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But let's not flatter ourselves. Philosophers sanction violations of "social norms" so long as those are the norms of some other social group. They are no more tolerant of violations of their _own_ social norms than anyone else. So you can dress like a "hobo" in a philosophy department, even though that would violate the dress code at some corporate office job. But what are the social norms of philosophy itself? Nothing to do with how you dress. Hint: if a "real philosopher" violates social norms, including those of philosophy itself, then a "real philosopher" might critically challenge the familiar cultural leftism that lies in the background of Kukla's comments, totally unexamined and unsupported by any real argument or evidence. But if you were to question any of that in a serious way -- the way Socrates questioned some stuff taken for granted around ancient Athens -- you would swiftly find yourself kicked to the curb. Of course what Kukla really wants, despite possibly not knowing it, is to impose with ruthless and all-pervading force a very specific set of PC-leftist-egalitarian social norms. She does not want _those_ to be challenged or questioned in any way, and if anyone _were_ to challenge or question those norms and the ideology she takes for granted she would construe that as a form of "oppression". She would want to shun and exclude anyone who seriously questioned the norms of her own group. (And she has probably never really questioned those norms herself. She was born in captivity, acculturated in grad school...) Let's not flatter ourselves.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: what evidence do you have that Kukla wants to impose anything "with ruthless and all-pervading force"? Indeed, what evidence do you have for any of the assertions you make about what she wants or would do?

I'll tell you what I think. I think there is a (mostly) false meme that philosophy departments are "leftist, PC" places where views about the nature of oppression, etc., are never seriously questioned, and in which people who do question those things are "kicked to the curb." For my part, while I have met a few people in philosophy departments who are intolerant of challenges to their moral/social/political views, my experience has been that these people are incredibly rare. This, at least, has been my experience in philosophy (I can't vouch for other disciplines). My experience in the discipline is that people are more than prepared to engage with critical challenges to their views, and not dismiss them out of hand as "oppression."

In any case, I would advise being careful about making accusations regarding individuals' intentions, and although I approved your comment (because it does raise questions of substance), I will not permit further accusations to me made. If you want to engage with the content of her claims, then that's all well and good -- and consistent with this blog's aims. Personal accusations, however, are not wanted -- nor, more importantly, permitted in a forum such as this.

Given that you have somewhat of a history making inflammatory comments on this blog, I would like to encourage you to submit comments consistent with this blog's mission.


Hi Marcus,
There is evidence for much of what I said in Kukla's post. Perhaps I overstated the point a little. I have no idea about Kukla as an individual, but I take these comments of hers to be reflective of a very broad and politically powerful consensus that aims at all-pervading and ruthless suppression of non-leftist ideas (and people). That's why I said that perhaps she doesn't realize what's she's advocating here. She's a part of a larger cultural force that has its own logic.

Evidence: The whole point of the post is to make a political issue out of such things as how we dress or whether we use naughty words. So now it's a political problem -- or something we should really think about, at least -- that some white male philosophers dress badly. It's a problem because, supposedly, women or non-whites couldn't get away with it. This is not the thin end of the wedge. We're beyond that now. This is the extension of PC-leftist principles about such things as "power imbalances" into every nook and cranny of ordinary life. I concede that it hasn't _yet_ been extended into every single nook and every single cranny. Hence my claim that the gist of this is meant to be "all-pervading". Who'd have thought, twenty years ago, that a white guy would be politically suspect for having a ketchup stain on his shirt or a bad haircut? And yet here we are. Who knows where we'll be in a decade. But it's like boiling a frog. Those born into this ideological lunacy may sincerely believe that it's all just common sense. But surely a "real philosopher" should ask such basic questions as this: Why is the mere fact that practice P may in some way inconvenience or exclude or marginalize some group G any reason at all to think that P is even prima facie objectionable in any respect? Why is the fact that P creates a "power imbalance" between men and women or whites and non-whites a reason to believe that P is bad or wrong or unfair? Why should all different kinds of people have equal power or status or influence? What does that even mean? (What possible world are we envisioning when we use these hackneyed phrases like "equal status" or "equal opportunity"?) These questions tend to go largely unconsidered in philosophical discussion these days -- e.g., in Kukla's remarks. If such facts don't show that philosophy is dominated (like the rest of our society) by a leftist-PC ideology then I don't know what could count as evidence.

