Viewpoint Diversity and the Idea of Neutrality

by Luke Cuddy


Neutrality is a Laudable Goal: A Clarification of Viewpoint Diversity

Critics of neutrality abound. For one thing, neutrality is boring compared to the hot, partisan take that gets the most clicks. In social settings, people who take the path of least resistance and don’t have an opinion on anything are often deemed annoying at best. Even Jesus didn’t like neutrality, promising to vomit the lukewarm out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16).

Neutrality is impossible, one could argue, since being neutral itself constitutes a point of view. Some even seem to think the call for neutrality reveals a deeper, more nefarious intention. While I concede that some people calling for neutrality may have such intentions — or may have had them at earlier points in history — presumed intentions alone cannot be a reason to reject an argument.

What do I mean by neutrality? I mean the call for viewpoint diversity; the desire for  reasonable perspectives on a given issue to be heard fairly and civilly. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not defining neutrality with respect to people’s attitudes in that I think we should all be dispassionate about every topic. I am defining it with respect to the presentation of the topic itself. There is no incompatibility between being passionate and presenting a topic fairly. The best college professors do it all the time.

Are There Some Topics to Which Neutrality Doesn’t Apply? Yes

I’m happy to concede to the many critics of viewpoint diversity that some topics are off limits. Should we discuss Charles Murray and so-called race science to hear all the points of view? No. Like many, I was disappointed with Murray’s non-answer on Sam Harris’ podcast when asked why he investigated intelligence levels between races to begin with. In an article for Arc Digital, L.D. Burnett argues rightly that a topic like this — one that puts one’s value as a human being up for debate — should be rejected up front. Some arguments have such faulty premises that they should never get off the ground. Indeed, she alludes to the infamous case of Andrew Sullivan, who took Murray’s claims seriously and justified his argument by appealing to viewpoint diversity.

Unfortunately, though, this is the only contemporary example she provides. Perhaps that wasn’t the main point of her article, but it does leave the curious reader wanting. She rightly targets early polygenists, who claimed the superiority of the white race, for criticism. But are most people calling for viewpoint diversity today like these early polygenists?

The History-to-Present Bait and Switch

This argumentative strategy — using historical cases in which an argument was misused as a justification for rejecting that same argument in the present — is not foreign to critics of neutrality. Imagine if your adult daughter thought that you were treating her unfairly during a recent meal by, say, interrupting her too much. But rather than address that specific complaint, you instead pointed out that children, too, claim to be treated unfairly for clearly childish reasons, thus trivializing your daughter’s legitimate complaint about your behavior.

Adam Serwer trivializes civility in this way in The Atlantic . He doesn’t target viewpoint diversity per se, though it’s two sides of the same coin. The calls to be civil are calls to be neutral with respect to interpreting people’s arguments fairly, from multiple perspectives, even those with which we disagree. Following the strategy like a pro, Serwer cites copious historical examples — from William Howard Taft’s inauguration speech in 1909 to Biden’s wistful lament of being civil with segregationists — to argue that civility is overrated (which also is the title of his article).

To be sure, much of what authors like Burnett and Serwer write is true and terrible.  One can’t argue with history. The problem lies in the conclusions they draw from it. Serwer continually hammers home the point that the so-called civility that whites like Biden pine for is a result of the exclusion of marginalized groups. Such civility wouldn’t exist, in his view, without the suppression of the racial tension beneath it.

But the sort of civility being called for by people like Jonathan Haidt — founder of the organization The Heterodox Academy whose focus is viewpoint diversity — is clearly not one that is built on racial tension. To be sure, Haidt’s argument should be [and has been] subject to legitimate academic criticism, but the critiques of authors like Burnett and Serwer don’t address this more robust version of the argument for neutrality.

Haidt and his ilk mainly want more diversity of political thought at universities, based on evidence that there is a lack of it in some important regards. For example, while liberal professors still grade conservative students fairly, conservative students are nevertheless more likely to self-censor than their moderate or liberal counterparts. In one survey, even liberal students said that they were significantly more likely to hear disparaging comments about conservatives than about Muslims, Christians, or African Americans. Haidt’s push to balance the political scales at universities is not incompatible with empowering marginalized groups, and arguably shares the same humanistic goal of inclusiveness.

