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Because They Are Universities

The following is a guest post* by Leslie Green, Professor of the Philosophy of Law and Fellow of Balliol College at Oxford University. It was originally published at his blog, Semper Viridis under the title “Why it is hard to be a campus conservative.” [Robert Goodnough, “PR”] Because They...

Comments

Comments in green on the left are from DailyNous, comments on the right are from the philosophymetaforum.

Tim Hsiao

34 day(s) ago

So, in essence, the answer is more like “because conservatism/conservative beliefs are false, silly, or irrational.” Well, it’s easy to say that if you’re already convinced your views are correct or enlightened. This explanation strikes me as patting yourself on the back. In reality, it is almost certainly more complex than that (and at any rate, there are *plenty* of good arguments challenging left-leaning beliefs). When it comes to the political disparity in academia (which varies from discipline to discipline), there are a wide range of other sociological explanations that have found support. The author seems to ignore them entirely in favor of the self-congratulatory explanation. 99 Report

Daniel Kaufman

34 day(s) ago

And good luck with it too. In states like mine, Conservatives dominate the legislature and this sort of thing is just perfect ammunition when making the case for cutting humanities and liberal arts programs. I’m just so disgusted with my political compatriots in the academy. This is the best they can come up with on the shocking imbalance of liberal and conservative faculty? 38 Report

Bharath Vallabha

34 day(s) ago

What a bunch of baloney. This is exactly why many conservatives have lost trust in universities. And not just conservatives, but many liberals as well, including those who leave academia and feel unwelcome there. There is certainly a difference between argument and “flattering personal convinctions”, and universities are about argument. So far, so good. But equally obviously, argument is not a disembodied inquiry into pure ideas: it is a mode of communication where reason and power interconnect in all sorts of ways. Any academic who says, “What I am doing is only reasoning” is lying or self-deceived, because being recognized as only reasoning is the main power move in academia. The power move which says who are rational enough to “only” reason, and those who are so confused as to mix reasoning with flattery, or politics, or identity, etc. An Oxford professor talking about academia as mainly guided by reason is like a Vatican bishop talking about the Church being mainly guided by faith. Both are true as aspirations, and clearly false as institutional claims. Many people, as students, or as people without degrees, feel at a gut level the power of academia in society – the power of prestige, doors opening and a sense of being “in the know”. Why not acknowledge this obvious truth and speak to the worries people are feeling? A defense of academia that doesn’t do this will only further erode the trust towards academia. 73 Report

LTP

34 day(s) ago

While I disagree with the tone of the post, I do think this post is making an important point. To be sure there may be legitimate worries that many have about the intellectual climate on US campuses. However, it is true that a lot of conservatives believe things that no truth seeking person (given current evidence) should believe, such as that climate change is a hoax and that the theory of evolution is completely false and that there are no significant barriers to racial equality left. I know because I have met many people with these attitudes, including people who I think really should know better. Basically I think both “because they are universities” and your point, Bharath, are true. 33 Report

InsideBeing

33 day(s) ago

While I don’t want to become involved in left/right mudslinging contest I still think it is important for people on the left to recognise that it is not only conservatives that believe demonstrably silly things. For example the idea that is held by, I would say, a huge portion of people on the left is that there is literally no difference between male and female other than sex organs. Or, as has been written into Canadian law, that things such as sexuality and gender ‘vary independently’ irrespective of biological sex. I have met many people with these attitudes, including people who I think really should know better. So I would say your point is true to an extent, but it only tells half the story. 16 Report

Bharath Vallabha

34 day(s) ago

Suppose someone believes that climate change is a hoax. Should that person be able to raise it as a legitimate issue of debate in academia? Well, simplistically, let’s say academia is composed of science and philosophy (part of humanities broadly). And maybe in science classes climate change denial shouldn’t be taken seriously. What about in philosophy courses, where philosophy is said to “question everything”, including whether there is an evil demon deceiving us, or if the world came into existence two minutes ago? Here is the rub! Why can we question in academia whether there is an evil demon, but not, at least in the same spirit, if climate change is real? Or if colonialism is good, or if men are smarter than women? The only difference between evil demon and climate change denial is that the latter is politically fraught – and so naturally, that cuts against the spirit of questioning everything. I am not saying the philosophy part of academia should or shouldn’t question climate change. Just that: it is a big philosophical, and very urgent practical, question how we can actually endorse questioning everything in academia (as we ought to) while not letting that reenforce injustice and non-scientific views? What is at issue is nothing less the question: what does public, shared philosophy (of questioning everything) mean in a diverse society? Can academia, or anywhere, be a space of such philosophy, or is it all just power dymanics all the way down? People need to have the guts to face up to this problem head on, not avoid it with self-congratulations – which invariably only comes across as a power move and so proves the opponent’s point. 21 Report

