t think it’s obvious that doing critical social philosophy requires them.

Anca Gheaus
6 months ago

“social metaphysics is like metaphysics except fun.” Is it fun even if you think that any conception of justice is deeply controversial, and indeed you aren’t very confident you know what justice requires?

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Anca Gheaus
6 months ago

I think so. I mean, ethics is (arguably) fun despite the lack of agreement or certainty. Also, not all of social metaphysics concerns politics or ethics.

J.K.
J.K.
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
6 months ago

In the Dembroff-Byrne exchange, it didn’t seem like the authors were having fun!

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  J.K.
6 months ago

Touché

Holger
Holger
6 months ago

Witten by an expert in the field which is supposedly about to turn philosophy, once more. I would like a second opinion.

Walter Horn
6 months ago

As an old hippie from grad school in the misbegotten 70s, I have a boring (and maybe expected) “Hey, whatever floats your boat” attitude toward this sort of… let’s call it…”school proselytizing.” It has gone on during every moment of philosophy in my adult life certainly, and if Plato is to be trusted, a long time before that as well. I remember well this fight: “Analytic philosophers are like surgeons who never finish washing their hands!” “Oh, yeah? Well, continental philosophers are like surgeons who never bother washing their hands at all!”

May you write excellent philosophy of whatever “type” you enjoy. But, just as linguistic philosophy couldn’t spell the end of metaphysics–both good and bad, your social school won’t pound any coffin nails either. I mean, there are still Hegelians and Marxians doing their thing. Peirceans too. Sextus is having a big comeback. Hell, I think there are even a handful of Bergmaniacs still around. And for all you or I know one of them may just have gotten a handle on something mind-blowingly brilliant, something we have each been seeking in vain for for years.

Cheers.

Gorm
6 months ago

It is worth noting that the turn to the social may be new for people at MIT, but there have always been serious analytic philosophers working on such issues. Margert Gilbert comes to mind, with her book on Social Facts (1992). And she was actively engaging with scholars in Europe doing similar work. I worry that the ahistorical nature of the MIT department and training leaves graduates with a false impression about what is happening in philosophy.

Clare
Clare
Reply to  Gorm
6 months ago

And Dorothy Emmet deserves a shout out too – esp. her 1966 Rules, Roles and Relations (though I guess there is a question here as to whether we should treat Emmet as an analytic philosopher at all).

manny
manny
Reply to  Gorm
6 months ago

You’re right. Of course requiring a fourth history class would certainly have brought Gilbert’s book to the minds of all MIT graduate students. Good idea. Well done.

Gorm
Reply to  manny
6 months ago

I did not imagine a student taking a history of philosophy course and encountering Gilbert’s book. Rather, if you read widely in the history of philosophy (including the history of analytic philosophy), you would not be led to believe that there were no analytic philosophers working on social philosophy before Sally Haslanger. Steven Lukes is also worth noting – as Aaron notes below.

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
Reply to  Gorm
6 months ago

And there’s Searle’s book along with Steven Lukes’ reminder of how a certain kind of analytic philosopher wants to declare what they are doing as new and rigorous when in fact they are just not reading carefully (or at all).

https://stevenlukes.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/1-sl-searle-versus-durkheim.pdf

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
Reply to  Aaron V Garrett
6 months ago

To be clear my point is not that people ought to read Searle. It’s that as Steven Lukes shows Searle did not read Durkheim, ended up with a very similar position, then denied that Durkheim had anything to say.

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Gorm
6 months ago

I just want to second the reference to Gilbert — although On Social Facts was first published in 1989, and it comes out of her 1978 dissertation. Alongside Wilfrid Sellars’ work on shared intentionality and moral judgment in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, she’s one of the first analytic philosophers who made our shared mental lives a focal point of analysis. Her Joint Commitment is well worth a read for analytic philosophers interested in the “social turn” — it covers everything from shared intentionality to love to patriotism.

Sally Haslanger
Sally Haslanger
Reply to  Gorm
6 months ago

FWIW, I’ve taught Gilbert in a grad seminar at MIT and even brought her to campus. Also Searle et al. Why do you think that no one at MIT is doing/teaching social philosophy? Really?

Gorm
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

Sally
Nothing I wrote implies people are not teaching social philosophy at MIT – I know you are! I know your work. What I was commenting on was the fact that a graduate of MIT could have the impression that analytic philosophers were not doing social philosophy in an analytic idiom until relatively recently. I attributed this myopia to the narrow historical training at MIT. Here I do not just mean the formal training – my sense (with evidence) is that many students at MIT do not read widely in the history of philosophy.

Cat
Cat
6 months ago

This is a great post, but I want to push back on something important here:

The attention to non-ideal conditions means that the social turn is concerned with what happens when things go wrong in the social world; it is not about The Social, abstractly conceived.

