Philosophy’s Woke Triangle

by Daniel A. Kaufman


I thought of calling this “Woke Creep,” in light of the fact that the people who make up the Woke Brigade in academic philosophy depend heavily on concept creep in order to ground their myriad allegations, accusations, demands for no-platforming and censorship, and attacks on their insufficiently woke colleagues’ livelihoods.  Whether it’s expanding the meaning of ‘oppression’ so that it includes everyone from women being beaten with truncheons in Iran and Afghanistan to those who have received the most elite educations and enjoy digs in the toniest academic institutions in the developed world, extending the word ‘racism’ to cover everything from outright enslavement to the most microscopic microaggressions, stretching ‘phobic’ so it applies not just to those who suffer overwhelming, irrational fear of enclosed spaces or heights or swimming pools or bugs, but to everyone who disagrees with the Woke Brigade on any matter of “social justice,” or distending ‘harm’ to the point that it covers everything from being beaten up and mugged on the street to having heard something, somewhere, sometime that you disliked, Woke Philosophy is built upon a kind of Newspeak one once only expected from aspirant (and actual) totalitarians.  The difference, of course, is that real totalitarians are really dangerous, while the collection of walking and talking personality disorders that constitute the Woke Brigade only have the capacity to frighten people by way of what Elizabeth Anscombe, when speaking of moral imperatives in the absence of God, called “mesmeric force.” Alas, in the age of social media and the generalized social anxiety that defines it, even entirely illusory muscle such as the members of the Brigade possess is as good as the real thing, which is a shame, because if everyone would just tell them to fuck off, their influence would disappear in a puff of (suitably enraged) smoke.

My decision to go with ‘triangle’ rather than ‘creep’ came as I was reflecting on the Brigade’s latest hijinks and found my thoughts suddenly drawn to the Bermuda Triangle, that region whose vertices include Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda, and in which popular legend has it that ships and planes mysteriously vanish. (1) Philosophy increasingly feels like it has its own version of the Triangle, where inadequately woke philosophers are subjected to efforts to disappear them via verbal abuse, no-platforming, attacks on their professional standing and livelihood, and other forms of “cancellation,” and the vertices of which include a number of core philosophical institutions and personnel: the American Philosophical Association, the discipline’s leading professional organization; the tight knit, though geographically dispersed klatch of woke philosophers, whose names pop up whenever and wherever there is an eruption of wokeness in the profession, whether the “open letter” to Hypatia, regarding Rebecca Tuvel’s transracialism paper of several years ago, or the post “On Philosophical Scholarship of Gender: A Response to ‘12 Leading Scholars’” that just appeared at the APA’s blog the other day; and of course, the Daily Nous, with the gallant Justin Weinberg at the helm, which a few days ago hosted an anonymously authored hit job (the latest in a long series of such “new consensus” fare) on Kathleen Stock, Sophie Allen, Holly Lawford-Smith, and other gender critical feminist philosophers, “Recognizing Gender Critical Feminism as Anti-Trans Activism.”

As is so often the case, these recent woke outbursts were caused by something utterly ordinary and reasonable, specifically, a short piece that appeared in Inside Higher Education, in which twelve philosophers called for an end to the no-platforming and silencing of critics of contemporary gender identity theory and for a conversation on sex and gender within the discipline that is simultaneously rigorous and civil. (2) In making one’s way through the Brigade’s responses to the piece, one finds oneself confronted with rhetorical maneuvers straight out of the Oceanian playbook: repeated outrages to reason and common sense; bold inversions of reality; a constant refrain of “nothing to see here,” regarding things that are staring you right in the face; and of course, cynical manipulations of language and rejection of the ordinary, standard uses of common words.

The result is a bizarre universe in which middle aged, lesbian professors are deemed so hazardous to their colleagues and students that they must be targeted by academic mobs, for the purpose of stripping them of their employment; (3) where prominent – and in a few cases, distinguished – philosophers appear in the pages of the APA blog to brazenly lie to everyone’s faces that “there is no established orthodoxy about gender in academic philosophy,” even as they maintain, in the very next paragraph, that the central issues in the contemporary debate over gender identity – whether sexes are natural kinds, whether social identities, like genders, are determined by social negotiation or individual fiat – should be off the table, as they “question the integrity and sincerity of trans people [and] the validity of their own understanding of who they are”; in which gender critical philosophers are dismissed for engaging in activism in un-refereed venues … by people engaged in activism in un-refereed venues; and where words like ‘male’ and ‘men’, the proper uses of which people know by the time they are three years old, are ominously characterized as “transphobic dogwhistles.”

Occasionally, the messages get crossed, as when Weinberg’s anonymous philosophers dismiss gender critical feminism as being “first and foremost an activist movement,” while the signatories of the APA letter accuse gender critical feminism of treating “other people’s lives as though they are abstract thought experiments,” and on a number of occasions the Woke Brigade runs headlong into reality – at one point in “Recognizing Gender Critical Feminism as Anti-Trans Activism,” Holly Lawford Smith is taken behind the woodshed for posting a photo of hirsute, bearded, very obviously male, self-identified transwoman, Danielle Muscato, only for the authors to admit in an addendum added a sentence later that Muscato not only posts such pictures on her own website, but encourages others to post them as well. (4) Sometimes you get both – message crossing and reality-checking – as when the signatories of the APA letter link to a particularly nasty, overheated piece of work by Mark Lance, the content of which entirely contradicts their “nothing to see here” message.

Since Woke Philosophy operates very much in the manner of Scientology and other cults, these sorts of manifest contradictions and collisions with reality never deter its members or even give them pause, but are simply integrated into their already unhinged narrative (as one would expect in the Muscato case, the anonymous authors figure out a way to construe their blunder as having been Smith’s fault after all).  As a result, the Woke Brigade will never stand correction; will never believe their views have been refuted or even problematized in any way.  The best advice, it would seem, then, for anyone who wishes to enjoy a relatively pleasant philosophical career, is to avoid going anywhere near the Woke Triangle and the people patrolling it.  Of course, this means abandoning whole areas of philosophical inquiry to crazy people, but I’m starting to wonder whether it matters.  The really important work that people like Stock and Smith are doing is concerned with concrete, on-the-ground legislative and regulatory matters; battles that need to be fought in the political arena, where voters not academics will determine what ultimately happens. These voters are already overwhelmingly inclined towards our longstanding, commonsense commitment to sex segregated intimate spaces, sports, etc., so it may be best to concentrate on rallying them, and just ignore all the noise emanating from the Triangle.









29 responses to “Philosophy’s Woke Triangle”

  1. s. wallerstein

    Your advice to avoid the Woke Triangle seems sensible, just as it is common sense to cross the street or even take another street if you’re walking late at night and you see a group of people who look drugged and possibly dangerous.

  2. I glanced at the piece by Mark Lance. I wish I had stuck a hot poker through my eyes instead.

    There is not, and cannot be in any reasonably imaginable universe, such a thing as a “trans lesbian.” Any male that enters his penis into a female’s vagina is not only biologically male, but a man by any possibly meaningful gendered social construct.

    “It is not permissible to debate the lives of people who are oppressed and murdered. ” It is entirely permissible to defend the rights of those who may suffer the threat of oppression or even murder on purely liberal, civil rights, rule-of-law under a Constitution bases without allowing unchallenged the intellectualist paranoiac malformation of language that Lance deploys. He’s playing the Ivy Tower game, as far as I can tell.

    Georgetown University? Perhaps its philosophy department should be defunded until they hire some real philosophers.

    “Since Woke Philosophy operates very much in the manner of Scientology and other cults” Sadly yes; and the academic left has been moving in this direction since the ’60s – and I write this inhabiting the political left myself. But I lost interest in Western religions in my thirties; I have no interest in their impoverished shadow wannabes in cults, spiritual or political. The traditional religions (and certain traditional political narratives) at least have the weight of tradition, and communities of real faith, such that one can make sense of them. These post-modern cults are basically shit thrown against a wall to see what sticks, but shot through a carefully calculated cannon to prevent possible interference in the ‘reasoning’ needed to accept shit as bouquets of utopian flowers.

    In other words, as long as their outlets prevent really reasonable argumentation, they can say anything they want to.

    Of course they’re going to ‘no-platform’ and intimidate editors an peer reviewers, and get people fired. All thy have is the naked show of power; it’s all they have to prevent reasonable people to recognize that what they quarrel for makes no sense.

    There are no unicorns, there are no squared circles, there are no “tans lesbians,” and the earth circles the sun, not the other way around. This assertions are true, and no obfuscation will make them otherwise. If a male wants to dress as a woman but have sex with women, the law allows that. Don’t insist that reasonable people simply must accept this as an ontological being of “trans lesbian.” There is no such thing.

  3. ombhurbhuva

    You may have seen this already. I found it amusing. It’s easy to mock so I will continue to do so. It’s possibly the only way to penetrate the woke folk’s boundless conceit. Like you said about the Bermuda triangle, critical instruments fail and they fly in ever decreasing circles till they emerge through their own personal portal into an alternative universe.

  4. Animal Symbolicum

    As Mill correctly noted in the second chapter of “On Liberty,” there are at least two different possible sources of stifled speech (and thus stifled thought): one’s state and one’s fellow citizens.

    Censorship-by-citizens strikes me as more dangerous in some respects, namely, in that it is analogous to death-by-a-thousand-cuts, in contrast to the death-by-a-sword that is censorship-by-state. You can see a sword coming; all the deadly force is concentrated in one place. But the cuts seem to come from everywhere, at any time, and while you’re tending to one cut, you suffer a different one. A few cuts aren’t so bad, you think. But then they keep coming. . . .

    So, insofar as I’m applying Mill’s ideas aptly here, and insofar as my analogy captures something relevant, I think I’m more tempted than you are to believe that woke-censorship is not just illusory power rendered “as good as the real thing” by social media but is in fact the genuine article, diffuse and insidious though it might be.

  5. This is good. I am beginning to feel as though Accademia has passed through a tunnel that has devoided the process of thought into a justification of feeling. Somewhere we need to get a grip on who we are. Thank you for your insights.

  6. I am under no illusions that I can really do anything about this, but I hope if enough people keep pushing back against this madness and more importantly, if more institutions will refuse to accede to these lunatics’ demands, their capacity to command such attention will diminish.

  7. I agree. I am afraid that the lunatics have set up a system of perpetuation. There is be one “idiot” that will stand there and take the Bullet. Maybe it is time for the Professors to pay their students.

  8. Peter DO Smith

    What is going on here? We need insights. We need understanding. We need causal thinking. In my corporate incarnation we were taught Five Why’s Thinking ( Is this simple concept foreign to academia?

  9. It is. You’ve mentioned it on numerous occasions, but I can’t think of a single instance in which philosophers or other academics have mentioned it or given any indication of being aware of it. I don’t know why as it seems a very useful heuristic.

  10. Peter DO Smith

    Essentially it is the Principle of Sufficient Reason, ( and

    This principle sits uneasily with people of strong atheistic convictions and our well known atheist physicist, Sean Carroll, retreats into the ‘brute facts hypothesis’.

    It seems natural to ask why the universe exists at all. Modern physics suggests that the universe can exist all by itself as a self-contained system, without anything external to create or sustain it. But there might not be an absolute answer to why it exists. I argue that any attempt to account for the existence of something rather than nothing must ultimately bottom out in a set of brute facts; the universe simply is, without ultimate cause or explanation.

    In another post he said the same thing about the laws of nature. that we must accept them as brute facts and that further questioning makes no sense. He also questions PSR in this post – and it is quite clear that he is troubled by PSR, even if he cannot articulate a strong rebuttal. It is after all the foundation of his work in physics. He is astute enough to realise the troubling implications of PSR.

    In human affairs though, the strands of PSR are difficult to trace and thus often we content ourselves with first cause explanations. This is where multiple perspective approaches are so useful, or standpoint theory, as it is sometimes called. You know that I have often advocated De Bono’s Six Thinking Hat’s approach as a form of multiple perspective thinking. I have even proposed a derivative of that, which I called the Six Moral Hats. Though I can’t claim originality since I first heard of the concept from a visiting Jesuit philosopher.

  11. There’s something I don’t understand.
    Wat makes trans so special?
    Why does it make emotions run so high in the philosophical community?
    It’s hard to imagine a philosopher writing “you can suck my giant Kantian dick” or “kiss my analytical asshole, bloody fool.” But we have reached the point we wouldn’t be surprised anymore when somebody from the philosophical community would write “Kathleen should suck a giant girl dick, that’s what she should do”.
    The internet etc. certainly has something to do with it. It facilitates rudeness.
    But that doesn’t explain why trans issues stir so many woke philosophers to the point that they want to “disappear” people they don’t agree with.
    But it’s not only that disagreement isn’t tolerated, it’s worse: even questions aren’t tolerated.
    A surprising situation, because trans issues raise many interesting philosophical questions. Not asking them, not trying to formulate answers, not using the rich philosophical tradition when tacking these difficult questions is a form of philosophical neglect.
    And yet, this anti-philosophical stance seems to be the starting point for quite a few woke philosophers when it comes to trans issues.
    Again, why?
    What’s so special about trans issues that (some part of) the trans movement can declare itself “sacred” and therefore out of bounds for philosophical examination?

  12. Paul S. Rhodes

    No, you cannot do anything at all, except, perhaps, get a lobotomy. According to the Most Sacred Doctrine of Transgenderism, ‘gender identity’ is solely a matter of self-identification, trying to establish any independent criteria for the concept will inevitably exclude people and is, therefore, genocidal bigotry. But if it is a matter solely of self-identification, then it is solipsistic and as such meaningless, but pointing this out is genocidal bigotry as well. The only way acceptable, then, to the Most Holy Office of the Transgenderist Inquistion is simply to parrot the self-indentifications of others mindlessly. And to that end The Holy Office will grant a certificate of a plenary indulgence to anyone who undergoes a frontal lobotomy. This certificate allows the possessor to avoid being accused of being a member of the KKK, Nazis, or any other SLPC-designated hate group for an entire month! Get it while supplies last!

  13. Bunsen Burner

    That’s a very interesting question and one that doesn’t seem to have any easy answer. As far as I can make out a certain confluence of different trends came together a few years ago and became mutually reinforcing.

    First I think we had the Gender Identity stream. This has been around a long time in Queer Theory, but never got much traction because academics used to have a more sensible view of biological sex. Often associated with the ideas of Judith Butler that gender is just a performance, many feminists refused to accept that a man can become a woman just by acting like one. This is where we get the trans-exclusion stuff from, and the time it was a reasonably technical point, not associated with prejudice and bigotry as it is now.

    The we had the changes in mang LGBT organisations during and after the gay marriage fight. These organisations became quite influential lobbyists while fighting for gay marriage. They became flush with money, and made a lot of inroads in corporate and government HR departments, producing substantial education material for them. They became sizable political donors, and began to appoint influential Trustees and Directors. After the gay marriage battle was won, may LGB people moved on, opening the doors to a lot of new trans activists to come in bringing in the ideology of gender identity.

    Then we had the rise of Identity Politics and its weaponised terminology, which tries to make sure that anyone who disagrees with a particular woke viewpoint is instantly dismissed as an Evil Nazi Vampire. I won’t labour this point as Dan has written quite a bit about this already.

    You’ve mentioned the internet yourself. Especially the rise of Social media – this has had the obvious effect of quickly disseminating minor perspectives and amplifying their importance. However, there is another effect that I’ve never really seen discussed that I think sheds some light on online behaviour. There is a paradox at the heart of online interaction – namely that the medium is at once both highly transparent and also highly opaque. It is transparent in that your views become public knowledge forever, and people can quickly discover an enormous amount of information about you and your ideas. It is highly opaque because none of this helps to really know someone. It is information minus all the important details that make up a person’s personality. What are their mannerisms? What kind of sense of humour do they have? Were they feeling well on that day, or hungover, or … something else? I believe this interaction leads to a constant need to signal which side you are on. This signalling behaviour now dominates discourse on social media as people are desperate to show that they have requisite in-group loyalties, which are held in higher regard than having a civil and educational discussion.

    I would even argue that the election of Trump has contributed significantly as well. It’s obvious he has done serious damage to the American Liberal’s mind. People don’t seem to have any interest in complex and nuanced views anymore. Everything must be presented in start black and white terms. It doesn’t matter what Trump says or does, you must always say and do the opposite. Of course, constantly doing the opposite of someone as incoherent as trump, just ends up with being incoherent as well.

    Finally, there is th cognitive dissonance of people who believe in pseudoscience. Anyone who has argued with a UFO nut, or astrologer or what have you, knows that people don’t thank you for showing the incoherence of their viewpoints. The become irrational and abusive instead. This is what I think is happening currently with these so called trans issues. It really is nothing do with trans people and their problems at all. It has to do with the critique of gender identity. This is what must be protected at all costs. This is what is viewed as the magic bullet that will destroy heteronormativity and cisnormativity and therefore usher in a golden age devoid of sex/gender discrimination. You can see how people who believe in this might become extremely hostile when challenged.

    Individually I don’t think these trends are big enough to cause what’s going on. However combined I think there is enough reinforcement between the parts to make a pretty potent socio-cultural explosion. I believe this is what we are currently observing.

  14. Peter DO Smith

    There’s something I don’t understand.

    that simple question is the beginning of philosophy.

    …many interesting philosophical questions. Not asking them, not trying to formulate answers, not using the rich philosophical tradition when tacking these difficult questions is a form of philosophical neglect.

    Indeed. You put it so well.

    Again, why?

    This insistent question is(or should be) the hallmark of philosophy.
    From the introductory SEP paragraph on the Principle of Sufficient Reason(PSR)

    The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground. This simple demand for thoroughgoing intelligibility yields some of the boldest and most challenging theses in the history of philosophy.

    Philosophy is a great big sprawling subject, difficult to characterise in a pithy way. And yet, if anything lies at the very heart of philosophy, it must be the Principle of Sufficient Reason, with its insistence on a ‘thoroughgoing intelligibility‘ to the world, that when pursued, can reveal reasons, causes and grounds. When we have uncovered a sufficient depth of reasons, causes and grounds we can exclaim, with satisfaction, Aha, now I understand!

    This I believe is the real pursuit of philosophy. It is not an alternative or competitor with the sciences. It is instead a means of equipping the mind with the tools that enable understanding. On the other hand, rhetoric taps into the emotions and motivates action. Thus it can be very useful but first comes understanding, based on a bone deep belief in PSR. Rhetoric without understanding is a retreat from reason. Rhetoric is partisan and assumes a conclusion. Philosophy should not assume conclusions but rather equip people with the reasoning processes that can result in well grounded conclusions.

  15. Jon

    “The we had the changes in mang LGBT organisations during and after the gay marriage fight. These organizations became quite influential lobbyists while fighting for gay marriage. They became flush with money, and made a lot of inroads in corporate and government HR departments, producing substantial education material for them.”

    Thank you for the analysis. This has been a subject that has perplexed me for the last year or so and I found this very enlightening. The crass materialist in me is very intrigued by this specific point quoted above. To some degree, the lobbying became big money and a big source of meaning for people, and after Obergefell and faced death by success–the tap threatened to run dry (both in terms of literal money and emotional/personal validation that one gets from participating in such movements).

  16. Bunsen Burner

    I wish I could take some credit, but all I did was follow the large number of links that Dan has provided on this topic over the years. You might also find this article interesting

  17. ymtmlj

    Why — of the 225 comments posted to that Mark Lance piece at IHE — did not a single one of them make what (to me) seems to be the obvious response?

    I would make it myself, but comments there now appear to be closed. So I will leave it here instead, for the benefit of EA readers. 🙂

    “I’m in total agreement with you, Professor Lance. (Though I note one curiosity: every time you meant (I presume) to write ‘unborn children’, you wrote ‘trans individuals’ instead. Nevertheless!)

    “But yes: in light of the fact that they’re being murdered at a rate of ~650,000 a year — a level of genocide next to which that associated with Mather pales in comparison, and next to which the travails of the trans community are but a drop in the ocean — I too find it difficult to see how ‘highly educated, highly intelligent people can fail to see the obvious point’ that ‘debating the core metaphysical issue’ as to the moral status of fetuses is ‘violence … an endorsement of genocide’ that ‘play[s] a very real role in facilitating it.’ Huzzah, and bravo to you for finally saying so!”

    It seems to me that the recent advent of this mantra among Woke Philosophers — i.e., “the metaphysical/moral status of gender identity is NOT subject to debate” — presents quite an opening for the pro-life crowd.

  18. Raja Halwani

    I am bewildered by the situation in regards to these issues. How has it happened that in our field, which is supposed to be not only open to the back-and-forth of discussion, but to require it, has come to this? How have we made the connection between not discussing issues involving X and that Xs face real danger in life? Should we stop discussing animal ethics because animals are slaughtered by the thousands every day? Should we not have discussed gay and lesbian philosophy back in the day when gay people faced much more threats than they face today? This is mind-boggling. Where are all the philosophers from both camps and from other camps who should be standing up for our ability to discuss things?

  19. Why — of the 225 comments on Mark Lance’s piece at IHE — did not a single one of them make what (to me) seems the obvious response?

    I’d make it myself, except that it seems that comments are closed there. So I’ll make it here instead, for the benefit of EA readers. 🙂

    ‘I’m in total agreement with you, Professor Lance. (Though I note one curiosity: that every time you meant (I presume) to write “unborn children,” you wrote “trans individuals” instead. Nevertheless!)

    ‘But yes: in light of the fact that they’re being murdered at a rate of ~650,000 a year — a level of genocide next to which that associated with Mather pales in comparison, and next to which the travails of the trans community are but a drop in the bucket — I too find it difficult to see how “highly educated, highly intelligent people can fail to see the obvious point” that “debating the core metaphysical issue” as to the moral status of fetuses is “violence … an endorsement of genocide” that “play[s] a very real role in facilitating it.” Huzzah, and bravo to you for finally saying so!’

    It seems to me that the recent advent of these sorts of mantras within Woke Philosophy — e.g., “The metaphysical status of gender identity is NOT subject to discussion,” “One may NOT debate, as putative ‘philosophical inquiry’, the right of trans individuals to exist” — presents a great opening for those who regard the fetus as having full moral status from the moment of conception. Just imagine — the prospect of de-platforming all those pro-choicers!

  20. Lines

    It is common for these folks to argue that pro-lifers should be de-platformed as well. Philosophy journals shouldn’t publish articles which entertain abstract philosophical debate over a women’s control of her own body, they say.

    Taking a step back, it seems to me undeniable that some philosophical positions really should be de-platformed. Like crude biological racism, for instance. The difficult part becomes drawing the line between what is acceptable for rigorous academic discussion and what is not. Given the state of our society, though, it seems also undeniable that many positions on issues like abortion and transgender self-identification are still within the ‘acceptable for discussion’ category.

    I’m curious how you would respond to this.

  21. My overt agenda, in making my comment, was simply to point out that a lot of the prevalent rhetoric deployed against gender-critical feminists — “we ought not debate the right of X to exist;” “debating the moral status of Y is not some academic parlor game, when real lives are at stake” — might be welcome or embraced by those in the pro-life camp. (Though presumably few in the anti-GCF crowd would welcome this extension of their rhetoric.)

    My covert agenda was to stimulate a certain sort of reader — folks who might be sympathetic to the anti-GCF crowd and also pro-choice — into making the following sort of response: “Well, it’s not that being pro-choice entails denying that the fetus has *any* rights. It’s just that we need to recognize that the mother of course has rights too, and the whole philosophical issue at stake here is one of figuring out how to *balance* the rights and the competing claims of the fetus and the mother …”

    At which point, this reader might realize that perhaps she has more in common with the GCF position that she at first realized.

    I’m not sure if I’ve really “responded” to your post, though, Lines …

  22. Peter DO Smith

    t is not permissible to debate the lives of people who are oppressed and murdered. Those who treat this like an intellectual game should not be engaged with. They should be told to [unprintable here] ” – Mark Lance

    The world is a boiling cauldron of conflict, both then and now. All that has changed is how we mediate the conflict. Then the outcomes were decided by power and the result was injustice. The first great step in correcting injustice was to embrace the principle of audi alterem partem (hear the other side). Today this is built into the DNA of our justice system. The second great step forward was to embrace the adversary system, where contending parties were allowed to defend their contentions in a regulated environment, a symbolic arena. Today this is also built into the DNA of our justice system The third great step forward was the extension of the adversary system to politics and other aspects of public life so that political/social conflicts were decided in virtual arenas and not real arenas. The result has been a dramatic reduction of injustice and the extension of freedoms inconceivable two thousand years ago.

    But this last, the third and greatest step, has only a tenuous hold in the DNA of our culture, as has Mark Lance has demonstrated with his vividly hyperbolic language.

