Monday, August 15, 2011

Lawsuit over Fake Pluralism?

Professor Leiter beat me to this, so there's no need to chime in about the self-declared pluralists' latest attempt to deflect legitimate criticism of the "climate for women" debacle.

A serious question for those who know about such matters: Is there a point at which the "needs improvement" departments get to take legal action of some kind?

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is this, France?

Paul Gowder said...

Highly unlikely. As what, defamation? Insanely hard to win, lots of talk about "facts" and "opinions" that means nothing but wins dismissals, etc. And a bad idea anyway: almost all defamation-etc. suits, unless the plaintiff's reputation is totally destroyed, just make matters worse by publicizing the allegation. (Ditto with weird commercial tort lawsuits that might be brought instead of actual libel claims.)

Anonymous said...

Good grief, let it go already folks. We are talking about damn philosophy departments -- you know, the area of the academy with very few jobs, and even less leverage. I dig Leiter's work on Nietzsche's moral psychology, but the guy produces a ranking system that is so very incestuous, even though I too think the Pluralist's rankings have the same stink. This whole affair makes me embarassed to be a philosopher. A lot of carping about largely inconsequential garbage.

Anonymous said...

What is this, France?

Si.

Anonymous said...

Paul is a more experienced lawyer than I am, but I agree with him. Such a suit would be extremely hard to win, and it's not clear what winning would get the department. (What are the damages?) It might do more harm than good (old and perhaps no longer relevant dirt brought up, people telling stories, people looking petty, etc.) A law suit is rarely a good idea unless you are going to get a lot of needed money. That wouldn't happen here. It would be an awful idea.

729 not logged in said...

I'm not trained in the Law, but going by my seventh-degree Internets Skillz, any sort of Streisand Effect generated by a lawsuit, as Paul notes, could prove counter-productive. But, going by the latest Google search, looking up "Pluralist Guide" brings the controversy to the first page of the search results. Given this, I suppose I wouldn't worry all that much about innocent students stumbling across the guide and (at least) not discovering this context on the web. Cross-linking: it's what's for dinner.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Gowder on this, but would add another consideration: academic freedom is under assault all over today. Shouldn't we be defending the right of academics to say something stupid or ignorant or ill-informed, and not limit our defense to things with which we agree? I'm not suggesting that the Pluralist guide is necessarily any or all of those things, but only that they deserve that academic freedom, too.

The ACLU defends the repugnant speech of the Nazis and the Holocaust-deniers on free speech grounds, because we want to preserve the right of free speech. Surely the Pluralist remarks deserve at least as much defense on those grounds. (And please note how often Leiter goes to bat for academic freedom in other cases, which makes his suggestion here all the more puzzling, even irrational.)

Anonymous said...

Not to ignore the specific issue here of lawsuits, but I want to pose a question. Who has done more damage to the profession, Brian Leiter or Linda Alcoff? As a Continental philosopher (denominated "Party Line" in Leiter-speak), it should be no surprise that my answer is Brian Leiter. But hear me out, because my rationale comes from a decently-placed Anglo-American philosopher who I've known for a long time. This person makes the point that the prominence of the Leiter ranking system, and the imperative to place well in order to strengthen the position of one's department, discourages people from pursuing areas of research that are perceived to be less important within such rankings, in favor of pursuing the sort of work that impresses members of the advisory board. The effect is to homogenize acceptable topics of inquiry and methodologies, and recreates Anglo-American philosophy as a monoculture. This is a disservice precisely because we don't know what or who will matter 50 or 100 years from now, and cutting off lines of inquiry now impoverishes the thinkers who come after us. Of course, as a relatively mainstream Continental philosopher (and contra your characterization, Professor Leiter, Heidegger very much is NOT all of our bag), this is the sort of thing you might expect me to say. But the fact that my criticism dovetails with that of a much more mainstream Anglo-American philosopher suggests that we all ought to be worried about the self-policing and self-editing that such a ranking system produces. And for the record: I think that while some version of the Pluralist Guide is needed as a counterweight to Leiter's efforts to enforce his brand of hegemony, the present version is indefensible, and Linda Alcoff's responses to criticism have been inadequate. I don't, however, think that she should step down as President-Elect, and I voted accordingly on Leiter's ridiculous poll. So can we all just take a chill pill, please, and think about how to salvage something useful and not totally unfair from this debacle?

naive empiricist said...

...the prominence of the Leiter ranking system, and the imperative to place well in order to strengthen the position of one's department, discourages people from pursuing areas of research that are perceived to be less important within such rankings, in favor of pursuing the sort of work that impresses members of the advisory board.

