Comments: 182

  1. Callard's arguments here, of course, are philosophical in structure, as befits a philosopher, and the argument itself, so it has the virtue of being internally consistent. The problem with that, though, is that being internally consistent is not a concern of a lot of the people who would be involved in the counterarguments, or in the signing of petitions. Internal consistency is a concern of many, if not most, philosophical positions, but it would be erroneous to assume that those who do not value that would be persuaded by arguments that find it important in the first place; philosophers tend to follow rules of argument that are of less concern in other realms, in which number of "experts" (ethos) or emotional appeal (pathos) may well outstrip logical consistency (logos) in their competitive persuasive power, due to the characteristics of the audience. In essence, it may well be a logical argument that one needs to know one's audience, and adopt appropriate methods of persuasion for it, even if those methods are not logical.

  2. And Plato did have something to say about needing to adopt other means of persuasion when addressing non-philosophers.

  3. Thank you, Professor Callard, for addressing the reason that there is validity in asking "why." I guarantee that the intellectually inquisitive are in the minority - I would say because it is harder to seek a rational answer than simply accept a fact but I find the seeking of reason is an organic necessity for me, rather than a mere volitional exercise.

  4. A beautiful essay on the value of intellectual inquiry for its own sake. In our hyper-polarized environment this was a breath of bracing fresh air.

  5. @Michael R, Bertrand Russell wept.

  6. "There is no greater threat to intellectual culture than the thought that when it really counts, when it actually matters to us, we philosophers give up on doing philosophy. If we don’t believe in what we’re doing, no one else will either." Non-tenured faculty members, whether philosophers or from any other field should not sign petitions. Faculty members who are not full professors should not sign petitions. The academic world is petty and signing the wrong thing can come back to haunt. Only sign when you don't have anything to lose anymore. I should like to point, though, Prof. Callard, that if you (academic) philosophers would stop doing philosophy for any reason, probably nobody else would notice or care.

  7. Thanks Prof. Collard. I have a question about the harm a pop sensation does by signing onto a philosophical position. He or she is not any better than any layman and worse than any philosopher, but people tend to listen and act on their ‘wisdom,’ which is far more dangerous. Most philosophers are not well known and the damage they may cause is limited. It may even help a layman to summarize his enquiry or to start an in-depth enquiry instead of re-inventing the wheel. So in sum, I disagree.

  8. Imagine a society in which everyone was a philosopher, but which was controlled by a tyrannical, but rule-bound dictatorship. Suppose the dictatorship decreed a law that was obviously wrong to the overwhelming majority. For instance, the law could excuse murder when done by the regime. Would it be wrong to circulate and publish a petition, on the grounds that members of the society were philosophers? I would say, clearly not. That a petition is not merely an argument does not absolve philosophers from practical action on behalf of causes they believe to be morally right. Belief in free speech, and the importance of reasoned argument are also moral commitments, which should not be defended on a priori grounds simply by fetishizing the professional status of a philosopher. Some have training and derive income from it, but in essence every human is a philosopher, and their duties as such cannot be presumed always and everywhere to supersede their duties as citizens.

  9. @Shaun Cutts "For instance, the law could excuse murder when done by the regime." Irony, right?

  10. This appears to me as one shaky argument piled upon the next one. A petition is often not meant as a means to "persuade" anyone to agree with what it states, but as a spur to action to people with the power to carry it out. And even if philosophers carry their professional abilities and attitude into their personal lives, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with their joining others to publicly express themselves. And finally, it can at times be so very important to spur those with power to change things that all other considerations fall by the wayside.

  11. In a current case a small group of - I'll call them "culture cops" - decided it would be best to destroy a mural painted in a San Fransisco school 82 years ago. They deemed the work offensive, racist and worthy only of complete destruction. A view not shared by others. In fact most of the students in the school do not want to see the work destroyed. It would seem to me a petition advocating that the work not be destroyed, if signed by hundreds of students, would be of value. Why should a committee decide what can and cannot exists as art? Shouldn't the wishes of those who see the mural every day count? But this is complex. Democracy is messy. I do see the value of a reasoned argument over mere numbers of disbelievers. I also resist the fashion of signing petitions to thwart the exchange of ideas at universities, which comes in the form of blocking certain speakers. We are better when we can talk openly rather than silencing those we disagree with.

  12. Professor Agnes Callard makes several arguments for refusing to join petitions in principle, but does not advance a workable alternative. A professor or philosopher can advance an opinion as an individual and may gain a platform that reaches others above the noise others make, but many others lack a position to make arguments that reach those with power over their fates. With billions of people and opinions to hear, we have made principled decisions about whose opinions are worth attending and whose are part of the noise. In most societies, wealth and donations can buy access (witness the power of oligarchs and billionaire donors). In some, leadership in an organization with numerous members can provide access. You can see this with the NRA leadership’s influence over Trump et al. You can also see it in the power of unions, and Trump’s efforts to decertify the union of immigration judges. You can see the hardships people face without such unions, facing widespread gun violence without federal help, or working in warehouses without meaningful bathroom breaks or humane working conditions (AC), for example. Workers and people that stand as individuals in these conflicts lose their jobs, sometimes they lose more than that. Petitions are not perfect. A handwritten letter or in-person visit can move some politicians. But a petition raises a common concern above the noise. They can also offer personal comments. That’s like a reasoned vote. Philosophers should vote, right?

  13. @NotanExpert: Her whole piece is an excuse for why she personally doesn't care enough about the world to get involved in it. But I'm sure she will exercise all the freedoms that other people fought and died for. She is nothing more than an intellectual leech.

  14. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.- Karl Marx

  15. @johneklund Ah, a pithy quote by Marx that excites the idealistic hearts of children. Other than tens of millions dead and shattered cultures what could go wrong?

  16. @Andrew, The "tens of millions dead and shattered cultures" (also known as the history of the world) is not so much the result of pithy quotes exciting the idealistic hearts of children as the failure to fully comprehend the ideas that underlie the aphorisms. (See also your earlier argument re. bumper stickers.) It can also be laid at the feet of those whose arrogance dismisses idealism as childish.

  17. @michaeltide The aphorism is hardly complex. Do we agree that the meaning is that, according to Marx, philosophers who have attempted to understand the world have missed the point which he then clearly establishes as "changing history"? He is clearly dismissing attempts at understanding and encouraging action. Do we agree so far? So, not pausing to wonder if we understand, lets act anyways. And you think my question "what could go wrong" is somehow arrogant? Well, I think the horrid track record of those who have attempted to build Marxists states shows that they understood this aphorism all too well. And what you call "also known as the history of the world" I call genocide and criminal mass murder by people who followed the advice of this aphorism. Had the leaders who, following Marx, had spent more time attempting to understand and less time changing, the world would be a better place. What makes one a child is not idealism. Its not knowing the history, the documented outcomes of the advice contained in pithy aphorisms.

  18. Frightening. The medicine Callard proposes is worse than the malady: She wants to impose a Code of Professional Conduct for Philosophers, in other words, to impose on philosophers a codified set of rules on how to philosophize. Three observations: 1) First of all, the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath ("Do No Harm") for philosophers ought to be, IMHO, a Socratic Oath ("Know Thyself"). Both Greek, both pithy. 2) To take Callard's analogy of "medical malpractice" to "philosophical malpractice" to its logical conclusion, we need to begin with what "malpractice" means. "Medical malpractice" is a claim against a medical professional for failing to exercise the degree of care and skill that a similarly situated professional of the same medical specialty would provide under the circumstances. In other words, by definition, malpractice is a practice that deviates from the norm, i.e., from some numerical and authoritative standard. Exactly what Collard finds objectionable in a petition, which appeals to the same thing: number and authority. 3) Ergo, to sue a philosopher for malpractice under Callard's Code, all one has to do is to show that a colleague of hers at the University of Chicago (say, a Continental philosopher in her department in the throes of deconstructionism) didn't philosophize according to the norms of Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy which is standard practice in her department. Tenure withdrawn. Dunce cap on the offender.

  19. It seems a simple category error has been made. Petitions are not philosophical but political acts, and the argument made here is as unreasonable as demanding that philosophers not vote, for all the matters is the correctness of the choice of candidate, not the number of supporters. When an administration decides whether to offer or a deny a platform, we hope they are moved in part by their duties to intellectual inquiry, but we may be certain that they are also tallying the numbers likely to be enraged by each course of action, and it is in this political and practical decision that a petition aims to affect the calculus.

  20. @GKJ Isn't Callard's argument based on function? The conclusion seems to me to be not that a human who happens to be a philosopher should not sign a petition, but that insofar as one is acting as a philosopher, one should not sign petitions. The function of a philosopher is to establish positions by rational argumentation, not to petition. That's what I took away. When the admin starts doing nasty things, I suspect one might say that one signs a petition not as a philosopher, but as a faculty member of an institution? Maybe that's a distinction without a difference, but I'm not so sure.

  21. Highly problematic piece. Petitions are not at odds with philosophical ideals. First, petitions often give people whose voices might not otherwise be heard, perhaps because of their position in society (or in their profession), an opportunity to assert an argument publicly; it can be a way of making discourse more inclusive. Second, when it comes to democratic legitimacy, the numbers count.

