I think that there should be IRB approval before you write your blog posts. What if we should valorize the void, and failing to do so is dangerous?

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Apr 24·edited Apr 24Liked by Richard Y Chappell

Point 5 on agent-neutrality vs. agent-relativity is interesting. Reminds me of Donald Regan's contention that "Evaluator-relative theories do not allow agents to give sincere moral advice." ("Against evaluator relativity" p. 107). I imagine this point is contested by evaluator-relative theorists. I'd be interested to see what they say. Does anyone has a reference for that?

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Apr 24Liked by Richard Y Chappell

I think there are some topics that are so controversial people don’t even want to have the meta-conversation and that is a problem. If we don’t have true beliefs about the world, we will make errors when trying to maximize welfare.

Certain facts, like how to make bio weapons, should be censored (in my view) but we can have that conversation openly and don’t need to deny that such weapons could exist.

There are probably some topics so dangerous that the meta-conversation can’t happen but usually this is probably overstated to suppress dissent.

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"I do think it's essential to *default* to the assumption that one's interlocutors are operating in good faith. If I didn't have that default assumption, why shouldn't I just delete your comment, and those of anyone else who disagrees with me? "

You could just delete my comment of course, but if you do so simply because of disagreement, or not caring for what I have to say, or how I say it, while that's entirely your prerogative, it would be a different sort of judgement on your part, more about preference, or not wanting discomfit.

The reason the default assumption of good faith is problematic is simply this- not every person engages in discourse in good faith. I'll elaborate.

Every instance of discourse, however formal or informal, entails the expectation that each participant is engaging in the conversation according to the terms, the norms of that discourse event. The terms and norms might be explicit to some extent, but even in the most formalized types of discourse, there are implicit norms that operate as well. (This is the kind of thing that keeps sociolinguists employed.)

Now, my hope is, generally in the world, there are more individuals who conduct themselves, in whatever setting, in good faith, than bad faith actors. If not, we're really in trouble. But in any case, neither I, nor you, nor anyone else can immediately distinguish arguments presented in good faith from those presented in bad faith. Those acting in bad faith maintain the appearance of abiding by the terms and norms of discourse, as a means of accomplishing purposes that they not only are fully aware will be harmful to others, but the inflicting of harm is their ultimate purpose. The malign purpose is disguised. (The jargon and style of expression of academic disciplines are well-suited for this sort of malign purpose, for those so inclined.)

What to do?

Turns out, the advantages afforded to bad faith actors by universally presuming good faith are disproportionate to the disadvantages accrued by good faith actors who are not extended the benefit of the doubt at the outset. Good faith actors are not penalized by the requirement they establish their good faith over time, and through each instance of discourse they engage in. Their sincerity is not diminished, their earnest efforts to arrive at a point of shared understanding and mutual benefit are not hampered by withholding the assumption of good faith.

Bad faith actors, on the other hand, can camouflage, and disavow responsibility for, speech acts (oral or written) that are designed to cause harm to others- for instance, to create conditions where specific groups or individuals are threatened with violence, or erode support for programs that allow every person to participate fully in a public space. The bad faith actor can parrot the terms and norms of a discourse setting (like an academic discipline), as pretext, and in doing so seeks to inoculate themselves , and their contentions, from scrutiny.

The example of removing books from schools and libraries in Florida is particularly instructive in this regard. The purported basis is 'protecting children' from harmful material. The actual intended purpose is to privilege one cultural frame, and to eliminate any material that does not fit that frame (and terrorize anyone who might object with threats of incarceration, loss of profession, and the ubiquitous threat of violence by the more militant members of this subculture elevated by the authority of the state). These actions did not emerge from the void. They are the product of countless instances of bad faith discourse, over a long period of time, in multiple settings,-- including the halls of academia.

"When I read remarks in the "everything is just politics" style, I wonder why I should waste my time even reading it. By their own admission, they're only interested in manipulating me into sharing their political views."

Oh no!

To be exposed to a specific perspective, one you don't share, is an attempt at manipulation. Hmmm...

Well then, it certainly behooves you to not read it, or consider the implications for your own preferred premises. Disregard out of hand. Makes sense.

