Time for a Change?

by Daniel A. Kaufman


Over at Leiter Reports, probably the most well-read philosophy-insider’s blog, Brian Leiter has run a two-day poll, in which he asked the following question:

Would you leave the APA [American Philosophical Association] and join a new dues-charging professional philosophy association that does much of what the APA does, but without the current political agendas/projects?

The response was striking in how it skewed [as of the writing of this essay]:

Definitely        42%     493 votes

Probably          25%     292 votes

Undecided      10%     123 votes

Probably not   10%     124 votes

Definitely not 13%      151 votes

The poll comes at a time when our profession is more divided along political and ideological lines than I have ever seen, since I began studying philosophy in the 1980’s.  A group of intensely ideological/partisan activists have turned our discipline into a war zone, using both social media and professional platforms to attack not just those who are politically or ideologically on the “other side” (Richard Swinburne, a Christian philosopher who articulated traditional Christian natural-law arguments regarding homosexuality, at a conference hosted at an evangelical Christian college, was called upon by one such philosopher-activist on social media to “suck my giant queer cock”) but those who are on their own side, but have been deemed insufficiently “pure.” Witness, for example, the treatment of Rebeca Tuvel and Kathleen Stock (the latter of whose trials I described in my essay, “Just Stop It”), both of whom are solidly on the left side of the political spectrum.

The situation is made worse by the fact that our professional organization, the APA, seems to be on the side of the activists.  My impression that this is the case is due to any number of things, including, prominently:

(1) Not only are the number of posts on the APA Blog having to do with some dimension of “social justice” – “diversity,” “trans identity,” “fat acceptance,” etc. – wildly disproportionate, but at least one of its editors, Nathan Oseroff, has been overtly hostile and abusive towards those who hold different views on these subjects than him, attacking them both in the comments section of the blog itself, and on social media.  (I was one of the people to whom he spoke in such a disrespectful manner that I emailed the editor to complain about it.) Since there has been some pushback, from me and others, these comments have been scrubbed, and Oseroff’s Twitter account has been made private.  He briefly has been suspended for this behavior, but his name continues to appear on posts.

(2) The blog has also posted essays in which the authors flat out attack colleagues and accuse them of any number of offences, having to do with the failure to meet some identity-politics related standard or other.  Two in particular, come to mind: (i) a recent post by Asia Ferrin, in which she accused Kathleen Stock of justifying violence against and therefore, actively harming trans people, simply for expressing gender-critical views in her writings; (ii) a truly bizarre post, “Fat Female Philosophers,” in which the (anonymous) author criticized Martha Nussbaum for talking publicly about how much exercise and fitness matter to her, on the grounds that it “contributed to the idea that not prioritizing exercise, especially as a female philosopher, is a kind of failure” and “did not contribute to making space for fatness in our field.”

(3) The projects for which the APA provides grants are overwhelmingly directed towards “social justice” related topics.  (I described some of these in a Provocations piece some time ago, and Leiter conducted a poll on the APA’s ideologically skewed funding priorities as well.)

(4) Six of the APA’s twelve newsletters are devoted to racial, ethnic, and gender identities.

(5) The APA has an official code of conduct that prohibits “bullying and harassment” on the part of its members.  Included is the following:

Typical examples of bullying and harassment include verbal aggression and yelling; spreading malicious rumors; calling someone conventionally derogatory names or using derogatory stereotypes to describe them; humiliating initiation practices (“hazing”); “cyber-bullying” through email, text messages, or social media; stalking; subjecting an individual to repeated, unsolicited criticism, except when this is clearly limited to a matter of scholarly dispute; subjecting a person to public ridicule; sabotaging a person’s work; scapegoating (e.g., blaming a disabled person for the need to make accommodations); and other hostile conduct that diminishes the capacity of its target to function effectively as a teacher, worker, or scholar.

But despite the fact that a number of the activists of whom I’ve been speaking violate this part of the code as a matter of routine, I can’t think of a single instance in which any of them have been censured or otherwise disciplined by the organization, under this policy.

There is much more, but this is sufficient to give a good sense of the extent to which things have gone terribly wrong.

