Saturday, September 27, 2014


In the last few days, a few philosophers expressed some surprise at the fact that among the people who asked for Brian Leiter to step down as the editor of the PGR were (to quote one of them verbatim) "many people [they] really respect and admire" (yes, it's the "cool heads" again). This really got me thinking because the obvious conversational implicature is that, among them, there were also some people whom they do not respect and admire. I guess it's perfectly okay not to admire some of your professional colleagues, but is it okay not to respect them??? I guess that this is just another consequence of Leiterism. Prof. Leiter himself his well-known for some disparaging/disrespectful remarks about individual philosophers  (including those that got him into trouble lately) and whole groups of philosophers (members of SPEP but also analytic metaphysicians).

Do we have to like everything that is done by other philosophers? No, we don't. Do we have to find everyone's work interesting? No, we don't. Do we have to understand why others are doing the sort of philosophy they are doing? No, we don't. But do we have to respect the fact that they see purpose in what they are doing even if we don't? Yes, we do. I think that, as philosophers, we should all be more prone to epistemic humility than we are. The fact is that, probably, if I don't understand why one would spend their life, say, studying the works of Deridda, the problem is more likely to be with me (who having only a superficial knowledge of Derrida can't see what can be interesting to them in there) than with them (who have likely found something meaningful to them in there). Many people are equally baffled by the fact that some of us find analytic metaphysics interesting, but I would hope they would respect it as a philosophical endeavour as I respect theirs (unfortunately, many philosophers don't; including many of my fellow philosophers of science).

Does this lead to some sort of relativism? Are there no hopeless projects in philosophy? I don't think so. There probably are hopeless projects in philosophy. For all we know, all philosophical projects might be hopeless in some sense of 'hopeless'. After all, we are just overly smart apes. But I hope it leads to some pluralism. Why can't we let a thousand flowers bloom without having to disparage the flowers we don't like (and probably don't fully understand)?

In any case, I hope to see the day when philosophers will no longer divide the field between those whom they respect and those whom they don't respect. We can criticize our colleagues, questions their assumptions or their goals, or... but we always have to do so with respect, assuming that the person on the other side is at least as smart and thoughtful as we are. Have I always done that? I'm afraid not. In fact, I'm afraid that this is partly a consequence of our training and partly an excuse not to familiarize ourselves with whole areas of philosophy, but I hope we can all become less dismissive of each other's philosophical endeavours. We all owe each other some respect.

PS (September 28, 2014): Just to clarify, I think it's (usually) okay to question/challenge a certain philosophical project (e.g. analytic metaphysics) with arguments. What, I think, it's not okay (to my mind) is to disparage it without arguments--e.g. just offering some cartoon caricature of it. I feel the same about the way many of my fellow analytic philosophers dismiss much continental philosophy. Although I confess I indulge in this sort of dismissiveness myself from time to time, I'm now trying to force myself to come up with arguments when I think a certain philosophical project is wrongheaded and, often, it's surprisingly difficult to come up with good arguments that go beyond the "I don't like it".)


  1. Appraisal respect vs recognition respect comes to mind.

  2. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that distinction, Enzo. Can you tell me more?