Is Tension Incompatible with Civility/Neutrality?

Serwer suggests that tension and civility are in conflict, but they’re not. The best academic debates involve a great deal of tension and are also civil and neutral with respect to the presentation of the topic. Indeed, the Socratic method (or dialectic), that core of rational debate, is founded on a tension between two conflicting points of view (thesis and antithesis).

There is an irony in Serwer arguing in favor of tension but against civility, because to the extent that truly civil debate is suppressed, various academic arguments will be subject to less tension and simply accepted. This acceptance may be something that is hard for left-leaning academics to notice since they are immersed in those accepted viewpoints.

What are the best and worst arguments for systemic racism? If it exists, how widespread a problem is it and what are the best and worst strategies to address it? Do genes determine our behavior significantly? If the evidence for the effectiveness of implicit bias training is inconclusive, why is it being required so many places, including in many academic institutions?

It’s important to see that questions like this are legitimate academic questions whose answers, once known, will have a serious effect on not just future academics but on society in general. It’s also important to see that we don’t know the answers yet to any reasonable degree of certainty (unlike, say, the way we know that evolution is true). Questions like this need to be debated fairly.

What Critics of Neutrality Get Right

Ultimately the problem is not neutrality but the misuse of it. In my college days, the creationists were prominent misusers of “neutrality” talk regarding evolution. “Teach the controversy!” they used to say, suggesting that the creation of the universe by a higher being be taught alongside evolution in biology classes as theories on the same footing. But there was no controversy. Evolution had already won that debate and every legitimate academic knew it. Although creationism fails on nearly every count to be a scientific theory, many prominent creationists nevertheless used every public space they could to argue the contrary.

Some racists push their views under the guise of neutrality, just as some creationists do. Cases like this are a serious concern for neutrality/viewpoint diversity and must be addressed. The best argument for viewpoint diversity is that it is more likely to lead to truth and suppress our naturally tribal, confirmation-seeking instincts. But only with issues on which multiple reasonable answers are possible. It could actually lead away from truth if unjustified, false ideas are allowed to be propped up as legitimate, like creationism or early 20th century polygenism.

It is therefore important that we cast a wide net in terms of the topics that are deemed academically legitimate, but not infinitely wide. This line may not always be easy to discern, but it’s not impossible. Unfortunately, as illustrated by the fact that a growing number of scholars believe there is only one answer to the above academic questions, the line is being drawn too often these days in a clearly illegitimate way.

It’s easy for debates like these over terms like neutrality to seem academically dense, replete with tedious philosophical hair-splitting. While I’m sympathetic to this intellectual exhaustion, hair-splitting is of course sometimes necessary. Still, concrete examples help, which is why I end by pointing to Julia Galef, host of one of the first major podcasts, Rationally Speaking.

Galef challenges her guests respectfully but poignantly, making an effort to Steelman the ideas under discussion. She often asks guests to present books or articles that they disagree with, but still think are worth reading. She sometimes does shows (like this one) where she interviews two experts on a topic with opposing views, making an effort to split the differences fairly, pinpointing the most fruitful points of agreement and disagreement. She has also chosen not to cover certain topics, still drawing lines in the sand, not unlike critics of viewpoint diversity like Burnett and Serwer. In her recent excellent discussion with Coleman Hughes, the two address the very issue of how to talk about race. She’s not perfect — and who is — but she’s one of the best public examples of how to achieve the best version of viewpoint diversity/neutrality, without sacrificing other important values worth fighting for.

Luke Cuddy teaches philosophy at Southwest College, San Diego.


  1. I think a lot of this article is right. But I worry that you are conflating several things under the (inappropriate) heading of ‘neutrality.’ You talk about viewpoint diversity, civility, fairness, and ‘rational’ ways to handle tension in discussion. But none of those really seem to me to fall under – let alone synonymous with – neutrality.

