Collegiality is bullshit

New APPS has very good post about what’s wrong with calls for “collegiality” in the ongoing debates about how to fix professional philosophy. Read that instead of this; I just want to make a few additional, relatively minor, points.

If you already read that you’ll see they briefly discuss a Leiter post that he later removed and replaced with an apology. It was nonetheless cached by Google (h/t this anonymous Tumblr) and it’s worth reading since many in the profession evidently share the sentiments expressed. The passage I want to talk about is this one:

Since I am unreservedly on the side of those who believe sexual harassment is a serious problem in academic philosophy, and who strongly supports sanctions for sexual harassers, including Ludlow, and who has worked to get such sanctions brought against other sexual harassers in the profession, may I say to those who share those views with me that the over-the-top and holier-than-thou rhetoric, and the disregard for rights and fairness that increasingly characterize these discussions are alienating a lot of philosophers whose help will be needed. Because of the vituperative abuse that accompanies any public dissent on these issues, this discontent and alienation is only showing up in some of the polls on this site, in a lot of off-line conversations, and in off-color parodies like this one which has been making the rounds, despite being sexist. A lot of philosophers who care about these issues and have engaged in no wrong-doing are feeling very defensive and clearly becoming less likely to support a Site Visit, less likely to want to get involved in possible sexual harassment cases, and less likely to engage with other colleagues on these issues. Anyone can guess how one portion of cyberspace will respond to these observations, but I hope others will do better.

A few things:

  1. The utter falsity of the classic “you’re alienating potential allies” line has been documented a hundred times better than I could in a hundred different places, so I’ll restrict my comments to this particular instance. Leiter wrote this post in the aftermath of a series of events which began when Leiter told a student that she is “unable to even evaluate evidence” and should leave philosophy. That is not the behavior of someone “whose help will be needed”, because that is the behavior of someone who is not helping. The people who are “alienated” by the anger of and on behalf of people facing oppression are not people who can be relied on to help when help is needed. (Leiter does make it clear that he personally is not alienated; we’re all very relieved about that.)

  2. Leiter refers to the pushback he received as “vituperative abuse” and later he describes it as contributing to a “toxic atmosphere”. One could hardly be blamed for thinking that Leiter is prioritizing his own comfort over the real harm being inflicted on women in philosophy, especially after he approvingly quotes an anonymous (female) colleague who compares the actions of anti-sexist philosophers with the most violent and brutal acts of racism in America’s history.

  3. Leiter finally calls out Philosatire for being sexist, but also insists on describing it as merely “off-color”. Poop jokes are off-color; Philosatire is unambiguously cruel and harmful.

  4. Leiter seems to suggest that the “abuse” being inflicted by feminists is having a chilling effect on “public dissent”, dissent which is therefore being channelled into more private venues. That the sort of people who would defend Peter Ludlow now realize their opinions are not acceptable in the public sphere seems like a positively good thing to me. Leiter knows as well as anyone that the freedom to say something horrible is not the same thing as freedom from the consequences of saying something horrible.

In conclusion: keep making noise.


Now read this

Brian Leiter is an issue for philosophy

UPDATE: Brian Leiter replied by email; that communication is included in full at the bottom of this post. Brian Leiter, proprieter of the philosophy blog Leiter Reports and—until recently—sole controller of the influential Philosophical... Continue →