You’re not alone in making this quick conflation, but “non-ideal” does not mean “things going wrong”. To study human society non-abstractly, as it actually is, is definitely not to assume that it is malfunctioning. Rather, such study can lead us to appreciate what we have or to re-adjust our conception of what “going wrong” means when applied to human beings. Thus non-ideal theorists have argued that testimony is an important source of knowledge, overturning an older conception of justified belief which was unrealistically individualistic.

A major issue with this mistaken idea (of nonideal theory as definitionally concerned with injustice) is that it rules out the possibility of nonideal theory which establishes that some part of our social life is working reasonably well. And while I don’t want to step on too many toes here, it does seem that this sort of philosophy (call it “conservative nonideal social philosophy?”) is strongly discouraged; sometimes even aggressively excluded, because it conflicts with popular critical perspectives on some existing norm or institution.

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Cat
6 months ago

I was playing fast and loose with “nonideal” here, for the sake of writing an easy-to-read blog post. I’m aware that there are multiple notions of non-ideal theory and non-ideal conditions.

Your reply helpfully emphasizes a different sense of “non-ideal,” nonetheless.

Ben Cook
Ben Cook
6 months ago

To join a small chorus building in the comments: I, too, am deeply concerned about this ‘social turn’ being less of a ‘social’ turn in a generic sense, and more of a particularly ‘left-wing activist’ turn. A turn in which a very narrow set of views are treated by nearly all participants as foregone conclusions, conclusions the arguments are merely in search of.

There have been some suggestions that those without such a political orientation are welcome to join discussions in burgeoning socially-oriented areas of analytic philosophy, and that most left-wing participants would engage with these less fashionable views in good faith and openness. I can only speak from personal experience, but such suggestions strike me as profoundly out of touch. The overton window on what counts as acceptable discourse on issues of gender and sexuality, for example, has been rapidly shrinking in recent years. For a rather prominent, and deeply silly, example, see the kerfuffle over the Hypatia transracialism article from a few years ago.

The so-called ‘social turn’ would be a great thing for philosophy if more conservative/traditionalist (or just not party-line-leftist) perspectives were truly on the table for discussion. But, in general, they are not. And for the most part, only those with already established careers and reputations can get away with registering any substantial objections to the more standard progressive takes on such issues. For the rest of us, it’s career suicide. And many are being driven out of academia for that and related ideological reasons.

Sally Haslanger
Sally Haslanger
Reply to  Ben Cook
6 months ago

Just to provide some historical context: many of us have been working in social philosophy for decades, and some of our work has been critical of the dominant social formation, e.g., it has been feminist, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist. This work has consistently been treated as “not philosophy.” The dominant liberal framework has been exceedingly harsh in marginalizing work that doesn’t accord with its ideology. I have had to teach courses in feminism as overloads; even fairly recently, I was told that a course in global justice I was teaching should not satisfy a “value” requirement in my department. (This opinion was overridden.) In other words, the window has been very narrow for a long time, and many of us have risked our careers to work outside of it. I’m NOT saying that liberal or conservative views should now be marginalized. But I do think that it is a bit precious when some people (not necessarily you) suggest that philosophy has been politically ideology-free until now, and that left-leaning views are compromising the objectivity of philosophy. I don’t feel obliged to teach liberalism or libertarianism because they dominate most of political philosophy courses already, even now. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be taught. I’m all for a very wide range of courses with lots of different content. But there are limits. I wouldn’t support a course that is devoted to anti-Semitic, or anti-Black, or extremely patriarchal points of view, taking them seriously (rather than as examples of moral mistakes). I hope you would agree that there should be limits even though there is a wide space for reasonable debate.

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

 But I do think that it is a bit precious when some people (not necessarily you) suggest that philosophy has been politically ideology-free until now, and that left-leaning views are compromising the objectivity of philosophy.

Like you, I don’t think this claim that you criticize is correct. In fact, I don’t think that even the most radical left-leaning views could compromise the objectivity of philosophy.

But I think the main worry here is not that certain views within a discipline are gaining acceptance: it’s that rejections of disciplinary norms are. And one of those norms is that any proper subdiscipline of philosophy must aim at objectivity. The subdisciplines benefit from discussions among people with a wide range of views, but the subdiscipline itself should not begin its inquiry with some of those views baked into it and then present those same views as the well-tested products of philosophical inquiry within the subdiscipline. To allow that would allow a blurring of the line between inquiry and advocacy, which as philosophers we must keep separate.

Your response to this seems to be, “Don’t be so naive — all sorts of liberal and conservative presumptions are baked into the supposedly ‘objective’ philosophy everyone else is doing!” And perhaps you’re right that other philosophers have illicitly smuggled in their presumptions, either willfully or in ignorance. I think that such criticisms should be welcomed, if the aim is to better achieve the goals of philosophy by identifying and weeding out those biases and presumptions.