    Neutrality, strictly speaking, means that one lacks attachment to relevant viewpoints or commitments. I am neutral on the issue of the death penalty when I have no commitments or attachments to any sides that I present and am at no risk of favoring one/some of those over others. Now, I can totally be NON-neutral – have attachments to one or more positoins on the issue – and still present multiple viewpoints (including ones I do not endorse) to my class, and better still, I can do so in a way that gives all viewpoints a fair “ideological Turing test” defense. But those things are different than neutrality, nor do any of them require neutrality.

    I think the critics of neutrality would point to this claim here that you make: “I am not defining neutrality with respect to people’s attitudes in that I think we should all be dispassionate about every topic. I am defining it with respect to the presentation of the topic itself. There is no incompatibility between being passionate and presenting a topic fairly. ”

    They would note correctly that you smuggle in – yes, smuggle in – the word “fairly,” which, to mean anything subsantive in any given case, HAS to have ideologically non-neutral content. Say that you want to teach about, I don’t know, how the US government operates, and you want to give multiple views: libertarian, socialist, critical race, civic republican, etc. Do you or do you not also include Qanon-inspired theories? Whether you do or don’t, to make that choice – even implicitly – you have to be non-neutral, literally you have to have a position. (Now most things we teach about will not involve such potentially controversial decisions, because they are not hot-button issues, but non-hot-button issues are not the issues we talk about the importance of neutrality in refernce to, because nothing ideologically juicy is at stake.)

    You do seem to get around this when you deal with the creation/evolution debate, a potentially controversial issue where choices must be made about what viewpoints are viewpoints too far. But what you do there is say things like “there was no controversy. Evolution had already won that debate and every legitimate academic knew it. ” Critics of neutrlaity would (again rightly) point out that, as sensible as your verdict is, saying evolutionary theorists are the victors and deciding what academics count as “legitimate” both entail stances that you are exhibiting non-neutrality on.

    So, I think a lot of the arguments in your article are good ones. They are good points made about the importance of hearing multiple perspectives, open-mindedness, civil discourse, etc, but none of these seem to me sensibly described as (the whole of or elements of)

    1. I had no trouble understanding that by ‘neutrality’ he clearly meant “effectively neutral in insuring that multiple and contrasting viewpoints are entertained.” Hanging on a more literal meaning of the word really doesn’t bring anything of interest to the table, given the topic of the essay.

      1. I didn’t have trouble understanding what the author meant by neutrality either. Hence the very first sentence of my response. I just don’t think that how the author defines neutrality is what anyone – least of all the critics of the term – mean by neutrality. The arguments make sense, but I’d simply suggest that they get at something other than neutrality.

        I actually like the way Matt Taibbi discusses issues like these in journalism. In his book Hate Inc and on podcasts and talk shows, he advocates for viewpoint diversity, fairness in dealing with opposiing views, civility, charitability, etc. And when the host – as they inevitably do – says something about how yeah, we need neutrality in journalism, Taibbi says “Hey now. I never said that, and don’t think neutrality can be achieved in any journalism. But I do think all the things I talked about can be achieved, and none depend on neutrality.”

        1. Thanks for your comments. As Dan says, I was defining neutrality with respect to the presentation of the topic. It seems our main disagreement is over terminology, and maybe even strategy, which is fair. I suppose I would argue that neutrality SHOULD be defined the way I do, since no one claiming to be neutral in the way you describe really means it that way (at least not those arguing in good faith). Part of my point with the article is that hardly anyone thinks of neutrality the way the critics do when arguing for a robust version of it, which is why I thought a clarification was in order.

          On the podcast I mention in the article, Rationally Speaking, Julia Galef often makes that point about rationality: being a rationalist does not commit one to believing that she herself is perfectly rational or that rationality is easy. Nevertheless, one often hears that “you’re not perfectly rational” criticism when arguing for rationalism or even reason itself (I’d say Bob Wright’s hit piece against Sam Harris is exactly this sort of criticism).

          I did mention that we should cast a wide net but not infinitely wide, but I acknowledge that it’s not always easy to figure out what should get a seat at the table. This is where some concept of academic legitimacy should come into play, which I didn’t really go into depth on in the article. Off the top of my head I’d say that’s exactly why Q-Anon shouldn’t be included. On the other hand, I WOULD include critical race theory even if I disagree with it, because at least it is grounded in academic history and some conception of reason.

  2. I agree with much of this, but it’s somewhat spoiled by the disappointing foray into self-assured pre-emptive no platforming of “obviously wrong views.” No positions are “decisively won” in science and to suggest as much indicates a misunderstanding of what science is and how it works.

    Where I live — in the buckle of the Bible Belt — you may very well have to entertain creationist viewpoints and re-litigate the debate over evolution. Indeed, you may have to do it with every generation of student, who comes in after a life’s worth of Christian homeschooling. Smug refusals and categorical statements about what has been “decisively won” will be met by state legislatures with brutal budget cuts or worse and by local parents and students, who pay the bills, with transfers to Bible colleges.

    The same goes for everything else. In my view, the question of liberal democracy has been “decisively won,” and yet, here we are having to debate it all over again. We are being told by influential opinion makers and powerful institutions that the most extreme version of the trans rights activist position has “decisively won” and that gender critical views should therefore be no platformed.

    Our basic posture, then, must be one that is open to the possibility that anything and everything may have to be gone over again. And again. And again. Which it is and in what way will depend on the circumstances. But the idea that one can comfortably rest on what has been “decisively won” and pre-emptively de-platform on the basis of it just seems so obviously mistaken and so clearly inconsistent with basic liberal ideas and dispositions that it is weird to see it endorsed in a piece ostensibly devoted to viewpoint diversity and [procedural] neutrality.

    1. “I agree with much of this, but it’s somewhat spoiled by the disappointing foray into self-assured pre-emptive no platforming of “obviously wrong views.” No positions are “decisively won” in science and to suggest as much indicates a misunderstanding of what science is or how it works.”

      Dan, I agree, and it was part of the point I made in the comment you suggested didn’t really bring anything to the table with its stricter view of neutrality.

      Part of my point was precisely that for the author to say that they are achieving neutrality by presenting diverse views, they already have to have decided – in a way that is always non-neutral – that some views are just off the table. One has to say something like “… and by present diverse views, I only mean LEGITIMATE views,” with the word “legitimate” doing all the non-neutral work that is necessary for the viewpoint diversity to appear neutral.

      I dont think I’m being trival when I say that we should just give up on the idea that neutrality is what we’re trying to attain. Civility, diversity, fairness, etc, sure. But not neutrality.

    2. While I found this an interesting piece, I think there are two things missing, which makes it a bit abstract. The first is the medium for the presumably neutral debate, and the second one is the public.

      When I was young, the medium for serious debate was written texts, the printed word. It’s open to abuse but at its best, it’s also incredibly flexible and capable of very subtle nuance – the nuance that is needed to expose and understand different viewpoints.

      Written texts have another advantage: they dissociate to a certain extent the message from the messenger. I’ve been to meetings when so-called “charismatic” people gave very convincing speeches that would have made very convincing youtube videos. And when I looked at my written notes the day after, already forgetting the sweaty arm-waving and the mesmerizing presence of the speaker, I usually saw nothing but platitudes. A 45 minute youtube video reduced to a single page of trivialities, with perhaps one or two interesting – but never adequately argued – ideas.

      The thing convincing people fear the most, I think, is the written text. Luckily for them, the printed word has lost some prestige, lately. But the loss for civil, neutral debate is terrible.

      This brings me to the second point: the public. Discussions about delicate things like evolution theory, race, gender etc. don’t happen in vacuum. I think Dan’s remark that

      “Where I live — in the buckle of the Bible Belt — you may very well have to entertain creationist viewpoints and re-litigate the debate over evolution. Indeed, you may have to do it with every generation of student, who comes in after a life’s worth of Christian homeschooling.”

      is important here. A neutral debate needs an audience that understands and values neutrality. This is not something that comes automatically. It needs hard work and a decent education, things that weren’t controversial not so long ago.