Ray Aldred

34 day(s) ago

Frankly, I don’t think people should question everything. People don’t have that sort of time and they would be epistemically (if not philosophically) stunted if they did. Maybe I’m doing philosophy wrong, but I’m more interested in helping philosophy students think about interesting questions and how to be good human beings to each other, not question everything. I also don’t have a problem with Universities deciding not to hire people who think climate change is a hoax. 51 Report

Joshua Reagan

34 day(s) ago

Who gets to choose what we are allowed to question? Here’s my stance: no questioning the Bible. (We shouldn’t question everything.) I have no problem with Universities deciding not to hire people who don’t believe in the claims of the Bible. 13 Report

Libtard

33 day(s) ago

Well some Catholic universities are pretty clear, in their job ads, they want you to (at least act like you) believe in the scriptures. 0 Report

Bharath Vallabha

34 day(s) ago

Agree no person or group can question everything; not possible or desirable. But academia being open to questioning everything means something else: that everyone in academia can question the assumptions they are drawn to question. And all for focusing on how people can be good to each other. Key feature of which is following one’s passions and questions while leaving room for others to do the same, so that people come together by inspiration and not by force or even by education. No philosophy is required to get everyone to believe the good things, liberal or conservative, through force. But philosophy is required for how to do that without force. 9 Report

Marc Champagne

34 day(s) ago

Emulating what happened with the Philosophical Gourmet Report, would there be a way to make DailyNous a place for news about the philosophy profession without also doubling as someone’s personal platform? 95 Report

Tim Hsiao

34 day(s) ago

Sadly, it seems as if the profession itself has become obsessed with promoting a certain brand of politics. 42 Report

Aidan

34 day(s) ago

This is ludicrous and arrogant. A conservative can believe all those bullet points above and still be a political conservative. Furthermore, the debate does not just come down to “truth” or “falsity”; beliefs regarding values, morality, ethics, rights, norms, etc. are not so simply determined. Of course, values can be argued for or against rationally, and given various justifications, but they are not ultimately true/false in the way scientific empirical facts are. Facts and evidence of course play a role in any moral stance, but are in themselves not conclusive. For example, the insistence on various human rights is not based on a proof via “evidence”. It is a moral stance. In the end these come down to values which are very hard, if not impossible, to “prove” or “disprove”. E..g. Is all life valuable? Would the world be “better” off without humans? (What do we mean by “better”)? Do some lives matter more than others (humans vs. other species)? What is the best form of government? “Best” by what criterion? Etc. 35 Report

Michel

34 day(s) ago

“This is ludicrous and arrogant. A conservative can believe all those bullet points above and still be a political conservative.” Duh. That’s exactly what Green is saying: the way the term “conservative” is being bandied about these days, it seems to exclude anyone who believes all of those bullet points. Call this type of conservative (the type who doesn’t believe in evolution, anthropogenic climate change, etc.) a conservative1, while one who believes in all or most of those bullet points a conservative2. It’s no wonder that there aren’t many conservative1s in universities, since universities aren’t safe spaces for ignorance. Conservative1s have hijacked the dialogue, and their rhetoric is increasingly pushing conservative2s to the margins (since the more you insist that climate change (or a similar touchstone) is a “liberal” hoax, the more you end up branding conservative2s as “liberals”). Green’s point is just that you don’t have to be a conservative1 to identify as a “conservative”. There’s plenty of perfectly respectable space to be a conservative without also being a total ignoramus. This really isn’t that hard, guys. There’s plenty of room to disagree with Green, but at least make an effort to get his point right. FFS. 108 Report

Philippe Lemoine

34 day(s) ago

Of course that’s not what he is saying. If it were what he is saying, he would have said it. You don’t write a post called “Why it is hard to be a campus conservative” if all you want to do is point out that people who form their beliefs in a totally irrational way, which is the case of only a small proportion of the people who complain that it’s hard to be a conservative on campus (at least it’s not larger than the proportion of people who deny it’s a problem and form their beliefs in the same way), are bound to be uncomfortable in places such as universities, which are supposed to be dedicated to the rational search for the truth. The fact that here and there Green qualifies his claims by using vague expressions such as “a certain kind of liberal” doesn’t make his post any less idiotic. Are there conservatives who complain that it’s hard to be conservative on campus for bad reasons? Well of course there are, plenty of them even. But that their reasons are bad is obvious, so when you write a post which you claim is about why it’s hard to be conservative on campus and only address those reasons, you are in effect suggesting that conservatives don’t also have good reasons to complain that it’s hard to be a conservative on campus. If that’s not what you think, then why not address the interesting reasons people have to complain that it’s hard to be a conservative on campus, instead of writing a post on reasons nobody intelligent cares about? 72 Report

Philippe Lemoine

33 day(s) ago

Of course, I meant he qualifies his claims by using vague expressions such as “a certain kind of conservative“, not “a certain kind of liberal“. 2 Report

Urstoff

34 day(s) ago

This is just lazy. 62 Report

Tristian

34 day(s) ago

I’m not sure which ‘conservatives’ Les Green has been talking to or reading but he seems to working from a most simplistic stereotype. The conservatives I’m familiar with think universities are overrun with liberals because, they believe, universities are colleges and universities are full of people who believe things like: Abortion, euthanasia, and maybe even infanticide are morally permissible at least some of the time. There are no respectable arguments against gay marriage and those who oppose it must hate gay people. Affirmative action and generous social welfare programs are self-evidently good and only racists and uncaring people oppose them. Practicing a traditional religious faith is a sign of deep irrationality. Traditional gender roles are self-evidently evil and the traditional families is at best one of any number of equally good settings for raising children. American foreign policy is almost always motivated by evil and is almost always a destructive force in the world. Capitalism is an intrinsically evil way of organizing economic activity. 106 Report

Daniel Kaufman

34 day(s) ago

This, this, and this. 25 Report

JTD

34 day(s) ago

In your list you forgot: “There are no respectable arguments against interracial marriage and those who oppose it are almost always motivated by racism.” 26 Report

calebt45

33 day(s) ago

As popular as that analogy is, I don’t think it holds: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/07/15350/ 2 Report

Alan White

34 day(s) ago

“Abortion, euthanasia, and maybe even infanticide are morally permissible at least some of the time.” Stats show this is a majority view in the country concerning abortion and some forms of euthanasia (broadly construed–but since you do not distinguish active and passive means or apart from assisted suicide, it’s hard to say what you mean), and the remark about infanticide is so ill-stated as to be merely inflammatory. But unless abortion is allowed in some instances, at least some women will face certain death as a consequence of the absolutist alternative. “There are no respectable arguments against gay marriage and those who oppose it must hate gay people.” Since marriage is definable in many religious or purely social contract/legal ways, this statement claims that no argument against any of these different definitions is held to be defensible by people who support gay marriage, and clearly that oversimplifies the entire cohort of gay marriage supporters as a group. Again, another oversimplification. The hate claim is again just inflammatory and stereotyping. “Affirmative action and generous social welfare programs are self-evidently good and only racists and uncaring people oppose them.” The Civil Rights Act of the 60s was a form of affirmative action, though recently this has been twisted to mean just “favoritism that excludes people like me” based on an assumed meritocracy that itself assumes the world has achieved sufficient equality in order to assert it, which is very dubious. The “generous” adjective is prejudicial to “social welfare”, and the use of “self-evidently” is unnecessarily pejorative to how social “good” is measured by rational standards, as is the use of “racists and uncaring people”. Again over the top. “Practicing a traditional religious faith is a sign of deep irrationality.” Realizing that different faiths–particularly ones that practice divine command theory based on their particular scriptures and authorities and thus sometimes assert contradictory commands from their differing perspectives–might therefore be logically incompatible, is no vice. That is independent of course of how rational one particular religious faith might be. However even if one faith perspective is deemed right–that implies the others are wrong. On a metalevel of what that means for a pluralism of global faiths–that’s not good. “Traditional gender roles are self-evidently evil and the traditional families is at best one of any number of equally good settings for raising children.” More “self-evidently evil” claptrap. Such attitudes as accurately described must be a vanishing small part of contemporary scholarship. Philosophical criticisms of gender–even fairly radical ones–have to be charitably set apart from such a ridiculous diatribe. This is more inflammatory rhetoric. And what exactly are “traditional families” except another stereotype? And is the implication that it is rational to believe that only hetero parents are best for raising children? What are the reasons/data for that? “American foreign policy is almost always motivated by evil and is almost always a destructive force in the world.” I defer to historians on this. But again, this is voiced in an inflammatory and on the face of it overly-simplified way. “Capitalism is an intrinsically evil way of organizing economic activity.” More use of an intensive prejudicial adjective before “evil” and another instance of abject smear of the the complexities of the views that criticize capitalism. Now compare these caricatures of liberal bias in universities against Green’s bullet liberal beliefs in them. Are they really on the same level of intellectual respectability? Who is being more simplistic here? 42 Report

Adam

33 day(s) ago

“Species arose through natural selection.” According to the best available evidence. Not sure this is the reason “political conservatives” think the universities are untrustworthy. A strawman. “No author of any gospel ever met Jesus.” Again. Another strawman. “Homosexuality is a normal variant in human behaviour.” Acorrding to prof. Greg Cochran the best hypothesis is a pathogen and that homosexuality is maladaptive. And no, homosexuality doesn’t exist in every population on the planet. I doubt this would score many points in a university debate though. Probably an all out outrage. The opposite claim, however, that homosexuality is a normal variant in human behaviour, would not result in outrage from political conservatives (at least in today’s society). “The United States lost a war against Vietnam.” Is this supposed to be a fact? Everything depends on the definition of “lost”. Militarily, the Vietcong was crushed. Without political pressure and withdrawal, the South would prevail. “Human activity is a significant cause of climate change.” This is considered a denialist position right now. Tells you all you need to know about the direction of bias. “The United States has worse public health than do countries with nationalized health care.” The United States has worse public health than do countries with better public health. BA-DUM-TSS. 6 Report

