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Pavlischek tweaks a few noses on the counterpetition

At On the Square, Keith Pavlischek raises the issue of Christian philosophers at schools that have been specifically named for censure by Hermes' petition to the APA. Why, asks Pavlischek, haven't more of these signed the counterpetition?

The Calvinians particularly come in for a bit of tail-pulling. Keith mentions that two of the Calvin faculty have signed (Chairman Del Ratszch and David Alexander) but particularly urges more to do so. Keith also discusses a bit the odd case of Belmont University, which rushed to reassure Hermes et. al. that there was a big mistake: Homosexual acts by Belmont faculty are evidently no problem. (To make things odder still, Charles Hermes alleges that some faculty at Belmont have assured him that even the official policy calling for students to refrain from homosexual acts is not enforced.)

Keith gives numbers of faculty at other targeted schools who have stood up to be counted. Westmont especially stands out here, as all three of their philosophy faculty have signed the counterpetition. And a number of Biola philosophy faculty from Talbot have signed, though apparently the purely undergraduate wing is lying low.

All of the signatures from faculty at the schools specifically named and at other schools to which Hermes's attack would apply are most welcome, including several from Wheaton and Azusa Pacific. But it would certainly be good to see even more philosophy faculty at the targeted schools sign the counterpetition, and Keith's prod in this direction is welcome.

Let us not forget that there are young faculty and graduate students not at such schools who have been willing to stick their necks out and sign the counterpetition. They deserve all the support they can get from their Christian brethren at schools that would be most directly affected by the Hermes policy change proposal.

Comments (22)

Hello Lydia.

I’m an associate professor of philosophy at Malone University (formerly Malone College). As you may know, Malone is one of the institutions mentioned in the initial petition.

While I support my institution's policy, I haven't signed the counter-petition, and I have not ruled out doing so. Before signing a petition, I obviously want to make sure it reflects my view. The counter-petition succeeds in this. Yet I also expect the petition to reflect faithfully the reasons for my view. And here (with all due to respect to its authors) the petition falls short. I confess I may be guilty of being overly fastidious about these things. But the subject of the competing petitions is, for me, a delicate matter and deserves more care and rigor than what the counter-petition contains.

After all, these petitions will (I hope) be assessed on their argumentative merits, and I think the counter-petition, at least in its current form, includes gratuitous material (“many of the greatest philosophers have argued ...”) that might distract our interlocutors from addressing the salient issues. Moreover, I think this is—or could be—an instructive moment for the APA, and therefore I would like to see a counter-petition that illuminates with sufficient clarity and depth the errors of the original petition. At this point, I'm inclined to sign Mark Murphy's counter-petition, as it expresses more fully and accurately the reasons for my view. Surely this is not an unreasonable stance?

BTW, I enjoy this blog and I visit often.

My own opinion, Shawn, is that a petition or petition-like letter isn't the same thing as a philosophical treatise on the subject.

If we are to speak of gratuitous and potentially distracting matter, I would say that in its current form, Murphy's letter contains such matter where it expressly attributes a high-minded desire for justice as the definite motive of Hermes, et. al., which seems to buy into Hermes's notion of "justice." Of course, no one does things he thinks are _unjust_ (or not usually), but that portion of Murphy's letter is exceedingly odd and is something I would be entirely unwilling to sign on to. I'm quite sure Prof. Hermes and I do not define "justice" in the same way, so while he is probably motivated by what he, as a deeply committed liberal, regards as justice, he isn't motivated by what I regard as justice. Then there are the following sentences of Murphy's letter concerning the supposed (but unlisted) "injustices" homosexuals and lesbians have suffered (as I recall, he specifically says at the hands of Christians). Again, while liberals no doubt would be happy to make such sweeping statements, such claims are usually regarded as alluding to, inter alia, _precisely_ the refusal to hire open and sexually active homosexuals and lesbians that this argument is about, which makes the breast-beating reference to all these horrible injustices exceedingly strange in a letter that defends (at least to some degree) Christian schools that refuse to hire sexually active homosexuals! It is difficult to avoid the feeling that Murphy's letter in its current form contains, shall we say, propitiatory language towards Hermes and co., which to at least some people (like myself) seems unfortunate.

By contrast, the counterpetition is far more minimal. Indeed, I think you misinterpret it when you take it to be intended to present--rather than at most to suggest or gesture in the direction of--arguments for all the statements it makes. While obviously its statement about, e.g., doing a disservice to philosophers looking for jobs is intended as a practical argument for retaining the APA's present policy, the bit about the positions of the philosophers of the past looks like a pretty clear _allusion to_ the reasons those philosophers--and for that matter, present-day philosophers--have for their views.

Of course, because of the brevity of the counterpetition, there is no incompatibility between it and Murphy's letter. I would therefore strongly encourage you, if you actually like Murphy's letter and are comfortable even with the portions I have mentioned, to sign both documents and to regard Murphy's letter as a further explication of your own reasoning. Indeed, I should be very glad if Murphy would do that himself. I see no reason why a philosopher shouldn't do that, and there may be some who have signed the counterpetition and are planning to sign Murphy's letter as well. I do, however, regret the sort of competitive attitude that I sense growing in some quarters, and I should be very sorry to hear or learn that Murphy or others of his mind are actively _discouraging_ philosophers from standing up and being counted with the others on the brief counterpetition by signing it.

I believe it is Gandalf who says, wisely, that the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward if we fall out among ourselves.

You’re right, Lydia. It’s unreasonable to expect an exhaustive defense of the CP’s various claims. I also agree that the two CPs are not incompatible with respect to the position they defend. But as you pointed out, there are aspects of Mark’s letter that deter you from supporting it. And I obviously have hesitations about the shorter CP (although I have not ruled out signing it). Apparently, then, there are at least *some* substantive differences here that will determine how you and I respond to Hermes’ petition. Keith does not seem to allow that a person might—for perfectly legitimate reasons—choose not to sign the shorter CP because s/he identifies with the argumentative content of another document.

Incidentally, I have not discouraged others from signing the shorter CP, and I do not view it as a document that *rivals* Mark’s. I know a good number of people who’ve signed it, and I am happy to join them in opposing Hermes' petition (by signing one or both of the CPs).

I would say that the substantive differences do not make for incompatibility between the two. Murphy has a lot of added material, some of it rather puzzlingly attempting at some length to give moral high ground to Hermes et al while at the same time arguing for the same practical conclusion and even most of the same supporting points as the short CP. (This, by the way, means that Leiter's somewhat smarmy positive comments in passing about Murphy are _obviously_ part of a "divide and conquer" strategy, and no one should be taken in by them.) It's not surprising that something longer should be controversial in some additional ways, though those willing to accept that additional controversial material would agree with both statements. What I do object to is an implication (which I've seen) that the short CP, which is so minimally and mildly worded, is somehow objectively _rabble-rousing_ or _intemperate_, which just seems to me very bizarre.

I am a grad student who has signed the counterpetition. When I originally read the counterpetition, I hesitated for a moment when I read the example you cite of (what you call) "gratuitous material" (“many of the greatest philosophers have argued ...”). However, it was only for a moment since it immediately seemed to me that there were far more important matters at stake here.

So, as one whose neck is stuck out and a bit worried about future ramifications of doing so (it seems to me that us grad students may have the most to lose here), I would also urge you and any others who "have not ruled out signing" to consider signing. We need the strength in numbers.

I'm going to say right here, for the record, that I've never understood why anybody should get hung up over that paragraph about the greatest philosophers, etc. I think Leiter & co. fixated on that and tried to make a big deal about it to worry people, because philosophers tend to be very detail-oriented. But it seems to me fairly obvious that the intent is to sketch things quickly. The two sentences--the one saying that some of the greatest philosophers have argued this and the one saying that it's indefensible to consider it beyond the pale--are separate sentences and are not, contrary to some misquotations, connected by "therefore." That some of the greatest philosophers have argued this is _some_ reason to look into it and not consider it beyond the pale, but obviously the quality of their arguments and the reasonableness of their position is what matters most. But equally obviously, there's no space to get into all that in a petition. Brevity is a virtue in that genre. So the CP _alludes_ to the arguments that have been made by those philosophers, thereby implicitly alluding to the fact that decent arguments _can be_ made, and then _asserts_ that it's indefensible to consider the position (that homosexual acts are immoral) beyond the pale. The Leiter company wants to find anything they can to try to get people het up and make them feel like, "Oh, this is something I can't sign." Like TD, we need to keep our sense of perspective and not over-interpret, looking for something to be bothered by.

My hesitation about the CP does not hang strictly on that paragraph. I understand that the paragraph aims not to *argue for* the CP’s position but to underscore its reasonableness. Moreover, Leiter’s remarks have in no way dissuaded me from signing the CP.

And yes, brevity is often a desirable quality in these contexts. Yet I’m persuaded that the delicate and politically charged nature of this issue requires a good deal of judiciousness. I would urge people (like Keith) to consider that the absence of certain signatures (particularly the sigs of those who teach at the “named” institutions) may indicate that faculty are still deliberating about the wisdom of signing one CP rather than the other. Indeed, a few of my friends and colleagues are anxious for Mark's letter to appear in petition format.

In any case, there *are* two CPs, or will be at the end of the month. This strikes me as a good thing. Mark’s missive does not rob the shorter CP of any authoritative weight. On the contrary, these two documents may be mutually supportive. That is, the existence of two (more or less) well-reasoned petitions may lend further credibility to the position for which both argue (or so it seems to me).

that faculty are still deliberating about the wisdom of signing one CP rather than the other.

I'm rather sorry to hear this, particularly as they can sign both, those vulnerable philosophers who have (as TD says) signed openly already deserve our support, and the position of both, let us remember, is in essence the same and is therefore going to be equally odious to the committed liberals who are pushing the other perspective. Hence, if "safety" is a consideration, there is no special safety in signing Murphy's letter rather than the brief and up-and-running counterpetition. I could say a good deal more about this but am attempting to speak with care. Suffice it to say that adding gratuitous compliments to liberal bullies and leftish code language to a request the bullies despise will not actually induce them to stop being bullies.

On the contrary, these two documents may be mutually supportive.

I agree with you that this is a possibility, and I thought as much myself even more strongly when I saw the original and somewhat shorter version of Murphy's letter. But it would be far more likely if Prof. Murphy himself would sign the brief counterpetition and urge others to do the same, particularly as it is the shorter document and as he adds arguments for most of the very points it makes. I also ask you, Shawn, to urge anyone with whom you are in contact not to go about saying that the brief counterpetition represents in itself--in its attempt to make something brief and to the point available and to get it widely signed by philosophers--a poor and injudicious strategy.

Suffice it to say that adding gratuitous compliments to liberal bullies and leftish code language to a request the bullies despise will not actually induce them to stop being bullies.

It seems to an outsider that this is most essential to understand.

Yeah to not sign is to give up and let the bullies call Christians equivalent to racists segregating people on buses. How long before Christians are completely excluded from public life? Stand up and be counted for goodness sake! Weak as water complaining about a sentence connecting us to a long line of philosophers.


No doubt there are people on the left who are guilty of bullying. But keeping in mind the First Things blog post that precipitated this discussion: I worry that some might read Keith’s comments as being immersed in the same bullying spirit. Let’s not chide our fellows into signing one petition rather than the other. For my part, I don’t think either CP has more authoritative weight. So it’s silly to think that a person’s moral fortitude can be measured by whether s/he signs the briefer CP. Some philosophers may simply resonate with the argumentative thrust of Mark’s letter. It’s that simple. I understand why Lydia finds some of its content objectionable and/or gratuitous. That’s a discussion for another day. But let’s not suppose that those inclined to sign only Mark’s CP are so because they lack spine.

No doubt there are people on the left who are guilty of bullying.

No doubt. Yes. People have received direct intimidation for signing the counterpetition. "Some" have even worried that signing could jeopardize the careers of their students! In fact, it has been rather amazing to me that "some"--trained and brilliant in philosophy--should at one and the same time imply that we mustn't attribute any negative "motives" to the Hermes crowd and imply that we can't ask people to sign or distribute the counterpetition for fear of harm to their careers! What a joke. "Now, now, we mustn't say that they are trying to segregate Christian institutions, but we also mustn't ask so-and-so to e-mail people about the counterpetition because that might be bad for his career." Keith isn't trying to sabotage anybody's career. Not even close. There is a world of difference between anything in Keith's post and the cries of "bigotry," the threats to job prospects, and the like that we see from the Leiter side and that people understandably worry about. If "some" read Keith as being "immersed in the same bullying spirit," well, I think they have selective and confused sensitivities. And that's putting it very mildly indeed.

Keith isn't trying to sabotage anybody's career. Not even close. There is a world of difference between anything in Keith's post and the cries of "bigotry," the threats to job prospects, and the like that we see from the Leiter side and that people understandably worry about.

True enough, Lydia. But he does seem to imply that the best explanation for certain philosophers' reticence is moral cowardice. Of course, he acknowledges that people should not be hasty in attributing to these philosophers such a vice. Yet he leaves readers with the impression that, apart from cowardice, those who are silent must have divined objections to the CP not even the likes of MacIntyre and Plantinga are privy. If the second alternative is unlikely, then…

Perhaps we (and me especially) are being unduly persnickety here. It’s easy to do in the blogsphere. I image Keith is a really cool guy. He's a marine and a friend of Frank, after all (I'm not being the least bit sarcastic here. Frank is the bees-knees). But Keith’s post does, I think, intend to leave readers wondering about the fortitude of philosophers who teach at the institutions he names. And for the philosophers themselves, it would not be unreasonable for them to think that—according to Keith—the only way to demonstrate their courage is to sign this particular CP. I can imagine some (no need for scare quotes) perceiving a subtext: don’t be a coward, sign it. In fact, I have a few friends and colleagues who read Keith’s post this way. Is this due to “selective and confused sensitivities”? Maybe. I’m not so sure. The incendiary nature of the topic may well generate extreme if not overly cautious behavior on the part of potential signers. To be clear--I don't think for a moment that those who *have* signed to have behaved precipitously.

But look. I think we (you and I) are on the same side here (aren’t we?). And again, I confess that—right or wrongly—I’m being overly fastidious about issues concerning content and tone. My name may well appear on the shorter CP in question. At this point, I certainly have no excuse not signing at least *one* CP, right? I’ve made my agreement with Malone University’s policy pretty clear here, and I am happy to do so.

(Incidentally, my position is not as popular within my own institution as you might think. But that is another matter.)

Yet he leaves readers with the impression that, apart from cowardice, those who are silent must have divined objections to the CP not even the likes of MacIntyre and Plantinga are privy.

I think this is worth making a brief comment about. Since it is fully possible to sign the CP presently available and to sign Murphy's letter when it is finalized, its existence is pretty much irrelevant to the question of whether those who are silent "have divined objections to the CP" which have not deterred MacIntyre et al. I mean, obviously those who haven't signed the CP and say they are holding out for Murphy's letter do have objections to it that have not deterred Plantinga, MacIntyre, et. al, because the latter did sign it and the former haven't and are seriously hesitating over doing so. That's just fairly straightforward. The existence of Murphy's letter really doesn't change this at all. So I don't see that there can be any objection to that option Keith raises. That is apparently at least part of what's going on, regardless of the fact that Murphy has written something, because otherwise the people who haven't signed anything yet would just sign both.

But he does seem to imply that the best explanation for certain philosophers' reticence is moral cowardice.

If there's another explanation, I'd like to hear it.

Hi Lydia,
I'm completely on board for you suggestion; Christian philosophers need to "man up."

I intend to put forward a polemic on this and related issues at the Denver Seminary philosophy blog within the next two days.

Best Regards.

Sorry, "womaning up" just sounds awkward.

Troy, no need to apologize! I'm all in favor of so-called "sexist" language. :-)

I appreciate the blog post, and I hope it garners signatures on the counterpetition. If you think of philosophers who have plausibly not heard about all of this--perhaps because they're busy doing and teaching philosophy!--be sure to give them a heads up right away.

Thanks for calling my attention to this ongoing debate about something that does, indeed, seem like it might eventually have some potentially troubling broader implications.

Keith Pavlischek's post - "Where do the Stand?" - and the attitude it reflects, however, seems to be reflective of exactly the wrong sort of intervention - indeed, an intervention that seems more concerned with venting some personal animosity than moving the discussion forward.

I'm especially troubled by the rather backhanded tone of the post. At the end of the post, he includes of a few paragraphs at the end about our inability to know the reasons individuals have not signed these petitions and the attendant need to withhold judgment. In spite of these caveats, what comes before this seems to proceed with exactly the opposite intent. Pavlischek seems bent on concluding the worst about the intentions of non-signatories in these philosophy department - that they either suffer from a lack of moral courage and/or act only in regard to their future career prospects.

I'm especially troubled by the rather uncharitable and inexplicable aside from some unknown personal vendetta on his part way that he singles out Calvin College (Where he refers to "inside baseball" it seems clear there's something subterranean going on in terms of his relationship to Calvin to which he doesn't let on). Its here that I start to think Keith Pavlischek strays from the somewhat reasonable into the incredibly destructive. Despite the fact that the response record of Calvin professors is pretty much in line (go through the list that he lays out and you'll see what I mean) with the other named departments, his post goes off on some sort of odd incredibly generalized and ad hominem tangent about the "typical Calvin professor" and its wannabe cosmopolitanism, etc., prefacing it all with an attack on Dutch-Calvinists in general (despite the fact that he is associated with and employed by the Center for Public Justice, an organization that has its origins in the Dutch Reformed tradition). What's his problem with Calvin? Why single them out? If he does have one, he should have the moral courage to come out and tell us what it is instead of using this controversy as a veil for his some unrelated animosity towards Calvin and the Reformed tradition in general. Surely, this isn't at all close to the mantle of charity he claims for himself at the end.

