All posts filed under: Philosophy

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 …

A Line in the Sand for Academic Philosophy

Academic philosophers have finally found a line they’re willing to hold against the discipline’s social justice contingent. They hadn’t reached the line yet when bloggers started brigading against conferences where only male invitees had accepted invitations. They hadn’t reached the line yet when critical theorists derided top programs as “hostile to women” while making excuses for covering up sexual harassment in purportedly more progressive departments. They hadn’t reached the line yet when the American Philosophical Association advised professors at the University of Colorado not to criticize feminist philosophy on campus or at off-campus department events. They hadn’t reached the line yet when academic “advocates” cowed prominent philosophers into writing struggle-session apologies or including phrases like “I think I am a good ally” – in papers about fundamental metaphysics. But now Hypatia, a journal of feminist philosophy with explicitly activist goals, has seemingly disavowed a paper comparing claims about racial identity to claims about gender identity, and philosophers seem to have had enough. *** Rebecca Tuvel is an assistant professor at Rhodes College; she received a bachelor’s …

Is It Ever Better Not to Know?

“What wretched doings come from the ardor of fame; the love of truth alone would never make one man attack another bitterly” –Charles Darwin, 1848 (in a letter to his friend, Joseph Hooker) “An awful privilege, and an awful responsibility, that we should help to create the world in which posterity will live.” –William K. Clifford in The Ethics of Belief  Is it sometimes better not to know certain things? Yes, that seems obvious. Very few people would tell a religious parent on their death bed that they have decided to reject the faith their mother or father valued so deeply. We all have illusions we’d prefer to cling to, and sometimes we respect other people’s beliefs, even when we think they’re misguided, because they bring comfort or meaning to that person. Still, we want to argue that over the long run it is better for humanity to know as much as we can about every possible question that might be asked. We think that the intrinsic beauty and instrumental benefits of the accumulated knowledge that …

Is Hayek’s Moral Vision Compatible with Democracy?

One of the most extraordinary intellects of recent times, F. A. Hayek’s ideas of individual liberty and free markets are embedded in modern discourse. His economic and social theories helped unite social conservatives, free market proponents, and anti-communists who crafted an alliance on both sides of the Atlantic during the last half of the 20th century. His innovative thought was vital to contemporary idioms like deregulation, globalization, and right sizing government. Today there are well over one hundred “market oriented” institutes that promote Hayek’s theories and social philosophy and even present day governments and political parties still acknowledge his contributions. Yet, ironically, the great economist was uncomfortable with the label ‘conservative’ — always describing himself as a classical liberal. Despite so much public acclaim, little known features of the professor’s social thought are especially relevant to today’s political and cultural controversies. Although Hayek is celebrated by conservative activists and institutes as a bulwark for traditional values, many well informed people would be surprised to learn that his beliefs concerning morality and its role in a free …

Negotiating Standpoints Outside the University Classroom

When a protest on a college campus occurs over an issue, an explosion of articles appear, arguing why one position is right and the other is wrong. Tensions rise when no semblance of agreement is reached, and a second wave of essays appear, which take the form of what Michael Sandel calls a “shouting match.” Each side screams at one another instead of engaging with each other. These recriminations shut down any chance of reasonable conversation. How do you react when someone calls you an idiot? In a small hookah lounge in the East Village in New York, I regularly meet with a close friend to discuss all things political and philosophical. Recently, as we sat blowing smoke rings together we found ourselves digging into some of the political correctness controversies arising on college campuses — things like sexual harassment in academia, trigger warnings, and microaggression policing. The two of us had taken a philosophy course together in undergrad, and so naturally we examined these topics through a philosophical lens. We went back and forth debating …