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Jul 28 2013

Being totally right entirely altogether

And then there’s McGinn’s Plea for Calm with its paean to epistemic virtue.

Shouldn’t we philosophers be setting a good example of epistemic virtue? We are supposed to be rational, judicious, calm, impartial, non-ideological, just, fair, balanced, careful, scrupulous, accurate, above-the-fray. But such virtues have not been evident recently. Instead we have seen hysteria, presumption of guilt, ignoring of evidence, ignoring of due process and procedural justice, sloppiness, inaccuracy, ideology, vindictiveness, lack of reflection, simple stupidity, ideological fervor, ad hominem invective, and so on and on. This has been sickening to behold and shameful to the values we as philosophers are supposed to live by.

It is true that many people have not been guilty of these vices and failings. They have insisted on basic principles of reason and justice (and have been traduced for doing so). I salute them. I suspect that the bitter divisiveness that we have seen will only continue and deepen, because it reflects a basic difference of moral psychology. The divisiveness will not concern a single case but be pervasive and general. The ideologues and nutcases will hate the rationalists, while the rationalists will despise their opponents. None of this will be pretty. The ideologues will dig in, as ideologues always do, while the rationalists will grow ever more impatient and contemptuous. This will play out in the day-to-day workings of academic departments and personal relationships. Unless and until the epistemic virtues are respected, I expect to see continued strife and bad feeling. This will do nobody any good.

It’s a different version of the same thing – he’s the good one, the exemplar of epistemic virtue, and people who are critical of his behavior are monsters of epistemic depravity. He is rational, judicious, calm, impartial, non-ideological, just, fair, balanced, careful, scrupulous, accurate, above-the-fray. His critics demonstrate hysteria, presumption of guilt, ignoring of evidence, ignoring of due process and procedural justice, sloppiness, inaccuracy, ideology, vindictiveness, lack of reflection, simple stupidity, ideological fervor, and ad hominem invective. All the hooray words on his side of the ledger, all the boo words on their side.

You would think – speaking of epistemic virtue – that it would occur to him that that’s not convincing, at least. Maybe it’s too much to expect him to think it might not be fully accurate, but you’d think he could manage to notice a certain implausibility to the way he loads one scale with chocolates and cherries, and the other scale with pond scum and excrement.

What a spectacle.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    thephilosophicalprimate

    Boy, he really is a pompous asshat, isn’t he? I would say that he’s an embarrassment to my profession, but I’m afraid my profession suffers an embarrassment of riches in the pompous asshat department.

    Still, you would think that someone so absolutely convinced of his obvious innocence — and so willing to proclaim in public both his innocence and the perfidy of anyone who would question it — would have welcomed a full investigation into allegations of sexual harassment instead of resigning to avoid such an investigation.

  2. 2
    Claire Ramsey

    What does “traduced” mean?

  3. 3
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    “humiliating/causing humiliation”, Claire, generally maliciously or falsely; degrading, demeaning through falsehoods. “When did you stop beating your wife?” is a statement which traduces. Fairly rare word.

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=traduce

  4. 4
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Sorry, not “degrading”, but “disgracing”.

  5. 5
    grumpyoldfart

    All the hooray words on his side of the ledger, all the boo words on their side.

    A quick and dirty way to get to the heart of any argument is to cross out the adjectives and emotionally charged words. It’s #1 on the list of methods for overcoming dishonest debating tricks, compiled by Robert Thouless in his 1930 book, “Straight and Crooked Thinking”.

  6. 6
    Tim Harris

    They are never in the wrong, these mediocre, sullied and self-loving little men, are they?

  7. 7
    hoary puccoon

    Classic example of the Baffle ‘em with Bullshit strategy. Like that hasn’t been done to death.

  8. 8
    MEFoley

    >>> he’s the good one, the exemplar of epistemic virtue, and people who are critical of his behavior are monsters of epistemic depravity. <<<

    Okay, this is going far afield, but it reminds me of the American woman who was arrested (in front of a female judge, who was determinedly ignoring the action) for falsely accusing a court official of sexual harassment, said court official being the marshal who was arresting her. You can't arrest someone for false accusation until the accusations have been proved false; arrest ahead of investigation assumes that the marshal, like the philosopher above, is the good one, the virtuous one, and people who are critical of his behavior should be put in jail.

    It's a privilege thing.

    (The woman got out of jail and the marshal was fired, but is suing for unfair dismissal.)

  9. 9
    A Hermit

    Ugh…from this post:

    Editor’s Reflection on Current Events
    Posted by Elizabeth

    –there is an immediate assumption of abuse of power due to Colin’s position and sex but a graduate student is an adult, not a powerless victim. She consented to be his RA and understood the subject matter.

    Of course there’s an assumption of power there; he holds power over her career.

    More evidence that smart, well educated people can be really foolish and ignorant when it suits them.

  10. 10
    John Phillips, FCD

    Does he use a Sokal generator to write his defensive posts.

  11. 11
    AsqJames

    So first he claims to be the living embodiment of “epater les bourgeois” which he describes as “taunt the prudish and prim, ridicule the conventional and boring, outrage the pious and conformist” and now philosophers “are supposed to be rational, judicious, calm, impartial, non-ideological, just, fair, balanced, careful, scrupulous, accurate, above-the-fray.”

    His preferred style of behaviour doesn’t sound at all “judicious”, “careful”, or “above-the-fray”, while his prescription for how philosophers should behave sounds very “conventional”, “boring” and “conformist”.

    I’m sure it’s all entirely consistent, perhaps someone with a little philosophical training can explain it all to me in little words?

  12. 12
    Johnny J

    I have seen so much conflicting stuff on all this. Given the way he publicly presents himself, McGinn is undoubtedly a self-important jerk in some phase of arrested development. However, Ed Erwin’s claim that

    “there is a document, however, containing the allegations. They are set forth in the letter, dated November 29, 2012, sent by the investigating administrator to the Chair of the Faculty Senate. There was no allegation by anyone of McGinn creating a hostile environment or seeking a sexual quid pro quo. There was no allegation of sexual harassment.”

    intrigues me since so many commentators out there are presuming otherwise (indeed, even in the pro-McGinn camp, where the alleged behavior is not always denied but rationalized as harmless etc.). I would really like to see those emails for myself. Is there an Assange out there who can oblige?

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