Saturday, February 27, 2016

Thought-Policing Philosophy

   It's cause for concern that the online consensus about transgenderism among vocal philosophers is wrong. But that's no biggie. People are wrong a lot. Philosophers are wrong a whole lot. Par for the course.
   It's of much greater concern that the new instant orthodoxy has been adopted for political reasons. Philosophy (in its online manifestation, at any rate) seems to be no better on this score than anywhere else... A largely incoherent view about a non-moral matter (is (to use a familiar example) Caitlyn Jenner a woman?) has been adopted because it is politically correct.
   It's of still greater concern that genuine discussion is being discouraged (to say the least), and even fairly minor dissent from politically correct orthodoxy is being met with accusations of bigotry.
   It might ultimately turn out that the PC left is right about transgenderism. It isn't likely, but it's always a possibility. Again: that philosophers are wrong about something is neither surprising nor all that important. The danger is the politicization of philosophy, the adoption and imposition of an orthodoxy with respect to certain questions, and the stifling of dissent. That last bit is the worst, and the people who are doing it are a danger to philosophy...but the bigger threat is that people who know better aren't standing up to the PCs. These people aren't the Brown Shirts. Their only power comes from those who they try to bully going along with it and keeping quiet.
   What is a man? and What is a woman? are legitimate philosophical questions. There are very straightforward, obvious answers, and they're probably right: a man is an adult male human; a woman is an adult female human. 'Woman' and 'man' are primarily sex terms, not gender terms. There is some hint of gender in them, but that aspect is far from central. (A "real man" is something like a masculine man. But, even there, the sex aspect is primary.) Straightforward, obvious answers are not always right. But they provide a good starting-point for inquiry. These answers are, however, unpopular for political reasons. And so there's a vast array of not-very-good philosophy and quasi-philosophy that works very, very, very hard to spin things in pursuit of the politically correct conclusion. The politically correct position is that (e.g.) Jenner is a woman. This conclusion is pursued relentlessly, and countless arguments, definitions and distinctions are produced with the purpose of trying to make the conclusion sound plausible and seem defensible. This is bad. One shouldn't start with a conclusion and then insist that arguments be found to support it. But the attempt to shout down (or "shame") people who disagree is much worse. Philosophical questions are notoriously contentious. Philosophy, perhaps even more than other disciplines, officially values open discussion, disagreement, and debate. The attempt to stifle such discussion and enforce an orthodoxy for political reasons is antithetical to the very idea of the thing. As is knuckling under to such political pressure.


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