Though I can't reply to everything you've said here, let me mention one further thing. Do you seriously deny that there is a PC orthodoxy in academia, or that academics who openly reject it are persecuted by their peers and by the authorities? Come on, man. Look at what happened to Rushton, for example, for questioning the dogma of racial equality. Look at what happened to Bruce Lahn. If you want evidence of the PC orthodoxy in philosophy in particular, please read Sesardic on philosophers of science writing about Jensen. The evidence is overwhelming. On this blog, just recently, you and other philosophers noted that _of course_ it would hurt your chances on the market if you were to say "inappropriate" things such as "racist" or "sexist" remarks. This is equivalent to the admission that certain political "isms" are not tolerated in philosophy. Most philosophers have no real idea what "racism" and "sexism" are about, or how they can be rationally defended. They learned to reject these things out of hand, and have never seriously thought about the deeper issues at stake. They have not read serious intellectual "racists" and "sexists" and have no idea how to reply to the real arguments of such people. They are not real philosophers, for the most part, because they do not challenge the social norms and prejudices of their own community -- those being _leftist_ and _politically correct_ norms, e.g., the norm that "racism" and "sexism" are always to be treated as bad and irrational, or that if some practice has a "disparate impact" on different kinds of people or creates a "power imbalance" then it's bad.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: thank you for dealing with matters of substance. That being said, I am going to put the irons to you a bit, as I disagree with you on just about every point.

(1) You imply than a moral concern with power imbalances is somehow a distinctly "leftist" ideology. This is not true. Power imbalances -- particularly those that systematically disadvantage individuals and groups -- are prima facie morally problematic on *every* mainstream moral theory developed at least since the Enlightenment. They are a problem from the perspective of Kant's theory and utilitarianism, among others. These are not "left wing" ideologies. They are moral theories that have been around for a few hundred years now.

(2) On a related note, the fact that a scholarly consensus on something has emerged does not make it ideology. Sometimes good philosophy results in consensus (Locke's First Treatise systematically refuted the Divine Right of Kings -- though of course you could imagine proponents of the Divine Right theory complaining about Locke's "leftist ideology." No - it was a refutation.).

(3) You write: "Why is the mere fact that practice P may in some way inconvenience or exclude or marginalize some group G any reason at all to think that P is even prima facie objectionable in any respect? Why is the fact that P creates a "power imbalance" between men and women or whites and non-whites a reason to believe that P is bad or wrong or unfair?" ANSWER: because every major moral theory developed since the enlightenment involves some sort of commitment to human equality -- and practices that systematically exclude or marginalize people prima fact treat them (their interests, etc.) as less important than others.

(4) Your suggestion that "non-leftist" views are systematically pushed out of the academy, and ridiculed, runs up against the facts. Libertarianism -- a political (and in some cases ethical) theory which on at least some readings does not consider power imbalances intrinsically problematic -- is not only taught but a *growing* contingent in universities today. There are "freedom centers" advocating libertarian thought all over the place, for example at my Alma Mater, The University of Arizona.

(5) You write: "But surely a "real philosopher" should ask such basic questions as this: Why is the mere fact that practice P may in some way inconvenience or exclude or marginalize some group G any reason at all to think that P is even prima facie objectionable in any respect? Why is the fact that P creates a "power imbalance" between men and women or whites and non-whites a reason to believe that P is bad or wrong or unfair? Why should all different kinds of people have equal power or status or influence? What does that even mean? (What possible world are we envisioning when we use these hackneyed phrases like "equal status" or "equal opportunity"?)"

I have to confess that I find this passage baffling. Philosophers have been *seriously* investigating all of these questions for the past several decades. The fact that many of them have arrived answers you don't like doesn't make them ideologues. Without further evidence, it just makes them people who have come to answers you don't like.


"PC-leftist" is not normally part of my vocabulary, but I found myself troubled by the assertion in Kukla's post that the following is "pernicious":

"First, we have a tendency to excuse systematic social norm violations in (successful!) (male!) philosophers, taking them as adorable quirks that go with the territory of being a ‘true intellectual.’ You hear people saying that “all philosophers are a little Aspergers-y.” (Why that’s problematic is worth a post of its own.) We admiringly comment on some famous dude’s inability to button his shirt straight or brush his hair. We proudly find it adorable that many of our own can be mistaken for hobos."

Are we to assume that "social norms" regarding things like hair-brushing have ipso facto normative force, so that we are properly compelled not to "excuse" them? If not, why is it pernicious to excuse them?

If we allow male philosophers to have messy hair, we should probably allow female philosophers to have messy hair (and this is a somewhat weighty point, because some appearance norms are enforced differently against men and women). But if we are not discriminatory in our tolerance for messy hair and untucked shirts, what is the problem?

Some people will take advantage of affordances that are not available to others -- that appears to be the answer. If I'm a young black man in some places, having messy hair and rumpled clothes may make me an object of suspicion on the street, so I don't have equal access to the norm-violating norm of messy hair and rumpled clothes. It's a form of inequality, which lines up some of the time with historical inequalities.

But to take aim at this inequality by becoming language watchdogs and enforcers of dress codes -- that strikes me as extreme, pernicious. To be arbitrarily judgmental towards some people, because other actors will be arbitrarily judgmental towards other people -- it's not illogical exactly but it seems to me wasteful and threatening. It gives me the itch of someone who wants to be my master. This is where I begin to sympathize with the concerns raised by Ambrose, his alarm over making "a political issue out of such things as how we dress or whether we use naughty words."


The comment from Jamie Dreier here puts a sharper point on one of my concerns: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2013/08/more-thoughts-about-philosophy-and-social-norm-violation-rebecca-kukla.html#comment-6a00d8341c2e6353ef019aff0ae42c970d


Hi Marcus,
It's hard for us to debate this kind of thing. We are going to spend so much time talking past each other that it's hard even to identify the real disagreements. That's not a complaint, just an observation. For example, I am aware that most mainstream philosophical theories place great importance on "human equality". But from my perspective the whole discipline, along with the whole of modern society, exhibits extreme leftism -- in my sense of the term -- in holding that (a) there is some substantive and morally significant form of "human equality" and that (b) things rejected as "racist" or "sexist" are wrong because they somehow fail to recognize that kind of equality. Or, to put the point even more broadly, I agree with you that much of what is now considered normal (obligatory) in academic philosophy is a fairly logical outgrowth of the Englightenment. But I don't agree with you that this is evidence against my claim that there is a systematic leftist ideology at work. I think the Enlightenment was a distinctly leftist event: secular, humanist, materialist, universalit, egalitarian and levelling, etc. Perhaps we now have trouble seeing that this whole tendency rests on fundamentally leftist assumptions because it is now so deeply entrenched. It's the air we breathe, and we feel that any deep opposition to it -- left or "right" -- is just unreasonable.

You've raised a number of points that I can't reply to in detail at the moment, but let me just note a few things:

1. It's fine if there's some legitimate scholarly consensus, and fine to base policies or whatever on that kind of consensus. But I don't believe that there is a real _scholarly_ consensus on the kinds of issues I'm concerned with here. For example, I am not aware of any serious _scholarly_ consensus that (a) the reason for the "under-representation" of women or minorities is largely due to some kind of institutional injustice, or that (b) if some social practice results in women or minorities feeling uncomfortable or less comfortable than white men, that alone provides a good moral argument against the practice. There is a _consensus_ alright, but not one that seems to be well founded in deep philosophical thinking or social scientific evidence or anything else. It appears to me that the consensus is much like other kinds that we all nowadays take to be irrational -- e.g., the old consensus that Communists and Communism are menacing and bad, or that atheists and atheism are a threat to western civilization. I'm sure you'll disagree -- but at least we can begin to figure out how to argue the issue.

2. Even if I grant the idea that "human equality" in some form is a key moral principle, what is the rational connection between that principle and the kinds of policies that we're discussing? How does "human equality" require affirmative action or explicit, institutional opposition to "sexist" or "racist" attitudes or beliefs -- or the exclusion of people who hold such attitudes? This is to say nothing of the idea that because we accept "human equality" we must worry that women may feel less free to dress like "hobos" than men. There are a lot of missing premises here, and I don't think it will be easy to actually make the argument from the principle to those highly specific political conclusions.

3. You're right that there are libertarians in philosophy. Libertarianism, however, has always been properly considered as a species of liberalism. A "libertarian" these days is what would once have been called a "classical liberal", or close enough. These people are a minority, and they are often considered a bit wacky. They are _not_ right wingers in any deep sense, and in many ways their world-view is flatly opposed to serious rightism. By contrast, there are virtually no academics today who openly espouse "racist" or "sexist" beliefs. To do so would be career suicide, as you surely know. In my entire career as a student, I don't think I ever had a single professor who was seriously conservative. To take just one relatively tame example: I don't think I have ever heard a single philosopher in the last decade argue in public that feminism is destructive and morally wrong, and that traditional gender roles are on the whole better than what we have now. I don't think I've ever heard _of_ such a person. Maybe there are one or two. But you get the point. Now perhaps you'll say that this is because such a position is so flagrantly irrational that no educated person could possibly believe it. (Then I suppose many of seemingly wise and intelligent people for thousands of years were just insane or evil?) But another hypothesis is more plausible, to my mind: in a culture where everyone is expected to basically approve of feminism, where institutions adopt affirmative action policies based on feminist ideology, people know that making such an argument would be career suicide.

