true, i'm in the wall street journal today, talking about 'linguistic constructivism' and campus speech repression.
true, i'm in the wall street journal today, talking about 'linguistic constructivism' and campus speech repression.
The invocation to prayer in the new religion - or ancient superstition - goes like this: 'words have power.' What that means is that you ought to be silenced, or, you answer to us for what you say. I'd call it voodoo, but that's unfair to voodoo. It asserts that words are supernatural weapons that can be wielded to commit assault at a distance. It asserts that I can reach out and 'literally' commit violence against whole groups of people and the individuals in them (if we can indeed distinguish any individuals in them), by sitting here in York Springs typing. While I do appreciate the supernatural powers you are attributing to me, I am not actually a witch, and I can't actually harm you with incantations, spells, or writing a word of power on a piece of paper and folding it up just so. You think you can control reality as a whole by silencing people; and you're gearing up to impose your superstition by an authoritarian regime. You have already verbally cleansed America's colleges, which at this point are the merest re-education camps. Simulated unanimity and continual self-censorship, produced under massive social pressure and by policy, are incompatible with education in a free society, obviously. I don't think you are any more democratic, rational, or decent than Trump, and I'm beginning to wonder where I can go to escape you both. I don't think you're doing anything substantive for social justice, just trying to achieve the impression or illusion of it. I do think you should turn your attention to the math department and work on suppressing oppressive numbers.
It would be hard to deny that numbers have power, if abstract things like words can have power. It would be hard to argue that, if words are the sort of thing that could oppress people, numbers are not. Indeed, you are being oppressed by numbers right now, even as we reduce your ass to statistics and your personality to your membership in some demographic segment. You're oppressed by your SAT score, by the balance in your bank account, by the numbers on the bills in your mailbox. You might want to think about the historical role of numbers in racism, for example: all those ledgers and bills of sale. And what if i call you a 0, or put a minus sign before the name of your group? We are very oppressed by our divisions, which are multiplying. Delete these things from public space and your personal idiolect. Do it now. You're also being oppressed by fictional characters, mythological beings, sense impressions, logical entailments, Platonic Forms, and by the very concept of injustice, which should, along with the word 'injustice,' be ruthlessly suppressed. Anyway, of course, many actual numbers have been regarded as taboo or have been suppressed: that is, some numbers have been and are really offensive in the same sense as many words. So do to the number-line what you're trying to do to the language and delete delete delete!
To be fair, you also do want to ban, with regard to members of certain groups, particular hairstyles, hats, shoes, accents, musical styles, and so on (for example, because of 'cultural appropriation'). So it's not just words, but all kinds of signs and symbols and identities and expressions and arts. You want control of public space and people's self-presentations and expressions within that space. You demand control of my body in more or less every respect; you want to operate me like a marionette. You demand micro-control of my body to address possible micro-aggressions that could emerge from it. You want to rearrange my legs because i'm manspreading or whatever it may be. That's your cure for oppression, yes? That is the liberation you offer.
I have some news to break to you. We are not the stories we tell. This world is not a narrative. We did not construct this universe or ourselves or one another by weaving a tapestry of words. We do yap ceaselessly, but it usually amounts to next to nothing. We cannot make a new world by re-narrating or getting control of the signs; we can only make a collective delusion, and not even that, because the thing is too flimsy to delude. Words have power indeed in this account: the power to create worlds! a power not even Odin or Zeus could claim. Wait remind me how you reached this conclusion? because I never could quite figure that out even when I heard Richard Rorty do the schtick.
My view is that racism became unconscious when white people started thinking that racism was a matter of what words we use. We ditched all the bad words, and were innocent, and the structural racism of the country just went right on, or even intensified. You have got to learn from that, alright? Making people talk in some prescribed way just makes reality and representation, the real deal and the narrative, come apart completely. That is what you are demanding.
Remember when you were going to ban fake news? It was right-wing propaganda that was destroying our very concept of truth, blahblahblah. It took 30 seconds for 'fake news' to be appropriated by the right. Your enemy took your gun and pistol-whipped you with it. In general, all the mechanisms of social control, formal and informal, that you are instituting and want to institute can be reversed on you suddenly, and make you an enemy of the people, a traitor, etc. Your goals are different than your opponents'; your procedures the same. They will be visited upon you.
You might think that all this continues the beautiful legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, of James Baldwin, of Malcolm X, of Ralph Ellison, of Zora Neale Hurston, of Richard Wright, of W.E.B. Dubois, of Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells. Now I have a challenge for you: show me where any of these people advocated speech repression as a way to address racism. This is new, y'all: a distortion, a falsification, a disaster in which the oppressed seek to become oppressors, imitate their oppressors. This is where these movements turned from the physical reality of oppression to the symbolic reality of symbolic oppression, which can be addressed only by oppression.
well yes, i am returning to dickinson college, having reached an amicable agreement with the institution. i'm on sabbatical for the small semester, teaching in the spring. for people who supported me in various ways through this hard time, i so much appreciate it. it's how i got through.
this is really unbelievably disturbing. eventually, i am going to circle around to a critique of american higher education. one term that that should be forever retired is 'meritocracy'; the whole thing is profoundly infected with elitist mediocracy. also rape.
well, i guess i'm circling right now. higher education in this country is dedicated to reproducing structures of privilege, generation after generation. the 'merit' in meritocracy at this point consists of performance on standardized tests. this reflects economic and racial hierarchies in a very raw way: your white middle-to-upper-class kids have a thousand resources for improving testing performance, from helicopter parents to tutors to resource-rich schools dedicated essentially to nothing else. intelligence and creativity have nothing to do with it.
