Leiterland and the Non-naturalists

Let me describe a fictional world to you. Suppose that Continental philosophy and American pragmatism never happened, and that all diversity in philosophy is next to nothing. Asian philosophy is taught in religious studies departments and if Continental concerns arose in any way, they were raised in cultural studies and literary theory. In this fictional world, Russell and his ilk were successful in turning the tide of philosophy to never have invented anything remotely like phenomenology and the subsequent movements that it engendered. However, in this fictional world, assume that there was a schism in analytic philosophy between the naturalists and non-naturalists, and this issue divides up all of analytic philosophy such that it proffers even more nuanced splits. Those that favor philosophy of religion and are theists are non-naturalists, and then there is everybody else. Let’s call this world Leiterland.

Are you with me so far?

Okay, then, imagine that mainstream analytic philosophy by and large went the way of scientism and naturalism (concede to me that these terms are not opaque and pick out what they’re enthusiasts hope they do) whereas the internal community of philosophers had gathered together in a few departments, most notably the same Catholic distribution one finds favorable to Continental philosophy: the Duquesnes, Depauls, and the Catholic University of Americas to name a few.

So far so good…

Now, imagine in this world a young man, Brian, having just graduating law school and attending philosophy graduate school. During graduate school, he thinks to himself that the same notions of institutional pedigree should apply to philosophy graduate programs. He attends a university after that known for its similar institutional prestige than what is going on in those other non-naturalist departments. He, then, institutionalizes his opinions and value judgments about what philosophy ought to be. His implicit biases get confirmed in that he comes from and is somehow entrenched in the very system of biases that validate his own beliefs. Meanwhile, he pays only marginal attention to the non-naturalists, even electing to study one of their central figures, so Brian studies W. D. Ross.

Now I ask at the time of graduate school, do you think any of us can honestly say that we have things right? Could someone suitably come up with a way to test the best schools and think something like rankings should be necessary? Certainly, when we are first starting out, even immediately after graduate school, I cannot say with all intellectual humility that my perceptions of philosophy and its institutions should somehow be codified in a survey let alone those that more than likely benefit such consensus. In our fictional world of Leiterland, the naturalists benefit only each other and since the non-naturalists were forced out or excluded from sharing in that consensus, the naturalists do not even need to read or know about the work in non-naturalism. The division creates ignorance on both sides.

When the Naturalist Gourmet Report arrives on the scene, Brian advances that party-line non-naturalism has organized itself into an organization called Society for Non-naturalism and Aristotelian Philosophy. These “SNAPPies” as he calls them are not very good philosophers. As they are non-naturalists, other thinkers from other disciplines interested in non-naturalism also arrive on the scene, including Thomists from theology departments. Brian can say things on his blog like SNAPPies are not real philosophers since they’re not naturalists. He will continually deride the SNAPPies and constantly reference the self-insulating Naturalist Gourmet Report that shows only true philosophers attend Naturalist schools as well as toting his credentials as someone who gets non-naturalism better than the SNAPPies for his work on W. D. Ross, who he reads as a naturalized intuitionist. He will constantly see himself threatened by these SNAPPies calling the Naturalists Gourmet Report out for years on his blog since they question the very direction he is taking philosophy with his focus group. The need to demonize the SNAPPies at every turn. Brian will continue despite knowing many people that find SNAP a wonderful conference and event.

What Brian will never do is openly admit how much popularity he has won in the philosophy world of Leiterland with his rankings. His power is embedded with the interests of seeing philosophy a certain way, the only way that  His privilege reinforces other notions of privilege. Later, it will come out that the Naturalist Gourmet Report is belabored with the problems that others have observed all along. Brian will demean someone’s criticism and eventually threaten to sue over e-mail. Finally, someone will have enough and post the e-mails on the internet, revealing the rather strangely bully-ish aggressive nature of Brian. Brian will be seen as a bully against many people who consider themselves non-naturalists. Some of the survey participants will come out, revealing that they really never had the expertise they offered on some of the specialty rankings and others will run as far away from Brian’s bullying colleagues in the profession. Brian will attempt to wash away these criticisms by calling one’s attention again to the conspiracy against himself, and some will come to his aid. In the end, Brian will carry on as usual rallying all of his energies in an attempt to codify his own biases. He will travel the blogosphere, and he may even find this piece of satire. He will say to me “Kroening-Dunning Effect,” and I will clap my hands in anticipation.

The 100

As an academic, I am always late to things in popular culture. Try as I might, I am never that knowledgeable of what TV shows are out there—that is, until they arrive at Netflix.