But as I say, the trouble is that what I consider leftist extremism and leftist ideology you consider to be mere common sense, or close enough -- stuff that everyone knows nowadays, given our shared Enlightenment. Still, I hold to the basic thought that a real philosopher should challenge the authorities and assumptions of the day. In our culture, now, that does not mean challenging sexism or racism. The whole society has been reorganized in opposition to those things. A modern day Socrates would at least question, deeply, the whole post-Enlightenment world-view. At least he -- or she! -- would not just take for granted the whole shebang and then argue from there. But then Socrates was never hoping to get a tenure-line position :)

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thank you for your frank reply. I now understand where our disagreements lie. I don't think many otherwise wise and intelligent people over thousands of years were insane or evil. I think they were wrong. And I think most of us know they were wrong. And I don't think this because I want a tenure-track job. I think it because, after a great deal of careful philosophical thought, it's what I think. But I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. It is an unfortunate fact, as Wittgenstein once pointed out, that arguments eventually run out.

Karl Droger

"Most philosophers have no real idea what "racism" and "sexism" are about, or how they can be rationally defended. They learned to reject these things out of hand, and have never seriously thought about the deeper issues at stake. They have not read serious intellectual "racists" and "sexists" and have no idea how to reply to the real arguments of such people."

Perhaps it's comforting to tell yourself that. If you really believe it, put your cards on the table and tell us where to find the best of these 'real arguments'.


Hi Karl,
I suppose it is comforting, but that's not why I say it. I say it on the basis of many years of experience speaking with professional philosophers and graduate students, and reading what the supposed experts (in philosophy) have to say on the topic.

There are many, many, many arguments for views typically dismissed as "racist" or "sexist" ("real arguments" as opposed to straw men, that is). Most of these arguments are not easily summarized in a comment on a blog, especially when the audience is (as you seem to be) hostile to the very idea that there _are_ serious arguments to be made on this front.

But if, for example, you want to consider real arguments for the "racist" theory that races differ naturally in cognitive ability, I suggest you take a look at the actual writings of Rushton and Jensen. Then compare the case they present with the straw man arguments typically taken to represent their views in the philosophical literature. If you just want confirmation that philosophers _do_ attack straw men rather than the real arguments, read Sesardic's paper (which I mentioned earlier). Since the philosophers Sesardic cites are treated by the philosophical community as experts specializing in these topics, the fact that they fail so badly to address the actual positions of the "racist" scientists they are supposedly criticizing is strong evidence for my claim that most philosophers have no good reply to the real arguments.

Those are good places to start.

Karl Droger

Ambrose, I'm sorry for not making myself clear. Your back-and-forth with Marcus about fairness and egalitarianism and the Enlightenment led me to think that the views you had in mind were philosophical views about fundamental morality, not empirical ones of the sort Rushton, et al. are defending.

I'd like to think of myself as familiar with views of former sort -- "deep" conservativism, we might label them -- and I must say that I've found these to be confused and/or shoddily argued, or else at the end of the day just versions of standard-issue consequentialism paired up with empirical claims that I suppose most contemporary liberals don't accept. I don't think I have to be able to answer every single "why?" question a deep conservative might throw at me to be entitled to a negative assessment of *his* arguments.

But look, now that you see what I had in mind, I am genuinely open to reading whatever deeply conservative moral thought you think is best. I'm not asking in bad faith; my "hostility" is a response to your blanket accusations of bad faith.


If you like I can suggest "deep conservative" stuff to read, but is that really relevant here? You asked me where real arguments could be found for positions routinely dismissed as "racist" or "sexist" and I answered that question.

Now you seem to be asking me a different question: What are the "deep" or purely philosophical arguments for non-PC positions? What are the arguments that don't depend on "empirical assumptions that I supppose most contemporary liberals don't accept"? But I never claimed that there were good arguments against PC leftism -- itself an empirical theory -- that don't have empirical premises. I simply said that there are excellent reasons out there for all manner of non-PC conclusions, and that philosophers fail to seriously consider these arguments. They insist on their PC empirical beliefs in the absence of evidence, and often in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.

