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The Problem With White Supremacy

The problem with white supremacy is the supremacy, not that it is white supremacy in particular.

I could not agree to that statement without reservations. These reservations arise because the way `white' is used as an identity marker can vary from community to community. In at least some cases -- for instance in the work of Sally Haslanger; it's also very common in cultural studies and swathes of the humanities, as well as activist circles influenced by these traditions --  `white' more or less picks out `people at the top of a local racial hierarchy'. Understood in this way then the initial statement might look like it's objecting to concreteness in analysis, objecting to focussing on an instantiation whereby a particular group of people have power, rather than an abstract form of supremacy as such. This, though, is not what I mean to agree to -- I don't want people to pay less attention to the particular mechanisms which underlie or uphold white supremacy, fa…

Conservative Under-Representation in the Academy

The topic of conservatives in the academy has recently gained a lot of attention -- for instance see here. There has been much gnashing of teeth over whether or not conservatives are somehow repressed or otherwise under-represented in the academy. I think this is a bit more diffuse a phenomenon than has been made out, and I think a lot of the works in the genre are either awful or just crude propaganda. So, I think I can do better, and in particular do so with the help of some distinctions because that's how philosophers roll. I begin with a (non-exhaustive) typology of (British and American) conservatisms.


Risk-Averse Conservatism: the basic idea here is that societies are very complicated things indeed, and lives are on the line if we mess up. As bad as things are now, we may still want to be very cautious in reforming things; because short of a state of Hobbesian anarchy they could always be much worse, and our ignorance of the nature of society is such that we are disturbingly …

Schlick's Utopia

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Sometimes, when philosophers are bored, we get to describing Utopia. A little known fact about one of my philosophical faves (#NoFaves?) is that he indulged in this pass-time.  Shortly before he was murdered in 1936, Schlick had prepared a manuscript for what was to be the basis of a book on social and political philosophy. Drawing entirely from the work of Hubert Schleichert, I'll give a quick summary of Schlick's views on the perfect society. I think it reveals a very different side of Schlick to the one philosophers are familiar with. (How on earth would you verify these propositions!?) Note that I am describing without endorsing - I'll say a bit about what I think of it at the end. It's a long post today!

Schlick starts from the assertion that
There is nothing in our European civilisation that causes more grief than the state. Under it we suffer most. He then tries to analyse why this is and what we could do to make it better. He has two main reasons for thinking …

Intersectional Alienation

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A long time ago me and some comrades -- the magnificent Dan Malinsky and the terrific Morgan Thompson -- got together to discuss intersectionality theory. Intersectionality theory is a set of ideas that has recently gained prominence after influential work by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw and the origins of which is often traced back to work by Anna Julia Cooper. It stresses the various ways in which the fact that we simultaneously occupy multiple demographic categories can complicate or undermine social theories that attempt to focus on the consequences of just one demographic category at the time. Examples of allegedly insufficiently intersectional approaches to studying social life are feminist theories of patriarchy, or Marxist theories of class oppression -- the charge of the intersectionality theorist is that something very important is missed out by neglecting the fact that we are not just workers, or women. We are, say, African-American working class women, or Japanese upper-bourgeois im…

Defending the Technocrats

Today I read this rather interesting post relating Berlin's critique of analytic philosophy, especially its then-inattention to political matters. While we do pay more attention to politics now, part of Berlin's critique still holds some water. This because he worries about `technocratic' modes of political thought where it is presumed there is agreement about the goals or ends of social life, and what remains is to work out how we reach or advance those goals. Such a presumption is dangerous, per Berlin, because it leads us to just ignore some of the hardest political problems we are faced with -- as Schliesser puts it, `it takes as settled what ought to be an achievement'. So while we have returned to political philosophy as a valued area of philosophy in analytic thought, it must be admitted that this kind of technocratic work still occurs. Indeed, as Schliesser notes in the linked post, this seems to be a part of Rawls' project, which is especially significant …

Lifeworld of the (Analytic) Metaphysicians

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I really enjoyed this recent post by Eric Schliesser, and I am going to say a bit about why here.  The theme of my post is: I think it speaks really well for a philosopher or school of philosophy if one can discern an underlying emotional basis for their work; if one can see not just what it would take for their words to be true (and I guess whether or not what they say is true), but also what kind of person one would have to be to think it true, to feel towards the world as the philosophy would have you feel, to truly inhabit the lifeworld it constructs.

Sometimes it is clear what this would entail (the dark pessimism of Schopenhauer, the fearful opportunism of Lao Tzu, the meliorative optimism of Condorcet and les philosophes) but I often think people give up too quickly in seeking for this emotional basis. For instance, people rarely see this in analytic philosophers or schools of thought, and while this is quite right in some cases (e.g. some are not consistent, or speak in too p…

Du Bois and the Alt Right

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In the Proceedings of the 1909 National Negro conference there is a W.E.B. Du Bois paper called `Evolution of the Race Problem'. Since I have seen some of the arguments he is addressing put forward in slightly adapted modern contexts I thought I would relay some of his reasoning here, and give a little commentary of my own at the end. I note that, first, I am not going to cover all the material in this essay and, second, philosophyheads may be interested to know that Dewey also has a short piece in this volume.

Ok so Du Bois is concerned to argue against the following line of reasoning, popular (he says) in America and gaining increasing sympathy in Europe in the wake of growing acceptance of Darwinism: the white race is generally superior, and superior owing to some biological facts about white people that make them as such. In order to secure the advantages of a superior people governing and contributing what they can to world culture, we should use legal and social sanction to …

Informal Omega Inconsistency

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Just a quick blog post writing up a thing that no doubt people in the informal logic literature know a lot about but which I don't know the term for so I invented my own. I call it Informal Omega Inconsistency, in honour of Rudolf Carnap's logical work. I find it... the fallacy not Carnap's work... very annoying. As I shall argue below, I think we should all be prepared to see a lot of Informal Omega Inconsistency after the US election.

Informal Omega Inconsistency is when people agree to a general (existential) claim but will stubbornly deny or remain absurdly sceptical as to every particular instance of it you produce. So, somebody may well agree that there are bad drivers in Pennsylvania -- but every time one points to a particularly erratic person on the road in the state they will say that, no no, this is not a bad driver, this is somebody whose car has suddenly and inexplicably stopped working, or is cursed, or at least they will not believe it is a bad driver till …

The Open Philosophy

Here are two ideals of openness in inquiry, both of which are independently attractive on both ethical and epistemic grounds.

Per the first ideal, call it openness-to-challenge, scholars are such that their pronouncements are as falsifiable as possible; as much as can be facilitated the scholar renders themselves capable of being shown wrong, if indeed they are. The goal here is to avoid gurus and unchallengable experts. The power to have people believe what one says, especially where that is likely to guide policy and action, is, after all, a very significant source of cultural power. Epistemically, falsification is attractive for all the reasons you would guess it is attractive: it helps ensure we can set ourselves aright where we go wrong, and makes debate between opposing viewpoints more liable to end in fruitful resolution. Ethically, the significance of this ideal is grounded in the fact that epistemic power is no small thing. We should like it to be the case that if somebody ga…

The Negro Scientist

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Yesterday I came across a fascinating new paper by Du Bois on the sociology of science. It's called The Negro Scientist, and it's published in a 1939 edition of The American Scholar. The piece is framed by the following remark:

Some time ago a great American scientist noted in public print how few Negroes had made their mark in science. They were heard of in music and literature, on the stage, in painting and in some departments of public life, but not often in exact science. I called his attention to the fact that it was not easy for an American Negro to pursue science and he admitted that there might be difficulties. But I think that along with most Americans his private belief was that the exact and intensive habit of mind, the rigorous mathematical logic demanded of those who would be scientists is not natural to the Negro
Nice to see a shout out to mathematical logic from Du Bois! But in any case, his response strategy then is two fold. First, he gives an account …