For a professional organization to be ideologically/politically biased in this way would be a serious problem, regardless of the fortunes of its profession, but it is particularly egregious at a time when our discipline is facing a serious existential threat, given the pressures under which it finds itself in the contemporary University.  Steven Hales of Bloomsburg University put it well in the discussion following Leiter’s publication of the poll results:

Even if you think that every APA diversity initiative is a wonderful idea, there is still a deep problem with the APA’s focus because of opportunity costs. Non-wealthy colleges and universities have drunk deep of the STEM/practical majors Kool-Aid, and philosophy programs hang by a thread. There are not just fewer and fewer tenure-track jobs, but fewer jobs of any kind, including adjuncts and VAPs. Philosophy is increasingly seen as a boutique field instead of a vital component of a well-rounded education. This is an actual existential crisis for philosophy that is easily overlooked by those at R1s with billion-dollar endowments. Making sure that every component of our profession has the exact same percentages of women, men, blacks, whites, gays, straights, whatever as the general population will mean nothing when there are no faculty positions for those people to fill.

The question, then, is whether it is best to attempt to reform the APA from within or to create an alternative professional organization.

At this point, the level of division and hostility in our discipline is so high that I don’t see how the organization can be reformed from within, without a proverbial civil war that will be so bloody, it may very well destroy us.  And in truth, if people want to belong to a professional organization that is nakedly ideological and partisan, they should be able to.  But the rest of us who do not should be able to join a professional organization, whose entire focus is professional and which leaves ideology and politics to the consciences of its members.






66 responses to “Time for a Change?”

  1. s. wallerstein

    I’m not a philosopher, but I have observed this situation from a distance. Your article seems to imply that the problem is with “far left activists”. However, Leiter himself is a Marxist and that is a very leftwing position in U.S. political life. In addition, Leiter is not an Ivory Tower Marxist (which would be a contradiction in terms given what Marx says about theory and praxis), but constantly criticizes capitalism and its apologists in his blog. So the problem is not with far left activists per se, but with activists for a certain type of identity politics, who, Leiter himself suggests in your dialogue with him in Sofia TV, are not really even left-wing.

  2. I indicated that these people are also attacking their own, for insufficient purity.

  3. I also modified “far-Left” with “intensely ideological/partisan” as a further disambiguation.

  4. s. wallerstein

    When you mention above that Martha Nussbaum, whom as far as I know is on the left or at least politically progressive, is attacked for talking about the value of exercise, it no longer seems like a political struggle to me, but one between healthy people and sick ones, especially people sick with envy since Martha Nussbaum is very successful, is well-known outside of the field of philosophy, even read by non-philosophers and is quite physically attractive, especially given her age (some will attack me for my last dependent clause, I’m sure).

  5. It should be pointed out that Swinburne’s speech went beyond presenting a traditional Christian view of homosexuality, and included the claim that homosexuality is a disability which is curable in young people, which is the thing that made people angry.

    I think it is important to make it clear that the anger was not at a statement of the traditional Christian view of homosexuality, the anger was at a pseudo-scientific claim about the ‘curability’ of homosexuality.

  6. Says you. There is no transcript of the talk. And according to Rod Dreher, the points Swinburne made were no different from those he made in his book “Revelation” (Oxford University Press, 2007).


    Regardless, the point is irrelevant, as the behavior I’ve described is entirely unprofessional and grossly in violation of the APA’s own code of conduct.

  7. Says “Christian Today” actually, who claim to have seen a transcript.


    They provide the following as a direct quote from Swinburne:

    “Yet if older and incurable homosexuals abstained from homosexual acts that would have a great influence on young and curable ones; and the older ones would be doing a great service to others, and one which would help to make them themselves saints,” he said.

    OK, so the strong language was against the code of conduct. And yet I see strong language quite commonly among philosophers, “asshole” is an epiphet that is not unknown in this field.

    Are there no extenuating circumstances to be considered when people resort to such language?

  8. Robin: I’m not turning this into a debate on the merits of Swinburne, with whom I completely disagree. It was simply an example of the divisive, hostile situation in our discipline today, which demands a scrupulously neutral professional organization.

  9. I didn’t make any comment on the merits of Swinburne. I was merely correcting the claim that Swinburne was simply putting the traditional Christian stance on homosexuality and pointing out that the anger was over his use of the term ‘disability’ and the claim that homosexuality was ‘curable’ implying that it was a disease. Edward Feser also fails to mention the thing that angered people.

    This is relevant to my point that there may be extenuating circumstances to the expression of anger and the use of strong language towards people.

  10. As your last paragraph really has nothing to do with the point of the essay, I won’t comment further.

  11. I am not sure there was any need for comment in the first place – I set out to correct the misleading context and I have done so.

  12. But I guess my point is this – the new association is not going to concern itself with its members political beliefs, so is it going to sanction members who say “Fuck you assholes” on their own Facebook page with respect to people who advocate a “cure” for young gays?