My question to you is why you aren't more interested in the empirical stuff. You do realize, I assume, that if the empirical beliefs of "most contemporary liberals" are false then the whole edifice of PC leftism or liberalism is irrational and immoral. But then why do you set aside arguments against these empirical beliefs as if they were irrelevant?

Marcus Arvan


You ask, "But then why do you set aside arguments against these empirical beliefs as if they were irrelevant?" Here's the answer: because they are *irrelevant*. "PC-leftism" and the enlightenment views most of us have come to accept about freedom and equality are NOT empirical claims, nor based on them. They are *moral* claims based on moral principles. The claim is NOT that men and women, and different races, should be treated equally because they have the same capacities. The claim is fundamentally a moral one: that human beings, because of their general capacities for reason, sentience, and self-direction, should be treated equally *simpliciter*.

Second, I didn't allow your newest comment, where -- once again (this is not the first time) -- you've chosen to push your favorite claims in psychological science: that women and other races are less capable than white men. We've been through this before on this blog. This is a safe and supportive environment for *philosophers*. This is NOT a place to discuss your favorite issues in the psychological sciences, especially when those issues make for an unsafe, hurtful environment contrary to this blog's mission.

You've made is clear that you think the Enlightenment was basically a mistake. I get that. But you haven't engaged at *all* with any of the philosophical reasoning from the Enlightenment that has led most of us to accept the basic moral idea that all people should be treated equally. All you've done is point to empirical claims, which are irrelevant. You've talked about "deep conservative" philosophy, but when Karl graciously asked you to point him toward some good deep conservative literature, you suggested it isn't relevant. Could that be because there is no good deep conservative literature, and because your resistance to Enlightenment ideals is based on empirical claims that are quite irrelevant?

A final thought: I don't think we have time to win the Enlightenment here again. It took a while last time, and it was 350 years ago! Maybe we should get back to discussing Kukla's post.


Hi Marcus,
I never said that "deep conservative" literature is irrelevant to everything that's come up in this thread. I suggested that it's not relevant to the specific question that Karl originally asked. I raised the point about Englightenment only in passing, in reply to your way of framing the issues. It is not the main point in my mind, and never has been. Even in that same post where I expressed skepticism about the Enlightenment, I _also_ said that even if we accept Enlightenment principles none of the concrete political beliefs of liberals and leftists can be derived from those. This is a key point in my position that you seem to be overlooking. It is also the reason why I take empirical claims to be _relevant_ to the dispute between right and left.

Karl was suggesting, in his first post, that I was just "comforting" myself with the claim that most philosophers are unaware of real arguments for "racism" and "sexism". In the post where I said that, I made no reference at all to "deep conservatism" and did not say that _that_ alone was the source of these arguments. I merely said that there are lots of good arguments, and that philosophers tend to ignore them. So I answered his hostile question. Instead of conceding my point that there _are_ indeed good arguments for the positions PC thinkers dismiss as "racist", he then wished to change the subject.

Those empirical arguments I referred to are obviously _relevant_ to PC issues. Do you really doubt this? We are told that the reason why women are "under-represented" in philosophy is some kind of systemic injustice. This is an empirical claim. The argument from "under-representation" depends on the empirical assumption that the relevant capacities of men and women are basically the same. How can empirically based arguments contrary to these PC beliefs be _irrelevant_ to our assessment of such arguments? Clearly the politically correct don't agree with you on this point. They call these empirical arguments "racist" and "sexist". That is very surprising if, as you say, these empirical arguments have nothing at all to do with the moral-political issues that divide PC leftists from people like me.

If you want to know which thinkers I consider "deep conservaties" in some sense there are people like Nietzsche, Plato, Evola and Heidegger. (The label "deep conservatism" is not ideal here, but it's not mine; the point is that these people all profoundly reject principles taken for granted by modern liberals and leftists.) But, in any case, it's not very important whether there are _purely philosophical_ reasons for rejecting the PC assumptions that underwrite Kukla's reasoning. What matters is just that there are _reasons_ that most philosophers seem to ignore (as here, apparently).

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: sorry - your entire line of argument *is* based upon a rejection of the Enlightenment. For, as I already pointed out, one primary lesson the Enlightenment taught (most of) us is that the kinds of empirical considerations you are concerned with *are* irrelevant. The very point of the Enlightenment -- and all of the moral and political theories that have followed -- is that people have a right to be treated equally simply as human beings. It is our common abilities to feel and reason -- our capacities for self-direction -- which entitle people to moral equality *regardless* of whatever differences there may or may not be in innate aptitudes.