  22. I admire your views. Thanks for sharing them. In last twenty years, I refused to sign two, the most significant, petitions in my student days that tagged me as non-team player for life. I was concerned about the politicisation of the matter and undue hashing of the opposite party by creating mass momentum. I relied solely on my judgement but in retrospection lack of supportive evidence made me wonder sometimes. This is the first article I am reading that lifted quite a bit of weight.

  23. Signing a petition signals agreement with a position or goal. Like voting, it is based on belief in majority rule. It's not clear if Professor Callard is arguing against representative government or suggesting that philosophers shouldn't participate in democracy, but her argument against signing petitions implies that expressing support for a particular platform or policy somehow robs the voter of intellectual autonomy. At the same time, it suggests that intellectual debate is the special province of philosophers, as if historians or nurses or other types of workers are not equipped or inclined to engage in intellectual exchange. Since the real aim of this essay seems to be to convince philosophy professors not to take political positions within their departments, rather than to assert that philosophers shouldn't participate in the democratic process, it would've been much more persuasive if it had focused on petitions circulated among university faculty, rather than pretending to apply to petitions in general.

  24. @Susanekg Believing in democracy doesn't mean that everything should be put up for a vote. That's why we protect unpopular speech, for example. And that's the point of representative government. We vote for our representatives but they're supposed to consider the merits of the issue, not just count the number of supporters. In this case the writer is saying that academics shouldn't be based on majority rule.

  25. @Max Yes, my point exactly--let's not generalize from university politics to democracy in general or imagine that philosophers have a monopoly over intellectual debate.

  26. And what other forms of hoi pollloi-ish political engagement and activity should philosophers disdain -- marching? striking? unionizing? voting? Is this, then, why we require a philosopher king?

  27. @SN Insofar as one is a citizen, march, vote. Insofar as one is a union member, strike. Insofar as one is a philosopher, argue. It is an argument based on function (as is the argument for philosopher rulers in the Republic); to do anything other than argue is to cease to function as a philosopher. That is Callard's concern. The human who happens to philosophize has other roles. The concern is that by signing a petition as a prof of philosophy and hat is discipline specific is concerning for philosophy. That's my takeaway.

  28. Wow, an article in The Stone that is clearly and succinctly written and sensibly and forcibly argued. I happen to agree with Professor Callard. Where can I sign up?

  29. Ms. Callard argument can also be extended to show why we won't get anything done on major issues like Gun Control. Many Democrats and "educated" progressives will sign petitions. They will "like" a post or a "meme". They will come up with a clever new "hashtag" and "tweet" it. They will definitely "protest" and may even "occupy". Meanwhile, the supporters of the Vichy GOP will go to the polls and VOTE the party line for ALL of their candidates, even in those "boring" state elections Democrats and "educated" progressives sit out. Democrats and "educated" progressives have always been drawn to the grand, empty gestures as opposed to the small meaningful yet boring ones like voting.

  30. "One thing that is distinctive about philosophy is that unlike other disciplines, it is philosophical all the way down." Sigh. This statement exemplifies the problem with philosophy; that is, why except for "vocational" philosophy, this pursuit goes nowhere. Fundamental philosophy addresses questions but instead of giving answers just leads to "deeper" questions. Consider the question, is there a God? The correct response is: what is meant by "is" and what is meant by "there"? "Is" implies a universal time which is contrary to relativity, etc. So, you can start the process trying to define "is" and then define the terms in its definition and keep going "all the way down." But this is not a bottomless pit. It leads you somewhere, that being what is called mathematics. There are no absolute truths. The most that can be said about any conjecture is that it is or is not consistent with a given set of axioms, those axioms being assumed truths. Postulating a set of sufficient, consistent axioms and deriving "truths" from them is mathematics. But that is not the end of the story. A profound discovery by mathematicians has been that for any given set of axioms, there is an infinity of conjectures that can never be proven to be true or false. (See "the Limits of Reason", Scientific American, March 2006). It’s been my experience that few philosophers understand the limits to reason and that their "decent down" in pursuit of truths is a waste of time

  31. @Leonard Miller Plenty of philosophers understand and are concerned with the limits of reason. There's even this really famous book called the Critique of Pure Reason wherein Kant attempts to set out the limits of reason. In short, philosophers have been and continue to be concerned with the limits of reasons and trying to understand what can be answered since the Enlightenment. To be blunt, you're ignorant.

  32. @The Lorax You've verified my point. Despite since the Enlightenment trying to understand what can and cannot be answered, philosophers have not come to any closure. That sort of suggests the futility of their efforts. There is a reason that they will never get closure. For a given set of axioms, not only are there conjectures that can never be proven true or false, also (a) it is not possible to determine which conjectures are unprovable and, (b) it is not possible to determine another set of axioms that would prove some unprovable conjecture. It is a remarkable achievement that reason has been used to reveal that reason has limits. But the important point is that this finding has been arrived at through a "mathematical" approach rather than from the musings of Kant and countless other endless philosophers.

  33. @Leonard Miller You're making a point about first principles that Aristotle articulated in his Metaphyics. You cannot demonstrate first principles, but only make demonstrations from them. I'll say it again: philosophers are not and have never been ignorant of the problem you raise. And, by the way, mathematics uses rules of logic to arrive at its conclusions just as philosophy does. It is just that mathematics uses rules of logic to analyze quantitative being to the exclusion of other categories of being. You want to give credit, then give it to logic, not mathematics.

  34. Only a philosopher would not call this a "dirty fight"! I mean that in a humorous and very respectful sense. I love this essay because, even if it is meant to discuss "aggressive" politics in a field that is perfectly capable of not having to resort to petitions--especially when asking for actual sanctioning--it speaks to the our current media problems of propaganda and hysterics -- in a world that likes to tweet and "go viral" to discuss with and influence large masses of people. I do wonder if the petitions you speak of relate to a current Philosophy department policy or problem or if they were directed at the entire field? How would the petitions be published or acknowledged and therefore gain traction? Is it a free speech issue or a possible legal issue? Does it need to be resolved? I don't think being more specific would be beside the point... Writing this essay as a New York Times op-ed might also be seen as "aggressive" to your peers in that you are unlikely to have a rebuttal in the Times. Where would a healthy debate take place--at a conference, in journals, on campus, books, etc.? In other words how and where would you carry out the forum? Your writing in the Times isn't "aggressive" to me--I appreciate all of the sentiments in your piece. I study information science and always want to hear about how information is disseminated and how it affects us. Let us hear from you again.

  35. Ms. Callard takes it that the objective of a petition is to persuade solely on the basis of the number and authority of its signatories. But it has another objective: to convince the reader at least to explore the issue -- to be inquisitive and investigate the issue at hand. There are too many issues of too great complexity for any of us to become knowledgeable about them all. A petition serves as a kind of plea to the reader in how she should could allocate her precious resource of time in intellectual investigation: "This is important to people whom you respect and care about. Look into it further. Take some time to understand the issue. And if you agree too, add your name to implore others to investigate and inquire." In this way, and with the right wording, a petition can align with the ends of intellectual curiosity and inquiry championed by Ms. Callard.

  36. I read this and reminded of Monty Python’s Philosophers Football Match: Greeks versus Germans. Much contemplation, very little movement, one flash of insight. Tedious and self-congratulatory. Fraught with impunity and the absence of existential risk. Philosophers spend too much time in the ‘Cave’. Come into the sunlight. Take a stand. Now more than ever we need intellectually rigorous leadership.

  37. Pure argument on the merits is fine when interminable disagreement and, even in the ultimate and ideal case, the proliferation of multiple competing positions is acceptable. Sometimes, though, we aren't morally permitted to 'be philosophical'. If harm is being done to people, we may have an obligation to stop the harm first (or alongside) trying to intellectually persuade those doing it. And I take it that the petitioners thought that they were confronted with a case like that. I get it: policing expression is especially problematic for a philosophical community. Rather than forbidding some thought-expression entirely, I would suggest an 'opt-in' solution, wherein someone who finds such speech threatening can decline to enter the 'unsafe space', and those who want to can enter. Failing to provide any forum for engaged discussion of gender issues would also de-platform advocates for gender inclusion.

  38. One of the key traits I've found with reading the words of Philosophers is the need to re-read every sentence and paragraph a few times to gather the full meaning. This was worth the effort.

  39. The signatures just tell me the argument is worth my time to read. Tons of arguments are made, one can’t read them all. But one signed by many good argument-makers is likely not frivolous. The signatures aren’t saying you must accept this because we do; it’s a given that an argument addressed to philosophers will be dissected on the merits.

  40. I like the essay very much. There is something odd about philosophers using their professional status and numbers to promote a particular view, rather than just arguing for that view as the truth, to anyone who is willing to consider the arguments. But Socrates too was willing to flatter and pressure others into listening, within limits. I’m not giving up my power to award higher grades to those who show they have been listening. Purity in philosophy is not obviously right.

  41. A counter example? So much for the Declaration of Independence (1776)!? Now we get to argue whether a "declaration" is an "open statement" or "public assertion." The UChicago has a reputation for listening to unpopular, out of favor, unattractive, and controversial points of view. Maybe that is what this article is trying to say, albeit with the required logical gymnastics.