      1. I really like your point about the medium. One criticism I often hear John McWhorter make about Ibram Kendi is that Kendi never gets involved in venues where his ideas can be really challenged. Instead it’s usually a panel of other anti-racists who agree with him about almost everything and just let themselves get lectured.

        As much as I used to hate debates with William Lane Craig (infamous internet theologian), I wonder if we should have more debates like that again (there are still some, of course, but they don’t seem to be as fashionable as they once were). Although Craig just more or less repeats the same arguments and uses questionable assumptions, he still respects reason and tries not to, for example, throw around the ad hominem willy-nilly. I can’t say the same for most anti-racists.

        Maybe you and Dan are more right than I initially thought about the public. It’s very true that the audience has to value neutrality. On the other hand, as I’ve defined it, I can’t imagine a legitimate academic institution where the audience wouldn’t value it. Or shouldn’t anyways.

    3. I’m not sure if this is another terminological disagreement or a more fundamental one, possibly the latter. I guess I do believe that some debates have been decisively won. I also suppose I’m arguing for a version of academia as it should be rather than as it is. In a university as it should be, we wouldn’t have to re-litigate debates like evolution, or even free speech, based on cultural variables. In a university, that is, that valued truth seeking above all.

      Also, being decisively won, in my view, doesn’t mean it can’t be relitigated for a legitimate reason. For example, I can’t remember the dude’s name who (I think in the 90s) questioned the concept of time as it was assumed in Einstein’s theory of relativity. But unlike creationists, this guy (Julian Barbour?) had a legitimate relitigation.

      1. “I also suppose I’m arguing for a version of academia as it should be rather than as it is.”

        That is certainly fair. But I would stand by my point regarding science. What has been “decisively won” can be entirely overturned, as Physics, especially, has demonstrated.

  3. Neutrality is relative (like “tall”). The judge, the referee, the teacher, the inquirer are all supposed to be neutral about some things, not others. The philosophy professor who wants to teach the debate between creationism and evolution should be at least publicly neutral, if “debate” is the aim of the class. The biology professor probably shouldn’t be. A writer can’t be “neutral” with respect to the question of the relative value of literature and religious devotion. “Teaching” without being neutral about ANYTHING would be “indoctrination,” not teaching. The current trend in academia exhibits an historical decrease in political “neutrality” relative to 3 decades ago, and some of us argue it is a turn for the worse for the education of our students. It’s a matter of degree of neutrality with respect to what issue.

  4. I think, like others, that “neutrality” is not the right word here, given its overtones of warfare, and the few people to whom it is actually relevant to (say editors, arbitrators, gatekeepers). As an ordinary individual, I would think that better are humility where truth is difficult or impossible to make a judgement, the desire to increase knowledge for yourself and others, so the dialectic is welcome, and tolerance for beliefs that are outright wrong, but stubbornly held, and not too harmful to others. After saying that, there are only so many hours in the day to correct people on the Internet.

  5. I think it has been rightfully pointed out that at least in some instances the gatekeepers of neutrality will be judged by he eye’s of their beholders for their own questionable eyesight. Who is ultimately the arbiter of last recourse as what is to be entertained? A creationist’s “science” may be suspect and the pure hate speech of a Nazi may be summarily dismissed as unacceptable for civil review but, does not the old adage of free speech dictate that the false and evil must be exposed and countered with truth and persuasion?

    As mentioned the Harris – Murray podcast is illustrative of many aspects pertinent to this subject and interesting to review. Of course Murray’s right to investigate and publish should not be abridged nor should he have to fear ostracism and bodily harm. That, was Sam’s preeminent point and the one he rather flat-footedly jousted with Ira Klein about. But, the more telling aspect of the Murray podcast was his insistence that it had nothing to say about race. He disingenuously claimed that the important premise of the Bell Curve was about the problematic future social stratification in response to future employment that would be ever more financially weighted towards the occupations that required greater intelligence and concomitant education. As he and others put it, IQ is a real thing, highly heritable, and scientifically accepted to be adduced by specialized testing. He was giving the clarion call, the warning, that this would lead to greater civil and societal inequalities. Fine, he could have made his case as such but for some reason he would never answer; why was it necessary to include cross racial IQ results when he could have just effectively and without detraction given a general population curve without racial distinctions?

