All posts filed under: Philosophy

Three Plane Rides and the Quest for a Just Society

In the paper that started the concept of “microaggressions” on its path to prominence, lead-author Derald Wing Sue recounts an incident that happened to him (an Asian American) and an African American colleague on a short plane ride from New York to Boston. Being a small plane with few passengers, Sue and his colleague were asked by a flight attendant (who happened to be a white female) to help balance the weight by moving to the back of the plane. They complied, but wondered why they had been asked to move instead of the three white men who were last to board, and who seated themselves directly in front of Sue and his colleague. “Were we being singled out because of our race,” Sue wondered, or “was this just a random event with no racial overtones?” Sue and his colleague—who was having the same thoughts—discussed the matter: Were we being oversensitive and petty? Although we complied by moving to the back of the plane, both of us felt resentment, irritation, and anger. In light of …

Philosophers Smear One of Their Own for Gender Heresy

The appointing of Kathleen Stock—who advocates some pre-2015 views on gender identity—as an Officer of the Order British Empire last month mobilized woke philosophy Twitter like a five-alarm fire. The philosophers drew up a petition, now with more than 700 signatories, condemning Stock for her “transphobia.” The open letter regarding transphobia in philosophy that some of us organized this week has now stopped taking new requests to be added. Over 700 philosophers signed. I haven't been tweeting a lot about the controversy, but here are a few closing thoughtshttps://t.co/lLjrSFe3t6 — Jonathan Ichikawa (@jichikawa) January 9, 2021 They describe her as “best-known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to the UK Gender Recognition Act.” Critics pointed out that this is wrong: Stock supports the UK Gender Recognition Act. One prominent signatory—a professor emeritus at the University of Bristol—complained about people who are “fussy about whether particular details are right.” The petition now has an erratum acknowledging the error, but explaining that “[s]ince it is the …

The Wisdom of a Slave: A Defence of Stoicism

We all have desires. We feel frustrated when we don’t get what we want and pleased when we do. Is this the secret to a happy life during times of turmoil and frustration? Maximizing our pleasure by satisfying our desires? A former slave thought not. There is more to a good life than just the passive acceptance of pleasure. * * * We don’t know his name, at least not the name given to him by his parents. Instead, we know him only as Epictetus, the name given to him by his owner, a word that is usually translated into English as acquired or owned. We also don’t know why he walked with a limp. According to Simplicius of Cilicia, a pagan philosopher, Epictetus (AD c.50–c.135) was born lame. According to the early Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria, his leg was deliberately twisted by his owner until it broke. What we do know is that Epictetus was among the most influential stoic philosophers of all time. Born in the Greek outpost of Hierapolis in modern-day …

Return of the Strong Gods: Understanding the New Right

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born? ~W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming” In mid-November, just two weeks after one of the most contentious elections in American history, Democratic National Committee member David Atkins took to Twitter. “No seriously… how *do* you deprogram 75 million people?” he wondered, sounding more like a member of the Politburo than the DNC. “Where do you start? Fox? Facebook? We have to start thinking in terms of post-WWII Germany or Japan.” He continued: “This is not your standard partisan policy disagreement. This is a conspiracy theory fueled belligerent death cult… the only actual policy debates of note are happening within the dem coalition between left and center left.” As the comments flooded in, Atkins doubled down: “You can’t run on a civil war footing hopped up on conspiracy theories… without people trying to figure out how to reverse the brainwashing.” What is most striking about Atkins’s comments is not his evident belief that 75 million Americans are conspiracy theorists, nor his …

On Activist Scholarship: An Interview with Helen Pluckrose

In recent years, free speech and inquiry have come under attack on college campuses, ethical relativism has spread, and demands to decolonize syllabi and rid them of canonical white male texts and thinkers have become increasingly common. Hostility to reason, objectivity, and Enlightenment universalism now disfigures some social science and humanities departments, and these alarming ideological trends have trickled down into mainstream culture where they affect the lives of ordinary people. In their book, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody, Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay look at how postmodern theory and activism have come to replace traditional scholarship, and the threats these anti-Enlightenment beliefs pose to liberal democracy. I caught up with Pluckrose, an essayist and editor of Areo magazine to discuss her book. She lives in England. *     *     * Jason D. Hill: Helen, Thanks for speaking to me and congratulations on the huge success of the book. The book covers a lot of territory from postcolonial studies, to critical race …