Evidence for this claim?

Anonymous said...

Evidence for this claim?

Anecdotal, but all over the place: from my grad school colleague (now assistant prof at very nicely ranked PGR department) who is writing on Kant rather than his true passion, Kierkegaard, to two acquaintances, both tenure-track political philosophers, who are neglecting to pursue their interest in Marx -- all for precisely the reasons noted above. Of course, they may yet write on those topics/figures when they are tenured; by then, however, who knows...

BTW, (1) I'm not 10:22, (2) I myself am not what you might call a 'continental' philosopher, (3) I'm not even claiming that the 'mainstreaming' effect described above is pernicious (I'm not claiming the opposite, either). I'm just claiming that the effect no doubt exists, and that to be skeptical about its existence is indeed, um, naive...

incredulous said...

Your colleague is writing about Kant instead of Kierkegaard because his senior colleagues are obsessed by their department's Leiter-rankings? That's profoundly moronic. I'm at a "very nicely ranked" department myself, and if anyone suggested that I (or anyone else) should change topics in order to raise our Leiter-ranking, everyone would assume he was joking.

(And if someone is skeptical, do you actually think they will become less skeptical because of an anonymous person's utterly unsupported anecdotes? That's, um, credulous.)

Anonymous said...

Your colleague is writing about Kant instead of Kierkegaard because his senior colleagues are obsessed by their department's Leiter-rankings?

I'm guessing the point was that he writes about Kant instead of Kierkegaard because that's part of what it takes to get a job at a top research department. Hopefully, the original poster will correct me if I'm wrong. I certainly agree with the original post that such effects are real, regardless of whether or not they're pernicious. (For the most part, I think they're not pernicious ... but I can certainly understand why others might think they are).

incredulous said...

8:48, if that's what s/he meant, then sure.
But you think this is because of Brian Leiter? If anything, I would have thought Brian had contributed to making Kierkegaard more respectable among top research departments.

Anonymous said...

I have now seen postings on two other list-servs claiming that Leiter is currently serving on the external review committee for the CUNY Graduate Program, where Alcoff holds an appointment. I wonder if anybody reading this blog has first-hand information to confirm or deny this report.

If true, it seems (at best) a troublesome conflict-of-interest as a professional. Perhaps somebody should set up a poll on whether or not Leiter should resign from that committee!

Anonymous said...

Incredulous: I agree. I certainly don't think effects like writing on Kant rather than Kierkegaard are due to Brian Leiter. Indeed, at this point I tend to think the PGR simply reflects the prevailing culture far more than it creates it (much less "polices" it). That culture has some real strengths and some real weaknesses, of course. It seems to me Leiter himself does a lot to combat some of the weaknesses (like uninformed prejudices against continental philosophy, e.g.).

Anonymous said...

10:02 am: conflict of interest? How is it a conflict of interest? Leiter's view of SPEP has been well-known for ages, but they still wanted him as an evaluator. And Alcoff's main appointment is Hunter College, she's not one of the full-time CUNY Grad Center faculty.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that this "more damage" claim is a claim about overall effects, so I'll just make two points. First, I started grad school before the Philosophical Gourmet Report was widely used. My undergrad program had never sent someone to grad school, so they told me to apply where they went to school and recommended a few others because they had met people at these places that they liked. So, I ended up in a dump of a program where a few of the areas that interested me weren't covered by competent people (partially because of moves and retirements). No history, mind, or language for me and I never did learn any logic. Grad students these days are a bit more clued in thanks to the PGR, so that's a pro that counterbalances the allaged con.

Also, when I was at my lowest BL singled me out at an APA to talk to me about how tough things were in my AOS, bought me a drink, and told me to keep my chin up. I did and everything worked out in the end. The list of people who didn't do that include, well, all philosophers who aren't BL. So, I suppose that includes LA. BL for the win!

Anonymous said...

Many (most?) of the CUNY Graduate faculty have home appointments on a particular campus, as does Alcoff:
http://web.gc.cuny.edu/philosophy/faculty/index.htm

I don't know if their external review has been completed or is just underway. But it's one thing to invite a reviewer who has previously criticized a member of that faculty publicly. The relentless attacks on her, even now calling for her to resign from the APA-eastern position, are pretty vicious.

I don't know who selected the membership of the review committee. At my campus, the department makes nominations, but the selection is made by deans and provost. I suppose Alcoff might have a legitimate complaint against such people if they knowingly brought in somebody who is such a known attack dog on her and her work.

There are legitimate debates about methodology, both for Alcoff and for Leiter. He has been relentless in criticizing people who challenge his methodology over the years (e.g., the very insignificant representation of women on his advisory board and evaluation panel), and he seems now to be getting his revenge in attacking Alcoff's methodology.

Anonymous said...

Glad you've now admitted that there's on conflict of interest. The real governing faculty at the CUNY Grad Center are Kripke, Devitt, Neale, Prinz, Carroll, and a few others. Then there are some 50 faculty from various CUNY colleges who teach an occasional course. You use the word "vicious" the way Alcoff uses "vitriol." Leiter has not been at all vicious, esp. compared to his usual treatment of the Texas Taliban, say. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

he seems now to be getting his revenge in attacking Alcoff's methodology.

I think it would be more accurate to say he's aggressively upholding ordinary professional norms, in exactly way he aggressively goes about most everything.

Personally, I wish Leiter would be less aggressive and more assertive. Nonetheless, upholding those norms - even aggressively - does not constitute "viciousness", much less "vitriol," much less a personal attack on those who violate or disregard them.

Anonymous said...

Leiter has said not a word about Alcoff's work. Where did "attack" on "her work" come from? Can't you SPEP people read? By contrast, the McAfee blog immediately went in for an attack on Leiter's work and person. Classy.

Anonymous said...

Setting up a poll on his site to vote on her fitness to be the next president on APA-Eastern was way out of line and he seemed to acknowledge that this morning.

UPDATE: With folks on all sides mobilizing votes, it seemed best to stop the poll, with more than 800 votes cast. 41% thought Professor Alcoff's involvement in the "Climate for Women" scandal irrelevant to her fitness to be President of the Eastern Division; 50% thought it relevant, with 34% thinking it disqualifying, and an additional 16% thinking if she apologized and withdrew this anonymous slander from the Internet, it would be OK if she served. The remaining votes were undecided. Some critics of the Guide have expressed unease with a vote on this question, but I have received so many e-mails on the subject, it seemed some poll of professional sentiment might be useful. I continue to be surprised by the willingness of philosophers to excuse professional misconduct by a quasi-elected officer of the APA, but clearly there are strong differences of opinion among philosophers on this subject.

He does a lot of polls, but I don't recall any being taken down so early because list-servs were mobilizing. He clearly didn't like the results he was getting. And what was he planning to do with the results? "useful to the profession?" How, exactly?

Assuming he belongs to APA (I don't know), he's a member of the Central Division, not Eastern. As he doesn't like the "quasi-election" method used by Eastern, has he publicly criticized Alcoff's predecessors on that ground? If not, why bring it up now? And by what criteria does he claim eastern is the "least relevant" division? It's this kind of irrelevant hatchet job that shut down the legitimate discussions of the methodology of both Leiter's and Alcoff's reports.

cobb said...

List-servs?

Oh my god. What decade is this? You mean... it was all a dream???

Anonymous said...

Look, genius, you can affiliate with any division you want. Living in Chicago doesn't mean you're a member of the central. And in what sense has the discussion of the methodology been shut down? I'm sure a lot of people are bored with it, but having a poll on Alcoff's presidency doesn't stop anyone from participating in the threads at Feminist Philosophers, Gender Race and Philosophy, here, etc.

Anonymous said...

Leiter shuts down all these polls after 500-1000 votes, usually in less than 24 hours. Paranoia strikes again! Get a grip people!!!

Anonymous said...

Ya know, I think I can hazard a guess here about why a decent supervisor might recommend that a student switch his/her dissertation topic from Kierkegaard to Kant. Two reasons: a) the popularity of existentialism (let alone Kierkegaard) has been on the decline since long before Leiter took his first philosophy course; and b) there appear to be excellent reasons for that shift.

'Existentialism' (Sartre's coinage) became popular in the English-speaking world after viewers became intrigued by tapes of Sartre after France was liberated (coupled with a vague sense that existentialism had fuelled the French resistance). It managed to take hold on American campuses for two main reasons: 1) Many religious (particularly catholic) philosophy teachers came to feel that a religious viewpoint could be preserved in a trendy manner within existentialism, despite the hostility of the alternative (positivism); and more importantly, 2) a number of students and faculty members came to feel, perhaps rightly, that the mainstream current of Anglo-American philosophy in the mid-20th century (again, positivism) went wrong in turning away from substantive ethical, political and 'meaning-of-life' questions, the answers to which existentialists promised in spades, whether or not the existentialists had any decent method of making good on those promises.