  42. Well I did sign a petition in support of doing something about economic inequality. I believe it was a petition from Noah Smith's blog, supported by Professor Krugman, while working on my degree. I am not impressed with our education and healthcare systems, after supporting the Democratic party for over two terms. I think we need to discuss topics. e.g., euthanasia, etc., etc.

  43. I'm reminded of my time decades ago as an undergrad philosophy major, when I was writing a paper on Descartes (fortunately by now forgetting what aspect of his work). Reading extensively, understanding minimally, writing expansively, grasping for an A, which I received -- surely because the prof, who I loved, took pity on my ignorance but admired my ability to write long sentences with proper punctuation. This anti-petition piece is argued far more logically than was my Cartesian chaos. But to me it's not more real-world applicable. And almost seems anti-democratic. Agreed that a list of names neither affirms nor denies the veracity of any position. But it often conveys the strength of opinion, ideally one thoughtfully considered. And sometimes it's the only way to "collect" a view of a portion of society's mindset about an issue. "I think, therefore I sign."

  44. If physicists signed a petition opposing the mistreatment of other physicists no one would confuse the signatures on the petition as scientific statements. Philosophers are people. Philosophers opposing what they perceive to be the mistreatment of other philosophers are not making statements of philosophy. They are making statements as people.

  45. Human beings are one of three closely related surviving African primate apes-bonobos and chimpanzees. Bonobo culture and society is a peaceful sex-driven matriarchy. While chimpanzee culture and society is a violent sex and violence driven patriarchy. Humans are clearly more chimpanzee than bonobo. Humans beings are driven by their biological DNA genetic evolutionary fit 300.000 years of African origin to crave fat. salt, sugar, habitat, water, sex and kin by any means necessary including conflict and cooperation. That is the human truth behind, beneath, inside and over every philosopher and philosophy.

  46. Even if homo sapiens sapiens were deemed 96% chimp and bonobo, our job is to maximize the power of the frontal cortex and language center of our brain, and to learn from the experience of other humans -- not to relax into the supposition that we have no control over anything and are just floating through life. This hard work is what thinking philosophically is all about.

  47. @Blackmamba. Exactly.The more we learn about primates, the workings of evolution, biology and science in general, the better picture we have of ourselves. The assumption that humans are fundamentally different is just tribal prejudice; like the notions necessary to support hundreds of religions, justify war, or connect unproven absolutes to all aspects of our behavior. People, although we may be able to end it all, are not the be-all and end-all. Our little overheating planet is not the center of the universe, nor is it distinguishable from trillions of others we are just now understanding to be there. Elizabeths comment, below, is absolutely standard wishful justification for human behavior, but it is not supported by any of the history we know about. For sure, academic philosophy isn’t helping us understand ourselves.

  48. You speak of an academic posture more than of philosophy. Philosophy is an activity the philosopher writes or orates because the world exists, not because philosophy does. There is nothing inherent in the philosopher to disqualify their arguments; after all Russell spent a heady sexy summer with Eliot’s wife while the poet wrote Waste Land and Wittgenstein believed his homosexuality came from his Jewish blood. Spinoza did not leave his room in Amsterdam for seven years. Great thinkers and great artists are still more idiosyncratic than those neither thinking often nor well. Petitions are political writs that now and again lead to revolution. Remember why Marx despised philosophers — they thought they could understand the world without changing it.

  49. I know how this will sound, but... I do not argue much today because most people cannot. They are illogical, overly emotional, and thus unreasonable. They meet facts with opinion; they challenge argument with "well, that's what YOU think" and believe that is retort. I don't argue much today because in the USA, many are simply ignorant and cannot see beyond their selfishness, their fears, and pushing the pedal in their cages again and again and again to consume, to find convenience, and to be rich so they can do nothing. (Trump should be evidence enough of that, but I digress.)

  50. If philosophers are becoming “deplatformed” because of their perceived views, the only way to philosophically inquire into their substance is to actually hear them — which is impossible if they have been wrongly (or prematurely) deplatformed. Thus, perhaps there actually does need to be a petition to end deplatforming in order to preserve inquiry. I am also curious that if a petition with a clear position statement is distasteful grandstanding pandering to the non-philosophical masses, how is a NYT Op-Ed less so?

  51. There's something admirable about the urge to avoid settling arguments by political action rather than by careful discussion. But in the case of the petition Callard refused to sign, she was being asked to declare her allegiance to rational discussion, against people who want to censor some ideas. She does this by writing for the NYT rather than by signing the petition. She gives the impression that she feels guilty for not signing and so wants to make up for it with this writing. It would have been more admirable if she had actually come out against deplatforming.

  52. n objection to most philosophy today is that it is divorced from what we do. That is suggested in this parable: A sultan once awoke in the middle of the night and summoned his wizard, “Wizard,” he said. “My sleep is troubled. Tell me. What is holding up the earth?” “Majesty.” replied the wizard, “the earth rests on the back of a giant elephant.” “But what is holding up the elephant?” The wizard said, “The elephant stands on the back of a giant wizard. And you can stop right there, Majesty. It’s turtles all the way down.” The great temptation for scholars is to examine for their own intoxicating sake “turtles all the way down.” Philosophical radicals once put copulating dogs in the midst of astonished professors at the American Philosophical Association convention to show how far removed they are from the rhythms of life. Most philosophy today has more to do with solving equations than working through classic questions of knowledge and ethics, such as: What should we value? What is true? What can be known? What exists? How should life be lived?

  53. @Philip. Exactly the first image I had: turtles all the way down. I hope academic philosophy, an insular, hermetically sealed dead end of its own making, currently has at least a few bright folk interested in pulling those introspective thumbs from out the group sphincter and connecting up with science, law, politics, medicine, and the other human adventures this author so disses as not basic. It’s not as if our universities need a roster of priests just for completeness: somebody has to pay salaries and give them rooms.

  54. The ivory-tower, navel-gazing attitude of this article is exactly why I did not go into academia, despite its many allures. The author argues against signing any petition -- even one that represents a position she agrees with and, what is worse, even one that might accomplish some good -- because it does not represent the right way to change things for the better. The self-defeating purism of that position is frightening. It is also amoral in its valuing of a logical schema over a practical good. Our democracy is burning. The Times should not devote space to an argument that water should not be thrown on the fire unless it comes in the correctly-shaped bucket.

  55. I don't know about philosophers, this story is a bit too esoteric for me but as a citizen I am always hesitant to sign one. The few I have signed in the past turned out to be wrong. When younger I signed a petition for a death sentence re a killer and eventually became an abolitionist. I signed a petition against my landlord once and it turned out the tenants were wrong. Bottom line if you are gonna sign something, make sure without a reasonable doubt it is right and just not just convenient for the time, to please somebody or done on a whim.

  56. Ya I think Callard dropped the ball on this one. Climbing the Mount for clarity distances one from the chorus of thoughts/ ideas which lead to it . IMHO

  57. This is a ridiculous argument. Petitions move people who hold power to make different decisions, so of course they are useful. As for persuading people, that is legitimate too. It is very likely, though not certain, that if many people believe something there may be something to it. But the fact that many people do believe something does not preclude anyone from thinking through the issue themselves. Has philosophy become so empty that this is all a professional philosopher can think of to write about?

  58. Since philosophers are (mostly) citizens as well as philosophers, why shouldn't they do other things citizens do, like write letters to the editor or go to city council meetings to complain about potholes? After all, potholes can damage the tires of philosophers and grocery clerks alike. Next question: should philosophers vote? Or is voting an illegitimate attempt to wield influence?

  59. I think this note overstates the role arguments, rather than listening to expert consensus, should play in people’s beliefs. Should everyone be neutral on climate change until they’ve read the underlying studies? Also, regarding “Much of the job of the philosophical expert...”, I have no idea what a “philosophical expert” is, beyond being an expert in what other philosophers have said.

  60. I think some of the comments misconstrue what the author is writing about it. She is not promoting the elimination of petitions altogether. She is making the case that (academic) philosophers should not sign petitions. I think she makes a reasonable case within the framework of how she defines the role of philosophers in society. Implied, perhaps, in her op-ed, is that we have become pretty poor at thinking about and arguing, in any depth, about differences of opinion/truth. Impersonal, hastily written and inflamed discourse on social media, self-reinforcing discussions within echo chambers, withdrawal as a result of perceived intellectual victimization and insult - the list is long as to why we simply cannot, are unequipped, to argue about issues/truth. Philosophers can both do this for us and show us how to do it. Yes, the discourse can be frustratingly abstruse and we might disagree, but there is logic therein. "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Anyway, she's at least partly right about petitions. If I had a petition to block the closing of my local public library, I'm pretty sure it would carry more weight if President Obama signed it than if my next door neighbor (who is not President Obama, by the way) did. But that has nothing to do with why.

  61. You are to be congratulated Me. Collard! If I could, I’d take your class!

  62. How about we cancel “cancel culture” and deplatform the “deplatformists”. Funny, in Orwell’s dystopian vision it’s Big Brother who imposes regimentation, surveillance, and though control on everyone (think the Khmer Rouge and present-day Communist China). Now everyone is Big Brother in the name of—get this doublespeak—liberal values. These days, Orwellian is just another word for everyday life.

  63. Two thumbs up!

  64. Once again another meh article by someone who argues that the perfect is more important than the good enough. Pay attention, philosopher. Your world is co-opted by moneyed influences who thumb the scales. All we get is wars and hate and the best you can do is argue for intellectual purity? Bah.

