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Rod Dreher Against the Philosophers?

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option [1] is well worth reading. Among other things, it reacquaints Christians with the riches of the monastic tradition, calls churches to focus on faithfulness over fashion, and provides a detailed articulation of one option for being a faithful Christian in a post-Christian world. It is an earnest attempt that deserves careful study. It is a shame that some have cast the book aside without due diligence. A responsible critic aspires to the heights of intellectual charity, and at least rises to the level of fairness. Thus, I was taken aback when I read Dreher’s recent post, “The Self-Murder of Academic Philosophy.” [2] In this piece, Dreher displays the same lack of care for which his critics are rightly scolded [3].

Here’s the backdrop. Rebecca Tuvel (Rhodes College) recently published an article in the feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia. Tuvel argues that certain commonly accepted arguments for transgender rights can be sensibly extended to transracialism—a position supporting an individual’s decision to change races. (Recall the Rachel Dolezal case.) Tuvel’s article sparked outrage among some academics, including some philosophers. For instance, in a public Facebook post, Nora Berenstain (University of Tennessee) writes [4]:

Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay. She deadnames a trans woman. She uses the term “transgenderism.” She talks about “biological sex” and uses phrases like “male genitalia.” She focuses enormously on surgery, which promotes the objectification of trans bodies. She refers to “a male-to- female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege,” promoting the harmful transmisogynistic ideology that trans women have (at some point had) male privilege. In her discussion of “transracialism,” Tuvel doesn’t cite a single woman of color philosopher, nor does she substantively engage with any work by Black women, nor does she cite or engage with the work of any Black trans women who have written on this topic.

A group of academics incensed with Tuvel wrote an open letter to Hypatia’s editorial board, demanding that the article be retracted—despite its having passed a rigorous review process. The board complied with the request, issuing an apology [5] for publishing Tuvel’s piece. This move was met with resistance among philosophers [4], many of whom have sought to defend Tuvel against the attacks [6].

Meanwhile, Rod Dreher has flipped his lid. He seems to think the Tuvel case—taken together with last year’s dustup [7] involving Richard Swinburne and the Society of Christian Philosophers—suffices to justify dismissing an entire discipline.

Dreher begins his piece by asking, “Can somebody please tell me why anybody would choose to go into academic philosophy?” Apparently, he can imagine no satisfying answer.

In her own statement responding to the events, Tuvel laments,

Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they “dignify” the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger. I have never been under the illusion that this article is immune from critique. But the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.

Dreher responds incredulously:

I’ve gotta say: really, Rebecca Tuvel? By this late date, you think that the “last place” one expects to see censorship is among philosophers?! Humanities faculties are the first place you’d expect this garbage.

Then, in response to pervasive and powerful political correctness, Dreher muses,

It will be a great day when this particular venomous snake finally devours its tail, and it becomes safe for people who actually care about philosophy as the search for truth to come out and do their vital work.

Until such a time, Dreher recommends his own solution—The Benedict Option:

[W]hy not form alternative institutions where people who want to do true scholarship and teaching can enter a classroom with colleagues and students who want the same thing, as opposed to joining the impotent clerisy of ideological crackpots who have nothing better to do [than] deploy weaponized jargon against each other.

For those weary and wary of illiberal “liberalism,” Dreher’s words may come as a breath of fresh air. But on the whole, his piece is neither well-argued nor helpful. Let’s review Dreher’s case against academic philosophy and the institutions that house it. The argument appears to go like this:

  1. There have occurred two lamentable incidents in recent academic philosophy—cases in which cowardice has impeded the pursuit of truth;

Thus,

  1. Academic philosophy is a lost cause;

Thus,

  1. Academic philosophy should be abandoned in favor of new, Benedictine institutions in which scholars and students can pursue the truth until the barbarian horde disperses.

Let us accept step (1), just for the sake of argument. (This is not the place for a substantive discussion of the Tuvel and Swinburne cases. Others have written a great deal about them, and we will not enter into those debates here.) So suppose, with Dreher, that we accept step (1). Are we then led inexorably to step (2), or to Dreher’s main conclusion, step (3)? No.