But if the idea instead is to say, “Other people are violating the principle of objectivity, so let’s throw away the principle and engage in open advocacy,” then that sounds to me like giving up on the philosophical project altogether. And yet I have heard many in the new social philosophy subdisciplines explicitly describe the overall aims of those disciplines in ways that already presume the answers to questions they should be investigating fairly. The objection is not that the beliefs are unworthy of consideration, but that their assumptions should not be seriously questioned within the discipline.

Many philosophers list an ‘ism’ as their AOS: skepticism or feminism, say. If I attend a conference on skepticism, I expect to see some scholars arguing in favor of skepticism, and some arguing against it. I think the worry about some of the newer disciplines is that they might take their -isms for granted and see nothing wrong with limiting their disciplinary circle to others with the same presumptions.

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Justin Kalef
6 months ago

The subdisciplines benefit from discussions among people with a wide range of views, but the subdiscipline itself should not begin its inquiry with some of those views baked into it and then present those same views as the well-tested products of philosophical inquiry within the subdiscipline.”

Yes. This.

Sally Haslanger
Sally Haslanger
Reply to  Justin Kalef
6 months ago

Thanks for your engaged response. I think maybe we disagree about objectivity. I believe that value-laden inquiry is compatible with objectivity. A standard example is medicine. Medicine is driven by a concern with the value of human health, but it can still achieve objective results. I believe that much of ethics presupposes the value of human flourishing (not necessarily as the only value), and it can still achieve objective results. In fact, some would argue that it is distinctive of philosophy that it can undertake inquiry not only about value, but that presupposes certain values, without sacrificing objectivity. This distinguishes it, in some minds, from “science.” Of course there are questions about how to incorporate values into the methods of philosophy and what is involved. (I recommend Liz Anderson’s “Knowledge, Human Interests, and Objectivity in Feminist Epistemology.” But the thought that we should be concerned with what it is for a society to promote the flourishing of women (as well as men) does not seem to lie outside the permissible range of value-laden inquiry. Moreover, not all inquiry has to take all the options into account. Relevant to your example of skepticism, a philosopher could spend their life devoted to exploring and elaborating skepticism without spending much time talking to non-skeptics. They might not do as good work as those who talk to a wide range of inquirers, but I don’t think there is a kind of moral requirement that they include more discussion with anti-skeptics in their life. And sometimes intellectually it is valuable to go down the rabbit hole and sort out the depths of a view in its own terms with others. Philosophers have been doing this for millennia. Should we deny them this now? Why shouldn’t feminists and anti-racists do this?

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

Dear Sally (if I may):

Thank you for the thoughtful reply, which helpfully moves the discussion closer to some things I’ve been pondering for some time but seldom get a chance to discuss. It reminds me of the one time I saw you give a talk in person, when you responded in a similarly generous spirit to a question I raised.

Here’s the next step in my thinking. You point to two cases — medicine and ethics — in which an entire discipline or subdiscipline is permitted to take something for granted. It would seem strange for someone to object that the field of medicine is worse because it presumes a desire to improve people’s health rather than worsen it, etc. So far, so good. But…

I wonder how you might react to the following thought experiment. Suppose that, in thirty years’ time, social conservatives manage to wrest control of academia from progressives; moreover, a significant number of those academics describe themselves as *radical* social conservatives. Departments like Gender Studies are out, and new departments with names like Sanctity Studies (which explore the importance of all human life, taking traditional religious texts as canonical) are in. Feminist philosophy disappears overnight as a subdiscipline, but pro-life philosophy emerges as a hot new AOS. And so on.

Those working in the new subdisciplien of pro-life philosophy begin with certain foundational assumptions: they take it as given that human life is sacred (and hence that abortion and euthanasia are immoral). They also assume many other things that, to an outsider, might seem not to follow from a pro-life position at all, such as that an unlimited right to firearms is the best way of protecting human life. But to those in the political culture that becomes dominant in the middle 2050s, all these ideas come to seem connected (and obviously true).

There are still many pro-choice feminists in the 2050s. It’s just that they’re entirely marginalized in academia. Feminists who repeat the main pro-choice arguments that we all know well today do not fare so well in the 2050s: people just rattle off the standard rejoinders from ‘pro-life philosophy’ and ‘Sanctity Studies’. These rejoinders are filled with a jargon that takes for granted a wide range of theoretical assumptions that no liberal or progressive would share. But those theoretical assumptions are never tested in the crucible of criticism, since there are no progressives or liberals in those fields to bounce ideas around with.

If feminists in the 2050s persist in raising objections or questioning the assumptions inherent in the pro-life philosophers’ jargon, they are told that they are clearly uninformed about the latest developments in the field, and ought to ‘educate’ themselves by reading the voluminous (pro-life philosophy / Sanctity Studies) literature.

Do you agree with me that something in this thought experiment is very different from the cases of medicine and ethics? I would put one of the differences this way: in the medicine and ethics cases, we have presumptions that are shared not only across the country, but in all civilizations at all times. There has never been any culture that was not interested in how to heal the sick or how to behave well. But, when one looks at what is actually behind the terms ‘feminism’, ‘sanctity’, and ‘pro-life’, we find a great deal that seemingly reasonable people seem to disagree on.

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
6 months ago

To anticipate a tempting objection: someone might say, “But feminism is nothing more than the view that women matter. Any people or cultures out there that deny that simple proposition are so backward that we should let their lack of agreement that women matter hold us back.”

I certainly agree with the second statement in this reply, but note that this just comes from a certain setup for a motte and bailey that I have copied over into my 2050s thought experiment. In a parallel way, the self-described pro-life philosopher says, “To be pro-life is merely to be committed to the idea that it is good that we are all alive.” The defender of Sanctity Studies says, “Sanctity is nothing other than the idea that some things have great moral importance and some rules should not be broken.”

I think one can very reasonably object in all these cases that something more than the surface meaning of the self-descriptions is being smuggled into the field of study as a presupposition.

Ben Cook
Ben Cook
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

Thanks for the thoughtful response. A lot to consider here, much of which I agree with. Some points in reply:

1) I agree that, in a sense, the overton window was already rather small within analytic political philosophy. As you say, it’s been dominated by liberalism, framed essentially as a debate between right-liberalism (libertarianism) and left-liberalism (egalitarian liberalism). Rawls v. Nozick. I’ve also found this a problem from a more conservative perspective. I don’t think I ever encountered anyone working in analytic philosophy, for ex., who even knew who Edmund Burke was, had ever read Leo Strauss, etc. And, as you say, I think the same marginalization existed with respect to liberalism-critical leftist thought.

2) That said, I think you might be running two distinct (though often overlapping) issues together: First, views being outside the overton window because they’re not taken seriously (the main issue you seemed to be pointing to), and second, views being outside the overton window because they’re positively viewed as morally evil, and worthy of being silenced. If more conservative views on gender, sexuality, etc. were *simply* marginalized, it’d be less of an issue (though still an issue). But more than merely being treated with less seriousness than left-wing views, they are instead seen as positively evil (because ‘patriarchal’, ‘oppressive’, ‘exclusionary’, etc. etc.) and worthy of censure. And that’s the problem. Many more conservative takes on these issues have intellectual heft behind them, and at least could serve to help those on the left better sharpen their own views. But most would never know that, because the fear of professional and social sanction prevents them from being discussed to a large extent.

3) Yes, I agree there should be limits. But here’s what I think is a useful heuristic for determining what should or should not be on the table for serious discussion in academic philosophy: If a set of views is still held by millions of our fellow citizens, and they are also treated with seriousness by many thoughtful, reflective, and highly intelligent philosophical peers, then they should be open for good faith discussion (NB: this is a heuristic, not a set of necessary and sufficient conditions). So, for ex., millions of our fellow citizens believe a woman cannot become a man, nor a man a woman; that abortion is murder; that monogamous, heterosexual marriage is foundational to the social good; and so on. And many of our professional peers in philosophy hold the same views with thoughtfulness and intelligence, rather than out of simple prejudice or animus. So, they should be on the table. If for no other reason but to give those on the left who vehemently disagree with them the chance to show why, in their view, so many of their fellow citizens and intelligent peers are mistaken.

Sally Haslanger
Sally Haslanger
Reply to  Ben Cook
6 months ago

Thanks, Ben. I agree that there is not enough serious engagement with conservative views. One of my fabulous grad students is working in philosophy of education and has an extensive discussion of conservative approaches to education, including work by Burke, Oakeschott, Bloom, and others. In my experience, certain left anti-liberals are more open to conservative theory because they aren’t so dogmatically invested in the dominant liberal paradigm and find some of the conservative critiques similar to their own. So engagement with conservatives may not only help the left sharpen their views, but actually contribute valuable content.

The issue of regarding those marginalized as “evil” is complicated, of course. Sometimes I think that that is being projected onto leftist philosophers, but I agree there is some of it. And I have had tastes of such attitudes earlier in my life about my views. I agree that it is a bad thing. (But is it really that bad for another philosopher to think you are a terrible person? I think it kind of depends on how much you respect the other philosopher, and how the treat you. People think a lot of different things about me, and I even think I’m a terrible person (or philosopher) sometimes. I don’t think we should treat each other badly, but most of the time I think it is too much work to care about what other people are thinking and just focus on treatment.)

