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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Brian D. Earp on a fatal retraction (more on the mistreatment of Alice Dreger)

This long contribution by Brian D. Earp to the Quillette site is a superb piece of philosophical writing! Earp discusses the shoddy treatment of Alice Dreger that I commented on a few weeks ago. There is little in Earp's piece that I could disagree with, but even if I were to change my mind about that and identify some areas of serious disagreement, I'd see his article as an important contribution to public debate. In fact, I'd go much further: a piece such as this is exactly the sort of contribution that philosophers should be making to the wider culture.

Earp engages in deep, serious analysis of the issues, and he does so in a way that is intellectually honest and rigorous, rather than merely fishing for the approval of one or another political tribe. He makes clear where he is sceptical about some of Dreger's work but also why Dreger was treated poorly when an article of hers was retracted by its (re)publisher - not because the publisher came to see anything wrong with the article itself but because other writings by Dreger convinced its editors that she was too politically impure for her work to be promoted. As he puts it, this was "a fatal retraction".

This is a form of soft (but not all that soft!) authoritarianism, and we shouldn't hesitate to name it as such. It's an attempt to punish someone and restrict the availability of her work because of her lack of tribal purity. We can do more than find labels for such an action, though. Time, energy, and talent permitting, we can engage with the issues at a deep level, and in a thorough manner, as Earp has done.

One of my current projects is a book under contract to Bloomsbury Academic, The Tyranny of Opinion. I expect to discuss cultural episodes such as this high-handed de-publication of Dreger's article. Indeed, I expect to have more to say about Earp's analysis. Meanwhile, do check out Earp's piece for yourself, both for its merit as a contribution to the substantive topic and as a model for philosophical practice in a world that needs a lot more of this sort of analysis.

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