    If yes, then it would seem to be taking sides, if no then its response to this issue would be no different from the APA.

  13. It’s a fair point. What sort of code of conduct such an organization should have — or whether it should have one — is something the people who created it would have to decide. In the essay, I was speaking in the context of the APA’s code.

  14. Sandro Pistilli

    Is the conservatism of Silicon Valley up for question? In your google search you have a database tailored to your likes and dislikes. Which I believe would reinforce such tastes you would have political or otherwise. This disagreement APA has with in itself is not nearly just a reflection of the times we live in but a technology issue.

  15. I don’t want to give the impression that I am opposed to this idea, far from it

    Any move to counter the politicisation of academia is to be welcomed both for its own sake and for the message it sends.

  16. Robin,
    Let me say it bluntly and clearly. I agree with Richard Swinburne. This is an opinion I have arrived at after thoughtful consideration of the issues and I express my right/freedom to express this in a thoughtful way.

    Now what would you do about it?

    1. Are you going to launch a tirade of hostile, offensive abuse at me, with the intention of silencing my voice?

    2. Or, would you ignore me?

    3. Or would you engage with my arguments in a thoughtful way(by now you should know that I can make thoughtful arguments)?

    Now, as a philosopher, what do you think a philosopher’s response should be?
    Is a philosopher called upon to exercise care, depth, insight, understanding and precision in his public thinking that transcends his emotions? Is he called upon to show careful understanding of the other party’s position, valuing context and nuance? Does a philosopher have a duty to be a model of clear, careful thinking to others.

    At its heart the question is this.
    Is a philosopher an activist who is trying to change the world?
    Is he a dogmatist who is trying to stamp his opinion on the world?
    Is he an ideologue who is trying to suppress the opinions of others?
    Is he a rigid person who cannot tolerate dissenting thoughts of others?

    Or, is a philosopher a flexible, multifaceted thinker who is trying to understand the world.

    You choose.

  17. I categorically do *not* agree with Swinburne, but I do agree with the rest of your post. And with respect to your question, I choose the last.

  18. Dan-K,
    I categorically do *not* agree with Swinburne

    Yes, and I respect that. I know that you do not lightly arrive at a position. A stimulating, enriching conversation could flow out of this disagreement(not now, since that would derail the central discussion). That is one of the things philosophers do. They seize upon and explore disagreements since they sharpen thinking.

  19. Before the advent of science the world was a fluid place with a shifting, changing reality that lacked categorical truths. Categorical truths were the domain of religion which claimed that behind the shimmering, waving curtain presented by reality were absolute, unchanging truths, moral and existential. But acceptance was always a dodgy affair that required heavy doses of mystical ritual to achieve. And even then it remained more a token belief than a deep embedded belief, hence the term ‘faith’.

    Science changed that because it revealed that there were indeed absolute, unchanging truths that underpinned the fluid reality we inhabit, though not of the same kind. These truths were amply confirmed by the way they changed our lives in beneficial ways. Truth became invested with a new meaning. It became ascertainable and absolute. Hence it acquired a more binding force than the one ever conferred by religion, since it never required an act of faith, only the ability to observe.

    And this is the changed world we live in. It has become infested with the idea that our lives are regulated by absolute, binding truths. The key problem is that truth has percolated through all areas of our thinking so that it infects domains that are not clearly ascertainable. With it has become a belief in the authority of truth. It is now more than something we desire and value. It is becoming an authority that regulates our lives. Trooping in its wake you find the authoritarians, eager, because of their nature, to enforce their understanding of truth. They have been emboldened by the success of material truths to extend their claim to behavioural and moral truths.

    These authoritarians are the new priests of the material order. But there is an essential difference between the material priests of today and the religious priests of old. The religious priests of old had at the core of their being the idea of good. Consequently they mostly strove, however imperfectly, for the good of a moral, compassionate world. Today’s priests of the material order are not animated by any such consideration, since it is not the central purpose of their order. And this shows in the conduct of the new priests of the material order.

  20. Are you certain the post about Fat Female Philosophers isn’t a hoax?

  21. Perhaps it is because I hail from a rather uncouth country, but “fuck off assholes” or “suck my gigantic queer cock” don’t seem so bad to me. I suppose the boasting of the latter is bad form.