Start with the move from (1) to (2). Two incidents, we are to suppose, justify us in thinking that academic philosophy is a lost cause. To call this a hasty generalization would be a severe understatement. And even if Dreher could appeal to a dozen similar incidents, the generalization wouldn’t be much better. Every year, there are thousands upon thousands of good interactions within the philosophers’ guild. Quality journal articles pass review and are published without negative repercussions. Students and professors pursue the truth together in countless classroom discussions. And so on. These incidents don’t make the news. But surely they are relevant to a summary judgment about the field’s intellectual health. When we account for them, the scale tips overwhelmingly in the positive direction. Not to account for them is like ignoring airline safety statistics and basing our view of aviation safety solely on our knowledge of a few horrific crashes. Arguments that parallel Dreher’s—there are pockets of corruption in a field, so the field itself is beyond repair—could be used to dismiss most any profession (lawyer, doctor, conservative Christian blogger, cultural analyst, etc.). Such inferences deserve all the neglect we can give them.

Moreover, step (2) (the philosophy-is-a-lost-cause-step) is demonstrably false. And crucially, the demonstration can stem from premises Dreher himself should accept. First, the very roots of the Benedict Option lie in the soil of academic philosophy. In his introduction to The Benedict Option, Dreher lauds philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre as the prophet who first foresaw the need for a withdrawal from the West’s uncultured barbarism. Without MacIntyre’s After Virtue, we would not have Dreher’s Benedict Option. Instead of condemning academic philosophy, perhaps Dreher should be writing it a Thank You note.

Now perhaps Dreher will reply that MacIntyre wrote After Virtue in 1981, and it’s only since then that academic philosophy has taken its nose-dive. This leads to a second point: If he would look a bit harder, Dreher would find allies even among today’s philosophers (a group that still includes MacIntyre himself). Throughout The Benedict Option, Dreher emphasizes the importance of objective truth and moral character formation. These are the very same values that many philosophers defend. As a recent survey reveals [8], relatively few philosophers depart from traditional (objectivist) notions of truth and knowledge. As for character development, in addition to the sizeable literature in virtue ethics inaugurated by MacIntyre and friends, there are large-scale efforts like the Templeton-funded Character Project [9] and The Beacon Project [10]. Goodness and truth? We philosophers are big fans.

Some of the scholars currently involved in defending traditional notions of truth and character are Christians, and some are not. This has been the case since Augustine utilized Plato’s work in crafting his Christian metaphysic, and since Aquinas assimilated Aristotle. It has not ceased to be so. Dreher asks when philosophy will ever become an activity of shared truth-seeking. But for many Christian philosophers and their non-Christian friends, that is precisely what it already is.

Third, Dreher’s dismissal of the discipline implicitly condemns a lot of excellent work produced by Christian philosophers over the past five decades. We’re not talking about token contributions here. We’re talking about work that is published in the best journals in the field, and with the best academic presses. We’re talking about a body of work that, over the course of a generation, has made a real difference in the academic landscape. As recently as 1950, most philosophers thought that God-talk was simply meaningless. And outside of Catholic universities, hardly anyone was “out” as an orthodox Christian, let alone publishing academic philosophy on Christian topics. But today, thanks to the work of, among others, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Swinburne, William Alston, Peter van Inwagen, Marilyn McCord-Adams, Robert Adams, Eleonore Stump, Robert Audi, Steve Davis, William Lane Craig, and Linda Zagzebski, Christian philosophy is a live [11] and lively intellectual field.

Hundreds of academic philosophers espouse traditional theism. In characterizing the state of the discipline, atheist philosopher Quentin Smith remarks [12], “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.” Alvin Plantinga, the Dean of Christian philosophy, just won the Templeton Prize [13]. These are not signals for Christians to abandon the field. To be sure, the discipline remains largely non-theistic, and there are pockets of anti-religious bias and militant political correctness. But to characterize the whole field as anti-Christian—let alone bereft of goodness and truth—would be a disservice to Christian philosophers and to the many non-theists who have never treated Christianity anything but fairly. In making his summary judgment about academic philosophy, Dreher ignores all of these developments.

I fear that Dreher’s careless remarks will discourage Christian philosophers who seek to occupy a place of faithful presence in the academy. Instead of getting a pat on the back for laboring in hard ground, these scholars find dirt kicked in their faces. Instead of carefully setting them apart from those he thinks are undermining Western society, Dreher implicitly lumps Christian philosophers together with those he considers barbarians. And when someone with Dreher’s stature and influence places philosophers in the bad group, even implicitly, you can bet that their pastors will do the same—to the detriment of those individuals and to the church.

Finally, suppose we were to grant, with step (2) of Dreher’s argument, that academic philosophy is a lost cause. Why go to step (3) and think that everyone, especially Christians, should give it up and run for the hills? Would the corruption of a discipline mean that the Benedict Option is the only option? This is at best unclear. Under such conditions, withdrawal might be a wise choice, and it would probably be important for at least some Christians to take it. But to think it is the only option is to assume that, as far as the temporal order is concerned, Christians should never take up lost causes. Why think that?

Dreher likes to talk about monks and priests. So let us recall those medieval priests—not the ones who founded monasteries in the 6th century, but the ones who remained in plague-ridden communities in order to comfort the sick and dying in the 14th century. There was nothing they could do to reverse the course of the dreaded disease. There was no realistic prospect of saving large numbers of sick patients. The plague would run its course. But when faced with the decision to flee and save themselves or stay and do what good they could, they stayed. Perhaps there could be an equivalent for today’s philosophers, even if things are as bad as Dreher says they are. To complete the analogy: perhaps some are called, not to comfort those sick with the plague, but to foster good thinking among individual students who must navigate an increasingly thoughtless world. Such a possibility seems at least worth considering, because individuals matter—irrespective of which way the culture lurches.

To be candid, I hope I’ve got Rod Dreher wrong. I hope his considered view of academic philosophy is more friendly and nuanced than my reconstruction suggests. But nothing in “The Self-Murder of Academic Philosophy” invites such a reading. There are no hedges, no ways out, no counterbalancing considerations. Instead, the piece appears to make an about-face from the more measured, cautiously appreciative view of philosophy that appears in The Benedict Option. It seems a few isolated incidents have drastically changed Dreher’s opinion of the whole discipline. If they haven’t, let the above serve as an invitation for him to say so.

Nathan King is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Whitworth University.  He is currently at work on his first book, The Excellent Mind: Intellectual Virtues for Everyday Life, an introduction to the intellectual virtues for a popular audience. His website may be found here [14].

42 Comments (Open | Close)

42 Comments To "Rod Dreher Against the Philosophers?"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 18, 2017 @ 12:58 am

“There have occurred two lamentable incidents in recent academic philosophy—cases in which cowardice has impeded the pursuit of truth”

There are others that never rise to the level of media coverage and outrage, but for all that, this sort of thing is endemic and now routine.

My son has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and has become discouraged, while exercising caution himself, by watching the climate of intolerance in the academy that he is abandoning the Ph.D. track.

#2 Comment By William Dalton On May 18, 2017 @ 2:18 am

It’s good for Prof. King to provide a counterpoint to Rod Dreher’s complaints about the state of academic philosophy. But his continual harping upon the TAC editor, as though pointing out a serious defect in his reasoning or character, was sophomoric and more typical of one of Rod’s blog commentators.

In short, this article could have used a good editor.

#3 Comment By Sam M On May 18, 2017 @ 6:24 am

I thought Rod’s point was to abandon institutions subject to political correctness so they can perform the vital work of academic philosophy I impeded by it.

#4 Comment By G Harvey On May 18, 2017 @ 7:57 am

Th best case I can make for this essay is that the author is playing Lot in Sodom.

If there are, O Lord, just 10 (and surely there are 10) academic philosophers who are not insane or vicious or perverted, or cowards before those three, spare contemporary academia from being dismissed by the hoi polloi as kooks who make it possible for monsters to range far and wide.

#5 Comment By Stephen On May 18, 2017 @ 8:58 am

To know what the author is referring to would have required Dreher to do actual research. But he has better things to do; namely, selling his books. Things like facts only get in the way.

#6 Comment By Jon Cogburn On May 18, 2017 @ 8:59 am

Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful set of observations.

I think we also must stress that the pushback by academic philosophers to the treatment of Professor Tuvel has been enormous. Our two dominant blogs are dailynous and leiterreports. The articles there, as well as the overwhelming amount of singed commentary by academic philosophers, has been vigorously in defense of Tuvel and critical of the signatories of the open letter. I’m worried that if I link to some of them, TAC’s spambot will prevent this from being published. I’ll link to some in another comment.

I should also be very clear that by bringing up the pushback I am not in any way trying to minimize the injustice and injury that Professor Tuvel has gone through as a result of this. Nor am I trying to defend the weird and indefensible mixture of identity politics and social media with philosophical reflection that gave rise to her treatment. Rather, I’m just pointing out that this affair has been a wakeup call for the rest of us and that the consensus of the field is strong in Tuvel’s favor.

I think that if Mr. Dreher were following the debate at Leiter Reports and dailynous and if he were to attend to the things to which you call attention, he would find that the actuality of contemporary philosophy much more closely hews to the good experience he himself had with it at LSU (as he has described in some inspiring posts).

#7 Comment By Brian W On May 18, 2017 @ 9:01 am

May 15, 2017 6 Life Lessons from Shakespeare & Marcus Aurelius (Animated)

One was an English poet and playwright, the other was a Roman Emperor and philosopher. Born a millennium apart, they have more in common than you might think…

[15]

#8 Comment By Jon Cogburn On May 18, 2017 @ 9:07 am

Please read these three articles, and the discussion, from dailynous:

(1) Philosopher’s Article On Transracialism Sparks Controversy (Updated with response from author)- [4]
(2) Before We Go Forward (guest post by Alison Suen) – [16]
(3) Hypatia’s Editor And Its Board President Defend Publication of Tuvel Article – [17]

I don’t know how the debates read to non-academics, but to academics it is clear that the consensus in the field is that Tuvel suffered an egregious injustice, one for which one of the signatories of the original Hypatia letters has apologized and for which the actual editors of the journal themselves rejected.

#9 Comment By Jon Cogburn On May 18, 2017 @ 9:25 am

It would belabor the point to list all of the posts at leiterreports on the Tuvel affair, so I will just list the most newsworthy ones and the ones that sparked the most dialogue:

(1)Editor of Hypatia rebukes Associate Editors, and stands behind publication of the Tuvel article – [18]
(2) Rebecca Tuvel’s dissertation advisor, Kelly Oliver (Vanderbilt), speaks out about the mistreatment of her former student – [19]
(3) Philosophers (and others) speak out about the unprofessional conduct of the Hypatia editors and the defamation of Rebecca Tuvel – [20]
(4) Philosophy Department at Rhodes College speaks out in support of Prof. Tuvel – [21]
(5) A thread for further comments on the misconduct by the Hypatia editors and the defamation of Prof. Tuvel – [22]
(6) Need for a petition or open letter? – [23]

Again, note that dailynous and leiterreports are the two most trafficked blogs in English language philosophy. The big story here shouldn’t be that academic philosophy harms junior professors to enforce a rigid orthodoxy, but rather that academic philosophy is a field where such attempts fail.

Again, I am not trying to minimize the real harm that Professor Tuvel has suffered during all of this. The open letter by the disgruntled associate editors from Hypatia never should have been written or signed, and the bullying directed at Tuvel (as reported in Professor Oliver’s letter linked to above) is horrifying.

But such behavior is not unique to Academic Philosophy, or Academia for that matter. We live in a radically fallen world and *none* of us are above this kind of thing. What differentiates one is how one reacts to it, and I would submit that if this story is at all newsworthy (members of any big enough group of people will do idiotic and venal things) it is newsworthy because of the public reaction against it.

Unfortunately, the internet almost automatically makes these things less humane. Behind the scenes people are trying to move forward with thousands of acts of kindness and forgiveness. While I’m appalled by the treatment of Professor Tuvel, I cherish many of the people who signed the original letter and hate to see us casting stones at one another.

In this regard I especially want to thank Professor King’s intervention above for its characteristic charity, kindness, and understanding.

#10 Comment By Adriana I Pena On May 18, 2017 @ 10:20 am

It might be useful for people discussing the state of academic discourse to learn about group pathologies, like what behaviors you can expect from small groups that isolate themselves in a protected environment and have an inflated opinion of their own importance.

Based on the tenet of not attributing to malice what can be explained as stupidity, we should not look into their ideology until we are sure that they are not behaving as the methodology assures us they will.

After all, ideas do not exist in the abstract. People hold ideas. And people who hold ideas have issues which pop up all the time.

So nothing that goes in academia surprises me (someone once told me that the two places where infighting is the nastiest are academia and churches). When you deal with humanities, where results cannot be quantified or tested against, then weird things happen.

#11 Comment By TR On May 18, 2017 @ 10:55 am

A good antidote to Rod Dreher. Philosophy is a profession that just a few weeks ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education was dragged across the coals for being terrifically underrepresented by women and minorities in its departments. The charge is objectively true, but of course the reasons are conjectural.

But even this column and the alleged reaction of Fran Macadam’s son (did he take the dismal job market in mind when deciding to drop out?) is misleading about the nature of academic philosophy as far as I can tell. I looked at the latest editions of six or seven leading journals in the field and the tables of content make it look like Anglo-American analytic philosophy is still firmly in the saddle.

