Our agency may have a role in determining what reasons we have in the first place.--Ruth Chang
[Stoic] Wisdom consists in the special disposition of character. As this disposition is the (only) condition for wisdom, the virtuous (or expert) disposition of the sage need not be accompanied by the awareness of the fact that it is a virtuous disposition...This sequence, where the disposition comes first, only to be followed by the awareness of being in that condition, the Stoics compared with the initial unawareness of someone who becomes an expert in an ordinary craft.--Brouwer The Stoic Sage, 84
The two most prevalent ‘unsympathetic’ reactions to all the press about sexual harassment or sexually inappropriate behavior I’ve had – all from senior male philosophers, some of some fame – are both of apiece with what we do as philosophers and therefore not altogether surprising. But I find them pretty dispiriting.
The first is that we all have to remain neutral, that we can’t express even conditional moral disapprobation or sympathy for a party until we ourselves have the proof in hand and we can make our own judgment about the matter. Allied with this reaction is the intellectual reflex to think of all the counterarguments to any allegation or counter-interpretations to data with which we are presented. We are trained to be this way – to see the world in terms of arguments for and against a proposition, and to withhold judgment until all the arguments and data are in.--Ruth Chang.
This wonderful interview with Ruth Chang has been shared widely on philosophy blogs and Facebook. The whole interview is worth reading not just for those of us interested in philosophy of economics and decision theory, but also because Chang's approach is a nice exemplar of, what I recently called, the turn to analytical existentialism (while noting that her work is not reducible to that!) Of course, the interest in her remarks is driven by what she says about the culture of the profession.
Chang's account remind us of what's wrong with the systematic dispositions (our intellectual reflexes) that are a consequence of contemporary professional philosophical training in what we professionals take to be the very best exemplars ("senior male philosophers, some of some fame.") She need not name names because (to paraphrase Hobbes), we can read the truth of what she says in ourselves: when we obtain PhDs in professional philosophy, we have become experts with dispositions that can generate systematic reactions that are out of tune with what is required from us by ordinary decency, let alone justice.
I coupled Chang's interview with Brouwer's description of the early Stoic understanding of the sage because the Stoics may have something to teach us here. For them wisdom, which is a normative ideal that we never reach, consists of a 'mastered disposition' (Brouwer: 85). What makes the Stoic ideal worth reflecting on for us professional philosophers, is that their self-mastery includes logic and knowledge. The tenor of life they promote is neither anti-intellectual nor focused on outer-worldly mystery. What they get right is that the tenor of our intellectual reflexes are central. This entails that we often discover unpleasant facts about ourselves after the fact (i.e., tacit biases).
As regular readers know, I am very wary of triumphant narratives of philosophical progress. But it also does not follow that we should start imitating the Stoics (recall my reservations). Rather, all I am claiming is that it's not obvious how to keep what's most noble about our intellectual reflexes and integrate these in properly cultivated moral sentiments such that we respond more appropriately to injustices within our midst and -- given that plenty of us see philosophy as central to our moral projects -- in the larger world. I'd like to follow Chang in thinking that "our agency may have a role in determining what reasons we have in the first place."** So, perhaps, by aiming to get our individual and systematic responses right toward the injustices in our midst, we will, in fact, discover that we have developed an improved conception of philosophy.
*After all, Chang is able to distance herself from these systematic dispositions.
**An interesting consequence of this is, that if we wish to use the language of truth in discussing such reasons, we may need what I have been calling a 'metaphysical identity theory of truth' rather than the more familiar Tarski-inspired approaches.