Thursday, August 18, 2011

Philosophy, Philosophers and the PGR/Pluralist Affair

I do not like this singling out of an individual on the web, especially when it comes to singling out and ostracizing another professional philosopher. First, it wreaks of rumormongering and I wonder what effect it will have on someone's career. At worst, it comes across as bullying, and even more to the point, it promotes divisiveness. As if philosophers of any affiliation, expertise or approach can practically stand to be divided given that we live in an academic world that prides itself on supplying the demand of unreflective vocational degrees like business majors rather than valuing anything in the humanities! Much of the content on Leiter's Philosophy Reports has descended to that level with this whole Pluralist Guide debacle.

As philosophers, our common exchange is argumentation and interpretation. We give each other reasons for thinking X or Y, and that's the appropriate place for what we do. This includes the treatment of each other. Lately, there have been several blogs that trade in vitriol. I don't like it. It only bespeaks the implicit commitment that there is not only a divide between an us and them--without really knowing what it is exactly that we're disagreeing about while everyone insisting that the reason they personally are disagreeing with this whole affair is the same as everyone else's. It comes across as more attitudinal sometimes rather than substantive.

Surely, you can disagree with the actions of a professional colleague. Surely, you could raise these points with tact, but really to launch a survey about the issue, to elicit feedback from Leiter's gossip page can really damage someone's career. If Leiter doesn't like you, if you enter his little radar to the point that you piss him off, he could literally hurt you with his blog. I am privvy to the effects he made personally about a fellow colleague.

I have no evidence either way to infer anything on the part of Linda Martin Alcoff's actions or her motivations. I sometimes wonder what she heard that made her so fervently decide to place three top PG ranked schools as bad places for women to study philosophy. I don't know anyone at these schools; I probably never will. The point, however, should be what would motivate someone to suffer the cost of those reports? Equally disturbing is, if she is wrong, then how have her comments been received and affected the status of those graduate programs? If you are reading this, you probably don't know anymore than me. That's the point. We ought to suspend judgment on the truth of the proposition rather than surveying our social perceptions of a colleague. This is a reaction of taste. It's in poor taste that Leiter made it a survey. Again, tact is a wonderful thing. Tactful action at minimum involves respectful engagement with a colleague.

Can you imagine if the whole world of philosophy voted about your status? Imagine what it must be like to be under the hot seat. I'd be silent too. I'd wish it to go away. Moreover, if Leiter really wanted some answers about the Status of Women report, then a respectful engagement with Dr. Alcoff might have presented the results he would want: Answers.

Ever since this started, I've started her Feminist Epistemologies. It's quite good, thorough and well-researched. The only conclusions I could ever possiblly reach from her work (other than the obvious implications for phenomenology): She is more than likely smarter than me, and I'll probably teach at some liberal art school while she will carry the torch of Continental philosophy and feminist philosophy. Someone so accomplished does not require me to defend her, and this should not be read as a defense or a position in the whole affair. Instead, it is merely a judgment of taste, and an honest evaluation about what we truly know--little to nothing. If I were teaching critical thinking and my students told me that we knew little to nothing about a particular problem, then I'd advise them to suspend judgment until they acquire more evidence.

It is despicable what has become of this whole affair, and you can point fingers... The only conclusion that can be drawn is the following:

1. There are implicit power formations about what constitutes proper philosophy.

2. Various parties have a vested interest in maintaining some version of what constitutes philosophy proper and where best one should study such a conception. I don't make any claim as to what this type of philosophy should be.

3. Given 1 and 2 above, there is something like a "divide" and no precise definition can be given about it, though something like Wittgensteinian family resemblance is possible.

If 3 is remotely possible, then whatever it is that "divides" philosophers is a hermeneutic condition of the activity to such an extent that the denial that there was no divide ever seems naive. But, I digress from the main point of this post.

I don't think I'll go to Leiter's website anytime soon, and the fact that it seemed so distasteful the way he handled his criticisms, I don't suspect my call to boycott his site would have any effect. Regardless, that's where I am. I neither excuse nor praise Linda Martin Alcoff's actions since all that I know is that I don't know---what a wonderfully modest beginning and starting place for philosophy should also hold for a point as to how we conduct ourselves professionally.

That's all I got. I am glad the poll is closed. I will not post anymore about the whole Pluralist Guide/PGR debacle. I will simply end where I think philosophy is heading. If I am not mistaken, philosophy is headed towards more pluralistic grounds, and I don't know if that upsets the old guard. I have friends at some Pluralist Guide schools, and I have friends at excellent to mid-range PGR schools.  I have friends writing on Sellars and pragmatism, I have other friends writing on moral psychology and philosophy of action. I have friends writing on Agamben, and I know others writing on Merleau-Ponty and Levinas. I have friends that do metaethics, and I know others that do philosophy of culture and feminism. I, myself, seem headed toward a comparative dissertation between Heidegger and Scheler with the last chapter devoted (maybe) to Jesse Prinz's naturalistic conception of moral emotions. I read Matt Radcliffe's work on philosophy of psychology and his engagement with Heidegger. My associations are erratic, inspiring and intriguing. This is why I am excited to finally and hopefully transition to finishing the PhD and joining the ranks of my fellow colleagues. It is a truly inspiring thing we do, philosophy. For me, it's like art. It takes a while to appreciate how complex another philosopher's work is, and undoubtedly, you need to be trained to appreciate philosophy just like it takes one some time to familiarize oneself with art to appreciate its current manifestation.

In the end, all I really can say about the whole thing is "I don't like green eggs and ham. I don't like them Sam I am."

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