This past week, philosophy’s top blogger Brian Leiter posted a poll on a quite interesting topic: Would you leave the [American Philosophical Association] and join a new dues-charging professional philosophy association that does much of what the APA does, but without the current political agendas/projects?
Results: just 13% said Definitely Not. Another 10% said Probably Not. Ten percent were Undecided. And 25% said Probably and a telling 42% said Definitely.
That is to say, a solid majority of Leiter’s readers, 67%, either would leave or would probably leave the APA and join a new professional organization were one to be formed. They would effectively abandon the APA to the machinations of the identity-politics activists who have, to a large degree, hijacked the humanities over the past two to three decades.
As a subscriber to the APA’s blog, I can confirm that the majority of posts on it are like this one, playing off current events to further their collective grievance cottage industries.
Purveyors of the politics of collective grievance, or identity politics, are nowhere near a majority in the discipline, of course. I do not know what percentage of those who are either professional philosophers working in academia, philosophers working in other occupations, or just observers who find philosophy interesting, actually support this kind of thing.
You can be left-leaning or center-left in your overall outlook, and still realize that identity politics is completely out of control. Leiter is an example of such a person. I do not always agree with him by any means, but he doesn’t go into attack-dog mode against those whose views he disagrees with or even disdains. He doesn’t try to censor them, or sabotage their careers.
The majority of college and university professors are center-left, after all. Most are not crazy. An aging demographic grew up during the civil rights era, after all. Others of us came of age in its aftermath. Today the majority of professors of philosophy probably prefer just to teach their classes, conduct whatever research they are conducting, and be left alone. If they once had visions of changing the world, they relinquished them years ago.
They certainly don’t want to be called out for one inadvertent slip of the tongue that, e.g., “triggers” some sexual minority they barely knew existed, and suddenly find their careers in jeopardy.
The idea of a new philosophical organization has been supported here (by blogger Daniel Kaufman, who reviews some of the history on which I commented in an older post. I’ll concede: I went a little overboard with that title. But I was not wrong (and there is an additional object lesson there about how social media can bring out the worst in all of us, unfortunately).
I left the American Philosophical Association almost two decades ago over this sort of thing. I was weary of its Newsletters and other activities that used my dues money to promote this or that political agenda of an extreme minority in the profession as if that were (or should be) the profession’s overriding concern …
… while doing nothing to support a far larger group. This group, which cuts across genders and ethnicities, consists of those who are untenured, not on a tenure-track line, and as we weren’t getting any younger, were less and less likely to find tenure-track jobs every year.
To paraphrase how I put it on one occasion back in those days when I was far more Libertarian than I am now: how many Newsletters about Philosophy and Individual Liberty have you seen lately? (I’ve since realized that Libertarianism is no less Utopian than Marxism in how it misreads human nature and motivations, but that’s a post for another day.)
I later left the profession itself, of course. It had become clear that my words, the words of an adjunct instructor at an isolated branch campus in a Southern state well away from the centers of philosophical gravity, weren’t going to change anything … and I had little interest in sticking around to see what was likely to come eventually.
This would be administrators, and possibly students, complaining that my Introduction to Philosophy and Contemporary Moral Issues courses assigned too many readings by philosophers and others who were straight white males (and gasp! I even had a Christian or two in there!).
I didn’t know whether or not such a thing would ever happen in South Carolina (to my knowledge it hasn’t), but identity politics does not appear likely to run its course any time soon, and stranger things have happened. I had other reasons for not sticking around.
Getting back to my main subject here….
Were a new dues-paying organization of professional philosophers to form, and if its leadership was open to nonacademic philosophers, I would join in a heartbeat.
There are, after all, things about the APA I’ve always missed.
Membership in such an organization is one of the best ways to keep a pulse on any new developments or trends in the field that are worth watching. I haven’t seen much of anything since the late 1990s, but I am open to the possibly that by dropping my APA membership and then exiting the academic stage voluntarily, I’ve simply missed them.
30 years ago I led the pluralist revolt in the APA. At that time, the APA (program, journals, job-market, NEH funding, etc.) was controlled by a few analytic graduate schools who manipulated everything. I quit the APA 25 years ago.
How do we avoid simply replacing one cabal by another? I think it can be done but requires some serious planning.
Some of us just love philosophy and want to talk about it as opposed to imposing either a
political or intellectual agenda.
Nicholas Capaldi, School of Business, Loyola University New Orleans
Very much enjoying this website, thank you. I’d really love to see that post about why libertarianism is as utopian as Marxism. I find myself becoming less libertarian and more Burkean as I get older.