But I also think that it can be tricky when you are a member of (or care about) a group whose identity is being denied or denigrated. For example, I’ve heard people say, in a very reasonable tone, that trans women are either deeply confused (“deluded”) or mentally ill because to be a woman just is to be female. This is, in fact, a consequence of a particular point of view. Is it “evil” for someone to say this or hold this view? I wouldn’t use that term (“evil”). But I do think that there is a lot more at stake than just a difference of opinion. The fact that there are many reasonable philosophers who think something like this about trans women doesn’t thereby make it just a purely theoretical issue that we can openly discuss, without hurting anyone. There is a lot at stake, here and now, with regard to health care, well-being, inclusion, etc. So I think there needs to be a way of talking about politically difficult issues without acting as if we are just tossing around ideas and without assuming that our interlocutors can or should just accept that people don’t want them to be recognized, or have access to health care, etc. Philosophy is not just a cognitive exercise, and there is a sense in which lives are on the line. (I think about this in connection with discussions of global justice also, just to make clear I’m not just talking about trans issues.) It can be reasonable, I think, for someone to be deeply hurt, or frightened, or enraged by another’s point of view. In such circumstances, it can be hard to keep talking; but what I hope is that those who hold deeply opposing views to acknowledge that there is often more at stake than just a difference of opinion.

Ben Cook
Ben Cook
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

I think we’re in agreement on a lot of the issues here. What you said about conservatives and anti-liberal (“illiberal”?) leftists being on the same page with many of their critiques and emphases, and having a lot to learn from one another, is on point. I’ve thought about this, as well, especially in recent years as more conservatives have decidedly broken with the liberal tradition. It’s striking, for example, just how Marxist or Marxist-adjacent many conservative critiques of the liberal order have become (this is evident, e.g., in Patrick Deneen’s ‘Why Liberalism Failed’). That liberalism and the particular kind of capitalism it depends upon tend to erode communities, culture, and the public good, is something anti-liberals of all stripes can unite on, even as they disagree about viable solutions.

I also agree we can’t pretend that nothing of personal or political significance is at stake in philosophical disputes concerning the social. Identities, and deeply existential concerns, are implicated, and we should be conscious of that and interact as best we can accordingly. But, as I think you’d agree, precisely because of this *some* degree of personal offense and distress on all sides of such disputes is inevitable—though we shouldn’t try to stoke or extend that offense and distress unnecessarily.

How and why someone on the left in these disputes might take offense at, or feel violence could be the result of, conservative perspectives is often emphasized. However, I don’t think this attempt at empathizing with the personal import of such disputes is often given to the other side. The conservative pro-lifer, for example, might take deep personal offense at the notion that the unborn are non-persons, mere ‘clumps of cells’, mere biological objects that can be killed in most cases without moral qualm. And they have compelling empirical reason to think (from their perspective) that there’s a connection between pro-choice arguments and rhetoric and physical violence. We pro-lifers sincerely believe the most vulnerable human beings in society are being killed in genocidal numbers each year. Yet, in my experience, pro-lifers in academia typically aren’t calling for the censure of their pro-choice opponents, for their firing, for their articles to be retracted from journals, and so on. This is striking, given what we truly believe is at stake in this particular debate.

All that to say, I think we should continue to try to balance (1) interacting with civility, empathy, and without trying to cause unnecessary offense or psychological harm, while also (2) recognizing that there’s something inherently dangerous, offensive, and psychologically distressing in engaging *any* debate over fundamental moral/social issues, and so either being willing to accept that, or exiting the conversation if we (perhaps understandably) feel we can’t personally engage in a healthy way anymore.

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

Thank you for your careful and considerate engagement on these matters. Reading your exchanges here with Justin Kalef and Ben Cook, I see more clearly where important points of agreement and disagreement lie. It’s been immensely helpful for me, and I can’t imagine it’s been any different for others.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

“But is it really that bad for another philosopher to think you are a terrible person?”

If it is true that such hatred leads to chilled speech, loss of funding, denial of tenure, and overall academic job insecurity, then yes, it might really be that bad. I don’t know that it does lead to these things, but not even recognizing the feared possibility of these consequences—touted as they often are—might appear to conservative philosophers as a bias of academic privilege.

Last edited 6 months ago by Meme
Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  Meme
6 months ago

Not so much a disagreement as a clarification:

Perhaps it is worth remembering that we aren’t *just* academics. We are people — in all the many ways that humanity can take shape. So, there are probably multiple levels of conflict management and existential assessment taking place that affect the dynamics being described here (i.e., it’s not just academic privilege).

For instance, if one is considering the affects of “chilled speech…” etc. on a conservative philosopher, versus the real possibility that they, themselves, could face physical violence as, say, a trans person (who is also a philosopher), then it’s not surprising why one might think that the threat to the conservative philosopher is less salient. Put crudely: If I think you don’t care much about my life or death, I won’t care much about your loss of tenure.

Just in case I’m misunderstood, I’m NOT claiming that anyone in this thread actually holds such a view. But it does seem like a very human response.

