Author: Spencer Case

Is Service-Learning a Disservice to Philosophy?

Karl Marx once groused that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” He might have been pleased to learn that some philosophers now teach, and advocate for, courses that contain significant activist elements. Pedagogy that includes service projects outside the classroom are often denominated “service-learning.” One variation currently being piloted, “Engaged Philosophy,” gives students autonomy over planning, implementing, and writing about a service project of their choice.1 The Engaged Philosophy website showcases successful projects. For example: Vanessa made crafts and sold them to raise money for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She also collected scarves for the homeless and tied them around trees in downtown Minneapolis. Two students worked with local Starbucks managers to get their coffee shops to compost and have clearer recycling signs. Two students brought dogs from a local shelter, Indigo Rescue, to campus during midterms to help students relieve stress. They also collected money for the shelter and raised awareness about dog adoption. Although service-learning has yet to become mainstream …

The Real Gender Trouble

A Review of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson, Encounter Books (February, 2018) 264 pages. In his new book, When Harry Became Sally, Ryan Anderson provides a sustained critique of the transgender rights movement. The book’s irreverent title is sure to turn heads; its contents will probably change some minds, too. Although Anderson is an outspoken social conservative, most of his arguments in this work could be advanced by someone who is politically left of center. Anderson is at pains to distinguish his criticism of transgender activists – by which he means people who promote a certain ideology, regardless of their sexual identities – from condemnation of transgender individuals as such. Surely he knows that such protestations will not insulate him from the charge of transphobic hatred. Here I analyze Anderson’s criticisms of the transgender movement and offer a few criticisms of my own, which I intend to be constructive in spirit. The Transgender Movement’s Philosophy Although they don’t usually acknowledge it, transgender activists make philosophical claims, which are …

Sarah Haider on Normalizing Dissent: A Conversation

After a couple of false starts, Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) finally kicked off its Normalizing Dissent Tour at the University of Colorado Boulder. On the evening of Thursday, October 5, more than 90 people assembled to hear a panel of three Ex-Muslim women – EXMNA co-founder Sarah Haider, Saudi activist Ghada, and writer and editor Hiba Krisht – discuss “Islam, Modesty, and Feminism.” At the request of Secular Students and Skeptics Society (SSaSS), the student organization that invited EXMNA, campus security took the unusual precaution of searching all bags for weapons as the audience filed into the lecture hall where the event took place. Fortunately the event, which included an hour-long Q&A, proceeded civilly. Krisht, who was raised as a Shi’a Muslim in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, said in her opening statement: “I felt I was lying with every movement, lying with what I was wearing, lying with my actions because I would pray in front of them [her family] even though I didn’t believe in God.” Ghada described an upbringing nearly as harsh. When as …

The Rage Against Selective Outrage

There’s a lot of outrage about selective outrage. If the Left and the Right agree on one thing it is that the other side routinely engages in selective expressions of outrage, and that they are terrible for doing this. To be selectively outraged is to be guilty – of irrationality at least, and probably of moral hypocrisy as well. Social media affords endless opportunities for “calling out” those who seem to exhibit these sins. Here I caution against this unproductive fascination with our opponents’ selective outrage. The standard of avoiding all selective outrage is psychologically unrealistic. And, ironically, most outrage about selective outrage turns out to be selective itself. How much rage is “selective outrage”? What is selective outrage? Sometimes people use it to mean pretend outrage, in which people cry “crocodile tears” over things that don’t really upset them. I think we should reserve the term for displays of outrage that are sincere, though disproportionate and lacking in intellectual integrity. The trouble is that our minds are awash with partisan bias. Partisanship colors perceptions …

Is it Wrong to Blame Islam?

Jihadi terrorists claim to act on the authority of Islam. Could they be right? Some very influential people seem to think that it is morally wrong even to consider this hypothesis. During his 2015 speech at a Boston mosque, U.S. President Barack Obama said: “And we can’t suggest that Islam itself is at the root of the problem. That betrays our values.” Unfortunately, our values don’t guarantee that major religions are necessarily free of destructive ideas any more than major political ideologies are. When a religious apologist argues that his religion is good, he concedes that religions can be evaluated. Most people, if they heard credible stories of Muslim converts cleaning up their lives, or reports that Muhammad was a tolerant man, would think that this was evidence that Islam is a force for good. If so, then the evidence could turn out to support the opposite claim. The Warrior-Prophet of Islam Muhammad, who was a warrior as well a prophet, declined to disguise his religious intolerance. In his “farewell sermon” in 632 C.E., he …

Skepticism About White Privilege

Privilege, and race-based privilege in particular, occupies a key niche in the rich ecosystem of error that is campus leftism. White privilege is a central theme of the protests at Evergreen State College, University of Missouri, Yale University, and so on. Detecting and eliminating it is the aim of a new method of pedagogy that effectively renders education the handmaiden of activism. Unfortunately the question “what is to be done?” has here, as in other domains, prematurely eclipsed “what is to be thought?” A close look at the notion of white privilege casts doubt on whether the racial disparities that currently exist within the U.S. constitute any such thing. White Privilege as “Invisible Knapsack” Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 paper, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See” is a seminal work on white privilege. McIntosh observes that many men who recognize that women are disadvantaged are reluctant to admit that they are over-privileged. She extends this observation to race, lamenting that “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an …

What Philosophers Must Learn from the Transracialism Meltdown

“Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all” ― Theon, father of Hypatia of Alexandria (Quoted in Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers by Elbert Hubbard)   For years we have been hearing that political correctness is cresting, that this-or-that campus outrage represents the last straw, the turning point. Each time, however, political correctness not only does not decline, but actually gains ground. Again and again, those who prophesy the imminent decline of political correctness are exposed as false prophets. Now we hear that the Hypatia kerfuffle will be remembered as the moment at which academic philosophers finally turned against the excesses of identity politics. Whether or not this is so depends upon whether philosophers seize the opportunity to challenge the dogmas that made it possible. The Hypatia Affair In its most recent issue (Spring 2017), the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia published an article by Rebecca Tuvel entitled “In Defense of Transracialism.” Tuvel, an untenured philosopher at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, argues …

Inverted Nationalism and Orwellian Patriotism

National loyalty is a bit like iodine: poisonous in large quantities yet salubrious in limited amounts. Dangerous nationalism, defined as morally unbalanced national loyalty, is obvious to Western intellectuals. But educated people, keen to give chauvinism the widest possible clearance, may adopt attitudes of indifference, or even contempt, toward their own societies. This goes hand-in-hand with an impulse to glorify foreign cultures. Roger Scruton coined the word “oikophobia” (Greek for “fear of home”) to describe this unhealthy state of mind. I shall call it “inverted nationalism.” In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argued that virtue is a mean between extremes. Courage, for example, is supposed to be the mean between cowardliness and rashness. One upshot is that moral improvement can itself be a morally perilous enterprise. When groups of people attempt to improve themselves and society, the propensity toward groupthink exacerbates the danger of over-compensation. Hence university students, eager to reject the easily perceived evils of racism and sexism, leave the golden mean in the dust as they stampede toward zealotry and sanctimony. The same purity-seeking mentality …