that's what this whole structure is for, and the amazing thing is that people manage to repress their consciousness of that fact; they think they're egalitarians; they think they are measuring ability; they think, in short, that they are on top in virtue of the fact that they deserve to be. and then the hyper-aggressive multi-strategic affirmative action characteristic of elite institutions is fundamentally designed to assuage the conscience, or to affirm the self-delusion. overall, it is miserably failing to serve the students it uses as badges of goodness. and in a number of ways it reinforces rather than ameliorates racial and class hierarchies, among other things because it breaks communities in a way similar to incarceration: yanks successful kids out of south central and puts them in the ivy league and ivyleague wannabe institutions, for example, where they are often miserable, but from which they often never return.
also these integral little bubbles of young people reproduce in hyper-intense form the hierarchical cultures that they are dedicated to perpetuating. i've had enough beer-soaked frat boys to last me several lifetimes. but that rape thing seems to be even worse than i thought. i think a lot of the point for the young people is to stay drunk and have really, really bad - or literally evil - sex. apparently that's the meaning of life. and then it's kind of a eugenics program, so that the children of privilege can produce grandchildren of privilege.
somehow, we've got to integrate higher ed much more into communities, make it much more open, and break down the hierarchies among the institutions and within them. the institutions are status and prestige-obsessed, and our culture is too. they are not dedicated to learning or scholarship, but are pecking orders that reward simulated merit. i think this is actually more or less destroying learning in multiple directions; for example, i don't think academic philosophy right now has anything to do with truth or wisdom; it has to do with the prestige of institutions and professorships, angling for the sinecure that makes you more or less immune to criticism.
and i'll add this. if you are a tenured professor at an r1 university, or a columnist at the guardian, you are a person of privilege, even if you are black or female. you're going to have to grapple with that fact. if you believe that hillary clinton is sub-altern in virtue of her gender, you are being very disingenuous or very foolish or both. i predict that hillary and/or her surrogates will be portraying her as a victim throughout the general election campaign. they ought to be ashamed.
i think it is fair to say that institutionalized or 'established' religion is destructive of spiritual truth or living in contact with god, if any, in particular with regard to its own priestly hierarchy. you're likely not there for god. you're there to rise in prestige and power and wealth, or to be regarded as in contact with god so you can lord it over people. that's what kierkegaard is saying in attack upon christendom.
this is even more true with regard to philosophy. that's precisely why we still tend to tell the story with a giant leap between the ancients and the 17th century: not that there's no philosophy in between, but it's polluted by the enforcement of dogma. in circumstances where you pay a terrible price for dissent - your works repressed, your person extruded or immolated - it is not even possible to tell whether the claims are sincere. likewise where the rewards of conformity are potentially great - rising in the hierarchy, social prestige, power over other people. the relation to truth which must be at the heart of philosophy is fundamentally compromised.
i say that is the position of philosophy in academia now: quite like medieval philosophy in relation to the catholic church. the reasons people assert what they do: they want tenure; they want status; they need to find a prestige group and conform to their dogmas. to some extent there are multiple dogmas or churches, but you have to find one that can carry you along in the hierarchy. but in the matter of politics, the dogma is pure and total: you must agree or pay the hideous price that heretics pay.
that is anathema to the quest for truth; it is incompatible with philosophy. academic philosophy today is not philosophy, and if there is a future of philosophy, the people building it will skim over this period as offering almost nothing, as polluted fundamentally by power relations and social slavishness.
not that there have never been good philosophers who were professors. but the dogmatism of the institutions and the hierarchy, the mood of desperate conformity and resolution to rise to professional respect of this moment are extreme. try to imagine your tenured professors - today's little priesthood - or the endowed chairs in their bishoprics, paying the sort of price for speaking their truth that socrates paid, or spinoza, or nietzsche. people think they can do both. i don't think they are, though, and i think many have lost track of the fact even that they are not seeking the truth. that condition is fatal to a thinker, and there can be no resurrection from it; it is soul-annihilating, as ole sk might put it, or emerson.
you might think about what happened to platonism, to confucianism, to christianity when they were institutionalized. they became boring, repetitive, immune to truth. any moment of innovation or originality emerged at a moment of institutional crisis. hold on to your smugness and mediocrity while you can. clutch hard onto such prestige as you have achieved. actually, i think you'll be fine, for i don't see any crisis looming. hold on long enough, and you can really be safe, and put this philosophy thing to rest forever.
i would be interested in what other phil-heads think about this. as hinted in my nytimes piece on arthur danto, my sense is that philosophy is in a period of decline, at least in terms of generating transformative or fundamental figures. the generations leading to today's oldsters and the people who have died in the last fifteen years or so - analytic and continental - have not, overall, been succeeded by their equals.
so i might say: cavell, davidson, kripke, kuhn, rorty, rawls, nozick, quine, rorty, gadamer, danto, deleuze, walzer, nelson goodman, baudrillard, derrida, foucault (early death of course), nagel, macintyre, etc. who, like in their 50s and 60s, is really doing work on that level? i don't just mean good work that makes a contribution to a sub-field, but work that constitutes a fundamental re-thinking and a fundamental challenge.
now, if that's true, how might one explain it? i would focus on the nature of academic training and institutions, where there is much less tolerance for eccentrics and oddballs than there once was and much less relish for disagreement. basically these are bureaucracies now of a very similar sort as the dmv or microsoft in which you rise by representing or embodying the regulations and norms. if some of the people i've listed were starting out now, they'd find a much less receptive atmosphere in academia for their intellectual ambition and distinctiveness. and then the social interpretation of 'the professor' has shifted a bit: a professor is a professional: similar to dentists, lawyers, and such. a new 'legitimacy.'
well some candidates: timothy williamson (60), judith butler (60), peter singer (69), bruno latour (68), robert brandom (66). still.
over the decades, many a grad student or professor has said to me: oh, little crispy, what shall i do? i need to write! to which i offered various softened-up versions of my daddy's advice: then sit your ass down and start typing. but i should have responded like this: why do you need to write? for on the answer to that question turns the matter of whether you should write or not. maybe you should skip it.
alright alright it's true! soren kierkegaard is my favorite philosopher. i guess my various screeds against academic philosophy, academia in general and so on are my attack upon christendom. admittedly i've been more melancholy than scathing of late, but lord that sk could rip you a new one - all in the name of universal love, of course. same grounds, by the way: philosophy these days still pretends to love of wisdom, or witness to truth, but it's going to get there through rampant careerism and obsession with social prestige and rising through the institutional hierarchy and suchlike. your theory of truth depends on what'll generate recommendations or tenure or the endowed chair. either/or, baby. anyway, this is very beautiful, if - as often in k - too intense not also to be disturbing.
no that wasn't me with the suicide vest, panda suit, and new theory of the sun. thanks for your concern!
if i had one wish for academia, it would be that the interactions there would be more fully human, that more people - professors, students, administrators, staff, all - could be and show more fully who they really are, what they have been or are going through, what they want. i think that people there in general do not fully connect with one another, or show themselves; they are hedged about by conventions and rules and norms and constraints designed to preclude that. i think this misunderstands and harms learning.
i've often experienced the whole thing as an artificial pseudo-environment, like a pseudo-happy virtual reality written by programmers, a zone insulated in imagination even from the human things that are being researched or theorized. any outbreak of the personal or the urgent seems impertinent or transgressive. i sort of don't see how people live or think like that.
you know, professors or more are less just like factory workers or whatever it may be. they fall in love and split up; they struggle with addictions or obsessions or depressions; people they love die or are otherwise lost; they've got problems with their kids or their parents; they're badly in debt, and so on. you'd never know this at all, most days, unless a crisis breaks out, and i think among the auto mechanics or maids or something, people are more into facing the realities of human life and have the language to express them.
and then, while i'm hoping, i hope the writing that emerges becomes more fully human in all these dimensions, that it comes to more frankly acknowledge its human origins and human audience, that it comes to more fully express the real thoughts, real emotions, real experiences, real suffering and real joy, of the people who make it, and finds those things more fully in the people who read it. the people i love to read the most - montaigne, for example, or emerson, or pascal, or kierkegaard - really did that, each in his own way. we still can if we resolve to. and particularly in philosophy: if the reality of human life and the life of the author or teacher aren't connected to what is expressed, our subject-matter has been lost.
the place often seems unreal to me, and that is what makes it untrue. there are many models; what if you heard a professor say something like this?
i just wish we talked more like humans living in this world: to students, to one another, at the watercooler or in our books. i don't see why we shouldn't.
having lost access to jstor and such, my awareness has been renewed of the vast distance between how people talk about the ideals of academic research and the miserable realities. they want $40 for a one-time view of a review of my book political aesthetics in the journal mind. but i use academic databases all the time for all sorts of research.
see, academic research would supposedly be directed toward truth, or fallacies and falsifications detected, by wide public scrutiny. plus it could be in a wide sense collaborative, so that i can use what ideas and scholarship i can use (with credit, of course) to build toward new ideas or approaches or elaborate old ones, and others can build with mine. not if they're systematically restricting access.
there are multiple layers in which people are claiming ownership of strings of words or of ideas or of the results of research: jstor charges, oxford u press charges, etc. your university or your government 'own' the ideas they gave you health insurance in exchange for. i still insist that the notion that such things can be owned at all is incompatible with their ontology: you can't sell real estate in the abstract realm; it is literally impossible to own strings of notes or words, for example. why are people generating or doing research at all? (a) because they want health insurance (to which they will sacrifice their own freedom to think), (b) so people can take that research, more or less for free, and then commodify it and sell it to people. i think intellectual property has fundamentally distorted human knowledge.
where have you gone, aaron swartz?
meanwhile, the petition put up by joel pust and jeff jordan has gathered over 200 signatures, and i must say it's quite a lineup. by all means sign if you can be plausibly described as an academic and if you haven't already.
henry draws my attention to this story, which has a shape remarkably similar to mine: people repress your song instead of trying to deal with your content. it can happen to a high school student, or to a professor, or to you. there are a variety of factors that have taken us into this new golden era of american censorship, authoritarianism, and breathtaking stupidity: the mass shooting phenomenon has everyone - especially anyone running any sort of institution - pissing in their depends, just pouring all day. the 'anti-bullying' obsession, possibly the only decently-funded educational initiative of the last decade, is boiling up into every aspect of society, so that people pretend to experience a nasty comment on the internet as an act of violence. war on terror, universal surveillance, and so on: no one wants to be free or wants anyone else to be free because they are too scared to be free. people wonder why the right is angry etc: the only thing any leftist ever said about trump. i'm asking instead whether we really want to live scared of our own shadows and out of our wits, live a life of cravens, and use that to motivate morbid censorship and insipid totalitarianism. everyone just wants to be protected by the authorities, while the authorities tremble like they've got parkinson's.
so amazed and pleased that the gofundme campaign has exceeded its goal! i am leaving it up, for legal expenses are likely to well exceed this. but thank you so much, folks. you're on the right side on this one. also, a petition is circulating for academics to express their...misgivings about dickinson's actions.
i just want to say to such folks as george yancy (whose work, again, i have long admired and participated in) and jessica valenti: people have a right not to be threatened. but no one, not even a member of an oppressed group, has the right not to be insulted. there are no illegal words in contemporary english. also, once more: speech is not violence, under any circumstances. if you think it is, i will say once again, i don't think you have experienced actual violence.
the reasons people like that - and whole movements on college campuses, and the american philosophical association, and so on - want to lose that distinction is because they want state control of the media in order to impose an ideological agenda. that is much, much worse than the conditions it is designed to ameliorate. they just want to shut people people up so that they themselves are never exposed to anything not themselves; they want to live in an hallucination of unanimity, in a world where everyone is forced to pretend to agree.
if you think that would be a substantive blow against racism or sexism, you haven't been watching the last few decades, in which people learned to talk right, but the society continued right on with its structural inequalities. you are very, very confused about the relation of language to reality, and if you want to argue this out on that level, i am very ready. yapping does not construct reality. you know this very well, though people can all play 'let's pretend' together, using words. that's what you're demanding. a prison is not a paragraph nor a paragraph a prison; surely you don't actually need me to give arguments for that?
like hillary clinton raising wall street money, you advocate oppression and inequality (or as rogers says below, slavery) in order to mitigate oppression and inequality. that is the whole structure of this sort of leftism for a century and a half. i don't know how you thought your way to this, but you are the conditions you're supposedly attacking. people like valenti and yancy aspire to be oppressors, which admittedly is one of the traditional reactions to being oppressed. and within the institution from which i just emerged, they are achieving their purpose extremely effectively. ain't no liberation down this alley, though.
once more i'm giving you some actually american values, as expressed by nathaniel peabody rogers, who, let me say again, was an advocate of absolute equality of the races and sexes. jessica valenti would agree with all his positions, and try to shut him up anyway, i presume.
We speak of the "freedom" of it, and of "liberty of Speech," as though it were even to be claimed that the human voice should not be regulated at all times and under all circumstances, by the arbitrary caprice of tyrants. The human voice is free of course. It is as naturally and inalienably free of every power but the man's that utters it, as God is free, and language would hardly be marred more by the phrase freedom of God than by such expressions as Liberty of Speech. Who should think of regulating a man's speech but himself? What has he got it for, but to use at his discretion, and what has he discretion for, if not to govern himself with, in speech and thought? If a man has not discretion enough to govern his own utterance, how can he govern his neighbor's? How can any number of men, each and all incompetent to regulate themselves, regulate others? Those others meantime competent to regulate them, though incapable of bridling their own tongues - or rather of guiding them without bridle, as the Parthian manages his unreigned steed.
Human speech is sovereign. Nobody can govern it but the individual it belongs to. Nobody ought to think of it. Every body has his hands full with his own, which he can manage and ought to, and which he cannot innocently commit to the management of another. It can be done. Speech is good for nothing unless it be done. Men better be without tongues and organs and powers, than not use them sovereignly. If it be not safe to entrust self-government of speech to mankind, there had better not be any mankind. Slavery is worse than non-existence. A society involving it is worse than none. The earth had better go unpeopled than inhabited by vassals.
In short, as a snow-drift is formed where there is a lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there is a lull of truth, an institution springs up. But the truth blows right on over it, nevertheless, and at length blows it down.
--Thoreau, "Life With Principle"
One aspect of this: compare the discussions in
my paper "Why Knowledge is Merely True Belief", section 3 (Journal of Philosophy, 1992),
in Ward Jones's paper "Why Do We Value Knowledge?", section 2 (American Philosophical Quarterly, 1997)
and in Linda Zagzebski's paper "The Search for the Source of the Epistemic Good", section 1 (Metaphilosophy, 2003).
They are remarkably similar.
This is how my students appropriate, when they do: they cut and paste off Wikipedia (or whatever it may be), then replace a few synonyms with synonyms, recast slightly, etc. Both Jones and Zagzebski do that with my discussion.
But I call Zagzebski's plagiarism and not Jones's. Jones does introduce the argument with a quote from me, and I feel he does enough to avoid plagiarism. For one thing, someone interested in this argument or this question would naturally be directed to my papers by Jones's discussion.
Now it is just possible that Zagzebski cribbed the discussion from Jones. But then, she does not footnote Jones at all, so that would also be misconduct. And I will say again that though Zagzebski does give a reference to my papers, it is just a wave that indicates no connection at all to the relevant argument. I feel she does directly misuse the material, either mine (pretty obviously, I think) or Jones's. Either way...
In Marian David's "Truth as the Epistemic Goal" (which is in a collection of papers on normative epistemology and truth, wherein the swamping problem is already central, or in some sense gives rise to the questions [Knowledge, Truth, and Duty: Essays on Epistemic Justification, Responsibility, and Virtue (Oxford 2001)]), she formulates the swamping problem:
Given the truth-goal-oriented approach to justification with justification understood as a means to that goal . . . it is now hard to see how justification could be anything but a constitutive means to that goal, which will make justification collapse into truth. (161)
footnote: More or less related argument are found in Sartwell (1992) (although he handles these issues rather oddly, by my lights); Depaul (1993), chap. 2.4; and Maitzen (1995).
So again, I seem first here, odd though I am. I'm going to have a look at Depaul. Also she discusses Richard Foley around these issues, and if I recall correctly Foley and I corresponded some about this in the early '90s. So I'll have a look there too. I am telling you that all roads lead back, though.
Just for the hell of it: David's wedge is to assert that it's not plausible that truth is always the ultimate goal in believing. My answer to that was in the first chapter of my unpublished book (written in '91 as I was also writing the papers). Truth as a goal is built into the nature of belief. You believe p iff you take p to be true. That's why epistemology is fundamentally 'teleological' or 'instrumentalist.'
So as I catch up, a couple of bald assertions: (1) Anything that could plausibly count as an epistemic virtue will have be truth-conducive; (2) Social factors such as being authorized within a community or engaging its consensus are neither here nor there: irrelevant to truth and to knowledge. Here's my paper "Anti-Social Epistemology" (2015).
i wrote three completely separate book-length manuscripts under rorty. it took awhile, though i am the fastest, easiest writer you ever saw. overall comment on my first draft (i've got em all with his comments of course): 'notably well written.' that was definitely the high point, though he was generous and fast getting stuff back with elaborate comments; he did it on the plane as he went to debate his old buddy, jurgen haberas; right when i knew him he was at his most meteoric rise. and he was always a deeply sweet man, which you might not know. richard rorty was a pretty damn good writer for a philosopher. (egads i have spent my whole life reading literally some of the worst writing our species has every produced: both the classics and, most excruciatingly, the average release from oxford. then you get to the end and it does not amount to a hill of beans.) anyway, that was enough to keep me going through the next draft; i might have cared more about that than anything.
let's say he brought more critical acuity to attacks on than to defenses of him. although most of the attacks were silly, or just rage or envy or 'you said the wrong thing'. swear to god he loved them. he was on contingency, irony, and solidarity when i was working with him. one day in the middle of lunch in his office the phone rang and he said 'hold on a second.' then he launched into an elaborate description of the project and a lovely assessment of where his work was at and how wildly it was changing, and how he was so far beyond mirror of nature, ready to kill the world. i did not know what he was actually working on at the time. it took me literally 15 minutes to spin out that it was richard bernstein. ok, not a lot of grad students get that experience! then he's off and i started arguing with him about this 'literary turn' nonsense. he did not respond to my attacks except to give me the in-process bibliography. i read it all. i can't find that one! i must have chucked it when i was done.
one thing he did: read aloud a couple of the most vicious criticisms of himself, which were on his desk, as he and bernstein cackled.
anyway, lord the rort had some critical acuity when he wasn't just shrugging at an auditorium full of people. he kicked my ass all day every day for what? like six years. in doing that, he showed me exactly what the highest level really was, what you had to know to toss off apparently casual provocations, how much machinery was underneath his performance art. i had been reading harder than anyone i ever knew since i started. i didn't hardly see how knowing what he knew was even possible. but i knew it would take me a long time. he actually hated academic philosophy.
'yo dick, i found something we agree on! carnap was totally wrong!' a: 'yup and he was kind of seeing that partly when i studied with him.' heavens! i have never even told some of these stories, because at meetings people only wanted to confront me about rorty and how stupid he was. then they didn't hear it when i said: stupid? whatever, dude. definitely wrong though. ok you can be in our group! but you make no sense. yes i do, man, i am a disciple of richard rorty.
my best friend was a junior prof, and on my committee (well, i was 30). rorty: 'if we don't let this one go, he'll just write another.' that, i am told, was more or less the entirety of the meeting after my defense. and that assessment, i'm also told, was reflected in his letter for me, long since abandoned on the road by pointed advice, never seen. i never wanted to publish anything from my dissertation or see it again. i swore i would, if nothing else, write the way i wanted for the rest of my life. i have come pretty close. but i have paid a hideous price.
i thought he'd kind of despise the followers who were trying to get him on their committee. but i thought i was emulating him: bold provocateur, bad boy of philosophy. i thought he'd see himself in me as soon as i started disagreeing with him; just the right person to carry on. but at least i did really disagree with him: each iteration was an attempt to subtilize, deepen, make irrefutable the critique. all indirectly, of course. i didn't mention him except in the effusive acknowledgements. i did try to destroy some of his heroes - gadamer, for instance - on aesthetic matters: the image, representation, realism in the visual arts. i was not ready to do that with any effectiveness.
while i was doing that, hans-georg gadamer puts in a surprise appearance in rorty's seminar. we watched as rorty and gadamer sparred with absolute pleasure over rorty's interpretation of gadamer. it started 'dick! sounds great! makes sense! you've got me completely wrong!' rorty laughed until i thought he'd cry, maybe a high point of his life, come to think of it. then he said 'yes, hans, but that's what you should have said." then gadamer started guffawing.
now i am richard rorty. man you definitely don't know what that takes. and you definitely don't know what that takes when you're working at six different schools with no sabbaticals, not a single person who agrees with you about anything, and no support or social back-up at all. i hit it between 52 and 54, while in the middle of the most absurd meaningless academic nightmare of my career, during which i got tenure somehow. big new theories of all sorts of things were falling into my hands like plums from the tree i'd planted. it was an excruciating period, and an ecstatic one, the first attributable only to them, the second only to me.
anyway, he's dead; it was oedipal; ok we heard a grad student say that one time as we walked around cabell hall! rorty punched me in the ribs. who cares? well i still do. i knew i could get where i am now as a philosopher if i never stopped writing, reading, working. (i am actually not a particularly fast reader.)
i thought he'd be delighted by my disagreement. he was, intermittently; we ended up having the best philosophical debates i ever had, through seminars, convention appearances, dozens of one-on-one hours. one thing he did clearly let me know: i was no robert brandom. my first vague hint was sitting at the big meeting with the pile of paper = second dissertation. he looked up at me with his oddly shy smile and said 'well, you're no robert brandom.' ok just going to admit it, i've been reading robert brandom enviously ever since. i think i've never footnoted him? vengeance is mine! i'll give him that. but who is an rb? and rorty one way or another taught me an incredible amount. you might not know this but he was incredibly learned. how many times are you going to make me say it? in so many things. i was not going to win the argument when i was 25! and boy he killed that continental-analytic thing completely. i thought he'd also admire my wide-openness. i was really seriously trying to read everything as i worked on drafts, so i could kick his ass next time. i found all sorts of stuff to love on both sides.
if you read my books with that in mind, you'll see that i probably turned that corner in end of story. it was really quickly written and kind of disintegrated at the end. but i definitely wasn't worried about actually refuting the view after that. or macintyre's, or ricouer's. they were, i thought, baldly false views, not seriously entertainable ( i had been killing them in my head for years; i wasn't really going to try the full 400 pager. no one was listening anyway.)
since dick's death there has been a reassesment of the man who came to be called both the best-known philosopher of the late twentieth century, and the person i fucking never heard anything positive said about until the tribute at the apa. but man, i will not hear reverence either. that is a deep betrayal. i have never heard anyone say anything positive about rorty (or not till whenever that was); i have never known how to talk to philosophy people about him or my relation to him. i told my non-philosophical romantic partners or whatever. there was no way i could talk about him honestly and make sense to philosophers. but i have sat through three-hour banquets where people were ranting about how wrong he had dewey. the next morning, it's at the coffee table. how did i just not run or attack? after that gadamer thing, how do you take that? what if the senior person in what you take to be your field (mcdermott, to be precise) does that specifically in your face for years because...you were a student or rorty's? what is the response? all those years i tried a knowing smile. it was like i didn't even know rorty. and then i forgot some of these stories or repressed them because survival.
so say you were listening to people spit the worst sort of bile at your mentor/greatest enemy, and the most they got to was the first couple of things that had occurred to you that were too lame to even try on him? right on, brother? or do you expect me to sit here and engage in a defense? i have actually been caught in the vice at damn near every conference i have gone to since 1984 or whatever it was.
but whatever the joys and burdens of being dick rorty's student, i'll always be incredibly grateful to the man for myriad dimensions of my development. i think he was wrong about everything. but at least he was wrong in an interesting, provocative, fun way. that's better than being right in a laborious monotone.
[this is pulled from out, the entry that got this whole ball of craziness rolling.]
Again, I want to say that I haven't accused anyone except Zagzebski of plagiarism. Another person mentioned by Pritchard as a source of the swamping problem is Wayne Riggs, the chair at Oklahoma who according to Zagzebski said that I sent him a threatening email, which is demonstrably false. That got me threatened with arrest and held to be insane. That Riggs shows up again here as someone who's fundamental to the swamping problem is really quite the little coincidence.
At any rate, in Reliability and the Value of Knowledge (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, January 2002), he attributes the problem to Ward Jones, who certainly got it from me, and to Zagzebski (however, to an earlier book [Virtues of the Mind] and paper ['From Reliabilism to Virtue Epistemology']), and to Kvanvig (see note, p. 80). Like everyone else, starting with me, he saw that it was a fundamental challenge to reliabilism.
But obviously Riggs could really have gotten it from Jones and Zagzebski, and I don't see any cut-and-paste, etc. Still there too it derives from me, I believe, because at a minimum it derives from Jones and Zagzebski, who got it from me.
One thing about the swamping problem: whatever you may think of the thesis that knowledge is merely true belief, I don't think that anyone could have come up with the problem unless they had been focused very critically on the function of justification, someone who was skeptical about regarding justification as necessary for knowledge. And I think that perverse as the position was, it has turned out to be of use to the profession!
That is what I do, I feel, better than anyone working, more or less. I'm not necessarily smarter than the average analytic epistemologist, and i do make mistakes. But I focus on counter-consensus moves kind of automatically. So, if you want to remake part of a discipline or a topic, try this: what are the first few ground-clearing intuitions/assumptions that make everything else possible? These are often inadequately or not even argued for, and often I find when I think about it a little, I don't think they're obvious or even true at all.
That's how I did the swamping problem in Cargile's seminar at UVA, probably '87. I was probing for the assumption that would give a lever (and show my cleverness and profundity, etc). So we did Alvin Goldman's reliabilism, and something just seemed sort of off to me, like that's really just redundant: knowledge is a true belief that is reached by a reliable method for reaching...true belief. Well, what are we after then? What's our goal? Obviously or explicitly just true belief, so the method is merely instrumental to the real admitted telos. Then I started trying to generalize it and that's how I found all those quotes from Bonjour, Moser, Armstrong that Zagzebski and Jones recycled. Without that sort of reasoning, or to save some pet version of justification, no one would ever have generated the swamping problem.
Also I would say you better get out of a narrow frame. Actually, what was driving me was Kierkegaard; I thought that analytic epistemology just deployed definitionally a cult of reason that was really impoverishing and unrealistic. That's why I wanted to delete the justification condition in the first place. No one conducts their epistemic lives in the way the analytic trad suggests we all ought to; and anyone who did would just be gross and inhuman. So that's what made me probe for weaknesses. Ask any of these other alleged originators how and why they thought of this...
So a more recent version of this move is that I assert that free will is not required for moral responsibility. I submitted it here and there with no luck; still getting the 'that's ridiculous' response. But it will be in the ethics chapter of Entanglements. If nothing else, it will really press people in the free will problem to think hard about the initial assumptions. I think it could make a positive difference and I think again that it will be vindicated.
I do want to establish that I invented the swamping problem, and I really am just returning to the discourse in epistemology, so I've had to try to catch up. Meanwhile yet another revision of the charge sheet on Zagzebski; I will get this exactly right eventually. (Replaced in timeline as well.)
Duncan Pritchard, in a draft paper titled What is the Swamping Problem?, gives the following pedigree.
This difficulty is the so-called ‘swamping problem’, as defended most prominently by Jonathan Kvanvig (e.g., 2003), but also put forward in various forms by Ward Jones (1997), Richard Swinburne (1999; 2000), Wayne Riggs (2002), Linda Zagzebski (2003) and John Greco (forthcominga).
I am going to try to go at these in order, one at a time. Ward Jones' paper (American Philosophical Quarterly, October 1997), early on sets up the question with a quotation from me (page 424), and section 2 is a remarkably close recapitulation of section 3 of my journal of philosophy paper.
He formulates the problem in just my terms, attacks reliabilism with it as I did, then actually brings the same quotations to bear as I did, and Zagzebski.
Jones p. 427:
I have been discussing the reliabilist in particular, but I should reemphasize that I consider the relibilist to be representative of epistemic instrumentalists. Laurence Bonjour, a coherentist, writes:
If epistemic justification were not conducive to truth in this way, if finding epistemically justified beliefs did not substantially increase the likelihood of finding true ones, then epistemic justification would be irrelevant to our main cognitive goal and of dubious worth. . . . Epistemic justification is therefore in the final analysis only an instrumental value, not an intrinsic one.
And Paul Moser, a foundationalist, writes:
Epistemic justification is essentially related to the so-called cognitive goal of truth, insofar as an individual belief is epistemically justified only if it is appropriately directed toward the goal of truth.
And me, p. 172-73:
Indeed, proponents of all the major conceptions of justification hold this position. For example, the foundationalist Paul Moser writes:
Epistemic justification is essentially related to the so-called cognitive goal of truth, insofar as an individual belief is epistemically justified only if it is appropriately related toward the goal of truth. More specifically, on the present conception, one is epistemically justified in believing a proposition only if one has good reason to believe it is true.
The reliabilist Alvin Goldman claims, similarly, that a condition on an account of justification is that beliefs justified on the account be likely to be true; he says that a plausible conception of justification will be “truth-linked” ( op. cit. 116-21) . And the coherentist Luaurence Bonjour puts it even more strongly. p. 173
If epistemic justification were not conducive to truth in this way, if finding epistemically justified beliefs did not substantially increase the likelihood of finding true ones, then epistemic justification would be irrelevant to our main cognitive goal and of dubious worth. It is only if we have some reason for thinking that epistemic justification constitutes a path to truth that we as cognitive beings have any motive for preferring epistemically justified beliefs to epistemically unjustified ones. Epistemic justification is therefore in the final analysis only an instrumental value, not an intrinsic one.
The quotes are obvious, but the whole discussion is a very close recapitulation of me. And of course, both these discussions are also identical to Zagzebski's. I will say that Jones also did a cut and paste from my paper, but at least he quoted me in proximity, and he comes closer to crediting me with the argument. But we will see that by every route that this argument entered the discourse, it derived from me.
i never lost a job, i believe, except because i wouldn't join a party, or i said something a feminist might construe as objectifying or something. they leave you speculating at the time, but sometimes you learn what happened. i believe i lost the job i really wanted at vanderbilt, because of my crazed, palpable anti-semitism. idit dobbs-weinstein and julie klein - real pc killers - did not give me a chance to say meet my great grandfather. on my mother's side. they missed my daughter's bat mitzvah. somewhere in the process i picked up the outlines. i hope i managed to convey that i was jewish.
then it was sort of: we learn to hate ourselves in our oppression; sometimes jews are the biggest anti-semites! not talking about you, of course...but they did hear one of the counter-examples i used in my job talk, and were retraumatized from the holocaust. that's 1992, y'all. much worse now. the next month, the same paper appeared in the journal of philosophy, merely despised until zagzebski found it. i was also doing some politically suspect columns for the nashville banner, like the one where i argued in favor of school vouchers. that sort of thing will garner you some pointed silence, though no arguments.
i'll throw a paragraph at mica, a place that was beloved to me before i ever got there, having lived around the corner and fantasized the whole time about teaching philosophy to art students. they don't have tenure. they brought me in with the understanding that i was permanent and there were no issues, they were lucky to get me, they said. i gave up my tenure track job teaching journalism and media studies and advising the school paper at penn state harrisburg. this is what i'd always wanted.
