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So am I a crank and a liar, or not?

Mark Murphy has put forward a draft letter to the APA critical of Charles Hermes’ petition, though for reasons different from (though not incompatible with) the reasons put forward in the counter-petition several philosophers (including me) put together in response.

In commenting on Murphy’s letter, Brian Leiter wrote:

“The quality of argument and reasoning here is certainly more substantial than in the counterpetition--not surprising, giving that Murphy is a very good philosopher (and lightyears more able than cranks like Ed Feser, author of the counterpetition [Professor Feser has been denying, by the way, that he is the sole author, but, oddly, hasn't been able to name any other authors]) -- though, for reasons addressed by others responding to Professor Murphy here, not particularly compelling.”

Or at least, that’s what he wrote earlier today. The relevant post has since been altered and the words in boldface consigned to the memory hole (though they are, for the moment anyway, still available in Google’s cache).

Why the change? Did Leiter decide that calling me a crank and (in effect) a liar would perhaps not reflect well on the cause of Hermes’ petition (which he has done more than anyone other than Hermes to promote)?

Did it occur to him that his readers might reasonably infer from his intemperate language that he also regards the other authors of the counter-petition – and perhaps all the signers of the counter-petition as well (268 of them as I write, including Alasdair MacIntyre, Roger Scruton, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Peter van Inwagen, and many other well-known philosophers) – as “cranks”?

Did someone who actually knows the facts of the case inform Leiter that I am not lying, and that several other people were involved in writing the counter-petition? Did his lawyer’s conscience kick in for a moment on reconsidering his libelous insinuation?

It’s the other authors’ business, by the way, whether they want to identify themselves, not mine. Of course, doing so will just open them up too to Leiter’s standard ad hominem way of dealing with people he disagrees with – as Leiter well knows.

In any event, the petition speaks for itself.

As do Leiter’s actions.

Comments (15)

This is entertaining Dr Feser. You're making good sport with big bad B.L.
No one likes to be reminded they're on the wrong side I suppose.

Christ and Nothing

He keeps calling you names, advertising your book, you have him sifting through ISP addresses like a teenager with nothing better to do, and now he's jumping through hoops to not get himself in trouble with you legally.

He's nursing a grudge after you put him in his place in that TCS article.

Leiter's fixation on personalities is telling. He's obviously looking for people to bully, which is fairly pathetic. And given that Murphy's letter is entirely compatible with the counterpetition and indeed elaborates some of its points and adds other points in support of its conclusion (such as the discussion of the history of the APA policy), it is hard to see just how sincere Leiter's praise of Murphy can be. To my ear it sounds like an attempt to butter up Murphy in order to get Leiter's opponents to fall out among themselves. This is probably a sign that Leiter is annoyed at the number of people who have signed the counterpetition, even though of course that number is much smaller than the signers of Hermes's petition which Leiter so avidly supports.

Good points, Lydia. I think you are right, all the way around.

On a side note, Leiter's bullying makes me wonder what happened in his youth to contribute to such behavior, but I'll resist the temptation to psychoanalyze.

Watching this guy Leiter in action (I take it that for some non-obvious reason unrelated to this flap, which is the only context I have for him, he is considered a respected philosopher?) brought to mind this more than watching human beings with, you know, minds and everything, disagree. Be careful in assuming who wins and who loses in the long run though.

Perhaps faith of a certain sort - in this case trusting in the void, trusting the void that human beings are nothing but animals, themselves nothing but the product of mindless evolutionary processes - becomes self-fulfilling after a time, for the ones who hold it. The end state of the religion of nothing buttery is a bunch of nothing buttheads.

Here is an article I had heard about but have not yet read all the way through about Leiter.

It looks from a first glance as though it does indeed give the reader some idea of why people in philosophy have come to care what Leiter thinks:


Ah. Basically, not for any actual, you know, accomplishments in philosophy; but because he is top judge in a popularity contest. So he is kind of the Paula Abdul of philosophy? Didn't know there was such a person. Learn something new every day.

I wonder if it may be more accurate to think of Leiter as the Perez Hilton of philosophy.

Yeah, really, Zippy. Be nice to Paula Abdul. She may be a space cadet, but she actually accomplished something of note in her fields of endeavor prior to being the joke judge on American Idol, and gives no evidence of viciousness. Perez Hilton is a much better comparison.

Gosh, I never knew. I always thought it was "Paris Hilton." I now feel more educated. :-)

Paris Hilton is the heiress. Perez Hilton is the nom de blog of a vicious and especially crude internet gossip columnist whose schtick involves vulgar schoolyard nicknames and defacing photos of famous people with obscene illustrations. Now you know.

I think that we have heard about this type of thing before. To me it seems to be a type of marginalization. J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind is a book that gives information about how marginalization against social conservatives (among others) has been developing. It seems like it has a lot to do with who has the most influence at a particular point in history. Although social conservatives have been gaining a lot more influence, social liberals still seem to have more influence in the academic world. The above situation makes it a lot easer for people to say very, very ignorant things about social conservative thinkers and social conservative thinking. If people say that social conservative arguments are weak and social liberal arguments are strong, they should read the most philosophically sophisticated arguments from the social conservative perspective. A person could start by reading Francis Beckwith’s Defending Life A Moral and Legal Case against abortion Choice.

It's absurd to compare Brian to Paula Abdul or Paris Hilton.

Say what you will about him, but he's no air-head.

A more interesting comparison might be to Chou En-lai - by all accounts, a thoroughly charming fellow.

Steve: To clarify, no one was comparing Brian to Paris Hilton. The comparison was to Perez Hilton--the internet blogger who achieved fame by slinging gossip about celebrities and engaging in snarky, defamatory antics. The comparison is not entirely unfitting to my mind. But, no doubt, Brian is more intelligent than Perez.

I wouldn't dispute that Leiter is smart, especially with someone who knows him personally. (For that matter I wouldn't dispute that Paula Abdul is smart with someone who knows her personally). I'm just under the impression, from the Globe article and his Wikipedia entry, that if he hadn't become a kind of one man JD-Power-with-attitude for philosophy schools that nobody would know his name or much care what he thinks. In that sense he is different from Paula Abdul, who was in fact famous to an extent before American Idol. Maybe he is the Roger Ebert of academic philosophy or something.

John G. - oops...to tell the truth, I'd never heard of *Perez* Hilton, before.

Zippy: you're quite right - Brian is not showing up in the pages of the NYT because of his sound Nietzsche scholarship.

But, in fairness, hardly anybody *outside* of professional philosophy today knows the name of *anybody* *inside* professional philosophy, today.

Anyway, the problem with Brian is not with his professional competence. It's with his manners, and his morals.

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