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My newest post, "Libertarian Compatibilism and the Consequence Argument" is now up at Flickers of Freedom. Check it out! In it, I utilize Einstein's famous "reference-frame trick" to advance a new solution to one of the most influential arguments against free will. In a nutshell, I suggest that the Consequence Argument is sound relative to one reference-frame but unsound relative to another one within which the former reference frame emerges.
I hope you all find it interesting!
Last month I wrote a blog post responding to Bas van der Vossen's forthcoming article, "In Defense of the Ivory Tower: Why Philosophers Should Stay Out of Politics", forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology. Bas' argument is:
Bas then responded to my post over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Although many people in the comments section over there were sympathetic to my argument (and offered arguments of their own against Bas' view), Bas remained unconvinced, claiming in a comment far down in the thread that he still thinks the argument sound.
I've been thinking a lot about Bas' argument since then (and so am thankful to Bas for writing such a thought-provoking paper!) -- and while I still think my initial objections are correct, I'd like in today's post to provide some real, deep theoretical justification for them.
In my earlier post, I questioned Bas' premise (2): the premise that the task of political philosophers is to seek the truth about political issues. In brief, I suggested that this is far too narrow a way to construe "our task." We are not hired by universities merely to seek the truth. Our employment contracts do not explicitly or implicitly state any such conditions of employment, and as human beings in an occupation, we have many moral responsibilities: not only to truth, but also to things like justice. And so, I suggested, it is not our sole task as political philosophers to seek the truth. "Our task" is very much up to us to decide for ourselves, on the basis of our own conscience and moral judgment.
I still think this is right. But let me now give a deeper argument for it. In my forthcoming paper, "First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice" and my 2008 PhD dissertation at Arizona, "A Non-Ideal Theory of Justice" (the latter of which, however, is a much earlier and inferior piece of work), I argue that justice in a nonideal world like ours -- a world in which principles of ideal justice are not met (either libertarian principles, egalitarian principles, or whatever) -- is a matter of empowering people who suffer from past and/or present injustices to collectively deliberate and pursue their interests in a fair and inclusive manner in proportion to the severity of the injustices suffered (i.e. the worse off people are, the more they should be prioritized in said deliberation).
Let's think about this a bit.
First, I did not reach this conclusion through political advocacy, but rather through an abstract philosophical model of freedom and equality under nonideal circumstances: a "nonideal original position." Further, in "A Non-Ideal Theory of Justice" and unpublished work, I argue that this model is "ideal theory invariant" -- that is, that it models nonideal justice regardless of whether one is a libertarian, egalitarian, etc., within ideal theory.
Second, let us think about my theory of nonideal justice's implications vis-a-vis Bas' argument. Bas' premise (1), recall, is that people who take up a certain professional role have a prima facie duty not to make themselves worse at their professional tasks. Notice how weak of a claim this is. A prima facie duty is an "on the face of it" duty -- one that can be overridden by countervailing considerations. If my view about nonideal justice is correct, political philosophers can have very strong countervailing considerations here: if they can help to empower unjustly disadvantaged people through political advocacy, then, on my theory, justice demands it...even if it makes them worse at their tasks as academic truth-seekers.
A similar point also follows from my theory with respect to Bas' premise (2): the premise that the task of political philosophers is to be truth-seekers. On my theory of nonideal justice, this is just false. Morality and justice both come prior to professional obligations. If I took up a job as a slaveowner, justice and morality would both require me to be worse at my tasks (indeed, they would require me to leave my job!). Similar considerations apply to political philosophers. According to my theory of nonideal justice, our fundamental moral task as political philosophers is not to be truth-seekers, but to seek justice. Now, of course, Bas is right that we can't know what our duties of justice are unless we know the truth about them, but if my theory of nonideal justice is on the right track (as I believe it to be), then the truth about justice is...that we should not merely be truth-seekers as academics, but rather people who are interested in empowering the unjustly disadvantaged -- contrary to Bas' (2).
Similar considerations also speak against Bas' premise (4): the premise that political advocacy makes political philosophers' worse at their task. Bas' believes this premise is true because (i) he thinks our only (or dominant) task is to be truth-seekers, and (ii) he provides lots of evidence in favor of the proposition that political advocacy biases people (infering with truth-seeking). If my theory of nonideal justice is right, however, then nonideal justice itself -- treating people as free and equal persons under nonideal conditions -- requiresbeing biased in favor of the interests of those disadvantaged by past and/or present injustices (as defined by one's favored ideal theory of justice).