i was on campus a couple of days after 9.11, and i had already recorded a spot for all things considered. they were looking for someone who would express any sort of anger, could not find one among their staff or usual contributors, i gather. i had been talking to my (now-deceased) brother jim, who was an unbelievable cynic, raconteur, and artist of the hyperbole. 'i want to fly over the middle east and see nothing but piles of smoking rubble.' i started there. you know, i too want vengeance. in fact this distinction between justice and vengeance is complete jive, just a way of pretending you don't want revenge, or collectivizing responsibility, effectively offloading it from everyone entirely. i had three minutes, years of argument behind it. then i said: but even if it is legitimate to take vengeance, you are morally obliged to take your vengeance only precisely on the perpetrators. no burning rubble, my brother, without osama & co inside it. only them.
next day, robert merrill (a senior colleague), confronted me in the hall and said "that was disgusting!" the next words out his mouth were 'osama is a freedom fighter!' i felt a marked cooling toward me and rallying around him after that.
then for whatever political reason, they put my job to a national search. i did 'six names of beauty' as the talk, just or soon-to-published by routledge. anyway, it defines beauty' as 'the object of longing.' then i put up my childhood crush emma peel. then i went on to buntings and roses and the universe as a whole. a lit prof, soheila ghaussy, hopped up and started saying my whole thing was just (paraphrasing) coming from the dick, and weren't millennia of oppression enough? they hired someone else, who did not work out at all.
what i have found over and over again is that teaching, research, and service are irrelevant in an academic career (research, for sure). the only real criterion of advancement is conformity. that's why you have all these mediocrities at the very upper reaches: mere careerists. that's why the senior level of the profession now is lilliputian compared to the last cohort. i think the last actually interesting or sincere president of the apa was stanley cavell. if stanley was starting out now, he'd be drummed out of the profession for even mentioning greer garson, or because of that weird beret.
to clarify, i am definitely not a progressive. but i am definitely not a reactionary. i think the whole thing makes no sense, which is why it's enforced with insane social sanctions. i define my position as anti-hierarchical: i am opposed to both state and economic hierarchies and think they go together. this position is incomprehensible to academics because it is internally consistent.
one conclusion i'd draw is that anything besides the noodly socialism that is unanimous in academia is incomprehensible to the people there. another is that in the long run it is impossible to be both a professor and any kind of honest opinion journalist.
[this is drawn out of my entry out.]
media coverage of coverage of my situation:
linda zagzebski news:
veterans today: mike farrell, academic freedom and dystopia
inside higher ed: professor on leave after posting plagiarism accusations
(i will say once more that i did not accuse alexander nehamas of plagiarism)
pennlive (harrisburg news site): dickinson professor placed on leave after series of blog posts
my case should unite anarchists and tea partiers. they always should have been united. so perhaps, left anarchists, you think the advocacy of gun rights in country music is disgusting. well, over and over, the gun is wielded in country music and elsewhere in rural rightwingy culture, as a symbol of resistance to state power. maybe you favor black brigades rolling with rocks and molotov cocktail, but the damn impulse is the same, and even the motivation: the way people are being dominated and impoverished. so get over your little demographic fealty and reach across.
i'm going with the hashtag #freemiranda. join me!
blake shelton is in trouble, i feel, when that new album comes out. perhaps he can call the campus police at the university of oklahoma and beg for protection.
[From the Herald of Freedom of Dec. 30, 1842: Miscellaneous Writings, 247]
We speak of the "freedom" of it, and of "liberty of Speech," as though it were even to be claimed that the human voice should not be regulated at all times and under all circumstances, by the arbitrary caprice of tyrants. The human voice is free of course. It is as naturally and inalienably free of every power but the man's that utters it, as God is free, and language would hardly be marred more by the phrase freedom of God than by such expressions as Liberty of Speech. Who should think of regulating a man's speech but himself? What has he got it for, but to use at his discretion, and what has he discretion for, if not to govern himself with, in speech and thought. If a man has not discretion enough to govern his own utterance, how can he govern his neighbor's? How can any number of men, each and all incompetent to regulate themselves, regulate others? Those others meantime competent to regulate them, though incapable of bridling their own tongues - or rather of guiding them without bridle, as the Parthian manages his unreigned steed. Human speech is sovereign. Nobody can govern it but the individual it belongs to. Nobody ought to think of it. Every body has his hands full with his own, which he can manage and ought to, and which he cannot innocently commit to the manage of another. It can be done. Speech is good for nothing unless it be done. Men better be without tongues and organs and powers, than not use them sovereignly. If it be not safe to entrust self-government of speech to mankind, there had better not be any mankind. Slavery is worse than non-existence. A society involving it is worse than none. The earth had better go unpeopled than inhabited by vassals. How it must look to spectator eyes - tenanted by hampered immortality, with clipped wings and hand-cuffed wrists and fettered spirits. What angel would ever light upon it but that dragon-pinioned one who as John Milton has poeticized - lighted once from Hell on its "bare outside." Better have them kept bare to this day, than peopled by a tongue-tied race of men.
Rogers was a radical abolitionist/pacifist/feminist who edited the New Hampshire paper Herald of Freedom. I've done a lot of work on him; I'm gathering it up into an e-book which I'll put up in the next few days on amazon and googledocs.