#12 Comment By Captain P On May 18, 2017 @ 11:31 am

I agree 100% with this article. I am, by any reasonable description, an orthodox/traditionalist Christian, and did an MA in Philosophy a few years ago at a large public university. None of my professors were Christian, but my faith was never looked down on when it came up. I honed my reasoning skills and read a wide variety of the classics–both actual Classics (ancient philosophy) and modern-era philosophy like Locke, Berkeley, JS Mill, Rawls, Russell, etc.

I decided not to continue onto the Ph.D mainly because the job market is so dismal, but those were two years very well spent.

#13 Comment By Chris Mallory On May 18, 2017 @ 11:35 am

We would be better off as a nation if we took every professional “philosopher” and put them to work doing those “jobs Americans won’t do”. A few callouses and blisters on their hands would do them good.

#14 Comment By Jon Cogburn On May 18, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

Chris,

I know that what you are saying is partially in jest, and I enjoy novels that make fun of academics as much as anybody, but. . .

I’m an airforce brat who had a lawncare business in high school and college and worked in a non-management position for three years at KMart after that.

I made much much more money doing those things than I did as a graduate teaching assistant for six years ($9,000 dollars a year). If I had gone into the retail management track I would make much more money and have vastly better health and retirement benefits than I now do as an Associate Professor.

Nearly everyone in academia I know has a similar story. I’m not denying that academia produces characteristic forms of cluelessness, but it is actually much more likely to come from ignorance of (and aversion to) upper and upper middle class management culture than from lack of callouses.

#15 Comment By Will Harrington On May 18, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

From two incidents we can ask, how much of the Academic Philosophy community was involved in these kerfuffles. We can further ask “are they representative of the state of Academic Philosophy in general? You have made two errors at this point in my reading. You have failed to ascertain if hasty generalization is a fair accusation (it may be, but Rod, being a blogger for a living, is not under academic constraints, but if you invoke them as a critic you must live by them). You have not proved hast generalization. Next you set up a strawman. Rod is criticizing the state of Academic Philosophy and you characterize this as an argument that philosophy is useless (step 2). This is an argument that Rod clearly did not make. So, I feel compelled to comment, mostly to explain why I dismiss your criticism and stopped reading about half way through. You could probably have made a valid case, but you went off the tracks pretty early.

#16 Comment By Turmarion On May 18, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

Chris Mallory: We would be better off as a nation if we took every professional “philosopher” and put them to work doing those “jobs Americans won’t do”. A few callouses and blisters on their hands would do them good.

Chairman Mao and Pol Pot would heartily agree….

#17 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 18, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

Philosophers are as useless as theologians. The departments should have been defunded and closed ages ago.

They have nothing of value to say under the best of circumstances.

#18 Comment By SluggishPhilosopher On May 18, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

As an orthodox/evangelical Christian, and a professional philosopher (struggling to make ends meet, but that’s another story), I can heartily agree with Jon Cogburn, Captain P, and Nathan King.

I didn’t get the impression that Rod really meant to be attacking all of academic philosophy or all philosophers, but his original post certainly didn’t involve lots of nuance or hedging in his judgment of our discipline. I know his job is to write provocative, readable, punchy blogposts–for which I am grateful–so sometimes nuance is going to go out the window. But that’s why it’s perfectly fair and appropriate for someone like Prof King to provide the counterbalance.

#19 Comment By Hyperion On May 18, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

re: Meanwhile, Rod Dreher has flipped his lid.

You have not been paying attention.

He flipped his lid when Caitlyn Jenner “came out”. Ever since then he has been spewing rage. And this guy really knows how to spew rage. He is TAC clickbait for a certain segment of your readers. I quit reading his posts almost a year ago. Toxic.

#20 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 18, 2017 @ 2:10 pm

(someone once told me that the two places where infighting is the nastiest are academia and churches).

That, and youth soccer teams. 🙂

#21 Comment By Nelson On May 18, 2017 @ 2:16 pm

Dreher tends to focus on small negative things rather than large non-negative things. A young celebrity could do or say something he doesn’t like and to him it is a sign of collapsing civilization, despite the fact that there are several orders of magnitude more people that go about their daily uncontroversial lives that never make the news because regular people aren’t typically newsworthy.

#22 Comment By TB On May 18, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

I’m a conservative (in every sense of the word) with an MA in philosophy, and for a time, was in a PhD program in philosophy at a major U.S. research institution, ranked in the top 20 in the Philosophical Gourmet–a list that some regard, for better or worse, as a Who’s Who of philosophy departments. I would guess I have several dozen friends and acquaintances in the same boat who are now in tenure track jobs in major philosophy departments. My point is that I (and, I wager, they) speak from experience and confirm this article gets it right.