In short, if I'm right about the nature of nonideal justice (or at least on the right track, as I believe I am), then Bas' argument does not succeed for several reasons: premise (2) and (4) are false, and even if they were all true (even if the argument were sound), his conclusion (that we have a "prima facie" duty to avoid political activism) would be so weak that it would be easily defeated by the countervailing duty of justice to prioritize justice over our professional obligations.
Finally, if all of this is right, then there are important implications not merely for Bas' argument (i.e. it is unsound), but for academic philosophy more generally. There has for a long time now be vigorous debate in philosophy (see e.g. here) over whether feminist philosophy, critical race theory, and other related fields are "genuine, worthwhile disciplines." And indeed, at a recent Leiter poll, a full 30% of respondents voted that feminist philosophy is really "just political advocacy, not a real discipline." Similar concerns have, of course, been raised about critical race theory and other academic inquiries into the "politics of difference."
Let's think for a moment about the arguments that people typically give against these areas being "genuine disciplines." Aside from the claim that such disciplines are less rigorous than mainstream analytic philosophy (something which I personally think is false), the general complaint about these disciplines is that they prioritize political advocacy over the truth. Notice that, on my theory of nonideal justice, "political advocacy interferes with truth-seeking", is patently false. Some forms of advocacy (i.e. those that violate principles of no ideal justice) may interfere with truth-seeking. But just forms of advocacy need not. And indeed, on my theory of nonideal justice, the only way to figure out what the truth is about nonideal justice (i.e. what a fair and just division of social costs in order to rectify past or present injustices) is to empower the unjustly disadvantaged to collectively deliberate in a fair and inclusive way to overcome injustice.
In other words, on my theory of nonideal justice, social advocacy on behalf of women, minorities, etc., is a crucial and necessary part of truth-seeking vis-a-vis truths about social and political philosophy. One cannot, on my theory, determine what nonideal justice requires without it. But, with this in mind, we now have an argument that feminist philosophy, critical race theory, etc., are legitimate areas of inquiry vis-a-vis philosophical truth-seeking. Their forms of political advocacy -- provided they are appropriately inclusive (etc.) -- are a form of truth-seeking. Or so my theory of nonideal justice entails.
Now, of course, I could be entirely wrong about nonideal justice. If I am, I would be happy for people to engage with and refute my work. That being said, I think my arguments are worth grappling with, and that they make a strong case not only for political philosophers engaging in advocacy, but also for the legitimacy and importance feminist philosophy, critical race theory, and other academic fields dedicated to examining social and political matters from the perspective of those who suffer from past or present injustices.
I enjoy blogging tremendously. It has been a great outlet to share and discuss my ideas about philosophy, teaching, the profession, etc., as well as a place to get to know a lot of great people. At the same time, given that (1) the Philosophers' Cocoon is not primarily a "news" outlet, (2) its scope is intentionally narrow (its mission is to be all things safe-and-supportive), and (3) coming up with worthwhile new topics to discuss all the time (and then writing on them) can be difficult...I thought I would take the opportunity today to reiterate (and emphasize!) what sometimes seems to me to be a neglected part of the Cocoon's core mission: namely, that this was never intended to be "my" blog, but rather a community-based one with many active contributors each bringing their own diverse thoughts, perspectives, and experiences to bear on aspects of our lives in professional philosophy. My hope, at any rate, has always been that the Philosophers' Cocoon would grow organically to be a place where a wide variety of people -- of different backgrounds, genders, philosophical proclivities, etc. -- would actively contribute in blogging roles, thereby broadening and deeping the kinds of issues and perspectives addressed. While I am in many respects happy with the Cocoon and the supportive community we have developed here, I still have the aforementioned hope, and sometimes fear that I have not done enough to express it.
So, with all that said, I intend to keep on blogging as I always have...but at the same time, I would like to encourage all of our existing contributors, as well as readers who are professional philosophers who would like to contribute, to take a more active role. It would not only take some of the pressure off me (and I do feel pressure to keep things going and interesting), I think it would -- for all of the reasons given above -- result in better, more diverse discussions, ideas, and perspectives.
In any case, I hope the beginning of the academic year treats you all well, and wish everyone who's on the job market this year the very best of luck! :)
Helen DeCruz has posted interviews she conducted with several tenured academics with children about their experiences in the professional while being mothers and fathers. Although all of the people interviewed are tenured, some of them had children before tenure or before having a tenure-track job.
Given that the Philosophers' Cocoon is intended to be a helpful place for early-career philosophers, and many of our readers are either in grad school, post-docs, non-TT positions, or in TT positions, I expect that DeCruz's interview will be of interest to many.
Indeed, given that questions like, "When is it best to have a child as an academic?", "How does having a child affect one's career prospects?", and the like, are pressing for very many of us, DeCruz's interview strikes me as a great service and resource. I hope you all check it out and find it interesting!
Richard Brown and Pete Mandik have posted episode 11 of SpaceTimeMind, "Scientism." Here's the episode's capsule-summary:
Good news, everybody! SpaceTimeMind turns it up to 11 as science-obsessed philosophers Richard Brown and Pete Mandik duke it out over which one is the most egregious purveyor of scientism, the view that anything worth knowing is worth knowing scientifically. Or is scientism just empiricism? And what the bleep is that, anyway? Is it simply an affirmation of the superiority of sensory knowledge? Or is it at bottom a denial of necessary truths? Or is being a scientismologist just what happens when you label yourself as such to achieve greater societal respectability and sell more books? Put on your goggles have a clean beaker handy, for today we science!!!
My newest post, "How we might have phenomenal consciousness and libertarian free will, while animals might have neither", is now up at Flickers of Freedom. I hope you find all find it interesting!
My next series of posts at Flickers will move away a bit from the really speculative stuff I've been focusing on in my last few posts, and turn directly to how my Libertarian Compatibilist theory of free will addresses famous anti-free will arguments: the Consequence Argument, Mind Argument, Luck Argument, etc.
So, if you're at all interested in that kind of stuff, stay tuned!
I had an experience at a conference recently that puzzled me a bit. A presenter was presenting on a set of philosophical views I think are false, and for which there are no good arguments. The basic thrust of the paper was this: "Many people take theory X seriously. This paper will argue that the reasons people give for X are actually reasons to think that Y is true, not X."
Since I've always thought the reasons that people give for X are bad, I thought the reasons the author was giving for Y over X were bad too (inheriting the badness of extant arguments for X). Because of these worries, I asked the author, "I think there are problems 1, 2, and 3 for arguments for X. Since arguments for Y share these problems, do you really think Y is true?"
The author's reply suprised me. He said, "No, I think X and Y are both false. I think the arguments for X are bad just like you do, and that the arguments for Y inherit those problems. But I thought it still worthwhile to show people who take X seriously that if they take X seriously, they should believe Y instead."
I wonder what people make of this. I thought there was something wrong with it -- that one should not intentionally pursue what one believes to be "false leads." Indeed, I fuzzily recall being upbraided by a mentor at some point in my career for doing something similar (I can't remember if it was grad or undergrad). The best I recall, my mentor said something like this: "As philosophers, we should be seeking the truth. If you pursue what you take to be false leads, you have intentionally undermined this aim. You have sought what you take to be falsehoods." Finally, the mentor implied that this was a form of intellectual dishonesty (I distinctly remember this person being quite upset with me).
What do you all think? I'm not quite sure. On the one hand, the presenter who gave the paper I'm talking about justified the paper by saying (in essence), "Look, it would display a lack of intellectual humility on my part to assume that my estimations of philosophical arguments are correct. Although I think the arguments for X (and Y, by extension) are bogus, there are a lot of philosophers who think those are good arguments -- and so, by showing them that they should prefer Y to X, my paper contributes something valuable to philosophical debate. It shows proponents of X that the real implications of their arguments is Y, not X -- though, again, I think Y is crazy too."
I sort of found this argument persuasive...sort of. I guess I can see how writing a paper on views one believes to be false -- and deriving the true implications of arguments one takes to be poor -- is a contribution to philosophical debate. Still, there seems to me (A) something potentially (actually?) dishonest about it, and (B) something about is contrary to the aim of being "truth seeking."
First, why do I think it is arguably dishonest? Well, look, if your paper is simply arguing that arguments for X entail Y instead, but you think the arguments for X are bad, then you've intentionally withheld something you think is philosophically relevent to the debate from your readers that you think is true. Which seems to me dishonest.
Perhaps, though, there is away to avoid this. An author could, I suppose, write explicitly in their paper (perhaps in a footnote?) that they think arguments for X aren't good, but that since other people take those arguments seriously, their paper is going to simply assume the arguments for X and show that they entail Y. This seems to me at least honest, and to that extent, morally preferable to saying nothing.
But although that may be a way around being dishonest to readers, I'm not sure that it sufficiently addresses the second worry I had (and which my mentor also had), which is being committed to truth-seeking.
To take an analogy I pressed this particular paper-writer with, suppose a scientist who believes Young Earth Creationism to be bunk wrote a paper that took arguments for Creationism seriously and showed that that far from entailing some hypothesis Creationists tend to believe, X, is true (let's say, X is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity), those arguments entail Y instead (where Y is, let's say, the proposition that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is false). This is of course contributing to the debate over what Creationists should think -- yet, if the author thinks Creationism is false, the author is not engaging in truth-seeking. Moreover, the author is playing into the hands of other people the author thinks have things wrong. Their paper, as it were, lends a little bit of added legitimacy to a false view (Creationism) simply by taking it seriously.
Now, the author of this paper replied to these worries by saying that the views his paper is on are not like Creationism -- as Creationism is not taken seriously in mainstream science, whereas the arguments he was considering in his paper are taken seriously in mainstream philosophy. But, does this really help? Suppose we were to go back in time several hundred years, when Young Earth Creationism was taken seriously by philosophers and natural scientists. Would it be okay to publish a paper like the one above (teasing out the theological implications of Young Earth Creationism) if one thought Young Earth Creationism to be false? I don't think it would be. As a scientist or philosopher, the ultimate of aim of inquiry should be the truth -- and so if you think the arguments for Young Earth Creationism (or whatever) are bad, you should not write papers that implicitly further the extent to which those arguments are taken seriously.
I pressed the author on this as follows. To paraphrase, I asked him, "Do you think philosophy would be better off -- closer to the truth -- if philosophers stopped taking X, and the arguments for it, seriously?" To the best of my recollection, he indicated that he did (since he thought X is false!). "But then", I asked him, "don't you think writing a paper on X lends greater legitimacy to the continued discussion of X? After all, if you write (yet another) paper on X, that may lead other people to think that X is worth taking seriously, and indeed, contribute to the furtherance of the X-industry -- something you yourself would like to see disappear (since you think X is false)!" I can't remember exactly what the author said to this, but I do recall that he was unconvinced. It seemed to me that his view was something like this: "Although I think the X-industry should disappear, there are a lot of philosophers who don't think it should disappear -- and so it's not my responsibility to help it disappear. It's everyone else's responsibility to stop believing arguments for X, and hopefully, that will happen."
I didn't like this reply. I was inclined to say, "No, if you really think X is false, you should in no way contribute to the literature on X, except to provide arguments that you genuinely think disprove it or the arguments for it. Any other contributions -- contributions that implicitly lend legitimacy to X, despite you yourself thinking it is a false theory -- lend legitimacy to a false theory, which you should oppose on truth-seeking grounds."
I think I still think this: that our ultimate allegiance should be to the truth, and to contributing to philosophical discussion only insofar as we believe we are furthering the truth.
What do you all think? First, do you agree with this? Second, do you think the author in this case was in any relevant sense pursuing truth? (Again, he was pursuing the implications of arguments for X -- which are truths of sorts! Yet, at the same time, he thought those arguments are unsound, which is deducing unsound implications!). I'm curious to hear everyone's thoughts... :)
Now that fall academic job-market ads are starting to go up, candidates have to begin the process of determining which jobs to apply for. This process is not necessarily very straightforward, as indeed, two difficult questions may present themselves:
Question (1) is not as easily answered as it might initially appear. Consider a candidate whose doctoral work, dissertation, and published work are primarily in areas X and Y, but who also had significant graduate school training in area Z, has published a couple of articles in Z, and has something of a long-term research program in that area (though, let's say, it might be a fairly narrow one, dealing with a very specific set of issues in Z).
Should this person claim Z as an AOS, even though it's clearly not among their main lines of research? Should they even claim it as an AOC, given that (perhaps) they've never taught a course in the area (and, again, given that their interests in Z are relatively narrow)?
I'm curious to hear what people think. I suspect this is just a case of vagueness, and there's no clear answer in penumbral cases like these (one just has to make a judgment call). But perhaps I'm wrong. What do you all think?
And what about issue (2)? When should one apply for positions advertised outside of one's claimed AOS/AOC? One tempting answer, obviously, is: "Never - don't waste your or the search committee's time applying for a job you don't fit." One problem with this stock answer, however, is that a number of cases have been reported on other blogs recently of search committees hiring outside of the AOS they advertised for (or, at least, people who didn't clearly fit the advertised AOS very well).
Or again, consider the kind of candidate mentioned above: a person whose primary training and research programs are in areas X and Y, but who also carries out serious research (and has published) in area Z. Setting aside the question of whether this person should claim Z as an AOS/AOC, should this person apply for a position advertising Z as its desired AOS? Offhand, I'm thinking this person should take the chance--given, again, that they do serious work in the area (though what if their recommendation letters might primarily focus on their work in areas X and Y, not Z. Does this make a difference?).
Anyway, I'm curious to hear what everyone thinks. I suspect more than a few job candidates out there could use some answers to these questions!