  22. Bharath Vallabha

    I support standing against the tone and identity politics of the cultural impositions of the far left. Leiter as a marxist is concerned with economic structures. But to say someone who just says they value exercise is contributing to institutional injustice against fat people is to go well beyond economics or even morality in a traditional sense. It’s like if someone said, “I love my children, can’t imagine my life without them,” and then is criticized for being insensitive to those who can’t have children.

    As Wittgenstein said, “A picture held us captive.” That is what happening here. If a white person during segregation said, “I love the restaurant near my house” while being silent about blacks being barred from there, that seems wrong. People like the anonymous author are taking this picture and applying it to everything. This is absurd.

    Why are they doing this generalizing from one picture which is holding them captive? Because they are bad or emotional wusses? No. It’s because they don’t know how to convert their pain into philosophy. How to take their anxiety and sense of injustice and express it in a way which ennobles and challenges people while respecting their rationality. This skill – converting pain into philosophy – is very hard. No one taught it to them. Or even is clearly doing it publicly so that they can learn by seeing. The usual courses of metaphysics, ethics, history of phil don’t teach it. Not saying they should. But there should be some courses or some professional activity concerned with that.

    So not clear to me that NAPA (a new APA) would aid this process. It is bound to flair up emotions. NAPA will not be a space just for philosophy, but will be defined by its opposition to the old APA. Might be better to focus on how to convert pain into philosophy. There is a word for that – wisdom. We need to bring wisdom back into the center of philosophy, and that is an issue independent of how many APAs there are.

  23. Labnut

    I would have to take the fourth option and point out that I would really be in no position to do justice to your arguments. I have no training in psychology, nor am I across the literature. I know someone who is both and I would have to defer to his opinion about the scientific consensus on whether same sex love is a disorder, disease or disability.

  24. When I left grad school in the early 90s I was convinced that there were no real issues for philosophers to talk bout except either those handed down by tradition or invented on the spot. Philosophy was about teaching people to think deeper, but it didn’t have a specific home where that could appropriately be applied. That is, philosophy was a skill in thinking not a domain to be investigated. That’s what I thought at least.

    With all the subsequent budget crunch in departments I take it that philosophy suddenly has had to ‘prove’ its worth, and without proper subject matter that folks outside philosophy cared about it may have become a test to see whether philosophy could be relevant. So I can easily imagine that the personal and civic concerns that any humans tangle with might become fair game for the deep thinking skills of philosophers, especially those out to make the case that philosophy CAN do something that other people care about. The public discourse on important topics would either leave philosophy behind or philosophers could take sides and weigh in.

    It is a good thing, I think, that smart people are thinking about these issues, but sadly the universal human frailties of outrage and intolerance have been swept up in even many of the philosophers debating these things. It isn’t a failure of philosophy as much as a simple human failing. Maybe we stop doing (good?) philosophy as soon as we pitch battle at all costs and take no prisoners? But I guess there is a history of that in the discipline itself…. We are, after all, only human.

    So your question about the place a professional philosophical organization has in all this seems a good one. What does it mean to be ‘professional’ when the field is caving into public irrelevance? What does it mean to be ‘professional’ when petty human emotions spill over into discussions that aspire to rational heights? Do we have a need to talk about these issues? Can we do so in a more civil and indeed *philosophical* way? At the very least we need to step back from the issue and take a clearer look at what it is we are now doing under the banner of philosophy. Thank you for starting this discussion.

  25. Animal Symbolicum

    I’m a young (-ish) and untenured member of the profession. I largely agree with Professor Kaufman’s assessment of the APA, and have been growing more and more uneasy with the felt shift he gives evidence for. And so I experience a good bit of internal conflict, because I enjoy, and have enjoyed, attending APA conferences. It’s an opportunity for my far-flung colleagues and I to meet, catch up, gossip, and talk philosophy over coffee and meals and drinks.

    Philosophically, I get very little, if anything, from presenting papers and attending talks. And the fact that they’re ever used as evidence of “professional activity” is a joke. The conference paper, as a genre, tends to be flashy, merely clever, too beholden to the idea of “solving a problem.” What’s good about conference papers, though, is the conversations they generate between the talks, in the hallways, at the hotel bar, and over meals. A lot of genuine philosophical understanding emerges and gets embodied in these informal interactions. And if generating philosophical understanding is not the goal of our discipline, I don’t know what is.

    These off-the-cuff interactions between colleagues and friends you don’t often see are a real and tangible good, but a good that’s unmeasureable and uncommodifiable.

    I’m not using this as reason to keep the APA as it is, and I’m not using this as reason to keep the APA period. Like I said, I’m with Professor Kaufman here. What I’m doing is drawing attention to something important that might be lost if the APA dissolves without another, similar organization to take its place. It’s easy to say to your far-flung colleagues “Yah, let’s meet in a year and talk philosophy,” but without an institutionalized reason to do so (such as a national conference), it’s just as easy to find excuses not to meet up.

    I’m genuinely wondering, without prejudged answers: By how much, if at all, do considerations of organizational politics outweigh the sorts of apolitical goods I draw attention to? Or are these latter goods really apolitical? Are the goods I draw attention to really that important?

  26. labnut

    Now, as a philosopher, what do you think a philosopher’s response should be?
    Is a philosopher called upon to exercise care, depth, insight, understanding and precision in his public thinking that transcends his emotions? Is he called upon to show careful understanding of the other party’s position, valuing context and nuance? Does a philosopher have a duty to be a model of clear, careful thinking to others.

    A philosopher is not required to do this 24 hours a day. Philosophers are allowed to be human in their own time and to occasionally blow off steam in private Facebook groups.

    Philosophers are not required to address every single argument every single time they are brought up.

  27. Jon

    Is this really any harder than simply replacing the director who made this her mission? I think we’re conflating the APA with its director, who could just as easily be someone else.

  28. Why are you so certain that the problems we are discussing are due solely — or even mostly — to the ideology of the Director. That has not been my impression.

  29. Animal: I would think that any new organization would also sponsor academic conferences. Indeed, I would take the social dimension of belonging to such an organization as absolutely crucial. And no, I don’t think there is anything political in that.

  30. Well, I agree with almost all the sentiments here, but I don’t see why it follows that a new organization, which strictly eschewed taking political stands and funding nakedly political research, couldn’t succeed.

  31. They’re not so bad, in one sense. I mean, I’ve said worse. I simply wanted two examples of the hostility/division in the discipline.

  32. God, I wish it was. If so, APA totally missed it.

  33. Even if the APA weren’t afflicted by the problems you enumerate, the existence of an alternative could be an impetus toward constructive competition. Monopolies lead to complacency, generally. Maybe the alternative should be called “Philosopher for Philosophy.”

  34. This is a really good point, actually. Look at education: we have two major unions, NEA and AFT.

  35. > I take it that philosophy suddenly has had to ‘prove’ its worth, and without proper subject matter that folks outside philosophy cared about it may have become a test to see whether philosophy could be relevant.

    I’ve been browsing the website of the APA a bit, and that’s actually what I was thinking too. It’s as if APA is desperately trying to make philosophy *relevant* again. Is this some sort of backlash against the analytic philosophy that – so I have been told – has dominated American philosophy all those years?

  36. I forgot something.

    If they’re trying to make philosophy relevant again, they’re doing it in the crudest way imaginable, by being extremely moralizing, telling other philosophers – and people in general – what’s good and what’s bad.

    When I was reading the post by Asia Ferrin, I had the strange feeling that I was listening to a sermon by a well-meaning but stern catholic priest, explaining in a tone reminiscent of a parent talking to a young child, that the congregation shouldn’t be doing something.

  37. Jon

    Why wouldn’t they be? She sets the strategic vision for the organization. To be sure, there’s robust governance beyond her, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t affect the agenda. And look at the timing: the ideological shift was with her arrival. Not saying it’s all her, but would seem an obvious place to start.

  38. s. wallerstein

    Once thing that has not always been clearly differentiated in the above conversation is the difference between the partisan political positions individual philosophers are justified in taking and the very clear arguments (in my opinion) against the APA taking partisan political positions. As noted above, I’m not a philosopher, but it seems to me that a professional organizations should defend the rights of all members of the profession involved and in general do its best to foment the standing of the profession within the society at large: that’s its job. That means not taking sides against professors or graduate students who may be homophobes or fascists or misogynists or racists, etc.

    On the other hand, individual philosophers have every right to call out homophobes or fascists, etc., in no uncertain terms and even to treat them with scorn, insults and language that my mother would not have approved of.

    That is, once you’re a member of the club, that of philosophers, the club association, the APA, should treat you as a club member, whether or not your views are repugnant or not.

  39. M Wondering

    I’m not familiar with the governing structure of the APA, but isnt’ the exectutive of the APA an elected body? Then, if so many members are not satisfied with the current direction of the APA, why don’t they just replace the current executive by people they feel represent their interests better?

  40. “Six of the APA’s twelve newsletters are devoted to racial, ethnic, and gender identities.“

    It is going to be 6 of 9. The APA is eliminating the committees and newsletters on Philosophy and Computers, Philosophy and Medicine, and Philosophy and Law.