Edit: I’d just like to say that I have also found this exchange very helpful.

Last edited 6 months ago by Geoff
Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Geoff
6 months ago

A philosopher who made such a response should provide a general account of how we decide when an opinion is too dangerous to be heard. If I consider the view that a fetus is a person from conception, am I increasing the likelihood that abortion clinics will be bombed? If I consider the view that God is real, am I increasing the likelihood that people will kill in His name? Can I consider the case that Trump should be president, or does violent behavior from Trump supporters rule that out? And what if speaking out against an injustice makes people who support the injustice more likely to be violent?

Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
6 months ago

Agreed (with the caveat that context matters). Any general account you recommend?

Last edited 6 months ago by Geoff
Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Geoff
6 months ago

No, I don’t have a general account to recommend because I don’t think there are ideas that it’s too dangerous to consider. In fact, I think it’s a good thing to question one’s fundamental beliefs on important issues.

Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
6 months ago

If it’s not too much trouble, can you say a bit more about how you view that process? I ask because my first inclination here is to wonder how often you seriously question your belief that there are no ideas too dangerous to consider. Or would that not count as a fundamental belief?

If it helps, let me add this: While I agree with your final statement as a general principle, I am skeptical that it’s consistently applied, and I think that’s a problem.

It may well be my own bias, but I wonder whether, for instance, most philosophers of religion who are theists (at least those that I know) are regularly questioning their fundamental belief in God. They typically speak and write with a level of confidence that appears to imply a strong commitment to, and no need for questioning of, their theism.

Maybe that’s just writing style — but I wonder. This attitude seems common in academic philosophy; I mean, I don’t hear too often about philosophers changing their minds regarding a fundamental belief in their primary area of research (counterexample: Putnam). There are probably a number of factors at play here, but it makes me wonder just how committed some really are to regularly questioning their deeply held beliefs.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Geoff
6 months ago

Geoff, of course the view that no idea is too dangerous to be considered should itself be questioned. And yes, many philosophers don’t challenge their fundamental beliefs and yes, that’s a shame.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Geoff
6 months ago

I guess I don’t see the point of this clarification. My comment was specifically in response to the rhetorical question “is it really that bad to be [a conservative philosopher who is] hated by a philosopher?” My answer was that it might be, if one listens to what conservative philosophers are actually worried about–censure, job loss, etc. The fact that trans people/philosophers also suffer and have legitimate grievances is already granted, and has been discussed above repeatedly.

Also, there is obviously evidence of violence against trans people, evidence that gender-affirming care decreases self-harm and the like in trans youth, evidence that anti-trans political/media rhetoric increases risks for trans people, etc. But is there really any evidence at all that the writing of conservative academic philosophers in scholarly venues contributes to the risk of violence against trans people? I thought it was practically a truism that academic scholarship is really only read by a handful of other academics, unless one is profoundly lucky. I don’t mean to suggest that you’re claiming that this risk definitely exists–but your comment about it being a “real possibility” does suggest the claim, and it’s a very serious one to suggest (at the very least, it probably requires the sort of general account which Hey Nonny Mouse asked you to provide).

Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  Meme
6 months ago

Fair enough. I don’t precisely know how to formulate a satisfactory general account at the moment. But I think it’s important to dig deeper into the questions that you (and HNM) are asking.

For instance, what is the motivation behind one asking whether the writings of conservative academic philosophers “contribute to the risk of violence against trans people?”

I’m tempted to say that if one (conservative or otherwise) is motivated to write/speak about any topic that is existentially significant to a group of human beings, and doesn’t have as one of their primary motivations the existential well-being of those human beings, they probably shouldn’t write/say anything, regardless of other risks.

But, then, people can’t agree on what qualifies as the existential well-being of human beings, so this doesn’t get us very far.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Geoff
6 months ago

Again, respectfully, I’m not sure I follow your point. The motivation for asking whether conservative philosophers contribute to the risk of anti-trans violence is precisely that they are accused of doing so. It almost sounds like you’re suggesting that they have nefarious intentions, when in reality they’re just reacting as they’ve been asked to react. (If I am misreading you, then my apologies.)

Anyway, the criterion you offer seems far too strong, mostly for the reasons which HNM has already addressed. Must an atheist be primarily motivated by the existential well-being of theists before writing about theism? Must a pro-choice feminist be primarily motivated by the existential well-being of anti-abortion traditionalists before writing about abortion? I have a hard time answering anything but “no” to these questions, and I don’t see how they differ in any relevant way from academic scholarship on trans issues. I also think that I can explain *why* the answer should be “no”: an academic philosopher’s primary motivation for writing in philosophical venues about philosophical issues should be a sincere belief that their contribution would help shed further light on those issues. Atheists think that theism is false, and that this falsity matters. Pro-choice feminists think that abortion should be legally protected, however anti-abortion traditionalists might feel existentially about unborn fetuses. And so on. Are we really prepared to say that, unlike all of these other issues and despite disagreement among millions of people, trans issues in particular are already settled and thus beyond academic discussion?