Enlightenment Literature as Foreign Aid

“If God were to humiliate a human being,” wrote Imam Ali bin abi Talib in the sixth century, “He would deny him knowledge.” If the woeful state of knowledge in lands beset by authoritarian regimes is any indication, a great number of human beings in our world have been lavishly humiliated, albeit by natural rather than supernatural forces. Nearly 20 years ago, a clique of Arab intellectuals sounded the alarm about this widespread denial of knowledge in their realm, and its many malign effects. The Arab Development Report of 2002, published by the United Nations Development Program, vividly illustrated the miserable condition to which Arab societies had been reduced at the dawn of the new millennium. It called attention to the “closed circle” that had long held sway across the region. In the past 1,000 years, the authors declared, Arabs collectively have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year. This is a breathtaking fact, notwithstanding a thriving black market for prohibited books that escaped the official tally as well as the habit of …

The Attack on Beauty

There is a pop song by Canadian artist Alessia Cara that my daughters have learned to sing in their school choir. The song is “Scars to Your Beautiful.” It is a catchy, simple song. Many readers probably know it. The message it promotes is, by all accounts, a positive one, which is presumably why it’s being taught to children at school. The chorus goes like this: There’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark, You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are, And you don’t have to change a thing, The world could change its heart, No scars to your beautiful, We’re stars and we’re beautiful. In spite of my girls’ sweet singing voices, and the intention of the lyrics, I think it is one of the most disturbing songs my kids have ever learned in school (right up there with Lennon’s insipid and juvenile “Imagine”). It is a narcissistic anthem painfully unaware of its hypocrisy. It reinforces the notion that beauty is rightfully a girl’s desirable goal, and that her …

Robin DiAngelo’s Misreading of Michel Foucault

This article is lightly adapted from the author’s new book Reinventing Racism: Why ‘White Fragility’ Is the Wrong Way to Think about Racial Inequality published by Rowman and Littlefield. Robin DiAngelo’s academic papers have consistently shown a tendency for indoctrination over debate. This tendency reflects a distrust of objectivity that stems from the influence of philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.1 While this is not the place for a deep dive into philosophy, the basic idea for DiAngelo is that power and knowledge are so profoundly connected that it is virtually, if not entirely, impossible to make an objective claim about what we know, because knowledge is never neutral. This view conflates objectivity and neutrality. It is also wrong. In the 2012 book she co-authored with Özlem Sensoy entitled Is Everyone Really Equal?, DiAngelo invokes Foucault’s panopticon to illustrate how “[p]ower in the context of understanding social justice refers to the ideological, technical, and discursive elements by which those in authority impose their ideas and interests on everyone.” For example, she writes about …

The Life and Death of Unus Annus

We live our lives taking each second for granted. But what would you do if you knew how much time you had left? Unus Annus. One year. This channel, much like all of you, has a limited amount of time. And every day we march ever closer to this channel’s inevitable doom. That means we’ll be uploading every single day until the clock strikes zero. And then, it’s game over. Bye, bye. Finito. Finished. Curtains. Gone, gone. Night, night. Dead. Forever. Make no mistake, this doesn’t mean that we’ll just stop uploading. When time runs out we will be deleting this channel and every single video on it. And you’ll never be able to see them again. Because much like death, you can’t take it with you. And all we’ll have is the memories that we make along the way… so the clock starts now. But the choice is yours. Will you join us? Or will you miss out on your one chance to be a part of Unus Annus? Because time is already running …

Philosophy Is Being Hijacked by Woke Twitter Mobs

Philosophers tend to be highly influenced by their environment, and can often be found rationalizing instead of critically examining the conventional views of the people around them. But if anything warrants philosophical scrutiny, surely it is our national taboos. As a philosopher of biology, one taboo is of particular interest to me: the taboo on considering the possibility that genes play a role in group differences in psychological traits. So I wrote a paper arguing that, while nothing can be definitively proved, there is strongly suggestive evidence that genes are involved in group differences, and we should stop suppressing and censoring research into this topic. I submitted the paper to Philosophical Psychology—a respected journal that publishes work on the connection between philosophy and psychology, which at the time was co-edited by Mitchell Herschbach (a philosopher) and ‪Cees van Leeuwen (a psychologist). To my pleasant surprise, I received two positive referee reports along with a request for revisions. After two rounds of review, the paper was accepted and published in the January 2020 issue of the …