  65. Georges Sorel might not agree.

  66. It sounds like the notion of common sense can be as destructive for the philosophical sphere as it is for the political: "Common Sense: A Political History" ( It is far from clear why so much faith is placed in "common sense." It is clear that the concept can impede in numerous spheres.

  67. Philosophers don't need to sign petitions because they are the most homogeneous group in America. We already know what they believe. Does the author have any colleagues who: --have voted Republican in the past 20 years? --oppose affirmative action? --own an AR-15? --believe that homosexuality is wrong? --can calculate the net present value of a rental property? Point, set, match.

  68. @Troglotia DuBoeuf You obviously have not looked into the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Are there conservative philosophers? Oh yes. Yes there are. Very good ones.

  69. C’mon - this article is simply your own widely transmitted version of a petition.

  70. Hannah Arendt wrote that "the sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil." It would seem that Prof. Callard would have philosophers spend their careers/lives deciding....And in the meantime.....

  71. I’ll add to your quote about evil that most evil is done by those who are trying to do good.

  72. Too bad Callard wasn't around in 1776 to explain to the Founders that petitioning the government for a redress of grievances is philosophically dishonest. In fact, why bother to show any decent respect for the opinions of mankind by explaining in public, with signatures, why separation with Britain was warranted? No, all in all, Adams, Jefferson, and the lot of them would have been much better off writing a deep thinkpiece on abstract liberty for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society or somesuch outlet. It's hard to think true thoughts amidst the stench of the hoi polloi. The only honest way to bring Enlightenment philosophy to the world was via an academic article with a readership of three. Too bad the Founders were too dense to understand how to make philosophy relevant in the world. If only they'd had the benefit of Agnes Callard's wisdom back then! :--- "Um, Dr. Franklin, it seems to me that it's philosophically dishonest to say that we'll either hang together or hang separately, as you're conflating two distinct meanings of the lexical item 'to hang,' and we all know how distasteful puns are to the true philosopher. "I mean, surely Dr. Franklin will recall Plato's injunction against laughter in The Republic, no? And did Dr. Franklin *really* say this or was he just self-fashioning through rhetorical performance, a process I critically explore in my recent, hopefully tenure-inducing book in my tagline and available now where all good books are sold."

  73. @Doug Tarnopol My best laugh all day for sure. Thanks for the witty response.

  74. Firstly there are plenty of documents rich in philosophy with many co-signers e.g. the Declaration of Independence. Also this petition is about ill practices in your profession. You need not be a philosopher all the time and you should take into account your other responsibilities as a professional. In the end you had a choice to back the cause in the for of the petition or by writing an essay in support. Instead you write a essay about why petitions are bad for philosophy. It’s clear to see your priorities.

  75. Fifth paragraph is missing a set of parentheses. I have corrected it here: As a philosopher, I want my influence to be philosophical, which is to say, I want to bring people to believe only what they, by their own lights, can see to be justified; I don’t want them to believe something because (I am one of the) many people (WHO) think it.

  76. Let’s extend this to voting, specifically academic votes of no confidence in a Dean, Provost, or President. Would the philosopher abstain? Arguing that the reason is more important than the action?! That permits evil to triumph — a non voter casts a vote indirectly. Indeed, in by-laws situations, it can be equivalent to casting a No vote. As to petitions, thank goodness more than a thousand former prosecutors, Republicans and Democratic, signed a statement saying that Trump's actions as described in the Mueller report warranted charges of obstruction of justice. That brought clarity to the matter, few of us are lawyers or have the time to read the report in its entirety. It also, more to the point of the column, renewed attention on the examples —i.e., signing a petition and achieving a critical mass can ensure that the *reasons* for signing get publicity and are taken seriously, something this philosopher advocates! So, sign the petition and do not hide inaction behind a facade of hoping for critical inquiry — and public debate — that may never come if you don’t sign!

  77. To the contrary, “petitions,” “open letters” or “public statements” are not really “distinguished by the fact that after stating and arguing for a position, [they list] the names of people who endorse the position.” Opinion pieces signed by philosophers in the NYT or, for that matter, academic publications do the same. Associate Professor Callard from the University of Chicago focuses here on the implicit argumentum ad populum in petitions signed by many people, arguing that it detracts from the real argument supporting the position endorsed by the petitioners and thus “compromise[s] core values of intellectual inquiry.” Then again, signing one’s name to an argument with affiliation and credentials creates an implicit argumentum ad verecundiam, inviting those of us who are intellectually uninquisitive to accept the conclusion based on the author’s authority rather than the reasons given to support it. Taking a principled stand on the former but not the latter is nonsensical.

  78. Philosophy: to ask. Science, medicine and math (all branches of inquiry founded by philosophers): to know. Logic: to reason. Rhetoric: to persuade. Politics: to act. Different categories. Different activities. Somewhere in this article, something important was either being obscured or was lost. Why was the article written? How many philosophers believe it’s their JOB to sign petitions? Their DUTY (in the sense of moral obligation)? Or is the author troubled by what some philosophers are doing in their spare time? What is the issue here? Is the problem that philosophers are signing petitions for fun? Or to acquire power and influence? Is this a dangerous trend or a centuries-old error? What are the stakes—both for the philosopher and for society? If you don’t believe in signing petitions, and you want the reader’s full understanding, it might be more persuasive to give the reason using fewer words and concepts. Otherwise you lack the persuasive power that comes from clarity. The Times has committed to printing a diversity of opinions. This is a good thing. So thank you to the paper and to the author. Problem is, we’ve now heard from a philosopher, but we don’t have a clear understanding of what issues today’s philosophers are facing. I just slogged through a book of philosophy “for the non specialist.” A grueling read. It confirmed my lifelong preference for much shorter articles by philosophers. And this piece was no exception, interesting as it was

  79. @Suzanne Stroh Recommend The Stone Reader. It's there, succinctly edited and purposefully provocative...

  80. Dr. Callard, As much as we wish it weren't so, our Philosophers are now found solely in academia, if they are to be found at all. We must go all the way back to the academic Cal Coolidge to find a "thinker" president, and he didn't so fare well. One can't "pesuade by argument" any longer, since there are now no greed-upon minor premises. Therefore, there can be no vailid major this one, of course :) If Socrates were to return, he'd ask for another hemlock cocktail. It's all, as Alice would report the Queen to say, a Wonderland of impossible things to be done. The only "rip" anyone gives any longer is their own. Syllogisms are only for the "sylly" few among us.

  81. @Lake. woebegoner Really, it's always been thus.

  82. I agree with the writer: philosophers should remain in their cozy ivory towers, like Descartes, sitting in his warm rented room during a cold winter in Holland, doing a tabula rasa and writing Le Discours de la Méthode. If you forget what you have been told about the Great Man and read this famous little opus, full of absurdity and faulty logic, you can see the value of philosophy.

  83. @Claude Vidal Descartes is well worth more time and consideration than you would give him.

  84. @Claude Vidal Seriously. Descartes' ideas had zero influence on the course of modernity. That whole mastering and controlling nature thing especially did nothing to influence scientific investigation. Even better, those dolts Hobbes, Locke, and Montesquieu. Everyone knows philosophy has no impact on anything. Certainly not the Constitution of the United States.

  85. There is a place for expert petitions in informing the public on some important issues. Most citizens, even intelligent ones, have not read the Mueller Report in its entirety and cannot sort through the legal issues of whether Trump obstructed justice and would be prosecuted if not the President. For that reason, the fact that 800 former federal prosecutors signed a letter stating that his actions would “result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice" were he not President is important public information.

  86. Although an argument can and does exist independent of its author, we do note, especially over time, the expertise and wisdom of the authors and their thoughts and values. They earn the right to be "influencers" and as such their signature on a petition or statement can and should be part of the larger gestalt of proper argument.

  87. Claiming that philosophers who sign petitions are violating their duties as philosophers to persuade by argument is like claiming that religious leaders who sign petitions are making improper religious arguments. Philosophers are allowed to take off their philosopher hats. That's how use a hat - you put it on and you take it off.

  88. An absolutely wrong and obviously sophistical perspective. Philosophers are first and foremost citizens, they represent perhaps a clearer voice that can pierce through the social and moral morass that the country has been mired into. And yes, they should be welcomed to sign petitions and jump into the public arena, penetrate into the mass-media. An arena otherwise infected by and exclusive to sports channels, MMA, kardashians, andy cohens, and of course, televangelists.

  89. "a philosopher is a priest in disguise"...shaking a finger...shame shame....

  90. @andy Who is Nietsche? for $500, Alex.

  91. Talk is cheap.

  92. Let's talk Aristotle, then. Aristotle said that there is only one "sex" - and it is "male". "Women" are simply "deformed males". I seriously doubt that the New York Times will be happy with me if I present his "proofs", so I will not. I will simply say, "Google Aristotle's 'deformed male", capiche? Now, there was a reason why A. defined women so, and it was because only the "perfect male" could be included in the Law. By being "deformed" women (and slaves) could be excluded from the Law. Oh, happy days!, said Thomas Aquinas. There will be no females being equal in MY Catholic Church! Gosh, we like that, too, said the Founding Fathers. And that's why, 2,500 years after Aristotle's death, the women of the United States are still not included in the Constitution, are not "equal" - including you, Dearie - and, likely never will be. But they sure are taxed the same, aren't they? As for when "ensoulment" occurs, philosophy, religions and Laws, all have a hundred different ideas of when THAT happens. And, then there is the definition of "Equal", according to Plato: It is, "to the great much will be given, to the lesser's it will be less, all according to their nature"..... and "nature" was defined by sex. We know that pithy explanation as, "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer." It is now 5:28 AM and this was a real eye-opener. I am so relieved that you were never my philosophy teacher. Now I shall go have my coffee. Pax tibi.

  93. @rosa Aristotle was a sexist. Plato was not. Check your sources.

  94. @Edward Plato was as big a sexist as Aristotle. Plato: Men would have 1 job for life: Women had 3. 1) Normal work; 2) continuous pregnancy; 3) the "rape-reward for the Silvers when they come off the field - and they may not refuse", moreover," if they have any complaints let them take them to the Oracle". Men got written laws - women got whatever the Oracle felt like. And perhaps you missed that "rigged breeding lottery"? More, they were forbidden to choose their own partners: They were to be "passed around in the Brotherhood of like believers", but not the men. Plato was a super-sized sexist! In fact, the Catholic Church used his model of a "Republic" as the template for their monastic system. Sources? Plato's "Republic", "Laws"; Morag Buchan, "Women In Plato's Political Theory"; and, B.Clark, "Misogyny In The Western Philosophical Tradition". Start there... Just curious, but are you aware that Plato's "Republic" was a religious cult, yes? That's why the ancient world didn't beat a path to his Academy. He was certainly no Cleisthenes, the Father of Democracy!

  95. @rosa Sorry, that's "Clack", not "Clark". And the Source for the Aristotle reference is that rarely-read, "Generation of Animals". Also, forgot to mention that "wandering womb" matter that Republican Senators have brought up before. The "wandering womb" is when the womb 'wanders' around within the woman's body, thereby escaping rapes., never getting pregnant. "Nature has it's way of escaping....." Republican Senators have sagely advised us. Was it Steve King? Well, someone..... Anyway, I hope this all helps you out, Edward. My only explanation for not providing my sources was that it was 5:30 in the morning and I hadn't yet had my coffee. My bad!

  96. “persuade by argument, not by wielding influence... Ms. Callard is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago.” Then why list your credentials? Why publish in selective venues? The venue is argument from authority — of editors and reviewers. The authority serves not to quash debate but to draw attention.

  97. @Ilya Shlyakhter Excellent observations!

  98. This all is predicated upon the dubious prposition that anyone rally cares any longer what academic philosophers think about anything.

  99. If that's all there is to philosophy, you can have it. My students live in the real world and I'll do what I can t make it better for them.

  100. “Onions!’ says Strepsiades, in Aristophanes’ The Clouds, when told that Socrates and his students are studying “the things below the earth.” (In other words, all the way down.) Long ago I learned ancient Greek and Latin to read ancient philosophers, German to read modern ones. And the things that certain of them led me to understand are with me every moment, as much as the air I breathe, of immeasurable importance to my inner life. Now, though, may be the time for “Onions!” in our outward lives, including our decisions about signing petitions. Trump and his project of global destruction will not be taken down by reasoning. Onions!

  101. minor point: a petition is not an intellectual argument, it's a demonstration of "the popular will." it's documentation of an opinion widely held. it's proof that such a number of people want the governmental or institutional authorities to make a certain decision around a certain issue. "persuade by argument" means to argue, dispute, counter. signing a petition means agreeing -- "i agree with all these other people about this issue." a petition is a statement of fact; it's a misperception to believe the petition is an intellectual argument. still, it is amusing, entertaining in a small way to see such intellectual rigor invested in arguing a false premise and a misperception ... especially because the alt-right speakers are still banned from your campus, in part because you didn't sign the petition against deplatforming.

  102. @drollere To be fair, the University of Chicago is not exactly a bastion of left wing radicals. The Committee for Social Thought, the Pres coming out and saying there will not be safe spaces or stupid trigger warnings at U of C.

  103. @drollere: I'd like to see a petition contest over what an "establishment of religion" is.

  104. Should professional philosophers (those within the educational system) sign petitions or stand independent, on own merit? I don't see why they wouldn't sign petitions for the simple reason they are already compromised as to integrity, that becoming a professional philosopher today is not something to be particularly proud of, it's not like we're looking at a high standard of excellence or anything. In fact the entire course of professional philosophizing seems a process determined to rub out the independent mind, to enforce group thinking: From the left it appears the ideal is to have philosophy a group endeavor like a sports team, but there must be equal representation among players and no superstar players not to mention superstar players who would unbalance the ideal of equal representation, and from the right it's the usual political, economic (libertarian), religion thinking we have heard for decades. In fact professional philosophy today does not even come up to group standards of excellence let alone strive to recognize exceptional individuals. Any number of groups from Navy Seals to professional sports teams to music groups demand more of the individual and group. The entire field of the humanities seems compromised to me, of low standard of excellence in first place. Better to fail at something truly difficult than to be proud of many of the degrees offered in the educational system these days. If I could go back and do school again it would be hard science.

  105. @Daniel12: As a physicist and atheist, I have always found the admission of non-factual reasoning to philosophy a dead end.

  106. Professor Callard presents an interesting and compelling argument. I would love to read a response from one of the philosopher petition-signers.

  107. Are we, and philosophers in particular, ought to avoid public political activity until “we” have taught everybody else what “we” consider the necessary facts, habits of rational analysis, and relevant socio-economic circumstances that make for “we” consider an informed decision? And if philosophers are constrained to avoid signing petitions and the like, should — must — they refrain from voting. Are petitions and elections to be controlled only by the least qualified to do so? Or do we all — philosophers included — engage in the life of which we are inescapably a part and do the best we can with the knowledge and values by which we govern our lives?

  108. Professor Callard is stating her own opinion rather than Philosophizing. The Philosophers who signed the petition are stating their opinions. None are acting as Philosophers. They are acting like voters.

  109. What do signed petitions give us reason to do? It seems that Callard’s answer is that petitions give us reason to believe that what the petition calls for is right. Callard rightly asserts that this would be a bad reason, as it rests on an appeal to authority. However, it doesn’t seem to me that this is what petitions do (or at the very least how philosophers ought to treat petitions). First, popular petitions give us reason to think carefully about the views they express - if enough of my peers share a view about what is to be done within the discipline, then I have reason to take a serious look at the view and critically evaluate it as a philosopher (when I might not have had reason to evaluate it otherwise). Second, popular petitions provide a democratic reason for action even in the absence of philosophical agreement. The people in authority for whom the petitions are written receive the petition not in their capacity as a philosopher but in their capacity as the journal editor, conference organizer, etc. And, the fact that a good number of people participating in journals, conferences, etc. are petitioning for a certain action to be taken puts pressure on those in authority to respond in some way. Since being prompted to think about or respond to a petition isn’t the same as believing it on the authority of those who have signed it, it doesn’t seem that petitions necessarily run afoul of any of the philosophical faults that Callard claims they inherently have.

  110. Petitions are competitive numbers games, typically won by the faction that can pay the most signature solicitors. US politicians answer only to their own most profligate donors anyway.

  111. Your initial premise is wrong - or at best incomplete. A petition is not an attempt to persuade by argument; it is an attempt to convince those in power that a substantial number of people support a particular cause. It is thus a precursor to democratic action, such as placing an item on a ballot. In cases where voting is not at issue (such as a plea for clemency), a petition attempts to show that there is much public support for the desired action. The danger of petitions lies in their frequent need to oversimplify complex situations or arguments. But that's not a reason to reject all petitions; it's a reason for the would-be signer to think carefully first.

  112. The real question is how to get people to a state of mind to sign any petition.

  113. About one of your points I beg to differ. Practitioners of I'd suggest all disciplines do indeed ask the question "what in fact is my discipline, what is it for, what does it do, what has it done and what in the future will it do." No self-respecting professional can behave otherwise, whether you're an art historian or a mathematician or an astronomical radiologist. Sure, philosophy gets the prize -- navel gazing about the navelness of the navel and whether in fact a navel even exists -- but there are are plenty of other places where fundamental introspection about one's art and craft always have and always will flourish. I'd submit a good plumber does the same, wonders at the history of plumbing (fascinating) and over a pipe wrench and under a sink considers just what plumbing actually is and what might its place be in the big scheme of all things.

  114. —Science doesn’t ask, “What is science?”— The scientists, social and natural, I know are deeply engaged in this question. Especially now that science has been demoted to an opinion among many by our president. I wish this philosopher would get out of the Phil-silo more.

  115. Professor Callard's argument makes a great deal of sense as long as an environment that tolerates free enquiry exists. If that environment is sufficiently threatened, then the very right to engage in philosophy is at risk, and the philosopher won't protect it by addressing herself only to other philosophers. To take no action at all in the face of a sufficiently extreme threat is to be like the mathematician of the old joke who wakes up to a small fire in her hotel room, does a quick calculation of the amount of water needed to put it out, and goes back to sleep with the satisfaction of knowing that a solution to the problem exists. Of course, Professor Callard and other philosophers must decide for themselves whether or not they belief that such a threat exists now, and if so, why.

