As an undergraduate I was drawn to philosophy. As a young Christian seeking understanding, I found in philosophy not only the intellectual tools by which to plumb the depths of my faith tradition, but also to come in contact with the greatest minds in the history of ideas. What a privilege to learn from and tangle with the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Locke, and Kant. I became friends with a whole array of contemporary philosophers, many of whom shared neither my politics nor my faith, but they were friends nonetheless. And here I am thinking of folks like Craig Walton (UNLV) and Louis Pojman (both of whom have left this mortal realm) as well as Maurice Finnochiaro (UNLV). And over the years I had the honor to publicly engage thinkers like David Boonin (Colorado), Michael Ruse (Florida State), and Kenneth Einar Himma (Seattle Pacific) on issues over which we have profound disagreement. And yet, there was a spirit of mutual respect in these encounters, even when I knew I was outmatched by a superior intellect who had mastered the finer points of his philosophical case.
This is the profession I have come to know and love through many years at a variety of institutions, public, private, and religious. I share this with you because of recent events that do not seem to me to portend well for the future of my profession.
Since posting on this blog my assessment of the APA petition, there have been things said about me that are beyond the pale of civil discourse. Here is one of them, as it appears, on the blog of University of Chicago professor, Brian Leiter:
Francis Beckwith, notorious and sleazy shill for "Intelligent Design" creationism, has now come to the defense of discrimination against gay men and women (as a commenter on our earlier thread pointed out). Do read the whole thing. He invokes the canard about "discrimination" against religious universities (discussed earlier), and misrepresents the petition, which calls for the APA to either abide by its own anti-discrimination policy (which includes sexual orientation) or abandon it. (He also got called out in the comments section for lying about the hiring practices of some religious institutions, but that's another matter.)
Meanwhile, in the comments, Professor Beckwith explains that opposition to discrimination against gay men and women can be "blamed" on the PGR and the fact that this blog reports news about faculty hires:This, by the way, is what happens when a profession, once dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom, gets hijacked by those who treat its membership and its departments as so many stories on an academic Entertainment Tonight. The Philosophers' Gourmet could use a dash of hemlock, if you can find its mouth.
I'll assume that this isn't actually a proposal that I commit suicide or be murdered. But then what does it mean?
I bring this to the attention of the readers of WWWtW because it reveals a level of meanness and personal hatred that makes an otherwise bright and charming philosopher, Professor Leiter, appear ugly and seething with guile. It is no coincidence that the words "vicious" and "vice" are so close in spelling and meaning. Both refer to something disordered about the soul. And Professor Leiter's post exposes such a soul for the whole world to see, if, to quote the wisest man who has ever lived, "you have eyes to see." It is the sort of soul that I would not want to be mine or the possession of any person I dearly love. To be sure, I wish I had Professor Leiter's intellect. Who wouldn't? But since intellects require souls (I am a Thomist, after all), I would rather remain mediocre me.
Professor Leiter is wrong about me and intelligent design (ID), as those familiar with my work as well as well this blog clearly know. No less of an authority than ID advocate William Dembski has claimed that I have disowned ID. I have in fact privately emailed Professor Leiter on this matter on several occasions. He has never responded, not even to offer a counter-argument to my own understanding of my own work and beliefs. And yet, Professor Leiter continues to repeat what he knows to be false, often with words that on the playground would be called "trash talk." (Or in Latin, tum podem extulit horridulum.)
The comments I made about religious institutions about which Professor Leiter writes were published by me in haste and I have since taken them down. I have privately corresponded with the professor who rightly criticized me for them. I asked for his forgiveness, and he offered it. Like virtually everyone else who publishes a lot online, I sometimes write things that I should not have written. In situations like that, the best thing to do is to acknowledge one's mistake, ask forgiveness of those harmed, and suck it up.
The Philosophers' Gourmet Report comment was not about Professor Leiter. It was about the project that he founded and manages. I don't know whether its his leadership or the tone that he sets with his public persona or both that has resulted in a sort of a celebratizing of the profession, a kind of TMZ of philosophy. By suggesting hemlock as the medicine for this illness, I was, by employing the technique of metaphor, calling for my colleagues in the profession to remember its founder, Socrates, who was willing to be virtuous and to welcome death rather than to be vicious in order to live with the crowd.
I actually think I fully understand the APA petition: its purpose is to publicly sequester (by "marking") or permanently ban from Jobs for Philosophers advertisements from certain Christian institutions that Professor Leiter and others believe embrace hiring and/or admission policies that are inconsistent with what morality requires. He claims that disagreement with the purpose of this petition is bigotry, and snarls at and issues secular fatwas against those who have the temerity to counter this charge. Is this what philosophy has come to? A more linguistically adept version of the Daily Kos? If this is liberalism, I hate to think what fascism is like.
I argue in my blog post that the petition itself is inconsistent with what morality requires on matters over which reasonable people within a diverse profession may disagree. I single out religious institutions, especially Christian ones, since they are the ones mentioned specifically by name in the APA petition: "Azusa Pacific University, Belmont University, Bethal [sic] College, Biola University, Calvin College, Malone College, Pepperdine University, Westmont College, and Wheaton College" These are all fine institutions on whose faculties many of my dear friends sit. These friends are some of the most wonderful and kind Christian thinkers I have ever known. To call these people "bigots" is defamatory. It reveals a lack of understanding of the philosophical grounds on which these institutions base their views on human sexuality, the nature of marriage, and the life of a virtuous Christian. One may, of course, legitimately think that these grounds are mistaken. But to say that these grounds are inconsistent with what morality requires is philosophical hubris in the extreme. Are we to believe that the profession that has not been able to conclude what reason requires in the debates over abortion, free will v. determinism, realism v. anti-realism, positivism v. natural law, internalism v. externalism, or even affirmative action knows that reason requires that no philosopher or academic institution is within her or its epistemic rights in judging homosexual conduct as immoral?
Thus, to move from the claim that these religious institutions are mistaken on their views of human sexuality to charges of "bigotry" is not how philosophers ought to conduct their disagreements in public.
Because of my commitment to stop blogging and reading blogs for Lent (with the exception of my Return to Rome blog), I will not be able to interact with those who may comment here. So, I trust that my friends will come to my defense when they believe it necessary.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam