by Daniel A. Kaufman
My dialogue with Robert Gressis, on his essay, “Is Philosophy OK?” and on the recent “white paper” on publication ethics. First aired on Sophia, MeaningofLife.TV, May 30 2019.
by Daniel A. Kaufman
My dialogue with Robert Gressis, on his essay, “Is Philosophy OK?” and on the recent “white paper” on publication ethics. First aired on Sophia, MeaningofLife.TV, May 30 2019.
A great conversation!!
More dialogues with Professor Gressis would be very welcome.
they will be coming!
What I say above is not just conventional politeness. I’ve listened to all or almost all your Sophia programs for several years and this is one of the best.
The conversations with Crispin are very thought-provoking, but he’s completely sui generis. Professor Gressis, on the other hand, is the guy next door (in an academic setting of course) and so the dialogue gets to one.
I didn’t listen to all of it, but in the last quarter you make an important observation, when you say something like “this focus on identity politics is going to be detrimental in states like the one I live in”.
Lots of so-called progressive people suffer from two delusions. A) We’re the only ones who know this clever trick (identity politics, in this case), and b) we can’t lose this one.
They are so wrong, it’s hard to believe.
There are people – I’ll call them “conservatives” for discussion’s sake, although it’s not the right word – who do know this clever trick too; and they’re better at it. They’re winning.
Just look at Europe, where in many countries ugly political movements based on identity are growing and gaining power (in France, “mouvance identitaire” is an expression used to describe several extremist rightwing groups).
The tools of identity politics work, no doubt about that. But in real life, as opposed to Academia, they work far more efficiently against minorities and marginalized groups than in favor of them.
After your first post on that famous white paper, I did some research, and what I found was barely believable. An example is this quote from your beloved Rebecca Kukla about peer review in philosophy. Peer review has many well-documented problems, but listen to this:
“Perhaps most contentiously, we have resisted the trend towards triple anonymous review. Because of my broad commitment to standpoint epistemology, I believe that knowing who wrote a piece is often important to assessing the value and meaning of what it says. I also want to be able to take extra care to mentor papers by scholars from marginalized groups, if they have potential but are not yet ready for publication. Given our roughly 85% rejection rate, many potentially excellent papers, including those by marginalized scholars, will simply get cut unless I go out of my way to recognize their potential and make sure they get good feedback and a chance to resubmit.”
First of all, this is odd. What stops her now to “recognize the potential” of papers “not yet ready for publication” and give good feedback so that the authors have “a chance to resubmit”? Is there anything in the current anonymous review process that prohibits her doing exactly this?
But the biggest problem is of course that “conservatives” can, if they wish, make the long march through the institutions too. I wonder how Rebecca Kukla would feel if the tables were turned, and very conservative reviewers routinely would “go out of their way” to help very conservative authors they happen to know, get their paper published?
Progressives can be thoroughly stupid.
She is one of the worst actors in our profession. Alongside McKinnon, Ichikawa, and others in the woke brigade.
I enjoyed the conversation.
I’m from a more technical area (mathematics and computer science), so my personal experience of teaching is rather different. The discussion provided an interesting perspective.
When Robert mentioned that he was Catholic, my immediate reaction was that he should give that up. But, more realistically, he can keep his catholicism, but he at least needs to get rid of that guilt complex.
Nice conversation. Wonderful to hear Robert’s views and him being open about the feelings of guilt. I doubt it is just a guilt complex, let alone reducible to his Catholicism. In the three years I was a professor, and even as a teaching assistant in grad school, I felt the guilt very much. But I repressed it back then. Speaking it out loud as Robert is doing seems smarter and healthier.
The guilt doesn’t have to be an indication of moralizing everything. Of course, people have different time and emotional limits, and values. That Dan doesn’t feel guilty about academic phil doesn’t tell us anything about whether Robert’s guilt is justified, let alone understandable. Guilt is a funny concept. I wouldn’t ever tell anyone they should feel guilty (in this broad sense). But some might take more personally the problems with academia (or factory farming etc) – and if they are articulate and considerate about it as Robert is, that is admirable.
Don’t doubt Dan is a wonderful professor, and makes a real difference to those 10 out of 100 students in each class. But how many of the other 90 students don’t get into the subject not because they don’t care, but because Dan’s sense of the subject and its history doesn’t work for them? I am not even going to women, African-Americans, etc.
Just take Christians. As someone who finds what is good in religions deeply important, I find wrong Dan’s idea that because philosophy teaching is humanistic and even spiritual, any question of the discipline’s impact overall can’t be raised. That’s doubly wrong. First, that sounds like philosophy professors saying, “Just give us money, listen to us, and you can’t doubt our worth.” If this is the attitude, I support many tax payers’ response to such an attitude. Second, many students identify with the spiritual and intellectual traditions of their family’s religion, and so they get their humanistic growth from their church. It seems flat wrong to say that isn’t the right kind of humanistic growth, and the best kind is what academic phil decided it was in the last two centuries. At the very least, much more has to be done to reach out to those students where they are at, instead of commanding them to leave their religions at the door.
The white paper crowd will doom academic phil in most states. But that is made possible because academic phil has had for decades a contentious relationship with most people in those states. Pointing to Plantinga and van Inwagen doesn’t take away from how much most academic philosophers look down on their students’ Christian or religious backgrounds. The way the philosophy and religion distinctions are drawn and institutionalized in academia is wrong, and it’s not working for a lot of people. If one cared about this while being an academic, guilt is understandable.