Nowadays, both those main justifications for existentialist philosophy have been lost. Religious institutions have numerous analytic theists whose work they can teach to their students while simultaneously exposing them to genuine analytical rigor, and analytic philosophers are dedicating themselves to serious work on all the important topics the positivists deemed 'nonsense'.

Given all this, it should be no surprise that Kierkegaard's influence in mainstream philosophy should be marginalized at best.

To put it more bluntly: advising a philosophy student to focus on Kant rather than Kierkegaard is similar to advising a biology student to go with Darwin rather than Swedenborg. It's just good advice, period.

Anonymous said...

what's the McAfee blog link?

I want to see attacks on Brian Dubya Leiter

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:00 --

I think your excellent account of the sociological reasons for the decline of existentialism among U.S. philosophers is accurate. I'm less sure that there have also been excellent philosophical reasons, given the clear superiority (in my view) of Kierkegaard's (or Nietzsche's) metaethics over, say, Kant's.

Anonymous said...

It is a mistake to lump together e and trivalize the work of all those philosophers who are sometimes called "existentialists"

I would hate for someone to neglect the study of Sartre's important phenomenological work because of some vague feeling that it was just an expression of a passing post WWII fad.

Anon 12:00 said...

Thanks for your response, Anon 4:42. I would certainly be keen to hear a case on behalf of the merits of Kierkegaard as a good pick for a serious PhD student to work on -- over Kant -- nowadays.

I should explain off the bat that I think Kant was mistaken in many important points. But this does not stop me from having tremendous respect for him as an impressive and seminal thinker.

Since you point to metaethics as an arena in which Kierkegaard's work trumps Kant's, I'd be glad to confine the discussion to that field.

Kant deserves to be studied for his metaethics today, I think, because he raised and presented important and still-relevant arguments on many issues in that area. Most importantly, I think, he set out for the first time a clear and rigorous set of criteria for what would count as a moral reason for doing something; and along the way, he had to carefully distinguish our desires from our ends (which Hume had not done in his own work), categorical from hypothetical imperatives, and make many other distinctions that are still of key importance in today's metaethical discussions of moral reasons, which is where most of the metaethical attention lies nowadays.

Kant also proposed an interesting and still-influential solution to the age-old question of why one should be moral in the first place.

Aside from his important work on the key metaethical issues of moral reasons and moral motivations, Kant made important contributions to the question of how one could achieve moral knowledge and, in a small way, to the question of what metaphysical facts would need to obtain in order for there to be morality at all.

His metaethical views are still discussed (and at times adopted) by the most important people working in the field today, in their central works. Schroeder, Korsgaard, Joyce, Scanlon, Smith, Shafer-Landau come to mind as examples: though many of them end up with a negative view of Kant, Kant's work seems indispensible to theirs (as I suspect they would all admit).

There's a brief case for the importance of Kant's metaethics. What about Kierkegaard?

Could you please set out why you hold that Kierkegaard is an even more important metaethicist? Which key metaethical issues did he open up for the first time, or clarify in some important way? Which original solutions did he propose to older issues, and what are his original arguments for those solutions? Etc.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Heidegger himself considered Sartre's work to be trendy garbage!

Anonymous said...

"Heidegger himself considered Sartre's work to be trendy garbage!"

Sartre took himself to be building on Heidegger. But he actually completely misunderstood it. On his reconstruction, Heidegger actually made sense.

Anonymous said...

Hahahahaha!!! That was priceless! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Anglo-American philosophy as a monoculture".

I'm afraid that you don't know what you're talking about. The diversity within analytic philosophy is greater now than at any time in the past. In fact, we may be seeing a fractionation of philosophy, in which the analytic/continental divide is just one among many. Naturalistic philosophers find it hard to talk to more a prioristic folks within single subdisciplines, never mind across them. No one knows what's going on in philosophy of physics outside a small coteria. As the branches get more specialized, they are starting to require much more serious investment in areas outside philosophy (economics, biology, cognitive science,,,) and there is a real danger that we lose the ability to talk to one another. There are many things wrong with "Anglo-American philosophy" (lack of diversity of people doing it is one) but the idea that it is intellectually a monoculture is just crazy. Or as the WV has it, it is blexp.

Glaucon said...

Matt Bonpensiero to AJ Soprano: "Sartre was a fucking frog… You should start at the beginning: take a look at Kierkegaard." Here.

www.la-rioja-3d.com said...

It can't actually work, I believe so.