The Spat Over A Christian Philosopher’s Presentation Reveals the True State of the Profession: Wretched!

A recent meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers featured as keynote speaker Richard Swinburne, a well-established philosopher of religion of the rapidly dwindling “old school,” one might call it: the school for which professional philosophy really was the love of wisdom, and not a platform for professing one’s leftist ideology. Swinburne presented well-known and fairly obvious criticisms of homosexuality stemming from the natural law worldview dating to St. Thomas Aquinas and still believed by some elderly Catholic philosophers and theologians. I used to give these criticisms 15 minutes or so in my historically-oriented ethics classes. I am not sure doing so would be such a good idea today for someone without tenure; for this is 2016, not the 1990s. While far from perfect, the world was definitely saner then. Or, at least, academic philosophy was saner then … somewhat. Needless to say, it was already heading in the wrong direction. After all, on at least one occasion my own criticisms of affirmative action for women met with a borderline obscenity by a leftist philosopher writing in the American Philosophical Association’s flagship publications.

Today the situation is magnitudes worse, of course … and illustrative of how academic philosophy has gone over the cliff and is in complete free fall.

Jason Stanley, of Yale University (!!!), offered this adult, professional philosopher’s opinion of Swinburne’s speech: “F**k those a**holes! Seriously!” Stanley’s comment was picked up and circulated by other philosophy professors across the political spectrum. Naturally, he’s won praise for his articulateness from his fellow academic leftists.

You can read many of the details here; I need not recycle them.

I will note that I predicted, back in 1994, that political correctness and Christianity were on collision course, and that the flashpoint would be the rising and increasingly radical homosexual movement.

More recently,  Stanley wrote on his public Facebook page (which he has since, in perhaps one of his rare flashes of intelligence or even — dare I use the word? — wisdom, taken down):

I am really mortified about this. My comment “F*ck those assholes”, posted on a friend’s private FB page about homophobes, was *photographed*. Even *worse*, it made it into *the right-wing hateosphere*, where it is being linked and relinked. I really wish now I hadn’t said that!! I PROFOUNDLY regret not using much harsher language and saying what I really think of anyone who uses their religion to promote homophobia, you know that sickness that has led people for thousands of years to kill my fellow human beings for their sexual preferences. Like you know, pink triangles and the Holocaust. I am really, truly, embarrassed by the fact that my mild comment “F*ck those assholes” is being spread. This wildly understates my actual sentiments towards homophobic religious proponents of evil like Richard Swinburne, who use their status as professional philosophers to oppress others with less power. I am SO SORRY for using such mild language. I am posting this on “public” so that there will be no need for anyone to violate any religious code of ethics and take pictures of private FB pages to share my views about such matters.

This guy is tenured in philosophy at an Ivy League university, one no longer exactly noted for its support for freedom of speech or thought, unless, I presume, the speech is both politically correct, laced with obscenities, and contains casual libel against the expected targets. Pink triangles and the Holocaust? Come on! Oppress others with less power? Where does Stanley believe today’s loci of power really lie? Is he another of these ridiculous characters swinging clumsily at windmills of nonexistent “white privilege” (or “white male privilege”) while those with real power continue advancing their leviathan “trade” deals like TTP and TTIP?

Now, another philosophy professor by the name of Rebecca Kukla … calling these people philosophers just doesn’t seem appropriate … has weighed in. The details of her tira–  I mean words of wisdom, of course! — are here.

She is teaching at what was once a proud Catholic institution! She is also a senior researcher at an ethics institute there and editor-in-chief of two academic journals (one of which, Public Affairs Quarterly, used to be sane).

What can I, an ex-academic, say? What can anyone say?

Reading such material, or as much of it as I can stomach without losing my most recent meal, I am reminded of why I abandoned my multi-year search for a permanent academic position in a philosophy department in the U.S. Apparently, these vulgar, chronically angry, ideologically-driven pseudo-intellectuals are now the type of people likely to win tenure and promotions, applause from colleagues, and even editorial positions on academic journals. They win cheers from their many followers in academia on their Facebook pages!

The radical feminists I cross-swords with a number of years ago were not people I either trusted or wanted as colleagues. People like this Kukla woman, and Jason Stanley’s supporters, appear to be ten-times nastier than the PC-addled ideologues whom I encountered back in the 1990s.

I continue to wonder if anyone has noticed that REAL philosophers, whether politically active or not, are rapidly diminishing in numbers as they die, one at a time, and are not replaced. The Jason Stanleys and Rebecca Kuklas of academia aren’t scholars, they are jokes! Any department that would hire these people does not merit being taken seriously even if it is a “ranked” department!

With the few remaining living philosophers who made the field worth studying almost all in their 80s (the youngest is Saul Kripke, 75), in another decade or so not even vestiges will be left of the once-magnificent endeavor born from “love of wisdom” in academia.

Brian Leiter understandably describes this latest academic catfight using phrases like “tempest in a teapot” and “the high school with tenure crowd,” although I don’t think what he dismisses as “right wing websites” are “eating it up.” They are commenting, also understandably, with bemusement on the fall of the universities in our time. They ought to note how students at these institutions are going massively into debt to attend classes offered by these joke-academics, many of whom wouldn’t have the jobs they have without their institution’s affirmative action program, or being otherwise well-networked.

There is an upside to such tempests as this, however. The more the antics of hard-leftist professors with tenure can be exposed … their juvenile rants, their casual obscenities, etc. … in online articles, on blogs, on Facebook, etc., the wider will be the realization that academic philosophy may be active institutionally but is intellectually dead in the water. The wider the doors may one day open to the writings of us outsiders in a troubled world hungering for meaning and actual critical thinking, the sorts of things philosophy traditionally pointed toward and provided.

About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
This entry was posted in Academia, Christian Worldview, Culture, Higher Education Generally, Philosophy, Where Is Philosophy Going?. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Spat Over A Christian Philosopher’s Presentation Reveals the True State of the Profession: Wretched!

  1. lecox says:

    If this were merely a problem in academic philosophy, it wouldn’t concern me.
    But this sort of behavior is being served up (am I incorrect in this?) as a form of serious discussion of issues. Is not something similar to this what the Presidential debates have deteriorated into?
    It is not only in Philosophy, but in virtually every field of human endeavor, that rationality is promoted as passé because it’s not emotional enough or something. People where I work, for goodness’ sake, can be found oozing about their “passion for their work.” Electrical Engineering; really?
    My simplest (though possibly too simple-minded) analysis for what is currently going on involves the same basic three groups that have been playing this game for centuries: the visionaries, the managers, and the criminals.
    The visionaries are constantly looking for ways to pull Mankind up out of the mud that it seems content to wallow in. Some of them actually develop ideas or techniques that are effective in doing this. The managers are somewhat open to what the visionaries have to say, but unfortunately are in too constant contact with the criminals. The criminals are beings gone wrong. They are secretly self-destructive, but publicly attempt to position themselves as “advisors” “counselors” “experts” and so forth. Their secret lives are full of intrigue and deceit. Publicly the best of them can put on a good face and go out and convincingly lie to anyone about almost anything. Some of them are very intelligent. Their secret purpose is to wreck things, particularly the work of the visionaries. And they can usually convince the mangers, or a percentage of them, to serve as their operatives.
    Every time a visionary comes out with something new and possibly workable, the job of the criminal, via the managers, is to co-opt it or destroy it, which ever seems more doable. The average critical observer attaches verbs like “corporatize” “monetize” or “psyop” to activities like this, and usually blame the managers (corporations, governments) for it, as the work of the criminals is largely hidden from view.
    I am deducing that there is a pocket of visionaries and allied managers who have more-or-less figured out this modus operandi and are beginning to take effective actions against it. These actions have for the most part involved exposing the situation. Of course, every such attempt is countered by efforts from the “other side” to delegitimize the original effort. Most people are very confused by all this; though many correctly sense something not right about it. This whole process could include the installation of “counter-visionaries” as some of these “academics” seem to be.
    There are certain subjects involved that are particularly touchy, and sexual preference is one of them. On the one hand, you can’t have governments going around telling people who it’s OK to hold hands with. That’s just ridiculous. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be “morally repugnant” to notice that homosexual couples can’t have children, so: Why are they being couples? To come closer to a true understanding of an issue like this one, one has to rise above the current level of understanding of what it means to be human, which is part of what the visionaries are currently pushing and what the criminals are currently madly trying to suppress. If it were accepted that we are all immortal beings who have been both men and women at various different times and have developed, perhaps, a preference in one direction or the other, then it might be clearer why some might have a problem if they get born in the “wrong” body.
    For now I can only appeal to what rationality remains in the human race: We have more important concerns to attend to! We are slowly killing ourselves on this planet, under the “leadership” of a very confused bunch of managers who have fallen too far into the pit offered them by the criminals. We need to detach ourselves from those criminally insane on a most urgent basis! They really need to be laughed off the stage of life. Or the play may conclude sooner than we expect.

  2. Jason Stanley says:

    I just found this comment on the internet. I would again like to apologize for my intemperate comments. My initial profanity laden comment was not directed against Professor Swinburne. My second comment was made in anger, and I removed it.

    Lots of issues were involved in this incident. Of course, I reached out and apologized to Professor Swinburne. But if you want to engage the academic work of academics such as Professor Kukla, Professor Swinburne, and myself, out of context Facebook replies to comments, and even rapidly deleted uncivil reactions to one’s comments being taken out of context, may not be the way to go.

    Both Professor Kukla and I know a great deal about Christianity; I have my own view of the Trinity for example. Multiple officers of the Society for Christian Philosophers are former students. Please refer to my academic work for my academic views.

    • Steven Yates says:

      @Jason Stanley: Apology acknowledged and accepted, also the object lesson that social media has brought both blessings and curses. One of the blessings: people who had never heard of each other can interact, discuss, and even work together, sometimes across oceans. One of the curses: social media sites open vast spaces for pointless spectacle and casual mental cruelty, as when trolls jerk people’s chains and then laugh at normal human reactions. Technology has also arguably shortened people’s attention spans. In our gadget-drenched, media-saturated culture, slogans (“Change you can believe in,” “Make America great again”), unreflective and cutting gestures, and mindless sensationalism will be what gains notice. Lengthy, nuanced discussions requiring actual mental investment (e.g., books) will be all but invisible. Sometimes I think we were better off without them (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.).

      I write as an ex-academic, a guy from the much-dismissed Southeast who wearied of bouncing from university to university to university on short-term contracts, on pay that was a joke (this at institutions paying top administrators six figures and spending millions on plush new buildings & campus beautification projects). But I was in the field long enough to recall (1980s, early 1990s) when it was possible for a philosopher to mention — in analytic philosophy’s sense of that term — natural law based criticisms of homosexual conduct for the purposes of evaluation (what are its premises? do its conclusions follow from its premises? are the latter credible, and why or why not? etc.). Denouncing him or her as “homophobic”* would never have occurred to anyone. In today’s environment, though, were a guy such as myself to do this, I could easily find myself the target of one of these nasty social media driven crucifixions and lose my job, especially as being a nobody from the South, I do not have Professor Swinburne’s reputation nor personal contacts nor the money for a legal battle. I did see this coming over two decades ago, was not listened to, and as I realized I could do absolutely nothing to stem the tide of what was coming, I did the only sensible thing I could: I left. I do take some pride in having predicted academia’s present status circling the drain.

      So is it just social media, or is it the pervasive anti-conservative and anti-Christian biases that were around all along, biases made sharper and more cutting by social media, now supplemented by an increasingly overt anti-white racism pervading much of the culture? This last was bound to invite the response that has emerged as the “alt-right”? These biases, increasingly obvious to widening swaths of voters, were major contributing factors in this year’s election, it should go without saying.

      *Homophobia is actually a propaganda term … as by definition a phobia is not an intellectual stance to be reasoned with but a mental problem to be treated with therapy. Hence any arguments the person saddled with the charge presumes to have can be safely discounted, and the fallacy involved not even noticed. I cannot help but wonder if you recognized this example in your recent book on propaganda. It seems to me an obvious one.

  3. Thank you for your comment, which I only just noticed. I agree with you about social media, at least certainly now. The point you make about the term “Homophobia” is a good one. Yes, it is a propaganda term for the reasons you say, as it packs into it the assumption that any argument against Homosexual activity is based on some premise that is irrational in the way that phobias are. Though Swinburne believes that only an argument with premises grounded in Christian theism can be used to argue that homosexuality is a disability, I think we can all agree that it is both offensive and intellectually dubious that premises drawn from religious faiths are in any way analogous to phobias (though of course we all teach Hume on religious belief, we all also note that his arguments here, as elsewhere, are very controversial). I would have used the example in my book had it occurred to me. I do discuss in the book that both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are propaganda terms.

    I am not sure, from what your OP states, if we disagree much on this topic. You write, “you can’t have governments going around telling people who it’s OK to hold hands with. That’s just ridiculous.” That’s my view. I also think you can’t deny tenure to people on the basis of their sexual preference, and I have two friends who have suffered such a fate. My original comment was on the FB thread of one of those people, who had been denied tenure on the basis of their sexual preference at a state university no less, and appealed the decision on those grounds and won. That person is a dear friend and I know what they went through. Their post on a private FB page said “This Swinburne thing reminds me what I went through”. My invective filled comment was meant in emotional support, and directed against the people who were involved in her particular case. When Rightlyconsidered, an alt.right philosophy blog, published my comment, they published it in a way that made it seem it was about Swinburne. Rushing off to class, but furious about posting a private Facebook comment out of context, I accepted their misinterpretation since what I was most upset about was the posting of a private Facebook comment. At any rate, people make errors and seek forgiveness. I do not think my comment on my friend’s private FB page was completely in error, but my public post was. Professor Swinburne was most gracious in accepting my apology, for which I am very grateful.

    The background facts about this situation do bring to light a substantial disagreement between us. It is a disagreement about empirical fact. I fully agree that there is anti-Christian bias in academia, as does Kukla. But there is also anti-gay bias, and it is a problem in philosophy since we are more conservative than other fields. The reason that the background facts are relevant is that my friend was denied tenure of the basis of being gay, and this was substantiated conclusively during the appeals process. I have one So people do get denied tenure for being gay. Whether people get denied tenure for criticizing homosexuality is an empirical question – maybe so, but I don’t know of any specific cases.

    There are any number of Christian philosophers opposed to homosexual practice who have tenure, and some are substantially younger. Alexander Pruss published a paper with more controversial conclusions that Swinburne and sailed through tenure for example. He is four years younger than I am. I also have a good friend who is a brilliant philosopher and has this view about homosexuality, based on his Christian faith. He has gotten full professorship offers at multiple top five philosophy programs in recent years. While he hasn’t published on the topic everyone knows his views and he pulls off the very rare combo of being respected and liked. So we do disagree with your view about the “state of the profession”, as it were.

    I admit to slight surprise at what I perceive as judgment about the quality of Kukla and my academic work in your original OP (“The Jason Stanleys and Rebecca Kuklas of academia aren’t scholars, they are jokes! Any department that would hire these people does not merit being taken seriously even if it is a “ranked” department!”). You praise Kripke, rightly. Here are some of my papers on Kripke:

    Click to access RIGID2.pdf

    Click to access rigiditycontent.pdf

    Click to access Modality.pdf

    Here are some papers I have written on the themes that Kripke, Barcan-Marcus, Plantinga, and Kaplan introduced to the field. Here is a 2014 paper I published in the journal Analysis on descriptivist theories of meaning for proper names; it’s a long critical discussion of David Chalmers’ recent book, but I critique Chalmers’ version of descriptivism:

    Click to access chalmsersenses4.pdf

    Here is a 2010 paper of mine on modal semantics:

    Click to access stalnakerphilstudies.pdf

    Also, I’m pretty sure that Kripke doesn’t share your view of me. We have of course encountered one another numerous times in talks, and each raised good objections to one another Kripke has a lengthy footnote about me in his paper on “On Denoting” in the Neale edited issue in Mind celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of the paper which responds somewhat grumpily to an objection I raised in discussion with him to his endorsement of Russell’s argument in OD against Frege’s view that sentences containing non-referring terms have no truth-value. The last talk I gave in which I know he was in the audience was in 2013, where I gave this paper:

    Kripke definitely did not think that the paper “wasn’t scholarship”. He praised it afterwards, and knowing Kripke, it was genuine.

    All of this leaves me with some puzzlement over your harsh judgment, which I’m assuming had some basis in my academic work (if it didn’t, I will be greatly relieved). At any rate, here is my full CV so maybe you could give me a sense of the basis for your claim that I “do not engage in scholarship”. Surely there is at least one paper on my CV that counts as “scholarship”:

    Click to access CV1-x6y2fz.pdf

    In short, what puzzles me is the response to my academic work, given what appears to me to be an orientation similar to mine. I mean, I teach Plantinga with regularity (and I taught Aquinas this past semester, though admittedly that is unusual for me as a 20th century person). I am one of people who would be mentioned as being in critical dialogue with Kripke. So I am somewhat confused.

    I should say that a lot of this applies to Rebecca Kukla, mutatis mutandis. I mean, Kukla is the leading applied ethicist of her generation, but unlike some applied ethicists, you can have a great and informative discussion with her about topics like non-minimal fixed points in Kripke’s theory of truth. She is, and is widely acknowledged to be, one of the smartest people in the field (and certainly in her areas, such as philosophy of medicinem which are not mine, she is the leading figure of her generation). I guess what I am saying is that one should judge academics by their published work and not by social media comments, and wondering if your judgment about me was based on my academic work.

  4. In short, I wonder what you from some distance are perceiving as a radical change in the field is in fact due to a salient difference from when you were in academic philosophy and the states and the present moment, namely social media. People can lose their tempers over social media. I know Kripke and if he had been on social media he would have lots of posts in which he lost his temper and said inopportune things. In short, things are not as bad as you think, and that’s a good thing. As you say, this is an object lesson in social media, at the very least.

  5. Finally, your concern about political correctness invading philosophy seems a bit exaggerated. Let’s begin with feminism. My philosophy department has no one competent to teach even an undergraduate class in feminism (I guess our distinguished Dean could, but she hasn’t taught such a course in many years and she is full time admin). To my knowledge, Princeton has never employed someone who could teach feminist philosophy (I could be wrong here, but no one comes to mind). Michigan had one single philosopher who could teach feminist philosophy. Cornell employed a feminist philosopher when I was an assistant professor there, but she was denied tenure (a fairly common fate in that area). I have never to my knowledge had a gay colleague, or an out gay colleague. Philosophy is the only discipline in the university, including all the professional schools, with a not statistically significant number of black women (there are around 11,000 members of the American Philosophy Association; 31 are Black women, up from 3 in 1991). My department has only had one black faculty member – an assistant professor who was denied reappointment in the 1970s I believe.

    • Steven Yates says:

      Thank you for your extended comments. As I was away for the holidays when they appeared, I only saw them a week ago. Tried to reply, but it got too long, so I’ll limit myself to a few things. Seems *I* am the one who owes *you* an apology, if you see this. Your comments about social media only reinforce mine. I jumped the gun without knowing your work, and for that, I am sorry. The same may be true of Rebecca Kukla, although she’s not involved herself here (may not know or care). I *do* plan to obtain your book on Propaganda, although since I am in a foreign country I usually buy a number at once and have them shipped at a special rate — am waiting for something to be published in March, that explains the delay. (Could get the Kindle, but I’m old fashioned and prefer something I can hold in my hands.) Am hoping you discuss people like Edward Bernays, Jacques Ellul, & obviously George Orwell, who although they weren’t professional philosophers had specific takes on propaganda and its uses. May do an article of my own on “homophobia” & other pseudo-phobias, although I am at work on a book of my own and can’t make journal articles my highest priority these days.

      I do have some experience with academic feminists, mostly just observation. Maybe they gravitate towards “lower tier” institutions, though I’ve no idea (the thought didn’t occur to me till I read your account of their relative absence in yours and similar institutions). There were any number of feminists in the Carolinas. Frankly, most didn’t seem very good at philosophy, or especially honest, and were a chronically angry bunch. I knew of one such person who’d been in a department a couple of years before I showed up. It was discovered, she’d misrepresented herself on her CV (as an authority on Aristotle & environmental ethics as well as feminist ethics & something called “eco-feminism”; she was neither). She lasted one year. I know of other feminists who have been disruptive at meetings, including at the APA where I witnessed what I would have considered a disruption (that was in the late 1980s when I was just getting started and had barely heard of them). I looked at a few writings in “feminist epistemology” later, and, without going into specifics, let’s just say I can understand why they get rejected for tenure at “top tier” institutions with reputations to protect. Also, I had one black colleague. He, too, was rejected for tenure. The stated reason was that he had not published anything. He described himself to me as an “anarcho libertarian” who, as I think he put it, “did not believe in the state,” which did not go over well in what, as I recall, was a quite left wing department and liberal arts administration, probably expecting specific things out of his mouth. While I know it is hazardous to generalize, from this, from what research I have done (including a book), and from having kept my ear to the ground all those years (1990s esp.) I don’t have the impression a black philosopher of either gender is expected to have ideas of his/her own, different from those of a fairly narrow agenda, or to reach the conclusion that most top-down government policies have done his/her race more harm than good. Purveyors of that agenda would, of course, dismiss this as a Southern-born and bred white male’s perspective, probably without noticing the ad hominem.

      Enough anecdotes & speculations. Again, I regret my initial acrimony, and would be happy to continue to correspond privately if you are willing ( is my new email address). Since you’ve done some work on Kripke which Kripke himself has taken note of, I’ve a thought on his semantics it would be interesting to run by you. Actually the thought isn’t mine but that of a Chilean analytic philosopher whose paper I assisted in preparing in English via my small business here, Final Draft Editing Service. If you’re curious, please let me know.

      • I’m certainly interested in any and all thoughts on Kripke semantics for modal logic. So please send all such thoughts along, The state of the art now is Timothy Williamson’s masterful book, Modal Logic as Metaphysics, which I taught in my first graduate seminar at Yale. I think you should get that book, given your interests. I was raised thinking that Kripke solved the problem of contingent existence with the variable domain semantics in “Semantical Considerations”. Williamson I think pretty inarguably raises very serious problems for that consensus view. Despite being at Yale, where the great Ruth Barcan-Marcus taught, I find it hard to accept BF and CBF, and the attendant conclusion that there is a fixed domain of objects across worlds, and hence that everything necessarily exists. But I am convinced that Kripke hasn’t found a completely convincing route around it.

        I am of course influenced by Bernays, Ellul, and George Orwell. But they aren’t major figures in the book, though anyone who knows their work can see the etchings on my views. I would say Du Bois, Lippmann, and Schmitt are the largest influences (though my specific notion of propaganda is obviously reminiscent of the examples in 1984).

        I can send you a copy of the book for free if you send me your address. 100% of the proceeds go to the Prison Policy Initiative, a group that works to address the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States. I give some reasons to consider donating to them here:

        If I send you a copy, I would at least ask you to consider donating some small amount to them, or alternatively a charity that speaks to the remarkable capacity of humans to forgive. This is a request I make to all of those to whom I send free copies.

  6. As far as the other issues you raise, the Princeton full professor Delia Graff Fara, who is exactly my age, is a Black philosopher who is the leading philosophical logician and philosopher of language of our generation. Her website is here:

    Here is a 2015 paper of hers in The Philosophical Review. As you can see, it takes Kripke head on:

    Click to access fara-NamesArePredicates.pdf

    Of course, her heterodox view of names goes with a heterodox way to think of modality:

    Click to access fara-possrel.pdf

  7. In other words, the Kripke of my generation is a Black woman.

  8. Pingback: April Book Potpourri: Kipnis, Stanley, Jorjani, More … | Lost Generation Philosopher

  9. Pingback: Academia Embarrasses Itself Again: the Hypatia Affair | Lost Generation Philosopher

  10. Pingback: Philosophers and Social Media: A Comment | Lost Generation Philosopher

  11. Pingback: A New American Philosophical Association Organization? | Lost Generation Philosopher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s