Dan I’m pretty much in agreement.
Some thoughts on two points Robert brought up:
On driving a gas guzzler on weekends, I kind of agree that while one’s doing the driving it isn’t changing world CO2 levels in an appreciable manner, but if I also take a broader view, like how one’s driving habits influences others driving habits, it’s not unreasonable to think we have more influence than we first thought.
On taking a french language class, I think it can influence us beyond how well we test on the vocabulary or grammar years later. What’s being taken in during a class, consciously or not, can’t be restricted to the content found in tests on the subject (and it seems that’s how the brain works). And even though what individuals remember about how a class affected them or how they qualify it’s value may be fairly accurate, it still leaves the possibility the class also had other more broad or positive effects.
“Don’t doubt Dan is a wonderful professor, and makes a real difference to those 10 out of 100 students in each class. But how many of the other 90 students don’t get into the subject not because they don’t care, but because Dan’s sense of the subject and its history doesn’t work for them? I am not even going to women, African-Americans, etc.”
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A rather weird comment if someone has actually watched the dialogue. I spoke at length about the *years* I spent teaching in the Bronx to an almost 100% black and Puerto Rican population and indicated that it was there that the subject matter and teaching had the *greatest* impact, not the least. And it was a cross-disciplinary survey in Western Civ.
With regard to the other 90 students, you don’t know any of them and have not been teaching for decades, as I have, so let me assure you that virtually none of the bored and uninterested are such for the reason you give here. I appreciate your kind bigheartedness, but I’m afraid that with regard to this subject, about which I know quite a lot, having taught over 10,000 students across several states in my career, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
“First, that sounds like philosophy professors saying, “Just give us money, listen to us, and you can’t doubt our worth.” If this is the attitude, I support many tax payers’ response to such an attitude.”
= = = =
I said no such thing, and it cannot be reasonably inferred either from what I wrote or what I said in the dialogue. At least not if one is reasoning well.
= = = =
“Second, many students identify with the spiritual and intellectual traditions of their family’s religion, and so they get their humanistic growth from their church. It seems flat wrong to say that isn’t the right kind of humanistic growth, and the best kind is what academic phil decided it was in the last two centuries. At the very least, much more has to be done to reach out to those students where they are at, instead of commanding them to leave their religions at the door.”
I say and do no such thing, and given that you’ve spent zero time in my classroom or the classrooms of my colleagues, this is just you inventing things to sustain a critical narrative on something you don’t know very much about.
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Honestly, Bharath, I’m really disappointed by this entire comment. It’s really pretty obnoxious, actually, when you take the whole thing in. Especially in light of the very lengthy and substantive conversation it is supposed to be about.
Dan, as someone who felt guilt at being an academic, I found your very dismissive attitude in the dialogue disappointing. You seem to think it’s ok for you to say what sounds like philistinianism, or just a guilt complex rooted in catholicism, or say some people associated with the white paper are bad human beings, or what is obnoxious as if that is all part of rational discourse as long as you do it. But if someone gets annoyed by it, then you can say, as you did in the dialogue, not to take things so personally.
I think there is a general issue here: because this is your site, seems to me there is a mixing of rational discourse with a focus on your emotional outlook to the world. A constant blurring together of the subject matter with your personal reactions to it. The issue of your classes is an example. Of course I don’t know who your students are. It’s a cheap response to point that out. For the topic isn’t just about your students or Robert’s for that matter. Given that the title of the talk is “Is Philosophy ok?”, the issue is philosophy classrooms as a general matter. And the structural forces of how academic philosophy has been in the 20th century in America. Seems to me you flicker back and forth between that topic and your personal experience as it is beneficial to you.
What I saw in the dialogue is you using catholicism or philistinism, etc. to psychologize Robert’s guilt feelings, as if they were just a quirk of his. But there is a very clear alternate: to think about the guilt to highlight broader features of academia and the feelings of being complicit. I can’t speak for Robert and he might disagree with me. But as a viewer, what stood out for me is how firmly you seem to feel that academic philosophy doesn’t have any moral errors baked into it; that perhaps if others don’t enjoy or identify with the profession as you do, then it is their own fault or problem. If the white paper group treats it as someone who is upset with academic phil doesn’t have to take any responsibility for their feelings, on your view it feels like they have to take all the responsibility.
I tried to take my response to the video and articulate it as rationally and respectfully as I can. I started commenting and contributing here because I found the voices here interesting and yours, and because I found the social justice warriors wrong. And because I thought a middle ground could be explored here. But I find your personally denigrating people and calling them bad people not productive, and even, for me personally, triggering. I use that word cautiously.
I won’t continue to make this point, as I feel I have been doing it many times over in many posts. It’s your site. It’s natural that whatever you and the readers find acceptable is how conversations will go.
Good grief. There was nothing dismissive in my 1 1/2 hour plus dialogue with Robert. Nor is there anything cheap about my referencing my teaching experience over almost three decades or how profoundly meaningful those experiences have been.
And yes, the people who are currently trying to drag our profession into an identitarian fever swamp; who are harassing and trying to professionally destroy outstanding scholars like Kathleen Stock; who are making a laughing stock out of our discipline with juvenile Twitter wars against world famous, pioneering athletes like Martina Navratilova; yes, they are a disaster for philosophy.
I also don’t understand the point in your last paragraph. Anyone can comment and say whatever they like here. And at BHTV. And i receive plenty of criticism, which I am more than happy to give space to.
Dan’s comments about having received a favorable response in his philosophy courses with Puerto Rican students reminds me of something.
I have read comments from to time about how philosophy as it is conventionally taught does not speak to latino students.
I’ve lived over half my life in Latin America, in Chile, where I guess everyone could be consider “latino/a”.
Philosophy is taught in high school here. It used to be obligatory, now it is elective, but they are considering making it obligatory once again. As a result, lots of people major in philosophy here as there is a job market in the high schools.
In the high schools and universities they teach conventional philosophy. Almost all of it is Western, rather continental than analytical although in one high school at least they read the Tao Te Ching. I’ve never heard anyone complain that philosophy as it is taught here “does not speak” to Chileans. Weird.
I walked by a good bookstore situated near two university this afternoon and noted the philosophy books in the shop window. A book on the Frankfurt School, a biography of Nietzsche, a book by Engels, one by Walter Benjamin, one by Isaiah Berlin, one by Hannah Arendt, another by Hegel, another by Zizek, another by Judith Butler, another by Simone de Beauvoir and finally, one by Carlos Peña, a Chilean philosopher, who in the one book of his that I’ve read relies mainly on Heidegger, who certainly cannot be accused of being pro-third world. I assume that they place the books that more people are interested in buying and reading in the shop window.
So in Chile at least latinos and latinas read the same philosophy books without problems as would any student of continental philosophy anywhere in Europe or the U.S.
Yeah, I think that this whole “traditional philosophy excludes and alienates people of color, etc.” is actually pretty racist. But I don’t argue in those terms. I simply point out that it is untrue, and give concrete examples.
Good god, man, it’s not all about your three decades of meaningful experiences. I don’t deny that. But your meaningful experiences are made possible by, and coexist with, institutional habits and forms which deny that kind of meaningful experiences for others. You seem to not care about that at all. And using Wolf and Diamond as a defense of a kind cognitive obtuseness is misreading them. Just because we can’t moral saints doesn’t mean there aren’t actual moral catasphrophies; we can disagree about whether academia is such a catastrophie (I think it is), but dismissing the issue under the banner of a wittgensteinian conservativsm is misleading.
I am 41, and you have no power over me (other than giving me a platform on your site – which is minimal, since I don’t need it). Still, I have been so annoyed by your “these are bad people” venting that I have found it hard to write anything for this site. So I wonder if I am a 18 and in your class, how excited I would be? Not much, I think. I might be in the back, kind of disgruntled and wondering if the professor cares about my opinion, or if all he cares about is his satisfaction and the dozen students in the class who get along with him. It wasn’t with you of course, but my actual 18 year self had just such a reaction when I was taking classes. And when I became a professor, I felt guilt about if I was reaching my 18 year old self or not. I guess you were spared this guilt because you loved your education. Good for you; its not because you are smarter than me, or know more, or have a better temperament, or appreciate phil better; it is just pure moral luck.
My point isn’t that you might not reach 18 year old me because I am Indian-American. Of course not. Maybe some Indian-Americans love your teaching. So what? My point is many white Christians probably don’t, along with many Indian-American atheists. The question is not whether the dozen students love you, and gain a lot. I am sure they do. It’s how many are being left behind – and that is the point of wondering if phil classes are reaching their potential. The issue is not just a neoliberal issue.
You can focus your ire on the identitarianians all you want. But that is not why academic phil is going down. It’s because most non-academics can’t tell the difference between your classes and Kukla’s classes. It’s because most people don’t give a shit about Quine or Wittgenstein or Russell. Why should my parents want their tax money to go to support a field which they saw first hand how much it hurt their child – and didn’t care about it? I don’t see any reason why they should, unless the profession actually says, “We will do better. With all students, of all races, religions, all backgrounds. We will do better to live up to our ideals.” I don’t hear you saying this.
The sjws say you are a bad person, with racist ideas. You respond they are bad people and bad actors. I say “a pox on both your houses.” Neither is inspiring to me, nor do I want to identify with it. Nor support it.
No, they can’t say whatever they like. Don’t be so naive. Just like you might not know how many students walk away from your classes, you won’t know how many walk away from commenting here because they feel unwelcome.
If people in classes in Chile read the same philosophy books as those in Missouri or London, the natural explanation for this seems to be the role of colonialism in setting up the universities – not that there aren’t problems with the institutional structures in American academic philosophy. I have no idea about whether people in Chile are happy with academic phil or not. Nor do I doubt some puerto rican students enjoy Dan’s classes. But surely they can’t be categorized as a group, anymore than we can say that new yorkers are happy with Dan’s classes. I repeat: the issue isn’t whether some students are happy with phil classes. Of course they are. The issue of evaluation is how many students are unhappy with the phil classes as they have been taught. That is the point of self-reflection if the classes are meeting their goals, which Dan in the video basically dismissed as useless and irrelevant. I agree this kind of self-reflection can’t be done with evaluations and surveys, nor by listening to the sjws. But that does not imply it is not needed.
The dialogue was about whether we can ethically continue being teachers. What’s relevant in answering that question for myself, then, is the population I’ve actually taught, not a statistically representative population drawn from all over the country. And again, there is nothing dismissive about this as a response.
I’m assuming the people here are adults and relatively well-adjusted. That someone who is neither may feel “unwelcome” is unfortunate, but unavoidable. I am pretty scrupulously fair in my engagements.
You don’t hear me saying it because I categorically disagree with your assessment. As for the rest, it’s pretty self-absorbed. I’m sorry you go through life looking at everything through these kinds of lenses, but that’s your choice. And once again, you know nothing about my students, back of the row or front. So, your guesses are informed only by your own commitments, not by any actual facts on the ground.
You are sorry I go through life looking at it through the lens of my own experiences, and get annoyed when others deny those experiences or their importance? I am not sorry at all. Since you see these comments have nothing to do with anything you said in the dialogue, rather than belabor the point, this will be my last comment on this thread.
I’m sorry to have to tell everyone, but Bharath has requested to be removed from EA’s roster of contributors. I told him it was a shame, but of course, I have acceded to his request.
A bit rich, given that you just blasted me for referring to my own experience in teaching, when talking about whether or not my continuing to teach is “ethical.”
Sorry to lose you.
I didn’t blast you for your experiences. In fact, I said I am sure you are a wonderful teacher. But I did blast you for minimizing others experiences and their importance – and the difficulty many have in the profession as it is set up. But, hey, people have different priorities.
Thanks for letting me contribute here; I learnt a lot. I just can’t be ok with the name calling the sjws and questioning their motives and characters. They are wrong, but they acting out of pain. The pain should be understood, and not dismissed, just as we need to understand everyone’s pain.
Apologizes if it seems like this derailed the discussion from the video. This really is my last comment now.
And for the record, in light of Bharath’s claims about what no one gives a shit about, for years our students have been begging for a Wittgenstein seminar, but we can’t offer it, because our faculty have dwindled to the point that we can no longer teach outside of our assigned rotation. Back when the economics of our university was friendlier, the most enthusiastically attended seminar was one called “Analytic Philosophy Since Quine.” And for a stretch I taught our Knowledge and Reality course, which covers Quine, Davidson, Kripke, Putnan, Goodman, etc., and it was always maxed out for enrollments.
They’re trying to destroy other peoples’ careers and sources of livelihood out of their “pain”?
And you’ve said *I’m* naive. Incredible.
Actually, all the universities in Chile were founded after Chilean independence from Spain. However, I understand that when you speak about colonialism, you are probably referring to the fact that a Native-American population has been dominated by an elite of European origin who impose their standards of what is worth studying in the high schools and universities.
First of all, Chile has been a democracy since 1990, the end of the Pinochet dictatorship and was so before then for many years, so if the majority of people had wanted leaders who changed the educational curriculum (education is centralized here in one Ministry of Education for the whole country), they would have done so and they haven’t. Even the large and very radical student movement in 2011 (which lasted until about 2013) did not demand curricular reform, but focused their demands on ending for-profit universities and getting free university education, demands that were partially responded to by the reformist government of Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018). Bachelet tried hard to meet the students’ demands, but met a lot of opposition from the rightwing in congress and in the media and also found that people in general liked the status quo more than she and the student movement imagined.
Second, while it is true that Western philosophy arrived in Chile with the Spanish, at times imperialism, for all its defects, brings cultural products that the conquered population may be interested in. That sounds like heresy, I know. It may be that for many Chileans (and the Chilean population is largely mestizo, that is, a mix of Native-American with European genes), Plato, Marx and Simone de Beauvoir have something to say. Why not? After all, they live in a largely urban, globalized capitalist society where Native-American traditions seem meaningless or “just for Sunday” to many.
Bharath, I urge you to reconsider your decision. I learn from what you have to say and find you to be a most valuable contributor.
Bharath, I totally agree with Stephen’s comment.
Bharath’s leaving disappoints me as much as others. But. I can’t say I’m surprised. Read his essay here, On The Meaning Of Miracles, and its comment threads https://theelectricagora.com/2019/03/30/the-meaning-of-miracles/, especially (I say with no pretensions to any great insight) my comments, in which I remark the problems with his New Agey religious views (and his replies). It’s all there. Bharath always seeks a middle ground without surplus of logical limits or political investment. He reminds me of some naive proto-Hegelians, who think a synthesis can be achieved through moderating opposing views out of their evidently trenchant exclusions. ( Hegel himself was not naive – he once referred to history as a butcher’s chopping block.) But there are some differing opinions that are irreconcilable. What has to be done is establishing institutions allowing differing opinions while also allowing their increasing or decreasing influence on the general community, without resort to violence or institutional punishment – hence some form of liberal state, and some form of humanistic academy.
At any rate, demanding such moderation as Bharath insists on is a cul-de-sac, inevitably leading to frustration. Since it is illogical – or really a-llogical, or pre-logical, at least as far as public discourse is concerned – no direct argument, and no justification via evidence, can challenge it. But the frustration mounts, and ultimately has a flash point. Why can this non-logical position be accepted on the basis of its own interior logic? (Because although non-logical in the general sense of what can be understood among others, there is no idea that cannot be unraveled according to its interior logical ) In other words, ‘Although this seems illogical to you, why can you not accept it on the basis of its interior logic, which certainly convinces me that it’s true?’
