This piece from 2015, published by The Philosophers' Magazine, is something of a blast from the past, but it still seems to me to be about right. It also gives a taste of what my book, The Tyranny of Opinion, is about. It responds to the issue at the time when an anti-abortion campaigner from the US, Troy Newman, was denied entry to Australia, with the perverse effect that his views were actually given more publicity than if he'd simply been allowed to go about his business and give his talks quietly. As it turned out, then, he was not silenced, but this was nonetheless an attempt (a very counterproductive one) to hinder his ability to present his views to Australians. I'd rather spend my time arguing against "pro-life" advocates, especially such extreme ones, than arguing for their right to express their views. Increasingly, however, many debates are shifting away from disagreements about which views are correct, or would form the best basis for public policy, and which views should be permitted at all.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
I am proud to have signed this open letter, arising from recent attempts to punish the "gender critical feminist" philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock. Signing the letter does not mean that I necessarily agree with all or any of Professor Stock's substantive views. That's a separate issue from whether she is entitled to express them without a large number of her colleagues in the academy mobilizing against her and trying to make her and/or her views beyond the pale of toleration. Whatever I might ultimately think about her philosophical views and/or her policy proposals, or about her more general values and attitudes, she should have every right to express them within the academy without hindrance or punishment. She only needs to conform to some very broad standards of rationality and civility - standards that she has more than met, since she's has gone out of her way to be measured and reasoned, and even conciliatory to the extent that anyone could plausibly expect.
It's very pleasing to see so many people signing the letter, including some high-profile individuals within the discipline of philosophy (e.g. Peter Singer as one of the original signatories and Timothy Williamson as one of the many people who've signed since).
I have reservations about open letters, but they mostly apply to letters that involve numerous people ganging up on a colleague with whom they are in substantive disagreement. There's a huge difference between that and an open letter objecting to exactly that practice and offering support, in an hour of need, to an individual who its victim. In the latter case, I'm always open to signing, provided, of course that I agree with the specific detail of what I'm asked to sign up to.
Kudos to Professor Daniel Kaufman who took on the task of organizing this. Organizing academics to do anything - perhaps especially philosophers - is notoriously like herding cats, but Dan did a wonderful job and deserves recognition for it.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
This new interview is with Richard Marshall for his "End Times" series of interviews with philosophers. It's a long-form interview covering a wide range of topics from a lengthy (I hope not too rambling) autobiographical answer to the question of how I became a philosopher, to discussion of issues relating to toleration and freedom of speech, through to the emergence of China as a global superpower of the 21st century. Check it out!
Monday, August 17, 2020
1. This one is with American philosopher Dan Kaufman, and we discuss my newest book, The Tyranny of Opinion, with more general discussion of call-out/cancel culture, identity politics, political polarization, and a bit about experience to date with COVID-19 and attempts to contain it. If you're at all interested in the issues discussed in The Tyranny of Opinion you'll probably find the back-and-forth between us worthwhile.
2. The second is with Jordan C. Myers from the Plato's Cave podcast. Listen here, or you can go here for a version on YouTube. It's a wide-ranging discussion about the idea, value, and social role of philosophy, though mainly focused on my co-edited book (with Damien Broderick) Philosophy's Future: The Problem of Philosophical Progress. The book has a new paperback edition, by the way, so you can now buy it (or get your library to) at an affordable price. A lot of work went into the book, and we ended up with an extraordinarily strong set of contributors, so please consider at least checking it out if you're at all interested in philosophy.
Sunday, October 13, 2019
First, thanks to all concerned at the Australian Defence College for organising this event, and for the invitation to take part. The topic that we’ve been assigned for this panel raises numerous issues and could sustain a lifetime program of research. My contribution today is intended as something of a conceptual map that is not meant to be controversial, but I’m sure some of it will be anyway. What isn’t? I hope, nonetheless, that it will be helpful as a starting point for thought.
- When, if ever, is it ethically justifiable to go to war? (Just war theorists use the Latin term jus ad bellum.)
- If it is ever ethically justifiable to go to war, how are we justified in fighting? (Just war theorists use the term jus in bello.) Are there limits that should apply, and if so what are they?
- Pacifist theories, which, with limited exceptions and variations, rule out acts of violence.
- Just war theories.
- International relations realist (or simply "realist") theories of war. These are basically theories of enlightened self-interest.
- Spectacle – i.e. the future – and with it, usually some kind of futuristic technology – is imagined for entertaining depictions of spectacular battles.
- Warning – this includes warnings about particular military threats that could arise, perhaps resulting from one country’s geopolitical and military weaknesses, and also warnings about the nature of future warfare
- Justice – I’ll use this word as shorthand for anxieties about the justification or
ethics of war, or the justification or ethics of developments in warfare.
- In large part, science fiction responds to a new understanding of the future that became possible, at least for most people, only as a result of the Industrial Revolution. That is, it responds to a conception of the future that emphasizes rapid, continual, visible social change driven and shaped by advances in science, and especially technology.
- To remind us, Chesney’s “The Battle of Dorking” was published in 1871. It depicts a successful invasion of England by Germany in the wake of the devastating Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. It’s a warning of British military weakness, but little in Chesney’s novella relates to the effects of science and technology. The Germans use basically the same tactics that they’d already used, historically, in defeating France.
- To qualify that, the Germans do use the most advanced military methods of the time. They also use certain vaguely described secret weapons against the British fleet. But even these seem to be no more than mines and torpedoes of kinds already being developed in the 1860s and 1870s.
- By contrast, H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1897) and The War in the Air (1908) are clearly science fiction.
12. I'm not interested today in exactly where we draw that line. I think it's more important to make other distinctions, such as between narratives that warn about specific wars that could happen now or very soon (with more-or-less existing methods and equipment) and narratives that imagine, and possibly warn about, new methods of warfare. Even here, there are grey areas, and we might come back to them before this panel concludes. However, “The Battle of Dorking”, which warns of British vulnerability to attack by the newly unified Germany, is one kind of narrative. The War in the Air is very different.
Russell Blackford is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Newcastle, NSW. He is the author of numerous books, including Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction (co-authored with Van Ikin and Sean McMullen, 1999) and Science Fiction and the Moral Imagination: Visions, Minds, Ethics (2017).
Monday, October 07, 2019
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Sunday, June 30, 2019
Except in the discipline’s most technical areas, however — areas such as formal logic and the philosophical study of semantics — disputes among philosophers seldom converge on anything like a stable consensus. These disputes run into problems of ambiguous, conflicting, and incomplete evidence, conceptual confusion, and a diversity of bedrock assumptions, intuitions, and values. It is therefore typical, rather than unusual, for philosophers to maintain opposed ideas even after honest and strenuous efforts to find common ground. This is well known within the discipline, and in the past, such considerations have obtained far more consensus from philosophers than any suggested answers to big philosophical questions. Thus, philosophy’s tolerant disciplinary norms reflect the practicalities of philosophical inquiry.The point of the article is not, however, to claim that all is well within the discipline of philosophy. On the contrary, it expresses concern about internal challenges to philosophy's disciplinary norm of fearless, open inquiry. Having examined a couple of cases of this, including the Tuvel affair, I conclude on a worried note:
In the past, philosophy has survived, and maintained its integrity, in the face of external pressures, including hostility from church and state. It is not clear, however, that philosophy as an academic discipline can survive the tactics of ideologues working from within.
Monday, April 29, 2019
Please read the whole thing, because it really is a thoughtful review with many thoughtful observations. The discussion thread that follows is also surprisingly good, with civil, thoughtful exchanges of views. As a taste, however, the review concludes: