May 9, 2013

An Eye Roller

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:36 pm

Professional philosophy is not always professional or philosophical. Anyone who has made it to or through graduate school in philosophy knows it has a dark and sad side, morally, politically, and intellectually. Much of it is on display in this thread (indeed, the whole website).

facepalmFrom the initial post itself, the puerile comments comparing theism to astrology, to the scoffing at allowing “religion” a seat at the table of enlightened philosophical discussion, there is a betrayal of philosophy. A true philosopher, I should think, would not even deny astrology a seat. Both the assumption that astrology is the paradigm of something that can be blindly dismissed and its comparison with theism should be rejected. Whatever happened to C. S. Lewis’s old adage “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered”?

A few years ago I had a friend who was in danger of being hoodwinked by phenomena that occult and astrology often lay claim to. Rather than dismiss him with some overly cocksure and equally contentless nod to the omnipotence of Science, I showed him the respect any friend and fellow truth-seeker would: I researched what scholarly philosophical and scientific literature there was on the subject in order to have an informed discussion. There is actually very little. It basically came down to one book edited by Patrick Grim, Philosophy of Science and the Occult (SUNY, 1982). The essays in that book, my friend and I agreed, showed that many of the things he was taken in by were demonstrably naturalistic. True, this is probably precisely why there is little scholarly discussion of astrology and the occult. If theism is so comparable, one wonders why someone hasn’t yet done the history of Western philosophy the favor of pointing it out so it can die a similar death.

No one was able to answer Tim Maudlin’s simple request for examples. And, of course, not one example was given to substantiate the fear of “apologetics” material supposedly infecting reputable philosophy of religion journals.

The dogmatic ideologies that underlie some of the attitudes in that thread (proven by the amount of backpedaling, qualifying into oblivion, and deflated rhetoric that eventually ensued) are anti-philosophical and—like much the rest of Leiter’s blog—shed as much light on the current state of the profession as What is it like to be a Woman in Philosophy.



  1. Also, I really liked Jon Knavig’s metaphor for the whole thing halfway through the discussion.

    Comment by Philip Mendola — May 9, 2013 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  2. Very good post, Chad. And I applaud your courage in saying what needs to be said. The current ‘ideologizing’ of philosophy by many is deplorable. A good example is the attack on the atheist and mortalist Thomas Nagel. Forgive me for promoting my own site, but what I say here is, I think, important:

    Comment by William F. Vallicella — May 10, 2013 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

    • I agree with your assessments of Nagel and his fate among the “professional” gatekeepers of philosophy. I submitted, non-anonymously, much of what I say in this post—toned back a bit—in the form of a comment in that thread on Leiter’s blog. It never saw the light of virtual day…

      I couldn’t care less about how unpopular my views are among the philosophical bourgeoisie, and feel no pressure to conceal them. This might sound massively unwise coming from a graduate student going into the job market in the next few years. But I don’t care about the job market, either. With the blessings of a university job come many curses, and I’m blessed with an over-achieving, incredibly smart wife who will have an MD by the time I’ll have a PhD. All I need is her, my books, some coffee, an armchair, and an ounce of faith in blind review.

      But even if I didn’t have these security blankets, how could getting crucified in academia possibly prevent me from pursuing the good life?

      Comment by camcintosh — May 10, 2013 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

      • I salute you, sir! Many curses, indeed, one of which is finding yourself in some politically correct hothouse that makes a mockery of the classical ideals of the university.

        After I resigned my tenured position I had no difficulty publishing in the so-called ‘good’ journals such as NOUS. But things could change as the country becomes more and more polarized and the leftist ideologues gain more and more power.

        Comment by William F. Vallicella — May 10, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

  3. I’m a non-theist who thinks you’re basically right. Stanley’s level of anxiety far exceeds the seriousness of the actual or possible harms he is able to enumerate in his 4+ comments on Leiter’s thread. One wonders what is really driving all of this.

    As for Nagel, I’m not sure the response to his book fits this particular bill. It is true that one or two major philosophers griped about giving aid to creationists, but the large majority of critical ink was spilled in response to Nagel’s sloppiness and lack of careful argumentation. I was watching this one like a hawk and I was actually pleasantly surprised that very few major philosophers resorted to political mud-slinging. And really, though, objectively speaking, Nagel’s book is nowhere near as good as his earlier stuff. He, like Parfit, is long past his prime.

    Comment by Vanitas — May 11, 2013 @ 11:39 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment, Vanitas.

      The political mud-slinging may appear disproportionate due to the fact that the main slingers were—surprise—Leiter and co., who for some reason get to be the voice behind the loudspeaker to professional philosophers.

      I love the subtitle to your blog, by the way.

      Comment by camcintosh — May 11, 2013 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  4. This piece is relevant to the Nagel-bashing academic elites.

    Comment by camcintosh — May 15, 2013 @ 10:54 am | Reply

  5. I was with you until your parting shot at What it is Like to be a Woman in Philosophy. Citing this as a specimen of political correctness is a perfect example of the kind of unphilosophical, uncritical, knee-jerk ideology-pumping that you rightly criticize in this post. The entries at this site include lots of legitimate complaints–including some of my own. And I’m a theist who is thoroughly outraged by the scoffing at allowing religion a seat at the table and a long-time active member of the Society of Christian Philosophers.

    Comment by Harriet Baber — May 29, 2013 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

    • Oh, Harriet, I think you misunderstood that remark. I also think many of the entries at WILTBAWIP are legitimate complaints, and am very sorry to hear that you have undergone similar experiences. What I meant was this: that thread on Leiter’s blog, along with much the rest of his website, adds to the already dismal picture of the profession effectively captured by WILTBAWIP. I see WILTBAWIP and Leiter’s website as capturing different angles of the same ugly beast, only the latter does it unwittingly.

      Comment by camcintosh — May 29, 2013 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  6. Fair. Sorry for jumping to conclusions. I get defensive because the assumption that anything that smacks of feminism is blind, silly political correctness, and maybe even more so by the assumption that Christians in particular are hostile to anything that smacks of feminism. Thank you for the clarification–my bad.

    Comment by Harriet Baber — May 30, 2013 @ 1:52 am | Reply

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