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Philosophers and Petitions

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Numbers generate a pressure to believe that isn’t grounded in explanatory force, because having more and more adherents to a view doesn’t give rise to better and better accounts of why the view is correct… Philosophers ought to be especially sensitive to introducing this element of belief imposition into our culture. As a philosopher, I want my influence to be philosophical, which is to say, I want to bring people to believe only what they, by their own lights, can see to be justified; I don’t want them to believe something because (I am one of the) many people who think it. That’s Agnes Callard (Chicago), writing in The New York Times, on why “petitions, regardless of their content, compromise core values of intellectual inquiry” and why their use “constitutes a kind of philosophical malpractice.” Her central focus is on petitions and open letters directed at academics. Mural by David de la Mano and Pablo S. Herrero I get what she’s saying. In regard to an academic petition from a couple of years ago, I urged that “in conducting our academic work we should try as much as possible to rely on the exchange of evidence and arguments, not (directly) on the numbers of people who agree with us, or the strength of their agreement” and cautioned against activities that push us towards “a version of academia in which, in the contest of ideas, when expertise bumps up against popularity, the latter is more likely to win.” In her column, Callard writes: We’d never approach questions such as “Are possible worlds real?” or “Is knowledge justified true belief?” by petition, so why are we tempted to do so in the case of questions around sex, gender and hurtful speech? She thinks the answer she’d get is: the latter question involves real feelings and real people, and it is about something that is happening now—for all these reasons, it strikes us as being of grave importance. The petition writers are. . .

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News source: Daily Nous

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