  41. Bharath Vallabha

    A new organization can succeed, and I am not against it. I see I was not clear in my last paragraph.

    My point is it depends on what “eschewing taking political stands” means. There are two ways academic phil has been insular with a focus on white men: in the syllabi and in who had the jobs. Due to mass education starting post WWII, both of these are now changing. That’s a good thing. But the issue is: how to foster that change in a philosophical way, rather than in an activist or preaching way, so that we don’t fall into a us vs them mindset in the process.

    Any organization will have to deal with these two issues of syllabi and jobs. In one sense, it is as political as it gets. The professional days of Wittgenstein, Quine and Sellars are over: they never had to address these two topics because they lived or were formed professionally in the pre mass education days. Their philosophy is still super relevant, but its now abstracted from the day to day way they functioned as academics.

    So if the organization being non-political means it won’t say anything about syllabi or jobs, I just don’t see that as an option. It will have to take stands, if only to stop APA’s current momentum. But if non-political means addressing these issues with an aim of appreciating their philosophical nature, then great. That would be to make wisdom – dealing with issues which are painful for many in a thoughtful way – central to the organization. That is sorely needed.

    Instead of non-political vs political, perhaps the relevant contrast is engaging with institutional ideals and scarcity in an inclusive or a non-inclusive way. The current APA seems to be defining inclusive and diversity in a narrow way. If a new APA defines them in a more expansive way, great. I think it would have a lot of support.

  42. Dan does cover this in the last paragraph.

  43. As I indicated in the essay, I am of the view that the current level of division/hostility is such that any attempt to substantially change the direction of the organization from within will involve a very bloody fight. Sometimes it’s easier and wiser just to leave.

  44. Association committees tend, over time, to be populated by politically aware careerists, adept at manoeuvring, lobbying, forming alliances and self promotion. Consequently they are difficult dislodge without resorting to the same distasteful tactics.

  45. Labnut

    Second thoughts I would probably choose your third option as Swinburne’s contention appears to involve a conceptual error which would make any knowledge of the physiology or psychology of disability or things that require cures

    So maybe one day you can put that argument. Not here if course as it is not relevant to the subject and it seems to have turned out a mostly fruitful discussion.

  46. Zac


    That sounds all well and good for bloodless, abstract entities floating through the ether, but we aren’t that and a philosophical discourse that reduces us to this kind of homo philosophicus is bound to die in whatever jar it was born in. It’s one thing to call for limits to acceptable discourse and behavior (Dan’s inventory of concerning trends and instances at the APA falls in this category). It’s another thing to course-correct so drastically that we trick ourselves into thinking we should dissolve every issue in a bath of dispassionate inquiry and curious intellectual exercise.

    I mean, we can point to any number of Holocaust deniers who would claim the mantle of long, thoughtful consideration in the generation of their beliefs. I’ve argued with some online who were capable of donning the robes of civil, academic-sounding dialogue. Once in my life I ran into one in real life and had an extended argument with him and I surely offered him far more civility than he deserved. That’s because I believe in some measure of civility (the boundaries are fuzzy) and in the importance of dialogue. It’s also because of a morbid, bystanding and experimental curiosity I had in finding a specimen in the wild and seeing how far all my study and argument could take me. But I’m also not a Jew. There’s no doubt this made it easier for me. The guy was perfectly nice to me in a way that someone totally oblivious to the awfulness of what he was saying could be. And after I wore him down, he eventually retreated into asking why people were so invested in this issue, why they were so offended by his skeptical inquiries, why this event from decades ago matters to us now. And for fuck’s sake, man, I said because Holocaust denial is at its source rooted in apologies for Nazism, in excuses for antisemitism, in the wiping out from the history books of the murder of millions of people. If that shouldn’t piss someone off, then what should?

    The claim that homosexuality is a curable mental illness isn’t as far beyond the pale as Holocaust denial, but it certainly buts up against the limits of what we should feel inclined to vigorously and passionately contest. By all means, people should be capable of debating it, and if they want to squelch it, they should be able to make a substantive case against it. People should also realize that it isn’t like talking about the sex organs of an extinct species of moth. It’s making a cruel claim about living, breathing people, about individuals with thoughts, feelings, friends, family. And the person across the table from you debating this point may very well be one of these individuals or one of their loved ones, and the discussion isn’t a game to them. Should this reduce to insults, bullying or violence? No. But their values and emotions and personal connections to the issue aren’t an epiphenomenon we’re obliged to unseat from the table. They’re an essential part of what makes human, of what we value about being human, and of what philosophy is supposed to grasp and cultivate.

