Vox: Where Philosophy Goes To Die


Crimes Against Philosophy

Trigger Warning: LOGIC

In this article (which you should read) philosophy professor Shaun Rieley takes Vox (a typically liberal publication) to task for its decision NOT publish an article by a prominent philosopher Torbjorn Tannsjo from Stockholm University.  Evidently the editors of Vox asked Tannsjo to contribute a piece for their magazine, but later decided not to publish it. What concerns Rieley, is not that Vox decided not to publish because they disagreed with the article, because they didn’t, but that they killed the piece because of the uncomfortable implications that might arrive from it.  That troublesome need for coherence…

Tannsjo argued that humans in general have a moral duty to reproduce offspring.  He arrives at this conclusion using some tight logical conclusions from utilitarian ethics.  The average person might think it is silly, but evidently his position is respected by professional philosophers and hard to evade.

All fine and good.   What is remarkable to me is that the editors at Vox don’t seem to disagree with Tannsjo, at least in general terms.  What bothers them is the idea that some conservative people might read the article and arrive at conclusions that are at odds with the editorial mission at Vox. They might use the ideas in the article to support a pro-life agenda.  It might become clear that Vox’s prochoice position is in conflict with their other values.

Rieley writes,

“In other words, it’s not so much that Tannsjo’s argument was wrong, so much as it could potentially be interpreted as giving aid to those who hold “wrong” (read: “conservative”) opinions on abortion and birth control.”

Now Vox has the right to publish whatever they like.  But what should concern everyone is that these kinds of ideological parlor tricks are happening more often.  The pattern of squashing dissent, or turning a blind eye seems to be happening more frequently in places where liberal thinkers run the show.  In my opinion, this is not intellectually honest. I have more respect anyone that acknowledges and attempts to wrestle through difficult questions  rather than toss them into the closet.

But instead we see the easy path of intellectual conformity.  We see a move to ignore or suppress facts and discussion that might disagree with the reigning wisdom.  It seems that Vox doesn’t trust people to think for themselves. They have to protect their dogma from any threats, even when those threats come from truth and reason.

Rieley continues,

“Philosophy proceeds by engaging with those various points of view, sometimes to defend what is being attacked, and sometimes to attack what is being defended. Indeed, this is how philosophy has proceeded since the time of Socrates. Without this back-and-forth, philosophy becomes all but impossible.

“Leiter laments that so few are interested in reasoning. This is true. It is much easier to retreat into the comfort of one’s own unexamined assumptions than it is to challenge them by thinking through difficult arguments that one finds disagreeable, and either assent to them, or learn to refute them.

“Nevertheless, free citizens of a republic are obligated to do the hard work of philosophical engagement. Liberty is hard work in this sense, but if liberty is to be sustained, this work is necessary. Unfortunately, by rejecting the piece, Vox has missed an opportunity to participate in the important task of facilitating this engagement.”

Source: Vox: Where Philosophy Goes To Die

How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus – The Atlantic

This is an important article from the Atlantic on how our attempts at censorship in the name of protecting students from hurt feelings is bad for them in just about every way. It is a longer piece, but worth the time if you can make it all the way through without gouging out your own eyes in disbelief and frustration. The article is full of examples about the insanity of the reigning version of political correctness.

I think it is a significant article because it is polite, but also coming from the more liberal side of the field. The author approaches the topic from the standpoint of counseling (specifically cognitive psychology) and so is in a good position to address the concerns behind all the trigger warnings (e.g. “you are going to make people relive trauma”).

As I waded through the examples in the article,  I kept mumbling to myself in shock.  Are we trapped in a Monty Python sketch?  Yet, the big ideas resonate with me because I have seen some of this personally.  I just didn’t realize this monster was growing so quickly.

“Attempts to shield students from words, ideas, and people that might cause them emotional discomfort are bad for the students. They are bad for the workplace, which will be mired in unending litigation if student expectations of safety are carried forward. And they are bad for American democracy, which is already paralyzed by worsening partisanship. When the ideas, values, and speech of the other side are seen not just as wrong but as willfully aggressive toward innocent victims, it is hard to imagine the kind of mutual respect, negotiation, and compromise that are needed to make politics a positive-sum game.

“Rather than trying to protect students from words and ideas that they will inevitably encounter, colleges should do all they can to equip students to thrive in a world full of words and ideas that they cannot control. One of the great truths taught by Buddhism (and Stoicism, Hinduism, and many other traditions) is that you can never achieve happiness by making the world conform to your desires. But you can master your desires and habits of thought.”

Here is an editorial from the LA Times expressing the opposite perspective. After reading the Atlantic piece, it seems pretty weak.

Source: How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus – The Atlantic