  116. @Stephen Merritt: Theocracy is the biggest threat to love of knowledge today.

  117. So the Dean of the Philosophy Department never expresses opinions or enforces consensus -- 'cause he's a philosopher? Marianne Williamson will be taught next semester? If philosophers, as scholars, teachers and college administrators, can't collectively oppose "deplatforming", how do they justify their profession -- and their salaries?

  118. You could do both. I've heard scientists state that it is their job to pursue and report on the essence of what is observed, but that it is not "their business" to get involved in the politics of the findings. A scientist could dispassionately publish research on rich mineral deposits in the Yellowstone caldera, and then: 1) Do all she could to promote the development of the resource because of her beliefs in its importance to national security or 2) Publicly state that the oil/metal/mineral would come out of the earth over her dead body or something else (including nothing) that reflected her beliefs. We are intensely in the world in more than one way.

  119. Isn’t this argument just setting up one false dilemma? Why should I think the philosopher’s two options are either sign the petition OR offer argument? Rather, it seems to be the case that the philosopher can—and should!—do both. In fact, signing the petition might be a way for a philosopher (and non-philosopher) to affirm their commitment to some philosophical conclusion, one that they can or already have offered support for elsewhere. I’m confused as to why a professional philosopher is convinced that signing such a petition precludes one’s supporting the involved stance via argumentation elsewhere—that seems obviously true, and that these are just simply different arenas (i.e. petitions and philosophy articles). I also think it’s troubling that the author seems to assume or imply that the creators of this petition hold the obviously correct position when it comes to deplatforming... as a member of the philosophical profession, I can attest to the many ways in which philosophy is a non-inclusive place to work, and the many ways in which numerous philosophers are militantly anti-trans. I have seen transgender philosophers exit the profession for related reasons. Maybe philosophers should focus on discussing the deplatforming issue, rather than the validity of transgender identities...

  120. @Kaleb T A very insightful and humane response

  121. I have another, I'd say, philosophically-linked, problem with petitions. By their nature, they offer one simple, even simplistic view of what could be a complex issue. Therefore, they can leave a lot out. The choice, then, assuming basic agreement with the overall cause, and the main argument for it usually provided on top, is if you perceive the value of expressing yourself, and adding another number to the total is worth the possible over-simplicity. It may or may not be. (I have similar mixed feelings about participating in social protests.) Petitions and classroom discussions (at their best) have different purposes, but both can be valuable in their ways. One doesn't preclude the other. Three other options for Prof. Callard to consider: 1) Put this very issue under the classroom microscope and see what the students say. Invite a staffer from an organization that uses petitions to participate. 2) Ignore the number of or reputations of the previous signors. Focus on the cause and supporting statement. Or, (3) more radically, take a little more time, and to the surprise of the person urging you to sign, write in a little note: "Signing, but the issue is deeper than this," or something to that effect. P.S. The point critical of common sense is very good and needs to be heard more in our complex times.

  122. "we all think we know more than we actually do and overgeneralize from the one time our aunt had that problem. Doctors have to hold themselves to higher standards, lest they do real harm when people follow their recklessly given advice" My own experience with doctors is that my aunt was always onto something. Medical opinion constantly shifts. Often influenced by propaganda from big pharma or insurance companies or opportunities to make more money. Certainly not always. Still a couple of years ago I've saw a brochures at a doctor's office suggesting some optional treatment. The doctor tried to push it on me. I asked why. He admitted the benefits were marginal and the danger of some painful not life threatening complication was more than pssible. If I read an article in the Times about a new direction in medicine almost invariably if I go to a doctor they quote it right back to me. I personally have no problem with philosophers signing petitions. I actually do have a problem that only "experts" are asked to sign those petitions. Or that their affiliations are posted after their names as if the institutions they are part of give added urgency and significance to their opinions. Even that wouldn't be so bad if others who don't have "credentials" are also listed and equally highlighted. It isn't pleasant when the stratification of the dominant culture is constantly reproduced in the resitence to it.

  123. The practice of philosophy, in our society limited to experts, holds a key to the survival and health of our republic. We would do well to take a cue from France, where philosophy is a required subject for high school graduation, and is linked to the use of the essay exam, which asks one to think, not know. There is an idea of reason and discussion without which democracy dies. And indeed, American society is far more liberal than democratic. It is sophistical, because Sophism reduces thought to opinion, and that means it ceases to function as thought. A democracy where "the people" rule but based only on the expression of will rather than reason will become a totalitarian tyranny, a lie sustained by demagogues, or both. Our democracy is based on shows of superior force reflecting will, as determined and numerous, the numbers representing force. Petitions are like demonstrations in this respect, and so is voting. Appeals to authority on the one hand, ad hominem attacks on the other: It is as if argument has been replaced by advertising spots. There is little sign that reason has value in our culture, yet taste and capacity for it are universal. Opposed to it is a culture of management, which includes therapies and "spiritualities," and needs, via administration. The political is reduced to the personal, or to wants. Authoritarianisms grow in soils of truths of importance; they are ever moralistic. Reason is, like beauty, impersonal.

  124. The author has never lived in an authoritarian regime in which petitions were often the first form of protest politics against tyranny and a signal of awakening public opinion. She may discover that a lack of resistance to censorship now may prevent her from engaging in her philosophical discussion at a later point, when the informal ideological PC police targets her. So it would be reasonable to voice opposition before philosophy itself becomes another playground for the emotional infants of new campus Maoism.

  125. Petitions and open letters have a very distinguished history in academic life that this piece ignores. Albert Einstein famously and very courageously stood up against the German government during the First World War; in recent many Turkish intellectuals lost their jobs and some were imprisoned as a result of signing statements in favour of democracy. I myself have had invitations to other countries canceled because of petitions I have signed, which shows that at the very least there are people who notice. I think this is a very well-intentioned piece but it is also splitting hairs in a way that does not benefit a discipline that, among other problems. includes many people who have worked hard in recent decades to silence bright women like this writer.

  126. @kate Hear, hear.

  127. Ms Callard, I feel, is disingenuous. I believe she hides a simple desire to avoid becoming entangled in a a difficult contentious issue under the guise of not wanting to cross an untenable separation of argument and persuasion which in reality has never existed throughout the history of Philosophy. To maintain a petition, regardless of the number of signatories, is not an argument because it commingles persuasion is itself an argument, which holds very little, if any, water. Any worthy philosopher will always place the highest priority on making her arguments, whether as a signatory to a petition or an author of a journal article, persuasive, as Ms. Callard attempted to do in her essay; I contend unsuccessfully.

  128. I'm going to disagree in part here, with the author's thesis. She asserts that there is never a time to sign a petition. I would say that this depends on what the petition is about. Silencing academics in their venues of professional thought? I would hope to sign a petition opposing that. The problem comes, I think, with the majority of petitions, in which one might largely, but not completely, agree with a position. In a survey recently (which I tend to answer because as a scholar, I sometimes ask others to respond to surveys) someone asked me if I was for "reform of the electoral college," and of the two possible responses, I could only say I was closer to one than the other. Had that been a petition, I might have been sorely tempted to sign it, but I shouldn't, at least as a scholar. Petitions grind under nuance. Perhaps this philosopher-author is concerned that any petition is necessarily vague and overreaching. But I would say that there are some things, like the censorship of academic thought, that I can comfortably say should never be censored.

  129. The professor overestimates the ability of philosophy to define itself. Science can give great insight into why people feel the need to philosophize and then believe themselves qualified to share their thoughts in an academic and hermetically sealed environment.

  130. @aaron You are significantly overestimating the abilities of 'science' and likewise significantly underestimating the abilities of philosophy.

  131. Shakespeare dealt with the conundrum you raise in Hamlet: To sign or not to sign that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous policies, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them.

  132. @Jay Orchard "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy . . ."

  133. "The petition aims to effect persuasion with respect to what appears in the first part not only by way of any argument contained therein but also by way of the number and respectability of the people who figure in the second part." People sign petitions because they want to persuade somebody in authority to do something, and they believe that if enough people sign, the authorities will see all the signatures and do as they request. To that end, they add their names to the "weight of numbers and respectability". The notion that the petition itself persuades the people who sign it is nonsense. The person requesting their signature only has to convince them that signing this petition will advance a common goal. "There is something aggressive about the way in which voices gain strength and volume by being joined together. " It's called democracy, and that's why the right to petition is enshrined in the First Amendment. This column is typical of the overly complicated, overthought arguments that academic philosophers are prone to make. It isn't as complicated as you think.

  134. @mlbex It's not just overly complicated and overthought - it's ignorant. Being disturbed by "the way in which voices gain strength and volume by being joined together" ignores the context of power differences between individuals. One could be just as, if not more, disturbed by the existence of individuals whose unilateral decisions and points of view weigh more than those of the large groups signing petitions. Ignoring specific context is a well-established tradition in academic analysis (e.g. physicists mapping forces "in a vacuum"), but here it is a mistake. Petitions only exist in the first place as a reaction against power differentials. To ignore that is to completely misunderstand their purpose.

  135. @Ryan: You're probably right. I flirted with that notion when I mentioned the democracy and the First Amendment. I struggled to understand what it was saying, to the point where I couldn't say with any confidence whether it was ignorant or not.