  47. […] idea of a new philosophical organization has been supported here (by blogger Daniel Kaufman, who reviews some of the history which I commented in an older post.  […]

  48. Hi Zac

    I sometimes think it a little strange that it is regarded as unreasonable for people to be angry when that which is the source of profound joy, happiness, fulfilment and meaning in their lives is airily dismissed as a “disability” that needs to be “cured”.

    But there seems little point in expressing this anger publically since those who get it already know and those who don’t get it never will.

    But there is no reason to ask people not to say things like Swinburne is saying here

    On the contrary, as I said of a paper by Roger Scruton, there is every reason to want this to be read as widely and carefully as possible and to make it clear that this is the toughest intellectual case that the opponent’s of gay rights have.

    And if they have more to say then they should be encouraged to say it.

    Because people who say these kinds of things always seem to feel that they have something to say which they haven’t been given the opportunity to say.

  49. For anyone interested in the text of the Swinburne speech in question, this link has a link to the PDF right at the bottom.


    The interesting thing to note, if you read what Swinburne is actually saying, is that homosexuality would be a “disability” but bisexuality would not. Hence, under his claim, same-sex attraction would not be a disability, per se.

    Anyway, that is derail enough, if anyone wanted to discuss this elsewhere I would be more than happy

  50. Robin,
    I sometimes think it a little strange that it is regarded as unreasonable for people to be angry

    It only becomes unreasonable when they stay with their anger, nourishing it and obsessing over it. We are entitled to our emotions. We should feel them and then move on to dealing with them. Curiosity is far more valuable than anger.

    Below I reproduce an earlier comment about De Bono’s six thinking hats. Thinking is a multifaceted, multidimensional process. Done properly it takes a 360 degree, all things considered approach. As philosophers, aspiring philosophers, or, in my case, mere wannabe philosopher, we are called upon to elevate reason to its highest level, above the polemics, dissension, contention and squabbles of the crowd.

    A more holistic thinking process – De Bono’s six thinking hats.

    De Bono outlined this process using the concept of six thinking hats. He argued that there are six distinct kinds of thinking and that a given issue should be explored by employing each of the six kinds of thinking in turn.

    In my company we would, following De Bono’s advice, put a coloured hat on the table to signify that for the moment only that kind of thinking was to be employed. When done, we would put the next hat on the table, and so on until we had employed all six kinds of thinking. Only once that was done were we ready to form conclusions and make decisions.

    1. White Hat:
    Get the data, the history and the context. Are we well enough informed? Have we properly consulted the domain experts?

    2. Red Hat:
    Use intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also, think how others could react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know our reasoning. Look at other people’s point of view and try to feel as they do.

    3. Black Hat:
    This is classical critical thinking. Look for problems, errors, mistakes, shortcomings and fallacies. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work.

    4. Yellow Hat:
    Think positively. Ask what if? Look for reasons to believe. Could this be true? How would I know? What can we learn from this? What good ideas can we appropriate?

    5. Green Hat:
    This is curiosity. Explore more deeply. Search for new ways of seeing the issue. Generate new ideas. This is where we develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. Keep that for the black hat.

    6. Blue Hat:
    Review what we have learnt when we put on each of the other hats. It is an all things considered approach that is integrative. Have all the stakeholders been consulted or considered? Have we really properly informed ourselves? Have we taken shortcuts? Where have our biases and predispositions shaped the result? Do we need more time or more research? Should we consult other people? If necessary we would revisit one of the other hats.

    In my experience this process expands the mind, letting curiosity blossom and the garden of the mind bloom, while critical thinking, employed on its own, is like an overdose of weedkiller, withering everything it touches.

  51. Robin,
    for a larger perspective it is useful to remember the ancient concept of the three transcendentals – the true, the good and the beautiful.These three things, for them, represented the highest level drives of the human animal. But they missed one, creativity. We are also driven by a desire to create.

    But this is more than a drive, it is a love. We, to the deepest core of our being, love the true, love the good, love the beautiful and love excellence in creativity. The measure of this love can be gauged by the strength of our reaction to their opposites. We absolutely abhor falsity, betrayal and deceit; wrong, evil and cruelty; ugliness, disorder and the unnatural; the absence of excellence in our creations.