Although both my university and department (as well as nearly all the others I have some acquaintance with) were, in general, left-leaning, academic philosophy on the whole has no problem with disagreement or entertaining challenges to “orthodoxy”. To give a comparison, most departments, while certainly not conservative in most any sense of the word, would nonetheless be far more tolerant of someone making a case for an opposing view (e.g., a conservative view), than say, the average English, critical theory, or social science depts.–philosophy is probably on a par here with most science or math departments (no surprise for those who have been in a modern Anglophone philosophy dept., since analytic philosophy has developed in such a way that there are many affinities among these 3 disciplines). In fact, tolerance of disagreement in philosophy departments is the case almost to a fault, such that novelty is sometimes prized for its own sake. But people generally have their heads screwed on straight about the most important things–for instance, I almost never met anyone who affirmed relativism about truth or morality or was unwilling to listen to opposition.

In a follow up post, I wish to address those with the mindset of the poster, Chris Mallory.

#23 Comment By AC On May 18, 2017 @ 2:26 pm

For King to pretend that the two incidents are in any way unusual and not EXACTLY typical of the atmosphere in academia today is flat out intellectually dishonest. Dreher is completely correct. There are dozens and dozens of these incidents all over the place now. How anyone can avoid feeling embarrassment for higher education these days is completely beyond me.

#24 Comment By TB On May 18, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

To those, like Chris Mallory (see earlier comment), who think that the nation would be better off if every(!) professional philosopher went to work doing some other, I urge you to become familiar with what professional philosophers actually do. Surely, a little hard work with ones hands never hurt anyone, but writing off professional philosophy would be foolish.

Why? Because professional philosophers are trained to think about the most fundamental issues and questions of reality. While anyone and everyone is a philosopher in some sense, training helps professional philosophers dig deeper and communicate important ideas with great precision.

This is intrinsically worthwhile work. It also benefits non-philosophers. For instance, if you look at that list of names in the article: Plantinga, Adams, Alston, Swinburne, van Inwagen, Zagzebski, Craig, as well as a host of unnamed others, their contributions to things that many care about (perhaps you care about?) are significant. Their work in defense of theism, for instance–the view that there is such person as God–has been one of the major developments in philosophy of the past half-century or more. Just take Alvin Plantinga–he alone is widely regarded to have dismantled the logical version of the problem of evil. That argument was dreaded, arguably being the single greatest threat to theism ever conceived. Few things in philosophy are ever considered “solved”, but what he did is about as close as it gets. Basically, just about everyone takes it to be dead. Now, I submit that we’d all be the poorer if Plantinga and so many others were to have put away their tools and stopped the intellectual spadework in favor of some other job.

#25 Comment By Hyperion On May 18, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

Also too, remember the reason that academics slag each other with such vehemence: because the stakes are so low!

#26 Comment By JWJ On May 18, 2017 @ 3:39 pm

Turmarion wrote: “Chairman Mao and Pol Pot would heartily agree….”

I would say that mao, pol pot, AND stalin would agree with your attempt at evil by association underhanded trick to equate the mallory comment with evil.
mao, pol pot, stalin, and probably lenin would agree with your slippery and slimy thought process.
Now, what would hitler think of you, turm? Not sure on that one.

#27 Comment By Jack On May 18, 2017 @ 8:05 pm

I’m not in the field so I don’t know, but I think Dr. King misses an important point even if he’s right about the underlying facts.

The suggestion not to generalize from a few incidents (“a few planes crash, but most don’t”) is valid in some cases but not others. Censorship, like rot, is a phenomenon that infects the whole body, even those who are not directly involved as victims or perpetrators. This is because fear and self-silencing can creep over the whole community. Doubtless, as King says, many philosophers are able to do important work despite the difficulties. But this is like observing that Soviet academics managed to make valuable contributions despite being forced to parrot communist propaganda. Surely they did, but this doesn’t make their field and their situation an enviable one to get into. I think this was Dreher’s point, and with allowances for a little hyperbole, it strikes me as reasonable.

#28 Comment By Brendan from Oz On May 18, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

Whitworth seems very committed to Diversity: “Whitworth recognizes that a diverse community is central to our mission as a liberal arts university committed to educating critical thinkers, discerning moral agents, and responsible democratic citizens.”

Much other such material is readily available on their website, eg Gender Studies etc. “A minor in Women’s and Gender Studies prepares successful candidates for jobs and for graduate school in a broad range of disciplines, including human resources, education, political science, journalism, social work, counseling, and medicine.”

Maybe Philosophy hasn’t succumbed to the Diversity Machine yet, but RD was not making it all up from whole cloth abut academia in general.

#29 Comment By at the soundcheck On May 18, 2017 @ 10:01 pm

He’s a drama queen overcompensating for his orthodoxy. Anyway, that’s the way it appears. He should’ve found a more-engaging parish and remained a Catholic so he could already be living out his repeatedly-explained, real meaning of his “Benedict Option,” without being afraid of falling into the pit (or of the unorthodox being let off the hook). But I don’t think he’d be having near as much fun.

#30 Comment By Jon Cogburn On May 18, 2017 @ 11:33 pm

Jack,

Please peruse the public, non-anonymous discussion in the, links I provided above which I think go pretty far towards rebutting the claim that academic philosophy is in any way distinctively burdened by any kind of self-censorship that is injurious to the pursuit of the true, good, and beautiful.

Since Descartes’ attempt to discern the foundations of knowledge via an exploration of what is needed to refute radical skepticism, it has been part of the DNA of philosophy to to welcome people into the conversational community who are good at defending views that are odious in various ways. (1) You best figure out what are wrong with such views by having some informed people of good will who uphold them. And this gets you closer to the true. (2) Sometimes our prior views about what is odious are mistaken and commonsense does prove to be wrong in any case. (3) Epistemic humility is, in general, a good thing.

As a result of the post-Cartesian predicament we often get very bad press in ways that are impossible to respond to. When ideas are criticized as a normal part of the dialectic this can be portrayed as silencing dissent. When some philosophers’ (perhaps playing the role of someone who really believed Descartes’ skeptical hypothesis) ideas are offensive to many, this can be portrayed as philosophers not being censorious enough to reprobates. It’s simply not possible to win here, and these kinds of attacks come equally from left and right.

Though Professor Tuvel was treated horribly, the strength of her defenders demonstrates fundamentally the health of the field, and how misleading it can be to characterize a field in terms of its most newsworthy events.

#31 Comment By Brendan from Oz On May 19, 2017 @ 12:20 am

Perhaps the reaction against Philosophy may be the way Continental Philosophy (Focault, Derrida etc) have influenced the Humanities and administration rather than Philosophy itself.

Plantinga and the like may be all the rage in Philosophy, but if the bean-counters and administrators are all educated in PoMo Diversity and KPI bureaucracy (and esp if nation-wide Departments are so committed) then the influnce of real Philosophy is minimized.

As noted above, the Diversity Machine occupies HR, education, political science etc, and possibly much of the academic and bureaucratic administration.

#32 Comment By G Harvey On May 19, 2017 @ 9:08 am

The defense of Professor Tuvel by some in academic philosophy should be grasped first by the fact that said professor is not seen as a ‘deplorable.’ Tuvel is an insider in PC/Cultural Marxist terms.

Is Tuvel a white Gentile from Middle America with family members harmed greatly by globalism? Is Tuval recognized as being a Christian whose views on morality fit those of, say, Thomas Aquinas?

Tuvel is a self-proclaimed Feminist. Tuvel is a Leftist. Tuvel is not a Scots-Irish Southerner, nor a Polish Catholic, nor Russian Orthodox.

Those are the reasons Tiuvel has several defenders among other academic philosophers. .

#33 Comment By elizabeth On May 19, 2017 @ 10:13 am

Rod periodically flips his lid. It doesn’t mean much. He lost it over an anatomically correct chocolate Jesus, which apparently proved that Christianity is under attack in The Wast. He was not at war with confectioners, however.

Whatever shiny piece of news supports his thesis that we are in deep do-do because of our moral failings (and boy do we all therefore deserve horrific punishment from his loving deity) will get a few minutes of fame on his blog until the next shiny news comes along.

#34 Comment By elizabeth On May 19, 2017 @ 10:14 am

Oops. The West. Edit function, please!

#35 Comment By Jon Cogburn On May 19, 2017 @ 11:09 am

G Harvey, I’m sorry but what you write is simply not true. Tuvel is being publicly defended because she was publicly wronged in ways injurious to herself and to basic academic norms.

What could possibly lead you to think that I, Professor King, or any of the people linked to above would not defend white Christians whose families have been harmed by globalism?

By your logic I would be precluded from defending myself, a Scots-Irish Oklahoma Cogburn who for what its worth also takes Aquinas’ meta-ethical views to be largely correct.

#36 Comment By Flavius On May 19, 2017 @ 11:44 am

Philosophy is neither for the faint hearted nor for those who employ it as a means of making money – although there is nothing the matter with making money because we all need to eat. As Aristotle remarked, if a man is hungry he needs a loaf a bread more than philosophy, but the latter is surely of higher value.
From my point of view, Dreher writes way too much, and thinks way too little. His overblogging has cost him his originality and he now produces blogput, bad enough, but blogput that is contingent on the day’s trivia, worse.
One knows he is reading blogput when he finds himself speed reading through to the comments and then speedreading through the comments as well. Then one knows it is time to move on to some other form of time wasting.

#37 Comment By philip On May 19, 2017 @ 11:48 am

These two incidents combined (Tuvel & Swinburne) are a troubling temperature gauge of philosophy at present, largely indicating that people of certain political persuasions no longer think philosophy can ask important questions with an honest search for answers. Apparently, whatever the rest of philosophy is doing isn’t stand-out enough to overwhelm these politically motivated complaints with its vitality and wholeheartedness in searching for truth. That is a problem. Maybe it doesn’t warrant no one becoming an academic philosopher, but it does mean that philosophy from the inside and outside is so weak that someone can hurl a complaint at it from a political perspective, and the voices of philosophers demurring in the name of the truth will be drowned rather easily by the spit and shouting.

#38 Comment By G Harvey On May 19, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

So what could be the payoff for a Nathan King from writing this article? He could be proving to the Gate Keepers of contemporary academia that he will defend it against those who dare question – and worse, lampoon – its sacred development into what we see all around us. If you want to impress your peers, that is what you must do: spit up on those rubes who are not in the club.

Philosophy might not be as stone cold insane as Sociology or English, much less African/Black Studies, Womyn’s Studies, LBGT Gender Studies. Chicano/a Studies, but a young professor of Philosophy who wants tenure or to move up the academic ladder to a more prestigious school must show that he/she/it is not supportive of the basket of deplorables.

The academic spat that Dreher commented on is NOT one between a conservative and a Liberal, with other academics coming to the defense of the conservative. It is a battle between two Leftists, who represent different emphases within Leftism in Philosophy . It is exactly what Dreher characterized.

#39 Comment By russ On May 19, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

There have occurred two lamentable incidents in recent academic philosophy—cases in which cowardice has impeded the pursuit of truth;

More than lamentable. However many philosophers came to her defense in online forums or elsewhere, the attack on her opinion was successful. For those of us outside philosophy, to see real academic freedom defended within the field, would need to see the initial effort to censor Tuvel’s article quashed and academic freedom defended successfully. You can argue that Hypatia is an insignificant journal that Real Philosophers don’t take seriously because it’s editors are known quacks, and maybe I’ll listen. But until Hypatia retracts the original retraction and apologizes to Tuvel (have they done this?), this rebuttal rings hollow.

Basically you’re saying, “meh, just a little censorship here and there, no big deal.”

#40 Comment By G Harvey On May 19, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

Flavius,

That is precisely what might be posted by someone who is paid by a Leftist NGO to mildly disrupt a trouble maker Dreher who is warning people of the horrors inherent in various things the Left demands we all bow to as the new sacred.

Again, Dreher is exactly right about that Philosopher’s cat fight: two Leftists.

#41 Comment By Eric Rasmusen On May 23, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

Mr. Dreher clearly does not know what’s going on in philosophy. It’s a war. Unlike in most of the humanities, in Philosophy the good guys still have a chance, and, indeed, are dominant right now. But they are under attack, which is what these two incidents are about. And by “good guys” I don’t mean conservatives, who are probably miniscule in number. Rather, I mean real scholars who have respect for good arguments even if they disagree with them and are willing to listen to any idea without saying it’s tabu. If somebody wants to study humanities nowadays, philosophy departments are the place to be— unless they lose the current war.

#42 Comment By Stephen On May 23, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

I think Dreher’s become a little hardened after all he’s had to endure in defending his book. It’s in his tone; it now pervades everything he writes. It’s a shame, really, because I think he’s a rare case of having all the right intuitions. And he used to be able to articulate those persuasively and effectively, but the ‘f**k it’ attitude he’s lately adopted (one I’m more than sympathetic with) is unfortunately also entirely ineffective for persuasion. I’m still a Dreher fan, though. My critique is as an admirer.