    Now it gets rather disquieting . I also agree that cross racial IQ research is on the face of it, quite odious and of little if no use that would counter the potential harm. Yet, few credible scientists would disagree with the basic effectiveness of IQ testing even though there are some legitimate concerns around protocol and interpretations. So, the science of IQ is arguably sound and the finding arguably valid but, I personally don’t like the very notion and would rather the whole business be dumped into the subduction zone of the Marianas Trench. But, even so, what if the truth of the matter is that Blacks test lower than other “racial” groups and may need specific social interventions and policies, some which Murray suggest are quite reprehensible and insulting? Ah…but, you say, race science puts values on populations. It need not be interpreted that way by the scientist or the science. Damn certain members of the public who would place value on someone less intelligent than themselves. They quickly forget that 50% of any group resides on the left of a curve. Why then would Murray be disqualified from the public forum? The science is sound, the hypothesis is cogent and the findings and recommendations surely debatable. All perhaps, except in the eye’s of the gate keeper. This aspect of your article is problematic but, of course like the other commenters I fully agree with fair, evidence based civil discussion.

    1. I don’t know, I feel like the “who gets to decide what’s acceptable?” argument veers into the false dilemma, perfectionist fallacy. In other words, just because what’s acceptable is not perfectly discernible and might be difficult sometimes, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying for and arguing for some version of acceptability. It comes back to what I said in another comment above regarding academic legitimacy. The reason why creationists generally did not deserve a seat at the table is that they were very clearly (and sometimes admittedly) not arguing in good faith. They were (and I suppose still are) often told by mentors to game the system, to use clever logic in an attempt to make the opponent look bad and gain more converts, not in an attempt to find truth.

      It’s worth reflecting on perhaps the best creationist argument, the irreducible complexity argument from Michael Behe (that is, the idea that some biological adaptations are “irreducibly complex” and therefore cannot be explained by evolution). Behe also chose the bacterial flagellum as his example, which at the time had not been fully understood by evolutionary biologists. Granted, it was not the greatest argument and still involved some “god of the gaps” reasoning, but at least at the time I would argue it was interesting enough to have a seat at the table. But when the flagellum was, in fact, explained evolutionarily a few years later, that should have been it.

      I don’t really disagree with a lot of what you say about Charles Murray. I was just referring to the part of the podcast you refer to at the end of your second paragraph. I could have made this clearer in my article, but I wasn’t saying Murray should be excluded per se, just that THAT part of his argument was probably not worth pursuing in the way that it was framed. As Thomas Chatterton Williams put it in his appearance on Sam Harris’ podcast, it would be more worth pursuing if there was more data that was not taken at one specific point in history. Also, geneticist Robert Plomin on Harris’ and other podcasts said the same thing about Murray’s view in this regard (ironically, Plomin gets the same “you’re a racist genetic determinist” criticism from left leaning scientists).

      One more point. Although I acknowledged difficult cases are, in fact, difficult in my article, I was really targeting cases I think are less difficult. For example, any reasonable conception of academic legitimacy should allow someone like John McWhorter to have a seat at the table regarding systemic racism. But dissenting voices like his tend to be ignored and/or downplayed by much of academia.

  6. I agree with Kevinck’s point, quoting Matt Taibbi, that neutrality is the wrong focus, and is impossible anyway. I could wish that college profs and instructors were encouraged to state what point of view they hold on some important issues, because in my experience there is a kind of pretense of neutrality that everyone sees through. It’s quite possible to hold a POV strongly and yet allow arguments against it, and handle them well. Why not bring all this into the open?