    Key to all of this is our capacity for love, something that no machine could ever possess. Love is given a sharp, pin point focus by the true, the good, the beautiful and the creative. They are the target and fulfilment of love. The complete and the mature personality possesses this kind of love. Today we have overwhelmingly shifted the concept of love to the erotic fulfilment of animal need. Of course this need is important. But it must be seen in the context of procreation and bonding, where its telos is realised, because it makes possible the continued functioning of society, so that we may pursue the true, the good, the beautiful and the creative. This is the ultimate measure of our worth, our meaning and purpose in life.

  52. s. wallerstein

    I don’t believe that love has a telos to be realized. I agree that love which involves bonding is “saner” than love without bonding, but why bring in procreation? Many couples don’t want children, others can’t have children for biological reasons (as a result of prostate surgery, I can’t have children anymore) or because they are of the same sex. In a world full of so much hatred, hostility and indifference, love with bonding, be it among couples of the opposite sex or the same sex, seems worth celebrating and praising.

  53. As I pointed out earlier, De Bono completely dismissed a major philosopher without, apparently, having bothered to read that philospher or even, it seems, to have read about that philosopher.

    That is not exactly a recommendation of his theories of reasoning.

  54. Labnut

    “It only becomes unreasonable when they stay with their anger, nourishing it and obsessing over it.”

    Saying “Fuck you asshole” in a private Facebook group doesn’t sound much like “nourishing it and obsessing over it” to me.

    Maybe we could ask the Christian right to stop obsessing over gay sex.

    It seems to me that it is reasonable to call “Tripe!’ for as long as it is that tripe continues to be served.

  55. I don’t believe that love has a telos to be realized.

    It is interesting to know what you believe or do not believe, but do your beliefs carry any sort of argumentative weight?

    but why bring in procreation?

    Yes indeed, why should I mention it? Some things are so obvious that stating them is needless tautology.

  56. apparently, having bothered to read that philospher or even, it seems, to have read about that philosopher.

    Here you make exactly the mistake you accuse others of. You attack the person and disregard his reasoning. I gave you a neat summary of his reasoning relevant to our discussion.

    You have completely disregarded my comment in its entirety. That is not engagement or discussion of any kind at all. So why say it?

  57. Robin,
    the discussion has degraded to a new and embarrassing low so I am bowing out and will wait for next excellent essay from Dan-K. I happily leave the last word to you.

  58. Labnut,

    You have completely disregarded my comment in its entirety.

    You mean the way that De Bono disregarded the entirety of Aristotle when he dismissed him?

    No I addressed your comment and gave a very good reason why we should not consider him as someone who knows something about reasoning.

    You seem to be avoiding the question of why we should still take De Bono seriously when he is someone who dismisses the entirety of a major philosopher and his place on history based on nothing more than something De Bono made up and which happens to be the exact opposite of what Aristotle actually says.

    That is not engagement or discussion of any kind at all. So why say it?

    The same reason why, if someone had recommended I seek the advice of a particular builder I would mention the fact that I just saw that builder trying to tighten a screw with a chisel and cut a metal bar with a wood saw.

    I don’t see why you don’t think of that as engagement – what was I supposed to say? Am I supposed to pretend that i don’t think that De Bono is a clown?

  59. “… when Rochester wrote …”

  60. s. wallerstein

    The argument against telos is that it’s a concept that comes from Aristotle and is not used in contemporary psychology about human behavior. By the way, what is your argument in favor of telos? You don’t give one above, you merely
    affirm that it exists.

  61. s. wallerstein

    By the way, the only reason I can see for bringing in procreation as the “telos” of love is to exclude gay people, to make them feel “unnatural”. Don’t you have anything better to do with your time than to dump on a human group, gay people, who have been persecuted, oppressed, excluded, and even murdered for centuries and now finally, for the first time since the ancient Greeks, are seen by many as worthy of respect as anyone else?

  62. I heard an interview with John Searle and he was asked his advice for young philosophers, he said “Try not to say things that are obviously wrong”.

    In reasoning you need to take care of the basics before you start trying to get fancy.

  63. Look, I don’t agree with the “procreation as the telos of love” view, but it seems to me that the one can make a case for it, from within the religious commitments of the Abrahamic religions, and not because one wants to exclude gay people. For one thing, the idea also excludes straight people who do not wish to procreate and use birth control.

  64. Labnut,

    the discussion has degraded to a new and embarrassing low

    Don’t be so hard on yourself labnut, I thought you made some excellent points 🙂

  65. As this discussion is no longer about the essay, I am going to close comments.

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