  136. I am a professional screenwriter and member of the WGA (Writer's Guild of America). I recently signed a petition criticizing the Guild Leadership for forcing all members with agents to fire them in April over a financial dispute. Many of the 300 writers (out of 15,000) who signed are very rich and well-known, though I am not. We are all potentially at risk of being retaliated against by the Guild or fellow WGA members. There is an argument that our public dissent could be grounds for expulsion from the Guild. What Ms. Callard fails to understand is that this was not an intellectual exercise, but a statement of political protest. No letter could ever precisely describe the exact thoughts of 300 opinionated, divergent writers. But we shared a common sentiment that this action would destroy careers for the most vulnerable writers. Philosophy that leads to no real action is useless, as Socrates himself well understood before taking his own life.

  137. @Sparky She is not arguing that screenwriters should not sign petitions - hence the title of the article.

  138. An interesting delemma. This kind of imperative argument, that is directly asking others to do something, is not helpful. It would be better to simply ask another to consider doing something, but then leave it at that. People are not computers. They're not supposed to be programmed.

  139. This piece seems to be overgeneralizing from a petty intra-academic political dispute. How would the author think about the reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? Or any argument with an author list attached to it, for that matter? Are these not forms of “public statements?” We need subject-experts involved in our public discussions of political questions. They should certainly encourage citizens to engage with their arguments, with support from the media. But Prof. Callard would seem to want them all to sit on their hands the moment their ideas might have political consequences.

  140. Extending this argument would lead us to say that philosophers shouldn't vote, or that they should be excused from jury duty. They should certainly not be expected to merely lend their names to the support of any idea with which they agree if the argument doesn't proceed from their own sanctified egos. The author chose a particularly trenchant example by refusing to support an argument opposing the stifling of unpopular positions within her own discipline while never giving a hint on her own position. A better title for this would have been: "Why Philosophers Shouldn't Write Op-eds."

  141. @michaeltide You are committing a logical fallacy by suggesting that signing a petition is the same as voting - it is not and the good Professor explains why it is not. Part deux - She doesn't 'refuse to support it' - she refuses to sign a petition supporting it - once again - they are two fundamentally different things. parte Tres - Neither is writing an Op-Ed.

  142. @SteveRR, Thank you for the reply. I do not think it is a logical fallacy to extend the argument that by withholding oneself from a petition, which is not an academic exercise but a political one, to other political processes. It may seem absurd (intended) but it is not illogical. Refusing to support it and refusing to sign a petition (refusing to) support it may be fundamentally different things, but they fall into the category of distictions without a (real) difference. Sorry, but your last point is unclear.

  143. @michaeltide Thanks for the reply back Michael In reverse order from your reply Writing an Op Ed is not the same as signing a petition is the third logical fallacy. I understand your claims but they are not philosophically sound and this is a philosophical argument that the author is presenting - in philosophy there are no "distinctions without differences" - otherwise they would not be distinctions. Take the base case - Socrates as presented in Plato. Plato is not claiming Socrates has no personal opinions when he is conducting an elenchus - he merely submerges it while he is questioning his various targets. For the exact same reason as Prof Callard would not sign a petition - Socrates would not sign a petition - he would want to change your mind by argument and by you realizing your error - not by overwhelming you with peers who think this or that.

  144. This is exactly why elites are considered to be out of touch with the "average" person. Ms. Callard makes some good points when it comes to "doing" philosophy, but there are times when simplifying something to it's most basic level helps the average person. Philosophers will work in the halls of some college or university parsing the minutia or theory while outside those halls nothing much changes in the day to day existence of the person in the street. I love philosophy by the way...

  145. Thank you to the NYT for publishing this wonderful, thought-provoking piece. The point is very simple: If you reject appeals to authority or popularity as a logical fallacy, then you yourself should not make arguments by appealing to authority or popularity. There are still compelling reasons to sometimes sign petitions. Petitions can be a way of communicating information about public sentiment to people who are responsible for addressing public sentiment. And, on issues where the public lacks expertise and experience to evaluate arguments, there is no alternative to appeals to authority. However, I am grateful to read a piece which has made me reconsider my views.

  146. I don't understand and I have never understood why the columns in the Philosopher's corner - The Stone - have to be so long and the essays so convoluted. If I remember my Plato correctly at one point in the Republic Socrates says: Must we argue endlessly what we clearly grasp to be right and what is wrong ? Three paragraphs would have sufficed. That Philosophers are now "deplatforming" is very, very sad. I would have thought they would have, of anyone, stood up to the PC and SJW crowd that seeks to limit all thoughts and words that do not agree with their agenda. I wish I could sign that petition with my version of a "John Hancock". "1984" has arrived 35 years late, but now that it is here, whom among us will be taken to Room 101 and made to willingly and eagerly agree that 2 + 2 = 5 ?

  147. That's absurd reasoning. People signing a counter-petition would be "removing their philosopher hats" because others *already* are taking the exact same tactic outside of philosophical argument to limit philosophical argument, and that tactic realistically cannot be cannot be countered by philosophizing itself, because the decision will not be decided based on some provable symbolic logic, but based on the irreducible values of the majority. It's like saying that you must philosophize with someone from the audience at a philosophical debate who steps on the podium and starts duct-taping one of the speakers. Now, not everything *does* deserve every platform. But realistically, which things do or don't get a platform aren't be decided purely by philosophical debate anyway. The de-platformers already realize this, which is why they first issued their own petition (linked in the article). Whatever else, they, at least, appear to have the realism to implicitly admit that even as applied to administrative decisions over their own profession, philosophy has its limits.

  148. I suppose she also refuses to participate in opinion polls. In a nation of 325 million, only polls and petitions can raise the average voice to a level in which it can be heard.

  149. Context, Professor Callard. We live in an environment wherein big money, very big money, is able to drown out voices that they disagree with by funding PR campaigns, media outlets, think tanks, and yes, academic departments, that align with big money's agenda. A petition is one of the few low-cost methods available by which the out-dollared voices can catch people's attention through a message that says "Hey, there is this other point of view held by quite a number of informed and knowledgeable people but you don't hear it because billionaires disapprove!"

  150. This piece presents two separate issues: 1) The author does not support deplatforming. 2) She disagrees with using petitions, for some convoluted reason that appears to confuse persuading the signatories with persuading the recipients. Never mind that fact that we live in a democracy, and the right to petition is enshrined in the First Amendment. Deplatforming sounds like another way to enforce political correctness. I would sign a petition against it, just to try to make it stop. I expect philosophers to state their ideas clearly and succinctly. When they fail to do so, I consign them to the ranks of academic philosophers who are prone to overly convoluted descriptions of simple concepts.

  151. I refuse to sign this petition opposing the silencing of others' arguments because I believe that only through free exchange of ideas that truth can be found. Someone needs the basic logic refresher course.

  152. I teach at a small liberal arts college, where our philosophy "department" consists of exactly one tenure-track faculty member. I take the opposite view--unless philosophers deftly and assertively show how their arguments can effect political and social change, most departments will become extinct. Philosophers should be arguing, registering voters, and signing petitions.

  153. @Feste No, No, No!! First can we please distinguish a philosopher from a philosophy professor? They are simply not the same. Philosophy professors should be teaching the history of thought, training people how to think, how to question, and how to parse out an build argument. This is critical for the long term health of our societies, of our planet. It is from doing this that we have such things as the scientific method, geometry, the concept of universal human rights. History is not over and the evidence is everywhere that there is more work to be done by both philosophers and philosophy professors. Leave the petitions to the believers, the advocates. There is room for a few crusty people to stand to the side and observe.

  154. @Andrew "Philosophy professors should be teaching the history of thought." Really? That will raise eyebrows for the vast majority of academic philosophers who are analytic and do not teach the history of philosophy.

  155. @The Lorax I am pointing out that there is a distinction between a philosopher and a philosophy professor. One can be a philosopher without also being a professor. Professor is the title we give to someone that holds a specific job, a job that will inevitably involve survey courses that delineate how Aristotle built on Plato or Nietzsche built on Schopenhauer, ie; the history of thought. If you have academic philosophy friends that get to live on mountain tops without having to teach undergraduate survey courses, well, I beg their forgiveness.

  156. If you're in a room with 100 climate scientists, do you give equal credibility to the 98 that accept climate change or the 2 that deny it? Ditto with doctors and vaccines. Biologists and the theory of evolution. Etc. As someone who drives with a Question Authority bumper sticker, I should probably embrace the author's conclusion. But instead I find myself wondering if a public that can't be bothered to get informed on basic issues should be given yet more intellectual license to live in a world of alternative facts.

  157. @Michael A petition is the poor man's only defense against "Citizen's United".

  158. @Michael Did the car come with the sticker? Your willingness to challenge authority (or accept others that do) sounds rather limited. Sounds to me that the only authority you wish to challenge is of those you personally disagree with. In other words, does your sticker mean "challenge ALL authority" or simply "challenge THEIR authority"? Sounds to me that you mean the latter. In which case do you recognize that this is a rather undemocratic stance? One that is in fact shared by fascists the world over to undermine the civic participation of disparate groups.

  159. @Andrew There's a big difference between questioning authority and questioning reality. My issue is solely with the latter -- the climate deniers, anti-vaxxers, etc. Climate scientists, medical researchers, and those in other fields don't have the luxury of a philosopher. Expertise matters. Recognizing this hardly makes them "fascist."