Challenges are then seen as attacks. Not simply on the idea, but on its interior logic. Attacks on interior logic are perceived as attacks on the individuals own thought processes. Since attacks are always perceived subjectively, the response is dismissive or assaultive. While I think Bharath has contributed, and can contribute, important insights as an independent scholar, I also think that in this comment threads (as in some other comments on other essays), I think BHharath has read Dan Kaufman uncharitably to an unacceptable degree,
The most striking revelation in Bharath’s comments is that he seems to have suffered some pain in his graduate program and its immediate consequences. I’m sorry to hear that. But although I also suffered in my graduate program and consequently as an adjunct, and ultimately decided the trouble was not worth the candle, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and was never afflicted by any guilt, even in those classes I thought had not gone well. As I write this, I have not yet been able to access the video, so I hope to have more to say concerning that in the future.
However, the proper way to deal with a situation with which one is unhappy, is to say ‘it’s evidently not for me’ – and leaving it. “I do believe/ if you don’t like things you leave/ for something that’s better than before” – Lou Reed.
Unless you have a legal wedge and fulcrum to administer a rough justice with a lawsuit, you don;t lash out or spill your frustration or guilt over everything and everyone connected with an unhappy employment. You move on and get another job. That’s the gritty truth of living in a capitalist society. . .
“I’m sorry to have to tell everyone, but Bharath has requested to be removed from EA’s roster of contributors. I told him it was a shame, but of course, I have acceded to his request.”
Bharath, I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision. You are a most valuable contributor. Your clarity of reasoning both in your comments and your essays is like a breath of fresh air. What you say is always lucid, on point and well argued. You bring a fresh perspective which is much needed in this forum. Your comments are balanced, decent, generous and lacking in malice or rancour. This is much to be admired in an age where, sadly, as we see so often, the opposite has become the norm.
I agree. I think he should come back. But he is not comfortable with my admittedly somewhat brusque “way.”
By the way, you should come back too. I miss you.
“my admittedly somewhat brusque “way.””
Ah yes, you do sometimes revert to a somewhat “professorial” style. It is the occupational hazard of many long years of conditioning by students who amply deserve this treatment. Knowing this, I should cut you some slack but then those pesky things called emotions take up the slack 🙂
Having reached the 24 minute mark I simply cannot resist jumping into this ‘lion’s den’ (lovely religious allusion!).
Here are my thoughts. Robert is doubtful that his teaching makes a measurable difference, while Dan thinks it does make an important difference along other, non-pedagogic dimensions. I agree with him but I want to try to make a clearer argument for his case.
respice, adspice, prospice (look behind you, look around you and look ahead of you)
I live in a dangerous part of the world and, on my daily walks and runs, I mutter this mantra to myself. Even so I have been mugged three times, but luckily, I have won the fight all three times. Not by being tougher or faster, but by being better prepared(However I don’t carry a gun, my PTSD makes that impossible).
Preparation requires understanding. We need to understand where we have come from, understand where we are and understand where we wish to go(respice, adspice, prospice). Understanding is the key cognitive skill we use to direct our lives.
But where does understanding come from? In our educational system we acquire domain specific skills. But alongside these domain specific skills we are also silently acquiring three other sets of skills:
1) emotional skills
2) cultural skills
3) cognitive skills(understanding)
Cognitive skills(understanding) are unique in that they are only acquired by teaching domain specific skills. It hardly matters what the domain specific skills are, teaching them inevitably result in greater cognitive skills and it is these cognitive skills(understanding the world behind you, around you and ahead of you) which is the key to successfully directing your life.
But it goes deeper than this. These cognitive skills rest on a foundation of intuition. Intuition can be thought of as the instant idea that comes to mind when contemplating a give issue. Intuition will supply the right word or the right response without conscious inquiry. A rich, deep set of intuitions is invaluable to understanding. This arsenal of intuitions is developed through experience of the world and the defining experience is the set of intuitions developed during education. These intuitions form the foundation for the further development of intuitions that will will carry one through life.
In summary then pedagogy supplies a foundational set of intuitions and it builds the cognitive skills(understanding) that rest on the foundation of intuition skills. These are the results of teaching domain specific skills and it hardly matters what these domain specific skills are, except that a broader range of domain specific skills tends to produce a better result.
But there is one domain that explicitly teaches understanding, and that is philosophy. This makes it uniquely valuable.
“While I think Bharath has contributed, and can contribute, important insights as an independent scholar, I also think that in this comment threads (as in some other comments on other essays), I think BHharath has read Dan Kaufman uncharitably to an unacceptable degree”
I think there’s been a lot of mis-understandings and subsequent escalations, and maybe some uncharitable readings on both sides. But I also often find myself agreeing with what both of them have to say on a topic.
Bharath, if you’re reading this, please know that you will be missed, for all the reasons that have been adduced.
I don’t know where else it would be appropriate to register the following, but I would understand completely if my comment is deemed too off-topic.
Bharath, you mention your exasperation with name-calling on both sides, and suggest that it’s a major reason for your leaving. If someone could convince you that the kind of name-calling that is profoundly illiberal and therefore profoundly troublesome is largely coming from the SJWs, would you change your mind about leaving?
I think we can and should recognize a difference between name-calling meant to exact a social cost on a speaker, in order to silence them, and name-calling not meant to.