Another potential problem is that the criterion cannot obviously handle conflicts of well-being. To shift away from conservatives, I know that many (most? all?) “trans-exclusionary” feminists are motivated primarily by a concern about the existential well-being of cis women: for instance, involving their rights, spaces, etc. To claim that they should not publish, because they lack a primary motivation of concern for trans people, seems to presuppose that their concerns about the well-being of cis women are less important than those about the well-being of trans people–and this without argument or debate.

Again, I’m not taking a firm side in this matter here. I happen to think that, more often than not, liberal or trans-inclusionary views are far more plausible than these alternatives. But I would never suggest that the alternatives be censored–even self-censored–out of a concern for safety which seems (to the best of my knowledge) both unsupported by data and somewhat paternalistic towards trans people. It just seems far more preferable to assume–quite defeasibly–that most academic philosophers, on either side, have sincere motivations, and that as long as their written work passes scholarly muster, it is both useless and arguably impossible to investigate those motivations.

Geoff
Geoff
Reply to  Meme
6 months ago

I think we’re generally in agreement; however, perhaps the difference is that I am somewhat more skeptical about ‘sincere motivations’ than you are.

So, while I don’t necessarily think there is anything nefarious going on, I also don’t think that philosophers usually create their arguments from some neutral, abstract setting. Much of the time we’re unaware of what is beneath our ways of thinking, pushing us to believe X or Y. And those motivations are not always innocent.

It may be impossible, in the end, to fully investigate those motivations, but I don’t think it’s useless.

I believe that philosophy is a shared endeavor — the ‘examined life’ always has (with a nod to the original topic) a social component to it.

So, you ask, Must an atheist be primarily motivated by the existential well-being of theists before writing about theism?

I don’t have a fully fleshed out theory of anything here, but it seems to me that, at least at one level, the answer should be ‘yes’. If philosophy is a shared endeavor, and if, say, a philosopher is committed to atheism (or theism) in a manner that leads them to speak/write in ways that do not have the well-being of their interlocutor in mind, it seems to me that something has gone wrong, regardless of the strength of their arguments.

I don’t think this is the only thing that matters in philosophical debate, but it does seem important.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Geoff
6 months ago

I do not claim that philosophers create their arguments in a neutral, abstract setting. I am sure that they don’t. Rather, I claim that specifically imputing to them nefarious intentions–e.g., a hatred of trans people–is uncharitable, untestable, and beside the point of academic scholarship. I have never heard of any trans exclusionary philosopher, conservative or otherwise, claiming in academic venues that trans people should be treated violently, and I have no reason to believe (except for my own ideological prejudices) that this is how they really think behind the scenes.

That said, I think it is certainly possible that we’re often unaware of “what is beneath our ways of thinking,” and that such motivations might not always be innocent. At the same time, relying on this possibility as a justification for censure–as some, but not necessarily you, might–seems dubious at best. It is a substantive theoretical claim, both empirically (re: unconscious motivation) and morally (re: innocence). Worse yet, it seems that it would affect everyone equally–every philosopher could have unconscious, guilty motivations, not just trans exclusionary ones. So, I don’t see how this suggestion furthers the debate.

Despite my reservations, however, I do want to offer a concession. I can fully acknowledge that there are abhorrent, “theoretical” claims whose defense in scholarly venues would make me deeply uncomfortable and sympathetic to some kind of censure (e.g., the claim that some group of people aren’t really people). So, I can see that there is also a problem for my argument, because it isn’t clear how I can demand some censure without demanding it all. On the one hand, I want to say that there is something obviously different between this extreme example and the one we’re discussing here (e.g., the latter is a hot-button political issue, millions disagree over it passionately, it concerns revisions to what many consider–rightly or wrongly–“common sense,” etc.). On the other hand, there is a ton of evil garbage out there anyway, online, in libraries, etc., so that maybe censure is foolish even in this extreme case too.

Sally Haslanger
Sally Haslanger
Reply to  Meme
6 months ago

If you notice, I said that it does matter how someone treats me. I think that is different from what someone thinks about me.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Sally Haslanger
6 months ago

Right, the point is that hatred might well *lead to* a difference in treatment, that this might *make* it a bad thing to be so hated, and that *this possibility* is what conservatives probably have in mind when they worry about such hatred.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Ben Cook
6 months ago

I think that as professional philosophers, the good we do for people who are not professional philosophers is to help them think through philosophical issues for themselves. We can’t do that well if we only consider positions within our own orthodoxy. I also think that as professional philosophers, if we expect the public to pay for professional philosophy, we need to make it clear what we are doing for them and that we are not just paid political advocates, as we are so often accused of being. I think it’s worth considering what we could say to a rational conservative to convince them that their tax money should be spent on us.