  160. I take the lesson as something a bit different. Don't sign the petition unless you plan to get involved in making the argument as to why you signed it. If you're not willing to spend the time and energy making this argument, don't take the lazy way out by simply signing something that isn't worth it for you to argue. If you won't put your time and energy where your signature is, keep quiet. The rich might argue that one should put their money where their mouth is, but money is fungible. If it's worth signing a petition, it should be worth mounting the argument about why you support it.

  161. Unless one is solely defined by their job, and I don’t believe they are, then that person is first and foremost a citizen. Philosophers have just as much a right as anyone else to act like a citizen.

  162. @Matt Should Supreme Court Justices also sign petitions? Or is that the only job excluded from your assessment? I think it's interesting, and compelling, that Ms. Callard implicitly argues that public figures have roles to play in society, and that restrictiveness with respect to those roles might benefit society as a whole.

  163. With respect, Prof. Callard misses the point. Petitions do not substitute for arguments. Nor do they replace doing philosophy with doing politics. Petitions like the one she refused to sign are intended to shield the vulnerable so that they may engage in philosophical argument without fear of retribution. On many campuses today, my own included, persons who defend the right to express controversial opinions are often subject to social pressure from their faculty peers and students. Sometimes that pressure can be extreme. The individuals and groups exerting pressure are not interested in making an argument; they are intent on shutting down the expression of ideas that they consider invidious. These would-be censors are found on the right as well as the left. Signing a petition in defense of the freedom of expression signals to others who share your conviction that they are not alone. This can mean the world to, say, a junior faculty member who feels isolated within her department because she is out of step with more senior colleagues and their graduate students. Knowing that numerous faculty members at multiple institutions, including highly distinguished scholars, share her commitment to free expression might well give her the courage to hold her own in a hostile environment. Philosophical argument cannot proceed when the smart thing to do is to keep your head down and avoid making waves. Prof. Callard ought to have signed the petition.

  164. @Stephen N Fair point, however any petition only has a goal in mind, not a discussion, or a reflection on the true nature of existence. In the case of extreme viewpoints being vetted, the University Trustees would be inclined to more open if not for both protests and more importantly, law suits. In your example, the question then is should extreme viewpoints be expressed without limit? We already know the answer via Germany laws on hate speech, the answer is no. If, as Marshall McLuhan expressed, the medium is the message, limiting the social media "bull horn" used by so many with extreme views today would follow as a correlation. I have always admired the Canadian tradition, at least in Vancouver, of having a public space where people can express their viewpoints (as opposed to the hollow echo chamber of social media). They get their 15 minutes, often on television, then move on. A much saner form of public expression than most.

  165. @Stephen N. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. After reading the petition itself, I was struck by how uncontroversial and benign it is. The signatories urge that philosophical discussions of sex and gender should proceed with respect and that philosophers with different viewpoints be permitted to flesh them out and present them for counterargument, without being professionally exiled. The petition appears to protect a dialectic and does not extend its reach to hate speech.

  166. @MimJohnson unfortunately, the situation is much more complicated. The petition is intentionally drawn up to appear benign. But the *reason* for the petition is that several philosophers with a record of explicitly transphobic comments are making waves, and one was recently invited to give a talk on gender identity at a major philosophical conference. Her views--like those of several of her colleagues--are philosophically unsophisticated and outdated. They are not making major contributions to our understanding of gender; rather, they're pretending to make such contributions in order to hide explicit transphobia behind intellectual freedom protections.

  167. Her argument is simple: Philosophy is a thought-independent activity which stands opposed to the expression of collective opinion. Unless it doesn't. She also infers that, unlike other 'professionals', philosophers cannot just put down their 'highly specialized conceptual tools' for the sake of the common good. They're simply above that; it wasn't for nothing that Plato labeled them 'Golden'... Yet to have obtained her position, she wrote a dissertation that conformed to certain standards. Ditto, of course, for the peer-review process that enabled her to be published. In other words, to be a 'philosopher' means to work on problems deemed 'philosophical'. This is what she does. So posture as if she weren't just problem-solving like the rest of us is to act in Bad Faith.

  168. Interesting, I can quite appreciate that a true philosopher putting their name to a petition is intellectually limiting and potentially corrosive to true intellectual discourse, Petitions and indeed politics is limited to specifics of people, time, places, trends and politics. None of which are permanent or core to pure thought and therefore can lock a philosopher in. However, with respect to petitions, not all all petitions are created equal and could be supportable as a proposition if it is cast in widest possible terms. For example, deplatforming is by it its nature limiting, exclusionary and anti-thought and coercive. However supporting a pro platforming that supports the right of all views to thought and expressed free of recrimination or sanction is a worthy and unconfining position for a philosopher or anybody who supports academic freedom, free speech and supports diversity and growth. More discourse, not less would seem to be core philosophical principles. Deplatforming on the basis of their views on sex and gender results in the creation of an intellectual gulag!

  169. @Niall I agree. While a 'petition is intellectually limiting and potentially corrosive' to intellectual discourse, what is happening on campuses today from certain elements of the student body (and fearful faculty) is true corrosion of the right to speak freely of the worst kind - one fuelled by the righteous so steeped in their moral belief that no debate is possible. An academic will be burned on the stake for not conforming to the only view that matters: their own. Back to the 14th century we go.

  170. @Niall, You wrote, "More discourse, not less would seem to be core philosophical principles." I think that one of the points of the author's argument is that by its nature, a petition (being an appeal to authority) curtails discourse. Imagine me, a high school graduate, confronted by a petition supporting a position I disagree with but signed by a multitude of philosophy professors. The obvious nullification to my position would then be, "But all the experts agree that you're wrong." A petition is a bullhorn, not discourse.

  171. I'm not sure the purpose of petitions is always to persuade others that the position is correct simply because a large number of people hold it. More often than not, the purpose is to alert the public or those in power that a significant number of people find this issue important and their viewpoint deserves consideration. The merits of each specific petition can be considered individually; if it's designed for the sole purpose of excluding others, then it might be inherently unjust (but this does nothing to say that signing petitions themselves ought to be avoided).

  172. My view is that Philosophy has no ground. It consists of words about words and so, definitions of definitions. It is not about things. It is about ideas. There is no possibility of settling disagreement among participants in philosophical discourse. A philosophical claim must remain opinion and belief, never knowledge. It is not however mere talk about nothing because it’s claims are instruments of constructing the rules of a society, norms are declared, not discovered.

  173. If only persuasion based on an argument's merits actually worked in policy making. Having been involved in lobbying our state government to pass bills dealing with environmental protection over the last decade, I can tell you that in the halls of the legislature, the facts don't matter when it comes to politics. The only thing that does work is public pressure.

  174. We can't understand everything from first principles. Most of us trust climate change is real because a majority of scientists (which we have deemed are experts deserving of trust) tell us it is real. We take on faith that the argument is sound, even if we haven't studied the evidence in detail ourselves. The world is too complicated and human knowledge too deep for us to thoroughly study everything and confirm what is true. We pick experts to trust because one can be mislead if one is not well-versed in the field. That's why I vaguely trust what comes out of certain mouths and vaguely distrust what comes out of others. The source matters.

  175. This is a conscious reflection on the nature of engaging in political discussion. However, in California, the mother of all petitions drives, petitions have nothing to do with political discussion, but are instead a dated, and cheap way ($1 a signature, with low numbers required) for industry to get their cloaked agenda on the ballot. So, before signing any petition, regardless of your station, find out who's funding it, and why.

  176. “...aims to effect persuasion with respect to what appears in the first part not only by way of any argument contained therein but also by way of the number and respectability of the people who figure in the second part. Such a document tries to persuade you to believe (that it is right to do) something because many people, some of whom are authorities, believe it (is the right thing to do). It is not always wrong to believe things because many people believe them, but it is always intellectually uninquisitive to do so... 0 for 2... 1. If you’re going to subtly spin “not always wrong” in place of “not always right”, that line should read: “...It is not always (wrong/right) to believe things because so many people purport to believe them... 2. “...but it is always intellectually uninquisitive to do so, without independently considering of the reasoning, or verifying/triangulating on the facts... PS You folks never persuade much of anything by argument – any more than any NYT editor does... What persuades is the stringing of footnote facts into an asymptotically-certain necklace... Which is why editors and philosophers generally don’t include footnotes and citations... Said more succinctly – you all find them inconvenient, when conversing with your mobs...

  177. Congratulations for taking a purely symbolic stand against one of the few even marginally effective means of recourse the people have in our society. I hope you're also a believer in solipsism, because the only life you're improving is your own.

  178. @Ryan I did not mean to derogate people who had disagreements with the author in a thoughtful manner. Is respectful even too much to ask?

  179. The author is overPetitions are typically tools for political action, not tools to get people to stop thinking. In fact they could be invitations to consider something I may have otherwise ignored if so and so did not sign it. Seen in this light petitions invite thought, rather than impede it because of “authority”

  180. This is a lot of words spent to miss the point.

  181. Talk about living in an ivory tower, this is over the top. Philosophers are people, and they should act like people, not like some special class of priests.

  182. In the meantime I appreciate being informed (and appalled) that the practice known as “deplatforming” exists.