I’m just not as sure as you are that Professor Kaufman tends to engage in the same kind of name-calling that SJWs tend to. Calling someone a racist or a TERF or a misogynist, as some SJWs have done, is intended precisely to exact a social cost on someone, in order to stop them from speaking. When Professor Kaufman claims SJWs behave the way they do because they’re self-indulgent and avoiding their “tiresome selves” (as Joan Didion says), or when he calls Professor Weinberg a bad actor and disingenuous, it just doesn’t seem like the same thing. This latter kind of name-calling seems meant as a (perhaps not all that helpful) contribution to the question of whether to take on the views of SJWs or Professor Weinberg. Which is importantly different from meaning to stop SJWs or Professor Weinberg from speaking. (I know these things are difficult to assess when everything is conducted in writing . . . .)
I don’t expect what I say to change your mind, Bharath, even if I’m on to something. I’m just hoping it’ll push you a little closer toward reconsidering your decision to leave.
I agree with you. Both make good points, but little by little the arguments escalate and neither of them is willing to take a step back and reflect on their next answer for a few hours to avoid a fight.
With one major difference. I am perfectly happy to keep publishing someone, even with whom I have fights and perhaps even don’t like so much. Bharath, however, is convinced that association with me taints him ethically, which is why he has left. We had a lengthy email exchange where I tried to convince him to return, but he doesn’t want his work to be associated with me in any way.
He’s rather precious and self-important, in all honesty. I would still publish him, but he wants nothing to do with me, so there it is.
At one point he actually complained that I didn’t value him enough as a contributor for it to change the way I spoke to him. Hard not to just shrug your shoulders in the face of something so juvenile.
Thank you all for your kind comments. I won’t be writing here, but it is not with any ill well, and certainly not with any moral judgment of Dan or anyone else here.
Dan writes: “Bharath, however, is convinced that association with me taints him ethically, which is why he has left. We had a lengthy email exchange where I tried to convince him to return, but he doesn’t want his work to be associated with me in any way. He’s rather precious and self-important, in all honesty.”
This is Dan’s interpretation of our email exchange, which I don’t share. But his use of “precious” and “self-important” here is an example of why I am leaving.
I feel Dan’s way of constantly making these side judgments, combined with the power Dan has on this site since it is his site, is something I don’t enjoy. There is a persistent mixing together of the topic with judgments of people. I find it annoying, creating a layer of static in my mind I have to wade through to stick to the exchange. I find Dan’s emotional outlook permeates the site in a way which is great if it works for one, but a real pain if it doesn’t.
The most ethically loaded thing, to my mind, that I said in our email exchange was that watching him laugh in the video and say he is not worried about any moral issues in the profession that the sjws are worried about was very painful for me. I fully agree what the sjws are doing is wrong. I am not supporting them. But that is different from saying that this site, or academia as it used to be, is somehow open to all who want to be part of a rational conversation.
As I see it, no one knows how to create a space where everyone feels welcome to talk rationally. To me it is just obvious that many well meaning people will not comment here because they can’t fight through the static as I called it. Just as many well meaning people won’t at Leiter’s blog or Daily Nous, or in a phil classroom anywhere. What increases the static for me is when people deny, as Justin does at Daily Nous or Dan does here, that because of structural features of the site some people might feel left out.
There are many things I agree with Dan. In the video his focus on the job problem in academia, and how that will doom academic phil, is an example. But I also think that how academic phil was set up in the past is morally wrong; in my view, that doesn’t make the people who liked it morally bad. Just complicit, the way I am complicit in all sorts of stuff now. Being complicit is just part of being in a complex world. The only options aren’t, “I am ethically fine or I am ethically bad”. There is a third option: “I am ethically fine, but I can do better.” As I see it, Dan doesn’t want to do better on the issues in the profession which is central to my interests. He is not obligated to do better on these issues. But that is not enough for me as a contributor. Since it is such an important issue for me, I would rather use my energies to work with people for whom it is equally an important issue.
I would guess that there are some cultural issues involved creating a mutual misunderstanding. You (Dan K.) are very New York, which I can relate to since I was born and raised in New Jersey, within commuting distance of the city, while Bharath, although he spent most or all of his child-hood in the U.S., is very marked by Indian culture, about which one of the only things that I know is that it’s unlike New York. Deep down we’re all products of our childhood and react that way under stress.
It’s fascinating that in protesting my characterization, you wholeheartedly confirm it. That you base ostensibly objective judgments about why people do or do not comment on a site not on evidence or any credible characterization of common opinion, but on what to you is “just obvious” is textbook self-importance and self-absorption that also permeates much of your writing. Add to it the passive aggressive dissembling (“you’re not bad, just complicit!”) the melodrama (it was “very painful” to watch someone laugh at something on bloggingheads) and if anything my characterization didn’t do you justice.
Look, it’s really simple. You preach generosity and openness, but I actually practice it. I’d still publish you now, even with all the BS you’ve peddled about me, whether here or to my email box. I’d publish Justin if he sent me something. It’s *you* who won’t traffic with those who in your mind won’t “do better” and who “make people feel left out.”
I won’t publish any more things along these lines. This is a complete derailment of a discussion on what was an excellent conversation. I apologize to our readers.
Dan, I hope you will post this comment.
I apologize to you and Robert if I stepped on his and your good dialogue. But I don’t think what I have said is a derailment of the dialogue. Dan, you and I are colleagues on this site. I have spent a good part of my time, here and also at Daily Nous, talking about diversity issues and eurocentrism in academic philosophy. So when I said it was hard to see you laugh, I meant it as it was hard to see a colleague act as if nothing I wrote made any difference to his views. Which is perfectly your right. But it is an open question whether that is how colleagues should interact with each other. You don’t have to agree with me, or even care about my topic – but dismissing the topic I have worked on, and that I write on here, when it is a moral and personal issue for your colleague, felt…bad. There is a difference here from if I work on metaphysics, and you think metaphysics is bunk, because metaphysics isn’t wrapped up with our identities in the way the issues at stake here. This is what the white paper is about. I don’t at all agree with its suggestions and certainly not with threatening people’s jobs, but there is a topic there that is important.
Now you might think, as you probably do, that your habits of how to engage with colleagues is great and not in need of any change. I respect that. I just disagree. And there is no moral taint problem: I admire your, EJ’s and others work on liberalism and much else. And I will say as much to anyone.
Okay, Bharath. I will allow you to have the last word on this. From now on, only comments on the post itself.
first let me try to clarify what I mean by Bharath’s insistence on moderating conflicting views as “a-logical or pre-logical” – which I put rather poorly and am still working out. What I mean is this, that a personal emotional response is worked into a chain of reasoning as a premise so that only with its acceptance can the reasoning make proper sense. To some extent we all do this; but it risks over-generalization of the personal beyond the weight it can carry. Nonetheless, it has a place, primarily in narrative, and poets and fiction writers are quite good at presenting it, which is why we can talk of an ‘internal logic’ to their character’s behaviors or their own personal responses. However, forged into a link in an assertoric or propositional chain of reasoning, with the demand that it must be treated with the same weight as more generalized or objectively asserted premises, and real problems of (mis)understanding inevitably arise..
In the present instance that’s why I referred to Bharath’s essay on miracles and the disagreements he and I had in the comment thread there. I thought him saying one thing, then I found he was saying something else, then I found I didn’t understand or could not agree with what he was saying. Because there was an interior logic to his essay I didn’t recognize, and emotionally charged premises that only came out in his replies to the comments.
I don’t think that makes him a bad writer – I could just be a poor reader – or at least, let’s agree, not the kind of reader for whom he writes. Which doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from his writing.
However, I do think that in the present comment thread, his emotional responses to his own experiences overcame his desire to converse with Dan or accept Dan’s personal experience as having the same validity as his own. And I think he was over-generalizing, and despite the “brusque” quality of Dan’s responses (Dan’s word), I don’t think Dan was. Indeed in both his conversation with Bharath, and that he had with Robert, he was clearly objecting to such over-generalization.
Yes, as I said to him, I don’t actually think he is very tolerant at all. He only preaches it. He doesn’t practice it.
Having at last listened to the conversation, I suppose I won’t say much, I think I made my points on Robert’s position on the comment thread to his essay. I admit that in the first half here, Robert’s position sounded an awful lot like an over-intellectualized moral OCD, treating possible ‘sins’ as though they might be germs one needed to repeatedly wash from one’s hands. I don’t see how it can be elevated without recourse to a Singeristic absolutism.
In the second half, Robert becomes more personable and I think he has somethings interesting to say about the profession (if he would only stop washing his hands!).
But to each his own; perhaps his constant moral worrying is how he comes up with ideas in his research, or improvements in his teaching. We’ll see.
I note that Robert posted two replies to me on the thread to his essay before that thread closed. In the second reply, he writes: “Haven’t you had teachers who made no difference to your life, who didn’t seem to try very hard, who didn’t have good or inspiring pedagogy, who seemed to care more about other things than what they were teaching? If so, what percentage of teachers do you think fell into this category? I would bet it’s more than 50%, but I could be wrong.” I can’t think of a more irrelevant question, raising a more irrelevant standard of judgment, than this. “50%” – as if one would keep score!
The first reply is more troubling, concerning the inevitable potential for harm, is more troubling, because it is so confused. I don’t know where to begin. Or whether I should.
For instance, I wrote: “But it would have to be determined that teaching inherently and necessarily causes harm, for this concern to rise above the level of mere anxiety.” Robert responds: “And yet in order to justifiably worry about the harm of my teaching, I need empirical demonstrations!” What?! Is it not obvious that I ‘m discussing logical demonstration of causation?
The only harm in Robert’s discussion in that reply is to Mill’s Principle of Harm; if that is getting used, it is with a weight it was never intended to bear, and in ways Mill never intended for it.
After posting this comment, I realized that one of the problems is that Robert’s understanding of “harm” is far too generalized and all-encompassing – too vague – to serve as standard for judging the argument he is making. Boring a student is not a harm; wasting a student’s time cannot be determined by any other than the student, and the student can then decide to leave the classroom, in which case no harm accrues. Should the student stay, for whatever his or her own reason, then again there’s no harm, because the reasoning, the motivation, is the student’s own.
And it’s certainly not clear that wasting someone else’s time constitutes a harm (assuming one could do that without that someone’s complicitous cooperation).
At any rate only with a viably specified norm of what constitutes a harm, can a logical demonstration of causation of harm be constructed which can then apply to empirical data.
If I may add to this observation: the very idea of “Latin American” identity turns on the relationship between that region and Europe, vis a vis the United States. Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, supplied much of the language and imagery for this discourse. In a poem entitled “Ariel,” Jose Enrique Rodo (an Argentine) depicted the US as “Caliban of the North,” and encouraged Latin American to cultivate culture rather than power. Later, after the Cuban revolution, and in the wake of postcolonialism, Roberto Fernandez Retamar re-appropriated the symbol of Caliban. And so on…
Early on in the discussion Dan, with his usual felicitous turn of phrase, talks of the way fallacies are weaponized as the result of teaching critical thinking. This is a form of slapdash label thinking, in both the metaphorical meaning of the phrase and the literal meaning, making it an interesting pun. They slap on a label, slap their opponent, pejoratively, and dash off to the next opportunity. It promotes lazy, careless thinking(slapdash), which is precisely what critical thinking is intended to avoid. It is the stupid person’s form of repartee and promotes the pursuit of schadenfreude as a legitimate goal of discussion, incidentally something which we see far too much of in this forum.
This is a subset of label thinking, which is the cancer of clear thought, infiltrating it, distorting it and killing it. Now we can’t think without labels. They are the necessary conceptual tags we use as placeholders for categories. And the recognition of categories are essential to the way we think. And this is the clue to way labels are dangerous. Every use of a label requires a preliminary moment of thought, asking whether the label is apt, fitting and accurate in the given context. Without that preliminary moment of thought we misapply labels and use the appearance of thought to disguise the lack of thought.
But that is not the only evil of critical thinking. Aptly enough, the evil is evidenced by the label that is used. What we really mean(or should mean) is careful thinking. This small change of label from “careful” to “critical” has disastrous consequences. That is because a misapplied label gives a concept new life, so that it becomes a new thing. In this case careful thinking becomes judgemental thinking where the goal becomes to find fault and this masks the primary goal, which should be understanding.
If instead of trying to find fault with someone’s reasoning we instead strive to understand his reasoning we make a gigantic leap forward, enabling us to learn from others. And surely the greatest sin any thinker can commit is to stop learning from others. That is because curiosity is our most valuable drive. It animates our minds, our lives and drives progress. So, for me,a devout Catholic, the thinking of atheists is not anathema and not a reason to condemn or criticise others. It is instead a source of great interest as I try to understand how and why others reach such different conclusions. I even like atheists, perhaps in part because, as a I told my priest, I am a lapsed atheist!
Probably this habit of mind derives from my corporate training where I was taught to apply De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique. Understanding is best achieved by examining an issue from multiple perspectives in turn, by figuratively donning the hat that represents that perspective. By donning that hat we enter into that perspective so that we may more fully understand it. It is only by entering into that perspective, and briefly living it that we can truly understand it. When we do this a remarkable thing happens. With a lived understanding come empathy, so that the other person is transformed from an enemy into a valuable acquaintance who has enriched our lives.
Dan, in your rebuttal of the morality everywhere argument you appeal to a distinction between prudential reasons and moral reasons(https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199657889.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199657889-e-35). I am really unsure of the validity of this distinction, but you clearly believe in it since you have referred to it several times in the past. My thinking about the subject urgently needs clarification so I hope for, and indeed urge you to publish an essay on the subject. The usual no-holds barred discussion that is sure to follow will also be enlightening.
Thanks Seth, that was a delightful article.
[…] past status quo. Here are a couple of examples of these emotional battles (one at Daily Nous, and another at the Electric Agora that involved me, where I got caught up in my […]
“However, I do think that in the present comment thread, his emotional responses to his own experiences overcame his desire to converse with Dan or accept Dan’s personal experience as having the same v alidity as his own. And I think he was over-generalizing, and despite the “brusque” quality of Dan’s responses (Dan’s word), I don’t think Dan was. Indeed in both his conversation with Bharath, and that he had with Robert, he was clearly objecting to such over-generalization.”
From memory I found Bharath’s first comment ok until he made some over generalizations. Dan’s first responses were fair, but when Bharath continued in the same vein, over generalizing even more and what looked like to me as aiming at Dan (not saying that was Bharath’s intent), I think they both ended up talking past each other, and, each in their own way, off topic in their remarks.
I’m not fond of things like when Dan said to Robert “You may be projecting your own self delusions on others; I’m not sure we’re all as self delusional as you”, but the tone was light and I’ve got used to his brusque ways (if that’s how Dan would use the word).
And I agree with you that Dan doesn’t over generalize.
“What I mean is this, that a personal emotional response is worked into a chain of reasoning as a premise so that only with its acceptance can the reasoning make proper sense. To some extent we all do this; but it risks over-generalization of the personal beyond the weight it can carry. Nonetheless, it has a place, primarily in narrative, and poets and fiction writers are quite good at presenting it, which is why we can talk of an ‘internal logic’ to their character’s behaviors or their own personal responses. However, forged into a link in an assertoric or propositional chain of reasoning, with the demand that it must be treated with the same weight as more generalized or objectively asserted premises, and real problems of (mis)understanding inevitably arise..”
Thanks for your thoughts, I’m not sure I’m following, still thinking on it, I just reread ‘The meaning of miracles’ and your long comment there, and some of what you wrote got to me this time, in a good way I think.