    One thing I find ironic on a number of levels is this, in the original post: “a topic like this — one that puts one’s value as a human being up for debate — should be rejected up front.” (I see I am not the first to note the problem with this limitation.) First, one’s “value as a human being” is not established by science, so how is it established? Historically it is a holdover from the Judeo-Christian past. Plenty of cultures, in time and space, have not been terribly troubled by it. Empirical science doesn’t try to find, or manage to find, value in anything–much less a fundamentally equal value in being human. The woke obviously find greater value in some humans than others: the non-white, the non-male, etc. Perhaps it is a Kantian postulate of liberal individualism: “we have to have this or our system won’t work.”

    Second, if it is the case that it is such a postulate, the devil is in the details (and in this way it is like Rawls’ “overlapping values”). This is the very objection being hurled by the activists: if you question whether, as a trans woman, I am in any way not the same as other women; or if you question the duty of doctors to perform sex-reassigning surgery on a teenager, or if you question whether gay marriage is the same as straight marriage [well, you’re a Nazi]; or if you question the assertion that this is and has always been a white-supremacist nation; well, you are casting the humanity of these oppressed people into doubt. It’s the first and greatest weapon in the arsenal. Thus, as soon as you admit the principled exclusion of anything that might “put one’s value as a human being up for debate,” you have simply drawn the boundary of acceptable speech around the woke, and excluded everyone else. This is very nice if you are woke, but it’s hard to believe it could be called “neutrality” in any intelligible sense.

    1. I want to emphasize that the reason I even linked neutrality and viewpoint diversity, defining them as part of one broad concept, as I did in the article, is precisely because critics of neutrality do exactly that, especially in the article by Burnett that I linked. My point was, no one arguing for neutrality really sees it as a perfectly objective enterprise, so I was trying to clarify/steelman the argument for it. So if there’s really no such thing as neutrality, then I wish people like Burnett would stop writing articles called “no neutral ground for scholars”. Still, I’m starting to be persuaded that maybe a modification of neutrality isn’t the right way to go, even if this isn’t a disagreement over substance as much as strategy.

      Regarding your point about value, your argument isn’t unlike the counterarguments against Peter Singer’s view of animal experimentation. No, one’s value is not established by science (well, arguably, though some DO argue that the scientific method entails values), but assuming your premise is correct, then it seems clear that we already limit our research based on considerations of the value of human beings. That’s Singer’s point about animal research: if we really just care about getting the objective right answer, we should be kidnapping humans and experimenting on them on islands with no regard to their well being (as we still do with animals) since the results would be more objective/transferable than experimenting on a rat or monkey.

      So I do think, though, that you’re right about the (a?) postulate, which of course doesn’t have to be based around Judeo-Christianity. Yes, it could be Kantian, or utilitarian as Singer would have it. But the main point here is that such a postulate is already assumed in scientific research, as can be seen in university IRB research proposals. Some conception of the basic value of human life and dignity is already assumed.

      I would also emphasize that my argument for viewpoint diversity isn’t just about science, but about a more broad conception of reason (with science as a subcategory). If someone claims that their value is being questioned by something else, they should be required to make an argument grounded in good faith argumentation. The examples you cite generally wouldn’t qualify. To just take one, if I question your view that the US is defined only by white supremacy (as we know, not an uncommon idea these days) and you claim that my disagreement with you on that front is an attack on your value as a human being, you’ve got to back up that argument in good faith. But to do that, you’d have to show that that the US really IS defined by white supremacy since that’s what your case rests on. But as the critics of the 1619 project and many legitimate historians point out, that’s not a defensible position.