And argumentation in the form you do feel is worthy, that's *not* about persuasion?

This essay of yours is not attempting to persuade, to stake out a position? One that is, ironically, manifestly political, and about a political matter?

I guess I just read it wrong.

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"...if we have any faith in the tendency of good arguments to eventually win out over bad ones (and if we don’t have such faith, what are we even doing in academia?)."

This is a problematic assumption, embedded in another problematic assumption.

Assumption #1 is that, by default, interlocutors operate in good faith, with the shared purpose of attaining shared understanding of matters under study, and the sought shared understanding will encompass the best available evidence and sound reasoning.

Since you mention your position is currently in Florida, I'll note that nothing about the efforts of the Desantis adminstration, and its allies, to dismantle public education at every level is based on a good faith belief that the education of Florida students will improve. The dismantling of public education in Florida by the Desantis regime is simply the use of threats against educators to eradicate any information and views deemed threatenting to the regime itself. These actions were, of course, foreshadowed by Desantis ordering the arrest of a public health statistician in her own home for the crime of compiling and making available accurate information about CoVid infections and death rates.

That is, the notion that debates about ideas (in some idealized abstract formulation) are generally pursued in good faith by all parties is not merely false, it is dangerously false. This premise serves to, or attempts to, occlude the manifest, and malign, intentions of any number of actors (some who hold tenure at public universities, or serve on governing boards). I encourage revisiting the origins of the term 'white-washing' in this regard. Not all who cloak themselves in the garb of the noble pursuit of knowledge through academic argumentation are in fact engaged in this noble pursuit. A fair reading of the history of higher education in the US and Europe tells us just the opposite, in fact, and the institutions themselves have laregly been instruments of promoting the worldview, interests (and professional prospects) of one demographic- cis gender hetero White males.

Assumption #2 is that academia exists, or should exist, as a separate space from the polis that constructs and maintains it.

Professional academics inhabit that space, and are largely entrusted to manage it, on behalf of the public that pays for it, and the students who seek an education within its confines. No part of our day to day life lies outside of the realm of politics, and how educational institutions are utilized by those on public payroll is, of course, subject to public scrutiny. The pretense of a rarefied atmosphere that surrounds academia, insulating it from the shabby business of the community at large, may suffice as some sort of emotional or ego salve, but it is nothing but a convenient fiction, especially for those who prefer to not be forthcoming about the ideological bases and purposes of their 'politically neutral' scholarly work. Either insufficient self-awareness and critical reflection, or disingenuousness, or perhaps both, is subserved by this fiction. In any event, any scholarly claim (especially some claim in moral philosophy!) is inextricably woven into the political setting in which it is promulgated, and emerges from the political framework of the individual espousing the claim. It suits the sensibilities of some to suggest otherwise, but that is again a display of bad faith, or at least a failure to recognize the sociopolitical nature of *every* idea. Surely a philosopher by trade should know better than to traffic in the mythology of politically neutral ideas and institutions.

With all that in mind, to even frame the whole concern as 'scholarly arguments about ideas' serves as obfuscation. The issue is *public statements*, and the harmful effects of public statements in publicly funded fora that are designed to effect harmful outcomes- to vilify, to denigrate, to harass, to obstruct, to incite.

It's 2023. Certainly we're not going to contend that words, written and spoken, bear no relation to the conduct the words are designed to prompt, are we?

Just sayin'.

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Some of our most common moral prohibitions are of action types with unlawfulness/wrongfulness written into their very definition. The notion that there could be exceptions to these rules is incoherent.

For instance, it's a real question when if ever, and on what grounds, there is moral justification for *killing* someone. But there is no question when a moral justification obtains for *murdering* (unlawfully killing) someone.

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I don't think your reply to Brennan & Freiman is that convincing. Sure, there are benefits to be had from engaging in moral philosophy, but it's not obvious that they outweigh the risk. On one side, we have Mill and Singer, but on the other side we have Karl Marx. And even an utilitarian can endorse risk aversion.

Though, if I had to guess, I'd say that academic moral philosophy is net positive today, largely due to animal ethics. And I certainly I wouldn't trust any "philosophical IRB" to improve this.

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