All in all, what Keith Pavlischek ignores in order to levy an attack that allows his to vent some ostensibly personal or preconceived animosity is the fact that there are other legitimate reasons that one could use to justify not signing the petition. Two stand out in particular. First off, as evidenced by your encounters with Leiter, et al., they really just aren't capable of engaging in anything resembling constructive dialogue. As a result, it may be that those not signing the petition have chosen that approach because they don't foresee any sort of constructive outcome that would outweigh the legitimacy that it grants to the original Hermes-led petition. This is especially relevant because, as has become clear to me in conversations with colleagues from other departments, the list of signatories on Hermes petition is, in fact, highly dubious, especially in the case of some of the more prominent members of the profession who are listed. Thus, to respond in kind, may in fact just give the ill-constructed document a degree of legitimacy that it does not deserve.

Second, they may not agree with all or some of the language of the petition. That, as Pavlischek seems to think, certain prominent Christian philosophers have signed on isn't in itself enough justification of the conclusion he draws from this: that it must be a document upon which all Christian philosophers of any personal and moral integrity would be able to sign. For every prominent Christian philosopher that did sign the document, there is at least one - and probably a great deal more - that chose not to sign it. Because homosexuality is a complex issue that has many different facets, it makes perfect sense that academics - especially those who teach, study, and write philosophy for a living - would have a variety of different of understanding and beliefs that they may not feel are reflected in the Hermes' authored counter-petition. The document may, as I personally think, have a great degree of merit and warrant signing by those who are in agreement, but to impugn someone's reputation because they may have a different opinion or understanding of the issue is beyond the pale.

I may have more later to say in response to Thomas Fairfax, but for the moment: I'm not sure where the whole "homosexuality is a complex issue" thing comes into this, unless you are saying that some philosophers who work at Christian colleges that require their faculty to refrain from homosexual acts may _disagree_ with that policy. That is indeed an option K.P. considers, though he points out that if they have to sign a statement of faith that indicates agreement with such a policy, there is then a problem of bad faith. I actually consider this a very _plausible_ possibility, and I suppose in that sense you could say I'm less charitable than K. P. That is, I think many of the philosophers at these colleges may just be plain liberals and be uncomfortable about coming out in favor of the formal policy of their own school. Indeed, it may even be (this is quite conjectural but resonates with something Shawn said above) that the policies are not enforced at some of the schools and are widely belittled. Even so, it seems odd that they would not be concerned about the possible limitation of their schools' ability to advertise for philosophers. So from a purely practical point of view they would seem to have a reason for opposing Hermes et al. But if they truly think the policies of their own schools _bad_, they may have no good way of doing this.

Second, the "dialogue" stuff is pretty much pointless. The point of having a counterpetition is to show the APA that not everybody is on board with Hermes & Co. The point is to raise and demonstrate opposition to what they are trying to do. In signing it I never viewed myself as trying to initiate dialogue with the Leiter crowd but rather as doing just what it says--petitioning the APA.

Third, the CP is very short, minimal, and dry, and while people have assiduously mined it to try to find _something_ to object to in it, and some (even those who claim to support its conclusion) say they have found such things, it seems to me that the objections are, frankly, ridiculous. Nit-picking to such a point that I myself cannot help wondering what motivates people to be so bizarrely nit-picky, to over-read things--almost, it seems, deliberately in order to object to them. I have already in this thread answered what Sean Floyd brought up about "many of the greatest philosophers," etc. If you are a professional philosopher and are _actually seriously considering signing_ the counterpetition soon, if you have an objection to something in it, and you think maybe getting an answer to such an objection in the next day would lead you to sign it, then feel free to bring it up. For myself, I think K.P. was rightly impatient with this possibility, which he does consider.

I want to add that the CP is _so_ minimal that it does not even say anything about the actual immorality of homosexual acts. It would be possible for someone to sign it who actually was not in sympathy with the Christian schools' policies but who understood that they represent traditional Christian morality and that therefore it is quite understandable and legitimate that the schools should have these policies. Ironically, it may be easier for a non-Christian to take this meta-tolerant attitude than for a politically liberal Christian, since the latter usually is full of worries and breast-beating about the alleged evils of his own tradition and is more likely to feel that such schools' policies are truly "beyond the pale" and deserve to be punished.

Your points are well put Lydia and I am certainly at least sympathetic to some of the points you make in response.

The one issue with Pavlischek's original post that remains and that seems to me most problematic is the way he, for no apparent reason, singles out Calvin College as the object of his backhanded derision without really providing any sort of support as to why Calvin College philosophers are somehow more at fault here than at other schools. My main concern here is that a well-respected publication like First Things would allow what appears to be some sort of personal vendetta to be aired under their masthead. To me, that calls into question the editorial integrity of a usually august publication.

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