    What he does not seem to appreciate is that progress itself, is crucially dependent on the contention of ideas. No one of us possesses the truth nor are we capable of arriving at the truth by ourselves(in human affairs, that is). It is the boiling conflict in the cauldron of ideas, their active contention, that refines understanding, introduces new insights and exposes faulty standpoints.

    For this to happen we cannot place concepts out of bounds. And worse still, when we introduce boundaries we need gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are always beholden to bias and prejudice. And even worse, gatekeepers become intoxicated with the powers they wield. The problem is that once we normalise power it creeps back into the way we mediate all conflicts. The result is always injustice. And we strangle progress itself.

  23. Peter DO Smith

    To continue my reply to Mark Lance.

    The problem is that he is conflating no less than six levels of thought/debate into only one, the final and most extreme level. This is hyperbolism redux of the kind that should not be exhibited by a philosopher who holds a responsible academic post.

    These six levels of thought/debate are

    1) analysis
    the position is carefully and impartially examined from all points of view. This, in my opinion, is the primary function of a philosopher.

    2) debate
    having analysed an issue we form opinions and then defend them in the ‘boiling cauldron’ of ideas. This is normal because we are partial and combative. It is also healthy because this debate is the best means of refining ideas. Philosophers excel at this.

    3) advocacy
    with advocacy we start to use other means of persuasion to get our ideas accepted. This is dangerous ground but still allowable if the other means of persuasion are moderate and respectful of others.

    4) activism
    at this stage more radical forms of persuasion are espoused. This is the danger zone because it no longer respects the rights of others to form their own conclusions.

    5) hate speech
    by this stage opponents are reduced to hate figures and they are demonised. It is the penultimate stage of silencing one’s opponents.

    6) suppression
    opponents are denied all space in the public arena. Their voice is silenced and they are humiliated.

    We all desire power because it is the means to satisfying needs and desires. Great people exercise power creatively to contribute to a better world. The petty exercise power to deny others, just as bureaucrats do. The stupid exercise power to silence the thoughts of others.

  24. Peter DO Smith

    Always one to over-work metaphors, in this case the boiling cauldron, I cannot resist this parting shot, from the Three Witches, in Macbeth

    Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and caldron bubble.
    Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
    Then the charm is firm and good.

  25. Yes, he is one of the most egregious members of the Woke Brigade. As his colleague, Rebecca Kukla, who told octogenarian, Christian philosopher, Richard Swinburne to “suck my big queer cock.”

    These are what pass for notables in our discipline now. How far we have fallen, when a bunch of wretched creeps like this are the faces of philosophy.

  26. Marc Levesque

    “as when the signatories of the APA letter link to a particularly nasty, overheated piece of work by Mark Lance”

    I couldn’t find the link until I noticed it’s the APA editors, and not the signatories, that link to what I agree is a pretty nasty and overheated piece.

    “Of course, this means abandoning whole areas of philosophical inquiry to crazy people, but I’m starting to wonder whether it matters”

    I don’t think the areas should be abandoned but I do hope some of the rhetoric calms down.

  27. Paul S. Rhodes

    The rhetoric won’t calm down. A commenter (Francisco Lopez) to the “Twelve Leading Scholars” letter summarizes why:

    “Gender identity is the defining characteristic of transgender people. The definition of ‘transgender’ is a person whose gender identity does not correspond with their innate biological sex.

    “If gender identity isn’t a valid concept, then it’s not possible to be transgender. If gender identity isn’t a valid concept, then our civil rights laws can’t protect people from discrimination based on gender identity, nor can transgender people be a legally protected class.

    “Gender identity is a questionable concept. The proposition that a woman is a woman simply because she identifies as a woman is clearly circular. The entire concept of gender identity is rooted in an obvious logical fallacy, but if you reject gender identity you threaten what transgender people perceive their civil rights to be — and that’s why this is such a contentious subject.”

  28. Marc Levesque

    “The rhetoric won’t calm down.”

    I was thinking of rhetoric from academics like “suck my …”, ” … Monseigneur Lance said so”, or the more mundane use of tendentious terms, like “crowd”, for those we disagree with. It just makes arguments harder to follow and I hope it’s running out of steam.

    “Gender identity is the defining characteristic of transgender people. The definition of ‘transgender’ is … ”

    Comments like those are different from what I was referring to, not sure how they fit in. Maybe the rhetoric could be more moderate or less polarized.