I really like The 100. It’s a TV show about 100 trouble-making kids sent from an orbiting space station to see if post-apocalyptic Earth is safe 97 years after a nuclear war. These children had all done something wrong, and with such scarce resources the station orbiting the Earth, called the Ark, is rather totalitarian in its rule. Life support systems are failing up there, and three generations of humanity went top-side to survive the devastation wreaked by their ancestors.

Turns out the Earth is hospitable, though the newly arrived young people are ignorant of how to survive as well as how to cope with the demands of being on Earth.

The children on the ground must cope with establishing a new community. As the show progresses, they must deal with challenges that resemble social contract theory, distributive justice, questions about might makes right, and confront those that did survive; the hostile others of Hobbes.

I think this show is more intellectually honest and satisfying than Walking Dead. The zombies and the constant metaphor to others are not made alien, but the strangely familiar face of the humans, the grounders as they call them. The other is constantly present, and never transformed to be other. The others just are. In that way, The 100 is more honest in the directly Levinasian way that Walking Dead just cannot depict. One confronts hostile others in The 100 face-to-face than the wretched visual disfigurement of zombies.

In addition, the metaphor of height takes on new meaning. The show has more to deal with than just the plain survival against the hostile world. Like the Walking Dead, The 100 is about those surviving than the threats external to them. When the orbiting space station looms above, like so many powers of authority that coerce or compel (take your pick), The 100 reveals an often simplistic but implicitly powerful way to talk about authority of morality, authority of power, and the real nitty-gritty compromises such power entails when communicating with those above in power that desperately need the dispossessed they sent to the void. The hegemony of any power requires the interdependent nature of those it rules, and here that interdependency runs under the current of every narrative.

Also, the young adults were prisoners. They had no innocence as far as the Ark was concerned. In many ways, they were the very people that would be flooded in the traditional Noah-Ark narrative. As such, the show succeeds in large measure since so much of the innocence borrows from these implicit stories of how humankind loses its innocence. There is something very deeply Genesis-like about these themes, although no real Biblical imagery is present besides the obvious reference to the Ark. These Children must make do with what little they find planet-side, and they often do not have the technical know-how. When they were jettisoned to planet Earth, they were not morally innocent according to the strict standards of living aboard the Ark. Yet, ignorance and innocence can be very co-extensive. This alleged loss of innocence parallels the ignorance such youth breeds in having no experiences to draw from. Relationships suffer the lustful and libidinal energies of youth undaunted by any real patterns to emulate except their forebearers. They must punish evil-doers in their community, learn to overcome differences, and eventually torture and wage war.

As a show from the CW, the usual pitfalls plague it. The characters are often very transparent like previous shows on the CW. For example, in Smallville, Lana would be the naively perfect teenage object of Clark’s affections, but had no depth. Clark would be the farmboy boyscout that later would inform his uncompromising adherence to moral principle. All in all, I recommend it, even minus these common CW flaws.

What Students Need?

I have been participating in many discussions about what students need as of late when I heard an amazing factoid at the University of Akron. My students are excited to be in my ethics class, and apparently, I have been “discussed as an excellent professor” around campus. Several of my students told me that they heard they should take my class. When I asked the reason, they candidly told me because of the discussions several had last semester.

I have been trying to think what I did differently from the Fall. In the Fall, I tried a blog. It didn’t go over so well, but what I did do is watch local Cleveland news and pull from popular stories from Good Morning America more intensely in the Spring than in the Fall. There is always a news story illustrating concepts. Moreover, we are not shying away from thinking through concepts used in politics all the time, King on race and connecting that up to Ferguson, Locke on the social contract with the November elections, and Kant on rights to name a few.

In general, students desire the power of self-reflection and an engaged class. My ethics class is very discussion oriented since the concepts addressed always have a practical orientation. I can find these concepts anywhere and everywhere, and ethics is the one class in which students might immediately recognize the power of their own intellectual growth. They are given tools to shape their own reflections about living and leading a moral life. So many of my students come to ethics with less than refined moral positions. After my class, one could easily see that they have thought more intently about these issues. I do not shy away from transmitting the power of these ethical theories. However, I often wonder if the freedom for discussion is lacking everywhere else but the humanities classroom. Since so many of my students are vocational majors, they are given information to internalize by rote. There is no space for growth in such vocational training, and philosophy may be providing a space to experience the actual growth of one’s mind.

If I am right, then the implications for philosophy are staggering. We can give students the experience of an engaged classroom, show them how relevant philosophy can be, and improve their overall university experience. I wonder if this is added reason why my ethics class is recommended. It could be that I connect well with students; as Wolverine says, “I am the best at what I do.” I’m a little bit more humble than that, but constantly referencing ethics in the news has been working wonders for the classroom.