Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Hypatia / Tuvel Dust-Up, Political Correctness, And Disagreements About Metaphilosophy and Method

   So this is probably worth thinking about. To cut to the chase: the anti-Tuvel faction is motivated largely by the conviction that Tuvel's arguments are politically incorrect: they are at odds with current orthodoxy in the relevant sectors of the left. Heterodoxy in these matters is alleged to be harmful to certain vulnerable/disadvantaged groups. Therefore heterodox arguments and conclusions are deemed unacceptable.
   To cut to the chase again: more traditional scholars will be inclined to disagree with the idea that harm--especially mere offense--is a legitimate criterion of argument evaluation. 
   My sympathies are all with Tuvel.
   However, to do the cut/chase thing once more: I'm amazed that people are amazed by the push against Tuvel and her paper.
   Look: these methodological ideas have been influential in the humanities and social sciences (and the politicized quasi-disciplines in between) for at least thirty-five years now. And they've become more influential among philosophers in the U.S., and extremely prominent in feminism and feminist philosophy. The reaction to Tuvel is just an application of methodological / metaphilosophical ideas to an actual case. Those ideas are hardly esoteric. How is it that everyone seems so surprised? A large number of scholars, including philosophers, are just about as explicit as they can be about thinking that inquiry should be guided and constrained by (leftist) political goals. And they are putting those ideas into action in this case. 
   On the one hand, I'm happy to see people speaking up against this. On the other, I'm a bit frustrated. Some of us have pointed out the problems with such positions for years, and that has often not been well-received. I'd say that one could see this coming from a mile away...but that would be misleading...because it's already been here in spirit and in principle for a long time
   Look, the orthodoxy about transgenderism that the left has insisted that we accept makes no sense whatsoever. It's a philosophical train wreck. And, on top of that, it's been decreed that we are to unquestioningly draw exactly the opposite conclusions in the almost identical case of "transracialism." This is about as close to a flat-out contradiction as you'll ever see in such a discussion. The position simply isn't defensible. And if the right were to attempt to foist a similarly incoherent position onto the public, philosophers would be shoving each other down to be first to refute it. And yet about all this...nary a peep. And why is that? Well, I think the obvious hypothesis is: nobody wants the Tuvel treatment. The left--including the left in philosophy--has raised the cost of political incorrectness to such a point that few are willing to pay it. Their treatment of Tuvel is just standard operating procedure--it's not only an application of theories they explicitly avow, it's just a particularly striking one. Look how philosophers who step out of line are treated on social media... As someone else somewhere said: look which side in the dispute tends to use their real names on e.g. the Daily Nous, and which side tends to use pseudonyms...
   So, at any rate, Hypatia's the flagship journal in feminist philosophy. The view that politics should guide and constrain inquiry has,undoubtedly, been advocated (explicitly and/or implicitly) in its pages many times. On one way of looking at it, we're just seeing a case of practicing what you preach. And, given the content of the preaching, I'm surprised that the practice surprises anyone.

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