  7. I’m sure we have lots of areas of agreement. However, you write above, “Some conception of the basic value of human life and dignity is already assumed” in science practices. If it’s assumed by science, that says it is not found or demonstrated by science, which was my claim. If it’s not found or demonstrated by science, what is it based on? I think you are adding a new detail with the requirement of “make an argument grounded in good faith argumentation,” but your example is an empirical one. Wouldn’t that entail that it is, contrary to your post above, acceptable to make an argument *in favor of* race-based differences in intelligence (which is not an argument that I’m thrilled about), as long as it is backed up by a good-faith empirical argument? The woke are making claims that you must not question certain assertions of theirs, because doing so is an attack on the value of certain folks as human beings. You are saying now “that’s only a legitimate complaint if you can back it up.” But people like Charles Murray had data to back up his assertions, so he could turn around and say, “the data back me not you.” So I still don’t see how your criterion of exclusion, anything that might “put one’s value as a human being up for debate,” demarcates the acceptable from the unacceptable argument, even with your additional requirement.

    1. Right, but that’s why I emphasized that I’m arguing for a conception of value being established by reason, not by science. You said it couldn’t be demonstrated by science, but then you asked how it COULD be demonstrated, which led you to the idea of a postulate. I agreed with the latter, and I still think such a postulate can be established by reason (again along utilitarian lines, or whatever).

      I don’t think it’s inconsistent to say that sometimes justifying a topic will make use of science, and sometimes reason more broadly (if one has a broad conception of reason).

      Regarding Murray, I would actually agree that the argument in favor of race-based differences is a better candidate to have a seat at the table than all the other examples you gave from the left. In my article, I acknowledged that the line wouldn’t always be easy to draw, and this may be one of those cases. I, personally, would draw the line to exclude Murray’s claims here (as I said in the article), but I recognize that there’s a reasonable argument for including them like the one you make. I wouldn’t include them because I thought Murray’s justification for including them was weak, and the Chatterton Williams point that the data was taken at one specific point in history with existing socio-economic disparities. This is a judgment that uses reason: it takes into account the science as well as additional rational considerations.

      To be clear, I’m only saying this about Murray’s particular claims on race, not about the rest of the book, and especially not about his more recent work. I think it would take a lot more to exclude a person entirely (though some creationists probably qualify).

  8. > Are There Some Topics to Which Neutrality Doesn’t Apply?

    I shared your disappointment in Murray’s non-response to Sam Harris. But who decides which paths of inquiry are acceptable? What exactly are the criteria?

    Some radical trans activists would use that argument to place much of biology and genetics off limits. As someone with women in my life whose health I value, that worries me.

    If we can’t articulate exactly where we draw that line, it just seems better to me to just not draw one. Just let peer review do the work; it gets it right eventually.

  9. Of course there is much to agree with here, given its generality and concessions to reasonableness. I do wonder about the POV of the author from things like the three loaded questions about: systemic racism, genetics determining behavior significantly, and implicit bias training. There surely are broader questions? And the implication that there are multiple answers, or even any answers to lots of these questions.

    And I get why the rational white males who are reading and writing this stuff might nod at all of the above, and quibble about semantics. But my question is: why should anyone be interested in your call for viewpoint diversity? If there aren’t really answers, why neutrality? The quote on Marx grave says, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

    1. The reason I included those questions in the article is not only that are there multiple answers possible, but (and this is the point) they are being treated by an overwhelming portion of academia as if only one answer/perspective is possible AND that that answer has been found, full stop. For instance, Ibram Kendi is fond of citing statistics that show disparities between white and black achievement. Yet there are legitimate scholars who draw different conclusions than he does from this same data, but those scholars’ voices are either downplayed or ignored. I’m not saying Kendi doesn’t deserve to have his say (he does), but his voice shouldn’t be the loudest and his minions shouldn’t drown out legitimate criticism of his views.

      To say that there are more answers than are being discussed is not to say that there aren’t really answers; I would have thought my evolution example illustrated this. Jon Haidt often juxtaposes that Marx quote with one from Mill emphasizing the importance of listening to all sides to find truth. So you should care about viewpoint diversity if you value truth-seeking.

      I’m not sure why you mentioned identity. I’m a white male but LGBTQ. I’m also not a rationalist or a physicalist, though I value reason highly as a truth-seeking tool. Julia Galef, whom I mention at the end of the article, is obviously a woman and she’s a rationalist. These considerations seem irrelevant to the argument.

Comments are closed.