B · September 19, 2017 at 4:56 am

34 day(s) ago

Quite apart from the content of “liberal” beliefs, many conservatives also complain about the left-wing methodology of persuasion. “Liberal” professors are widely perceived as being uncharitable, militant, and vindictive, silencing opponents by means of public shaming and professional vendetta rather than persuading them with the open exchange of ideas. These are the “habits of thought, modes of inquiry, and sensibilities of outlook” that conservatives worry about. It isn’t the view that Canada has better health care than the U.S. 20 Report

Philippe Lemoine

34 day(s) ago

Rarely have I read anything that was both arrogant and stupid to the extent this post is. 89 Report

Garrett Warren-Davey

34 day(s) ago

Reading this I find myself wondering if the author has ever so much as actually *spoken* to a conservative, if he thinks that adherence to one, some, or all the bullet-points he mentions here are what define conservatism and those of us who have a conservative outlook. To due so is to drastically oversimplify hundreds of years of social and political philosophy; very shoddy writing, really, as his points can be dismissed so easily. His comment on homosexuality is ironic to me considering that having lived in both America (in a very conservative state) and Britain as an openly gay guy the only people who’ve ever been hostile to me regarding my homosexuality are leftists, given they think the left has a monopoly on minorities. Conservatives, generally having been raised to embody old-fashioned good manners, are always kind and decent people. 33 Report

EDT

34 day(s) ago

Is there a name for the fallacy wherein “an argument against position X” by its very nature inadvertently constitutes a compelling argument for position X? Because if not the OP is proof we need one. 31 Report

D B Wharton

34 day(s) ago

I know conservative faculty (and writers) who assent to all Prof. Green’s bullet points; it’s weird that none of the bullet points is constitutive of being conservative. Professor Green: what kinds of conversations have you had with conservative faculty at your institution? Have you asked them what they think about these issues? I’m not convinced you know what conservatism is. P.S. Regarding the Gospels: some Bible scholars think that John’s gospel may have been written by the Beloved Disciple. Richard Bauckham’s *Jesus and the Eyewitnesses* makes a strong (if not dispositive) case. 17 Report

Ray Aldred

34 day(s) ago

Just because you know conservative faculty (and writers) who assent to the bullet points, doesn’t mean that Green is wrong to ascribe attitudinal trends among conservatives along those bullet points. In fact, most polls do, in fact, suggest conservatives differ considerably on climate change, evolution, etc. With respect to climate change, there are huge disparities on whether man-made climate change is actually happening, and they indicate conservatives generally tend to be on the denier side. Similar things can be said for attitudes about evolution. While more conservatives these days might believe in some evolutionary process, there are significantly fewer conservatives who believe in evolution in comparison to those who aren’t conservative. 42 Report

D B Wharton

34 day(s) ago

The latest social science on science denial indicates that liberals and conservatives are equally likely to engage in science denial when scientific conclusions conflict with their attitudes. This effect tends to be invisible to academics, who are overwhelmingly leftish. Their own science denial (e.g. on GMOs or nuclear power ) appears to them merely as common sense or correct opinion, while they use their own science litmus tests (evolution, climate change*) to reinforce their sense of intellectual superiority to the rubes on the right. But your comments in no way vitiate my criticism of Prof. Green’s short essay. The fact that a majority of Democrats think that the Septemter 11 attacks were a GW Bush conspiracy, or the fact that liberals are far more likely to believe in homeopathy than are conservatives, does not entail that conspiracy theories or pseudo-medicine are consitutitive of political liberalism. Political conservatism has particular features — the limiting of government to its proper powers, the principle of subsidiarity, a respect for the value of individuals and private life outside the purview of the state, to name a few — which transcend the issues raised by Green. He doesn’t know this, I suspect, because he doesn’t know any conservative academics. Whether he wants to … I don’t know, maybe he’ll tell us. (*I don’t know a single liberal faculty member who doesn’t believe in athropogenic climate change, and I also don’t know a single one who abstained from using air conditioning this summer (as I did) here in the American south. It’s like a Protestant faith for them — if they confess it with their lips, and believe it in their hearts, that’s good enough. They don’t actually have to DO anything about it, except vote to compel others to do something about it.) 19 Report

Bonnie

34 day(s) ago

I'm really enjoying the kicking that Les Green is getting in the comments for writing this crap.


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