You are free to reject these post-Enlightenment claims. But that just brings me back to my previous point: we don't have time to fight the entire Enlightenment again on this blog. And those of us who accept the Enlightenment as giving us knowledge of human *moral* (notice I didn't say empirical!) equality are under no obligation to fight it again, any more than quantum physicists are under an obligation to argue again against flat-earthers.

Also, philosophers do engage -- quite seriously -- with Nietzsche, Plato, and Heidegger (though frankly, I have no idea who Evola is). So your suggestion that "deep conservative" is simply never addressed, and "laughed off the field", is false. We *do* discuss the thinkers you call deep conservatives, and for the most part we have, as philosophers, come to reject their arguments for racism and sexism.


Hi Marcus,
Here I think we're engaging with a fundamental puzzle that arises _within_ the Enlightenment paradigm you favour. An example: Rawls rejects the interpretation of "human equality" based on equal consideration (a la Singer) because he says it is consistent with reactionary or illiberal regimes. He explicitly says in TOJ that empirical considerations have to be factored in. But once they are factored in to some extent, there is the question of why they can't be factored in differently. See Arneson's paper "What, if anything, renders all humans morally equal?". See also what people like Jeff McMahan and Ian Carter have to say about the problem of specifying an empirical basis for "human equality". (McMahan says that on reflection it appears to him that our egalitarianism rests on "distressingly insecure" foundations.)

So if you are saying that once we accept the basic principle of equality we can just shrug off any conceivable empirical discoveries about human beings as _irrelevant_ to the social or political implications of the principle, that is just not so. At least a great many philosophers who work on this topic disagree with you. There is a vast literature on this kind of problem, and there is no deep consensus on how it is to be solved.

Certainly you are entitled to reject all arguments for racism and sexism found in Plato or Nietzsche or whatnot. But my initial contention was _not_ that we can find the best or only arguments for such conclusions in the writings of famous dead philosophers. It seems to me that you have focussed on a few paragraphs of mine that came up only in response to some later comments of yours, rather than focussing on the more basic contention that I have been pushing from the beginning. I am perfectly happy to defend my basic position without any reference to any non-Enlightened moral principles. Even without getting into _any_ of that, I can still make the case that (a) the PC ideology represented in Kukla's post depends on extremely dubious assumptions that philosophers should consider, that (b) most philosophers make no effort to do this but instead dismiss various right-wing positions out of hand.

To repeat, my position does not _essentially_ depend on the rejection of the Enlightenment (though I do reject much of it, as it happens). Instead I am saying that there is a logical gulf between the principles that philosophers nowadays accept and the practices they endorse. I can see nothing in the principle of "human equality" that gives us a reason to think that women must be just as comfortable at all times and in all contexts as men are -- just as nothing in the abstract principle implies that everyone should have the same income or the same haircut. If you think the principle does rationally support Kukla's position but not those latter two, you must be relying on suppressed premises (as I said way back when). I'm pretty sure that some of those are empirical.

For what it's worth, I am not even a "deep conservative" or reactionary myself. I am just a philosopher, skeptical of politically powerful orthodoxies. I don't _assert_ that women and men are deeply different, but merely ask why we are supposed to be so confident that they are not (or why it would make no difference at all politically if in fact they are).

If you really don't think that I've made any case here for the _relevance_ of empirical considerations then maybe we really have reached the end of argument. (I hope not.)

Karl Droger

Ambrose -- Like Marcus, I'm not familiar with Evola. I'll check him out. Thanks.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Now I am really confused. You began this conversation by asserting that the questions you raise about Kukla's "PC-leftist ideology" are rarely discussed by professional philosophers. Now you are saying there is a vast literature examining these very issues. Which is it?

Second, your suggestion about Rawls is misconceived. Rawls has a number of philosophical reasons to permit the introduction of some empirical information into the original position but not other information. I am not going to go through it all here, but even if the kind of information you want to bring in (about potential differences in natural capacities) were brought into the fold, there are no reasons to think that free and equal citizens behind the veil of ignorance would deliberate differently than Rawls claims. Even if there were gender and racial differences, free and equal citizens would still have the three higher order interests Rawls attributes to them.

Finally, I looked up Evola. He defends an explicitly sexist, racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, white-supremacist moral and political philosophy, and was a big fan of the Indian caste system. No thank you. I still maintain that we learned from the Enlightenment that this stuff is all profoundly, deeply wrong.


Hi Marcus,
I think with a bit more charity you'd be less puzzled. The two claims you ascribe to me are certainly consistent, whether you believe either one of them.

When I say that philosophers don't discuss the PC assumptions at work in Kukla's piece, I am referring to a range of highly specific beliefs such as the belief that women must be properly "represented" in philosophy, or the belief that it's problematic if women are in some respects less comfortable than men in philosophy, etc.

When I say that there's a vast literature to do with how the principle of human equality is related to empirical facts, I am referring to a completely different set of topics -- though of course there are some connections between these. For instance, in the papers I mentioned, one key question is this: if we are moral equals, what is the shared trait of all (or all normal) human beings that confers this status? Some philosophers say, as you do, that the trait is rationality or autonomy. Others have other views. I'm sure you'll agree that people can reflect on _this_ foundational issue without thereby being engaged in the kind of critical inquiry into practical political issues about "representation" of women (or whatever). So my two claims, which you take to be somehow incompatible, seem perfectly consistent to me. (And I think they're both true.)

I hold to my two claims about Rawls. First, he does explicitly reject equal consideration on the grounds that it is compatible with "slave ad caste systems". It's in the text. But in any case, it's not just Rawls who introduces empirical considerations for some idiosyncratic reason. This is the position of _every_ reflective egalitarian if you scratch the surface.

My point about Rawls was not really about _Rawls_ specifically. Rather, I was making the point that a great many egalitarians (including Rawls) have written at great length about the relevance and significance of empirical facts. Perhaps you're right that empirical differences of some kinds would make no difference under Rawls's assumptions, but that wasn't an issue I wanted to engage. What matters is that many philosophers don't accept Rawls's system, or his interpretation of equality. And many of those who _do_ accept something of that kind still think that the system faces a worrying problem of the kind I'm describing. The problem can't be dismissed with a few comments about the veil of ignorance or "free and equal" citizens -- see the papers by Arneson and Carter if you don't believe me. So the bottom line is (still) that (a) empirical facts are widely taken to be _relevant_ not just by me but by people you regard as experts in this field, and (b) these experts do not _agree_ on how these issues are to be dealt with.

All that to say: I don't think that the empirical research I mentioned earlier can be dismissed as "irrelevant" to the topic at hand. The general _kind_ of empirical stuff I mention is taken to be relevant by philosophers, even if they appear to ignore the actual empirical research (of Rushton or Jensen, say).


"I looked up Evola. He defends an explicitly sexist, racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, white-supremacist moral and political philosophy, and was a big fan of the Indian caste system. No thank you. I still maintain that we learned from the Enlightenment that this stuff is all profoundly, deeply wrong."

I don't think this is a fair characterization of Evola's philosophy, but never mind. (It's also hard to say what the characterization really amounts to given how terms like "sexist" and "racist" are thrown around nowadays.) My original question still needs an answer, it seems to me: _what_ did we learn from the Enlightenment that revealed to us the deep wrongness of this kind of philosophy? What is the "knowledge of human moral equality" that we acquired? Is there a reason to call it "knowledge" rather than just a deep cultural presupposition or myth or civic religion or something of that kind?

Marcus Arvan


On your first comment: I see how, in one sense, my last reply was a bit uncharitable. You have indeed been discussing two points (one about the relevance of empirical stuff, and another one about whether philosophers are willing to challenge Kukla's "PC-leftism"). My point, though, is that I don't think the two are distinct. You have accused most philosophers in the academy of closed-mindedness, and of failing to take seriously objections to "PC-leftism." However, this seems belied by the fact that, as you say, there is an entire literature raising questions about the foundations of post-Enlightenment moral principles. I think you're trying to have it both ways: saying that, well, they do challenge certain foundational assumptions, but that they don't (since they're not willing to challenge "PC-leftism"). I think they're willing to do both, but perhaps not to the extent you would like.

On your second comment(on Evola): I've told you what I think we've learned -- namely, that differences in human capacities are morally irrelevant; that people of different races, genders, ethnicities, etc. have a moral right to be treated as free and equal persons regardless of whatever differences there may or not be in natural capacities. You deny this. Fine. I contend that we learned it. And, as I have said, I don't think we need to continue to defend it, any more than modern physicists need to repeatedly refute flat-earthers. I believe Locke's refutation of the Divine Right of Kings was decisive. I also believe that arguments against differential treatment on the basis of natural capacities are decisive. You disagree. That's fine. I'm happy to let history decide who's right. And again, I don't have time to fight the Enlightenment again, any more than modern physicists have time to fight flat-earthers again. It would be a waste of my time, just as it is a waste of theirs. You may see things differently, and that's fine -- but I have every right, just as any researcher does, to ignore stuff that I take to be so wrong (and decisively refuted) to not be worth discussing further. If someone wanted to keep debating the Divine Right of Kinds, I would let them go their merry way. That ship has sailed. So too has the Enlightenment.

NOW, on Evola. Look, I don't know what counts as racist, sexist, fascist, or white supremacist to you, but here are a few facts about Evola:

(1) He held that Nazism and Italian fascism both held hope of reconstituting the white "celestial" race.
(2) He holds that masculinity is heroic and superior to femininity.
(3) He holds that femininity is degenerate *and* associated with the black race (which he identified as evil).
(4) He holds that white, blue-eyed people are divine and had a claim to rule above others.
(5) He holds that genetic mixing of races is wrong, degenerate, and "always hazardous."
(6) He wrote an introduction to "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", one of the most infamous anti-semitic documents in modern history.
(7) He held that Judaism had a corrosive effect on the Nordic race, and supported the Nazi anti-semitic view that Jews are evil, even going so far as to argue that Jews had corrupted everything from mathematics to society.
(8) His philosophy was publicly supported by leading Nazi race theorists.
(9) He holds that non-white races belong spiritually to the "dark" side, whereas white blue-eyed people are pure of spirit.

I could go on. If you and I can't agree that all of this is *genuinely* racist, sexist, fascist, and white-supremacist, then indeed, I doubt that we can have any productive conversation about such matters.


Hi Marcus,
We're disagreeing about so many things at this point that I find it hard to keep track. But let me just respond to your first point above.

We agree that there's a literature on the foundations of Enlightenment principles, right? The debate often has to do with the question of how empirical facts of human variation bears on human moral equality. So my first claim is simply that such variation is _relevant_ to the interpretation and applications of that principle. Now you say that regardless of all possible variation in capacities, people are to be treated as "free and equal". In a sense, I'm willing to grant this (at least for the sake of argument). But then I ask: What does treating people as "free and equal" require in practice if we allow that there are significant empirical differences?

There is a logical gap between any highly abstract premise such as "All human beings are equal" and any practical conclusion such as "Both women and men should be philosophers" or "Women and men should always be equally comfortable in philosophical situations" or "The proportion of female philosophers must 'represent' the proportion of female students". Everyone agrees that the general claim of equality doesn't imply that all of us should have the same income or haircut. I am saying that it doesn't imply anything about the representation of women in philosophy. In order to draw any conclusions about what "free and equal" people are entitled to in the workplace (for example) we need to add all kinds of empiricla premises about their interests and needs and abilities, etc.

I don't see how it can be denied that there's a logical gap here, or that it can only be filled in by empirical premises. But then _those_ are the empirical premises that I claim are taken for granted without adequate investigation. For example, I don't know of any solid evidence for the belief that the philosophical capacities of men and women are equal or similar. (Though obviously there is massive overlap in the middle of the bell curve for philosophical ability.)

I don't think that in raising these issues, as I've done from the start of this conversation, my epistemic situation is related to yours in the same way as the flat-earthers are related to physicists. (Though maybe we're related in that way on some other issues.)




The slideshow you linked is entertaining, but it doesn't seem like a very serious argument -- especially given that there is a massive, massive, massive literature on this topic with experts who hold different views about it. There are many who do think that the bell curve is pretty much the way this women says it is not. But in any case, she doesn't even provide any argument to show that the bell curve she's using -- measuring "ability", as she calls it -- is a reliable measure of any properly biological trait. (Why not use a different graph, plotting the most influential mathematicians by sex? Is that not also some kind of measure of "ability"?) The biological basis of sex differences (if such there be) remains largely mysterious and people often argue --- egalitarians often argue -- that we do not have good psychometric measures of it. Apparently egalitarians are happy to forget about these concerns when they get a result they like, though.

Finally, no one has ever said that women are simply "bad at math". This is a straw man. It is an indisputable fact that a great many women are very good at math (or philosophy) and far better at it than many men. The serious (and live) hypothesis is that biological differences between the sexes at the extremes of the bell curve may be partly biological in origin. This is not going to be refuted by a slide show on Slate referring to a single scientific paper out of the vast, vast, vast literature.

If you think this is "solid evidence" that the sexes are exactly equal in every way that matters intellectually -- evidence good enough to justify important social programs and political decisions -- I can only conclude that you're not really taking seriously the question I asked. This is a bit like someone presenting "The Bell Curve" as decisive evidence of racial differences in intelligence. (Though that wouldn't be quite as silly, given that it would at least be a dense and serious scholarly work.)

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