All posts filed under: Philosophy

Some Countries Are Much Richer Than Others. Is That Unjust?

Look at the GDP per capita across different countries and you will see staggering differences. The U.S, Denmark and Singapore all have (nominal) per capita GDPs of between US$50,000 and US$60,000 per annum. On the other hand, Ethiopia, Chad, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Niger all fall below $1,000 per annum. The average resident of Denmark produces more than 50 times as much per year, measured in terms of nominal exchange rates, than the average resident of Ethiopia! When we look around the world and observe the massive wealth disparities between citizens in rich and poor countries, many of us are apt to conclude that the differences must have arisen because of colonialism, imperial warfare, or theft of raw materials like gold or oil. Of course, all of these things have happened at various points in time, and they can arguably explain some variation in the standard of living. Colonialism can be especially destructive of institutions that support peace and commerce. But a recent article by the philosopher Dan Moller casts doubt on the view that injustices …

Is Postmodernism Inherently Authoritarian?

College campuses are ostensibly venues for free and open discussion. All ideas should be given an open hearing, and be judged according to their individual merits. Are they supported by good evidence? Are they internally consistent? Will they produce desirable outcomes? That, in any case, is the ideal. More and more, it seems, there is breed of campus activist that disagrees with this view. At Berkeley, protesters rioted to shut down a speech by the right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos. In Middlebury, they shouted down Charles Murray and later assaulted Professor Alison Stanger, who was hosting the talk. At Evergreen State College, they are championing the dismissal of a biology professor who expressed concern over the discriminatory nature of a campus event. Groups like Antifa (short for anti-fascist) adopt curiously jackbooted and signally authoritarian strategies to enforce their political will. They seem to be fighting fascism with something that looks conspicuously like fascism. Largely, the most raucous elements of far-left authoritarianism are part of fringe group. However, there is some cause for greater concern. According to …

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 …