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 months ago

Social philosophy sometimes suffers from a lack of engagement with political theory and political philosophy, and a lack of attention to relevant work in other disciplines (e.g., history, politics, sociology). It also tends to be focused on US political discourse and political problems.

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Grad Student
6 months ago

I agree with this. I have definitely been part of the problem, here.

I am hoping that these flaws are simply growing pains, that we will be better informed of political philosophy and more international in approach, in the future.

Jonathan Kendrick
6 months ago

In philosophy of language (I don’t know enough about other fields to comment), I think a lot of work in this “social turn” has been kind of “plug-and-chug,” taking off the shelf tools and throwing them at a particular phenomena. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it often doesn’t lead to insights which have wider implications for understanding language (the slurs literature is, I think, a place where you can see a lot of people doing this). Of course, there are people who have done some interesting and novel work in this area with wider implications for understanding language, e.g., Liz Camp’s paper on insinuation and other non-cooperative speech, but this seems like the minority. So, I guess, I worry that a bunch of really flashy applications to social philosophy, which may not shed light on any novel features of meaning or linguistic communication, will distract people from making progress on the big questions in philosophy of language.

Ian
Ian
6 months ago

I’m a young person in the field, and this social turn feels like old news, partially because I have a background in other humanities fields. Whenever I see philosophers defending views that have been around for decades in other fields, being applauded for what the field considers new and innovative work, I can’t help but shrug.

Philosophical columbusing is a good phrase because it feels to me that philosophy is playing catch-up to material and ideas they were blithely ignoring. Philosophy’s new world is actually world that’s been around for a while. And then philosophers pretend to have picked these ideas out of a hat.

Redundant
Redundant
6 months ago

I would say that the relationship between philosophy and other fields is somewhat reciprocal (though I agree that philosophical columbusing can and do occur): many fields borrowed ideas from philosophers and vice versa. For example, structural-functionalism owes a lot to Aristotle’s ideas. Socrates briefly discussed the origins of a city/society in The Republic. Mutual causation in cybernetics is also found in Buddhism. Sociality is often discussed a lot in many ancient philosophical texts.

I think philosophy returns to itself when it feels stuck or lacks firm foundations, which is understandable since not all ideas can be made super explicit. Implicit sociological ideas are inevitable in many inquiries. Humans are limited in what we can inquire about. Sometimes what’s implicit is considered unimportant or trivial until a later point in time when it’s deemed significant by future generations or academic fields.

Maybe one way to avoid philosophical columbusing is to look back into the history of philosophy and “mine” ideas that matter to us right now.

Redundant
Redundant
Reply to  Redundant
6 months ago

To put it simply, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the social turn to me seems like a REturn to some point in time when sociality was widely philosophized e.g. Antiquity. Philosophers nowadays are more concerned about people’s lives and their flourishing, which is what the ancients started thousands of years ago.

Leslie Glazer PhD
6 months ago

puzzled by much of this. social philosophy has been around for a long time. marxists and phenomenologists surely have been doing social philosophy. Political/ethical theorists have as well. so whats new here? maybe this

a broad agreement that we can do philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, and so on, with the critique of injustice as an explicit theoretical aim.”

while maybe this is also what we have always been doing— having agendas not analysed or questioned– but this seems to be making a virtue of a problem, and may be even reversing the order of priority. It seems to jump over that our ontology and ethics needs to be analyzed and subject to critique rather than assumed. to critique injustice one needs— as a philosopher rather than a political advocate— to argue for what justice is.

Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Leslie Glazer PhD
6 months ago

I think your comment, and the comments of Cat and venus infers above, have highlighted something important: that analytic social philosophy seems to be *defined* by progressive identitarian presuppositions and aims.

Ben Cook
Ben Cook
Reply to  Leslie Glazer PhD
6 months ago

Precisely. Once we start trying to determine the essence of something (justice, goodness, womanhood, etc.) based on prior political-ideological concerns, we’ve ceased to do philosophy. Being determines the normative, not the normative being.

Sally Haslanger
Sally Haslanger
Reply to  Ben Cook
6 months ago

Just saying, that’s one philosophical view, but not the only one. 🙂

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
6 months ago

Some readers/listeners of this post might be interested in my forthcoming article, “When Moral Responsibility Theory Met My Philosophy of Disability” which is now on PhilPapers here: Shelley L. Tremain, When Moral Responsibility Theory Met My Philosophy of Disability – PhilPapers

The article, which will be included in a special issue of Feminist Philosophy Quarterly (guest edited by Mich Ciurria), includes an extended critique of the use of (tools of) analytic philosophy for analyses of the apparatus of disability and indeed implicitly and explicitly critiques a number of the assumptions and claims made in this post.