Friday, November 4, 2011

Stupidity, triteness and immorality

I suspect that many philosophers would rather have their work be criticized as being morally perverse than as being stupid or merely tritely repeating unoriginal claims from the literature. At least, I find myself with feelings like that. Does this preference expose a deep vice in me?

I am not sure. It may simply be that I trust other philosophers' judgment as to what is stupid or in the literature more than I trust their moral judgment. At least, if the moral perversity criticism came from one of the philosophers whose moral judgment I really trusted, the judgment would worry me a lot more. But I am not sure it would still worry me as much as a judgment of stupidity or unoriginality from someone of comparable epistemic authority.

7 comments:

Heath White said...

I have much the same feelings. In addition to your own diagnosis, I have this one: if your philosophical work is stupid or trite, you have failed qua professional philosopher, which is the genre the work is in. Whereas if it is immoral, then you have failed as a person, but not as a philosopher.

One might reply that all reasons are moral reasons, so all true failures are moral failures; in particular, philosophers who do trite or stupid work have failed not only philosophically but morally, not merely as philosophers but as human beings. But that is not a natural view to me, in this case anyway.

It is possible, but not comforting, to view these feelings as a matter of us caring more about our excellence as philosophers than about our excellence as human beings.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I actually think that if your philosophical work in ethics is morally perverse, you've failed as a philosopher, though not as a professional philosopher. It would be sad if it turned out that we care more for how we do as professional philosophers than as philosophers.

Heath White said...

Sad indeed.

Matthew said...

What if the person criticizing your work was, say, your mother or someone else who obviously loved you but whose job was not to criticize your work?

I think that there’s an expectation among professional philosophers that their work will be criticized for its content. Part of the reason you make it public is so that others can help you see weaknesses you might not recognize by yourself. Their job is to be hard on you. If they call you morally perverse, they might be saying: justify yourself. It is less likely to mean: say it ain’t so!

DL said...

I don't think that that's a vicious reaction. There are three possibilities if your argument was not simply stupid: 1) The rebuke is coming from someone whose moral philosophy you deeply disagree with, and thus his calling your argument morally perverse is effectively a compliment. 2) The person making the criticism has misunderstood your argument and it isn't really perverse. 3) You have misunderstood your argument, and did not really intend to advocate anything morally perverse in the first place. And of course, it's better to make a mistake in a clever and complex argument than to make a stupid mistake.

DWLindeman said...

It is my impression that much of what has already been said in philosophy (and in theology) needs to be said in a new way. There's nothing wrong with a project of this sort. We are in an age of transition, and not one of high optimism or idealism. All of what we know needs to be re-said and re-cast in an existentially convincing way. That is, the established knowledge needs to be interpolated into a convincing argument that contains both old and new. There are many philosophers who can be provacative, but who reject Humanism, etc. Humanism is not the last word, far from it, however, so many of these Humanism-skeptic philosophers need to be taken with at least a grain of salt.

DWLindeman said...

I should clarify my recent comment just a bit. I think that Humanism, narrowly defined as: "Man the measure of all things", has come to an end. Of course, many of us have always been leary of this narrow definition, and not accepted it. Nonetheless, the end of this variant-strain of Humanism is perplexing to many. The percpetion of a "state of uncertainty" has been with us since at least the 1970s, the end of the "classic Modernist" period. Attempts to perpetuate, or, to "deconstruct" the narrow concept of Humanism has led to significant rifts in the discourse about who we are as creatures, and, what a legitimate "truth statement" may be. Christians, who have never accepted the narrow definition, don't really have this problem, and, I think, should welcome the experience of apparent uncertainty as another aspect of our ongoing experience of Christian faith and knowledge in this world.