Our books

Become a Fan

« A Campaign for Better Philosophy Citation Practices? | Main | Bravo »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Metaethicists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of Heideggarianism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

[Even funnier than last time!]

Marcus Arvan

Hi Clayton: yeah, but each time you tell the joke I'm more confused than before! ;) last time I was pretty sure you were poking fun at me (viz. "Come on Marcus, Nazism versus moral facts!?"). This time I seriously wonder whether you are poking fun at meta-ethicists (viz. they're not theorizing about *anything*!). Which is it?


Sorry, Big Lebowski reference. There's a discussion of the relative merits and demerits of nihilists and Nazis. (The metaethicists/nihilists, like, don't even have an ethos, man.)

Marcus Arvan

I felt like it was a reference to *something*, I just couldn't think of what it was! Anyway, this aggression will not stand, man. Oh, and that's just, like, your opinion, man. ;)


Re: Your complaints about Moore and metaethics

The main difference between this and your original post is that you've narrowed your rhetorical complaints from metaethicists in general to robust realists in metaethics. And it seems to me that the problem with these kinds of posts is that space requirements force you to merely present views in the form of their slogans, and you end up caricaturing them in doing so. I'm no "hard-core" realist myself, but I do take people like Scanlon to have arrived at their views via interesting and compelling arguments for them (see his new book, for example). In contrast, by merely giving us the slogans, your post gives the impression that realists like Scanlon are foot-stumping dogmatists, when this couldn't be further from the truth. Posts like this might not violate the mission of the blog, but they sure do make it a lot like other lame, cheap-shot-taking popular outlets on the internet like Leiter's.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Eugene: I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't think I merely leave things like this as slogans, however. Usually, when I criticize views on this blog, I give detailed arguments for why I think what I do. This post is different, obviously, because I was trying to list several ways in which I think Moore's influence has been pernicious. I have discussed some of these ways in detail before (viz. intuition-mongering, etc.).

That being said, you are sort of right on the moral realism case: in this case, I have more or less just given a "slogan" -- a broad brush picture of what I think is wrong. But, I have also said I am currently writing a book on this, and I hope to devote a great deal of detailed discussion to it in the future.

On the Scanlon case, I actually *do* think his arguments amount to table-pounding. I've felt that way ever since I read his 1998 book, and I haven't seen anything that seems to me less table-pounding since. Usually (though not always), the case for "reasons as basic" is made by reference to *intuitions* about what is and is not a reason, the explanatory role reasons play, etc. I find none of the arguments compelling in the slightest -- but, if you'd like to hash some of them out with me here, I'd be happy to!

Trust me, I don't want this blog to give lame "slogans" like some others -- but, I do have to say, I *rarely* just give slogans; I usually defend my points in detail. This post was unique in its scope.


Personally, I like provocative posts, so provoke away!

Response to provocation: I'm assuming you're willing to extend your critique of the (allegedly) Moorean emphasis on "common sense" to Aristotle's method of preserving the endoxa?


1. Why are we even dignifying anything Leiter does?

2. Why are we willing to engage in this really horrible exercise? I don't know about you, but a huge problem in our field is treating some philosophy or philosophers as garbage and not worth studying. So how should people feel who work on G.E.Moore's philosophy? It sure seems to me like you're saying, implicitly if not explicitly, that they're wasting their time (at best).

I'm not impressed.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel: Thanks for your comment. I understand and appreciate your concerns. I care deeply about, and work hard at, being a positive force in the world (in whatever small ways I can), as opposed to a negative one. For this reason, I generally try to be constructive -- especially on this blog -- rather than critical. And so perhaps it would be better for me to not engage in these kinds of exercises in the future. But, let me share why I engaged in the exercise -- what my rationale for it was. As you will see below, I'm not convinced that my post or this conversation is a horrible exercise -- but, I am willing to listen and rethink my view. Perhaps, if we discuss the rationale, I can come to a better understanding of whether this was a bad exercise (as you believe), and whether I should avoid doing similar things in the future.

On (1): whatever one may think of Leiter, I think as a purely sociological issue there is great value to knowing what our fellow philosophers think. I think it is important to know that people who read his blog think Heidegger is the most pernicious modern philosopher, and consider Hegel and Foucoult among the most pernicious as well. I think these things are important to know for a number of reasons. Among other things, it can clue us into how our fellow philosophers conceive of what they'r doing, and to what they think is valuable/not valuable. I think it is important to know these things because it can enable us to discuss (and question!) those trends. So, for instance, as I explain in the post, I think it is important to know that Leiter's readers hold Heidegger in such low esteem. I think it is important to know this so that we can question that very phenomenon -- explaining to people why we (or at least I!) think Heidegger is worth taking seriously. Such conversations are, I believe, important to have. It can help us better understand philosophy, and the contributions of particular philosophers.

On (2): I *entirely* agree with you that a huge problem in our field is "treating some philosophy or philosophers as garbage and not worth studying" -- though perhaps not for the same reasons as you. In my view, this phenomenon (questioning the value of certain approaches to philosophy) is problematic primarily when it is used to denigrate philosophy practiced by historically marginalized minorities (women philosophers, black philosophers, etc.). I think it is problematic in these cases precisely because it functions to *continue* harmful patterns of exclusion.

But, is questioning the value of *dominant* trends the same sort of thing? I don't think so. Quite the contrary, I think it is *important* to question dominant traditions precisely because those traditions function to protect entrenched interests. It bothers me, for instance, that hard-core metaethics gets conferred so much prestige when (in my view) something far more philosophically valuable -- feminist philosophy -- is systematically denigrated. Questioning dominant trends and practices can, in my view, play an important role of helping to shift *perceptions* and trends in a new, less exclusionary direction -- and I think this is a valuable goal.

Furthermore, I think there is inherent value in questioning what we are doing. All too often in academic fields (and elsewhere!), people just go with the flow, doing what they do, without questioning the foundations of what it is they are doing. Here, for instance, is an analogous case. In physics over the past 30+ years the dominant paradigm was string theory, and a vast amount of funding and resources were invested in string theory to the *exclusion* of minority views. Few people in the field were willing to question the string theory orthodoxy -- and now, 30 years later, physics is in all-out crises because none of the predictions of string theory (and supersymmetry) have been realized.

If I think something similar is going on in certain areas of philosophy, should I just keep my mouth shut? If so, why? Isn't this silencing *me*? Shouldn't I be able to publicly question trends I find problematic? Shouldn't *anyone* be permitted -- and indeed, I would say, encouraged -- to do this? By my lights, our discipline needs *more* self-awareness and self-criticism, not less. And so I think it is important to discuss these matters publicly, rather than muzzle people.

Finally, I see no reason why criticizing dominant trends -- or even large bodies of work -- should be taken personally. Look, I work on Kant and Rawls. I think they are worth doing work on. But, I realize, not everyone feels this way. If someone thinks that Kant or Rawls is a waste of time, I want to hear why! And I think this is only proper for any philosopher. Are we after truth, or, are we just after defending our egos and careers? I would hope it is the former. If someone were to suggest to me that work on Kant and Rawls is all a waste of time, I would not consider it appropriate for me to get upset about it -- any more than I think it would be appropriate for a string theorist to get upset about someone questioning the value of string theory. For, questioning others and ourselves is important! If someone were to question why I am working on Kant and Rawls, it would give me the opportunity to (1) defend what I'm doing, and (2) understand why other people are skeptical of it. Both opportunities are, I think, a positive thing. There is nothing "unsafe" or "unsupportive" about it. Critical conversation is what we do, and it affords us opportunities to learn. Which, I take it, should be our aim.

That, at least, is where I am coming from. If you still think I'm in the wrong, I am more than willing to listen! :)


Thanks for the response, Marcus.

Here's a suggestion:

If you don't have anything substantive to say, then don't say anything at all.

To take the metaethics example again, every time you claim that Scanlon's arguments amount to mere "table-pounding" without backing it up, it comes off as trash talk. And when you trash talk the work of others in this way, you contribute to this sense that their work and any work that engages it, isn't worth doing. I'm also sorry to say that, no, pointing us to your unpublished book doesn't mitigate this impression.

And by the way, the most charitable reading of people like Scanlon is that they arrive at their brands of robust realism from arguments by elimination. Again, read his new book, where he tries to show that his main contenders (e.g. expressivists, desire theorists) all face fatal problems. Robust realism is best thought of as a position of last resort, and on such a reading, the idea that someone like Scanlon is merely being dogmatic doesn't really fit the bill.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Eugene: Thanks for your reply. It really wasn't my intent to trash talk (rather, it was merely my intent to get a conversation started about some general concerns I have), but I take your point. I'll read Scanlon's most recent book for sure. I *do* know common arguments that alternative views face "fatal problems", but I've never found those arguments persuasive -- in large part because they often seem to me to be based upon the implication that (e.g.) desire accounts have counterintuitive implications: implications which, following Kate Manne, I think may be sad but *true* (see e.g. Kate Manne's piece on this, "Internalism about reasons: sad but true?" http://philpapers.org/rec/MANIAR ). I also think there are forms of constitutivism about normativity that are coherent and well-grounded.

But anyway, I appreciate your point. Although I think it is important to critically discuss trends in the discipline, I think you are right that it should be done in a substantive way.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory