Monday, September 29, 2014

Professional Philosophy Triage

Justice tempered by Mercy
Because I'm maintaining an Archive of (what I've called) The Meltdown here on this blog, I think I've read most, if not all, of what professional philosophers have said publicly in the last several days' scrum regarding  Brian Leiter's objectionable behaviors (or "civility" more generally) as well as the merits and demerits of the PGR (or "rankings" more generally). What professional philosophers are witnessing now must look, to non-philosophers, like something straight out of a Jonathan Franzen novel, replete with all of the deep, intra-familial dysfunction that tends to play itself out in brutish arguments over allegedly "shared" values via impossible-to-decipher shibboleths, subtext-laden misdirection, condensing, cathecting and projecting.  In my view, it would be flatly obtuse at this point, if not also egregiously unreflective and irresponsible, to not concede that something is very, very wrong here.  Professional philosophy has continued to run an infirm engine at full throttle, unattended and obviously overheating, for a long time now.  An incredible amount of cultural pressure has been building up, unabated, and now it appears we have have blown a gasket.  The blistering steam we see being released, from various fissures and clefts that have appeared where there were once (at least in principle) corrigible vulnerabilities, is manifesting in a number of predictable ways:  frustration, indignation, resentment, exasperation, vexation and, of course, anger.

It's time to triage.

The myriad malfunctions/wounds that professional Philosophy is suffering at the moment are clearly not unrelated to each other.  It is often difficult, when faced with the challenge of mending traumas to a broken or sick body, to distinguish between symptom and cause.  I am inclined to agree with John Drabinski, Brian Weatherson, et al that the most clearly objectionable of Brian Leiter's recent behaviors (as well as the inordinate impact those behaviors have had because they were enacted by "Brian Leiter") is both symptomatic of and contributes to much deeper, more complex and systemic malformations within the body (politic), the practice and the profession of Philosophy.  And/yet/but, as Derrida (Leiter's favorite charlatan) was fond of saying, although we can stipulate that Leiter's undeniably innovative contributions to the profession of Philosophy in the digital age are perhaps singularly unique, his adoption of a certain standpoint vis-รก-vis the discipline and the profession, as well as a certain set of behaviors reflective of that standpoint, are not unique.  They aren't even uncommon. To wit, I worry that the intense affective investment in Brian Leiter the man, or the person, or the moral agent (or the reigning heavyweight-- and heavy-handed-- champion) reflects a seriously myopic triage assessment of professional Philosophy's current broken and ailing condition.  Leiter is, in the end, in my view, far more "symptom" than "cause."

If we must ration treatment, and we must, the first and most critical infirmity to be addressed is the status and future of the PGR.  Pace Alex Rosenberg's piece today at DailyNous, and in deep sympathy with Simon Cabulea May's piece at the same site, I am convinced that it behooves all professional philosophers of conscience-- not just political conscience, but also philosophical conscience-- to acknowledge alongside the signatories of the "September Statement" that the PGR is, at best, a deeply flawed mechanism for truthfully reporting what it claims to report and, at worst, a device opportunistically-employed to reproduce what are at this point widely-recognized, statistically-confirmed, demonstrable and documentable patterns of inequality, exclusion and bias within the profession of Philosophy.

Any good triage doctor/nurse knows that, first, one must stop the bleeding.  To that end, I'll just repeat my conviction that the PGR should be suspended for 2014.  (Incidentally, I share that conviction with nearly 75% of the respondents to Leiter's own poll on the matter.)  Whatever one's stance is on the question of "rankings" in general-- and I have a post forthcoming on that question-- I find it almost impossible to understand how any trained, professional Philosopher could abide, much less endorse, the PGR in its current manifestation as a veracious account of "rank" in our discipline.

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