[A]s meaningless as asking which points in Ohio are starting points.--Quine "Two Dogmas" (1961).
I’m what you get when you cross Quine with Ryle and add some cognitive science.--Daniel C. Dennett.
I am writing in order to disrupt any possibility that the horrible conflation of Zionism and Judaism become further entrenched this week. And I am writing to draw attention to the uncontroversial fact that whatever the merits and legitimacy of the State of Israel and its military actions may be, it does not speak or act in the name of the Jewish religion or in the name of the Jewish people...
Today is the eve of the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the greatest calamity in the history of Judaism and the beginning of our long and bitter exile. The holy rabbis of the century that saw the rise of Israeli nationalism as a response to this exile have taught me that I will sanctify God's name if I declare publicly the Jewish belief that the Zionist mission is a struggle against God's very will.--Prof. Curtis Franks, "An open letter on Israel and Gaza from Notre Dame philosopher Curtis Franks," Leiter reports.
The fabric of sentences that constitute the "lore" of Quine's fathers "is a pale grey lore, black with fact and white with convention." Quine could not locate "quite black threads in it, or any white ones." Sometimes we do not have Quine's or Dennett's luxury in picking our (surrogate) fathers;+ in the lore of my family there wear dark, black hats tracing back matrimonially (and with a few genealogical gaps) to the Ropschitzer Rebbe. Given the possible puns on Ropschitz, I did not share this with my school friends; we can't all be a Prinz or a Gendler.* Of course, I could spin a story about myself as, say, Dennett's student (which is true), but it wouldn't fit with the work I do, so I have tried out others.
In professional philosophy, we tend to be separated by two degrees or less, but I have to admit I was unfamiliar with Curtis Franks. His website helpfully informs me that he "is the direct patrilineal descendent of Isaac Franks (b. 1772 in the Royal Province of South Carolina)." Not quite the Mayflower, or Newport, but certainly yiches, too. Franks is a logician, I learn, so undoubtedly careful with words. I was made curious because in his open letter, he cites a pacifist passage of the Chofetz Chaim al Hatorah approvingly with its author called "saintly."** It's been a while since I have heard "the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem" described as the "greatest calamity in the history of Judaism." (That's compatible, of course, with greater calamities --either the expulsion from Iberia or (in the one awkward locution of Franks's letter) "the most famous genocide attempt in all of hisstory" -- befalling Jews qua Jews.)
Of course, not in my lifetime would I have ever imagined to see the most important professional philosophy blog (and Brian Leiter is not exactly known as a friend of religion) give prominent space to ideas that I associate with Satmar and other ("Hungarian") Hasidic Anti-Zionists to whom I was sometimes introduced by my (non Hungarian/non-Satmar) grandparents during my childhood visits to Forest Hills. (To be clear Franks's Jewish authorities are neither necessarily Satmar or Hungarian.)
Yesterday Ingrid Robeyns asked me why I keep quiet about Gaza (etc.). She knows that recently I defended (in Dutch) the need for philosophy in the public sphere (while acknowledging that such philosophy is often a very different genre from what we professionals would ordinarily take seriously). Even so, because philosophers rarely have a comparative advantage when discussing newsy events, and we are not trained pundits (although some practice punditry),++ I think restraint on newsy events is advisable. Moreover, training in professional ethics, political philosophy, and meta-ethics does not, I fear, involve training in good moral-political judgment (and there is considerable evidence -- for those that wish to see it -- that becoming a professional philosopher corrupts one's moral reflexes as Ruth Chang has eloquently taught us and Eric Schwitzgebel documented.) The great danger of philosophical skill -- one not emphasized enough in our training -- is that when coupled with public utterances it becomes no better than extremely refined, lawyerly technique in the service of any end (but without the legal framework/rules), that is, propaganda, even war-time propaganda.
As it happens, analytical ethics is especially unsuited for commentary on political, newsy events of the day.*** It is emblematic that Singer insists on focusing on "immediate triggers" and to "put aside" political history as somehow distinct from "moral issues." Kamm writes as an authority in the casuistry of the "morality of war;" she is instructive on the "standard" meaning of "proportionality" in it, but is silent not just on history, but explicitly on "what is proportionate or disproportionate to the goal a country is trying to achieve." If Singer's ethics is (in this instance, although it is characteristic of his philosophy generally) in the service of his politics, Kamm's ethics exemplifies ethics without political history. I am mistrustful of such philosophical sins because they do not serve to make -- invisible or vilified! -- others more humane to any of the combatants and outsiders; perhaps, such sins are unavoidable when speaking on the urgent matters of the day. Maybe such sins are even required to ameliorate the bad?
I am genuinely unsure, so I prefer reading what others have to say about Gaza, Zionism, etc, if only because I find their rhetoric and silences instructive about their philosophical temperaments. Curtis Franks does not report expressing "disagreement" when he was a bystander to -- all too familiar, alas -- expressions of hatred and "racist statements" in his circle of friends or family. I mention this not to judge him -- he would not accept me as his judge anyway --, but because I am fascinated by his eagerness to speak eloquently on "the horrible conflation of Zionism and Judaism" not so much among Klal Israel, but among his fellow professional philosophers (and on a blog that is more widely followed in the media). In doing so, he presents himself as a sure guide to the views of "traditional Judaism" (post exile). Here's a logician, who, rather than live exclusively among abstract Platonic entities un-rooted from time and place, repeatedly calls attention to his rooted-ness in land (South Carolina) and a religious tradition that has non-trivial political implications: "to live humbly in the lands into which we have been dispersed, never to attempt to resettle our ancestral land by force or to establish our national sovereignty by our own power." Just to avoid confusion, Professor Franks's understanding of the nature of tradition (and even what "traditional Judaism" might be) is not mine; nor do I share in the philosophical temperament exhibited by his letter. But I warmly welcome his attempt to extend humanity to all.
I believe qua philosopher that it is a philosophical duty to speak truth to our own communities first and foremost, and help shape our lores toward justice and recognition of particular outsiders and invisible powerless. This is not easy; it can be very unpleasant to talk truth to one's friends, peers, and political/professional superiors. In doing so, we need to find ways to incorporate ourselves into the moral truths that we are legislating for others. (I know many professional ethicists think it is fine to legislate moral truths to others.) I do not know how to do any of this in the midst of wartime horror, my friends's and families anxieties, and a long, complex history that tends to be used to silence others. Right now I am incapable of even stammering and finding words that do not naturally lend themselves to propaganda, so I remain silent, Ingrid, while others speak the words that may be necessary now.
+ I have long thought that a true history of American analytical philosophy would have to explain the rise of some kids from Ohio (and Nebraska) and how they displaced the sophisticated urbanites back East.
*One of the great joys of facebook is to learn about the noble ancestry of my philosophical peers.
++For example, Singer writes without argument that "But between the untenable extremes of pacifism and the elevation of war to something beyond morality, there is a middle ground that seeks to minimize the unquestionable evil of war." Perhaps, pacifism is indeed untenable in the real world and maybe it is more noble to minimize evil than to advocate non-violence, but to call pacifism "extreme" is a classic form of de-legitimation from the 'sanctified middle' (see this post -- primarily written by Mark Lance -- for an analysis of such rhetoric). And even if untenable, why would pacifism be worse than any other form of (ideal) political theory?
**I am not convinced, by the way, that the thought of Chafetz Chaim on the whole tends ultimately toward anti-zionism or pacifism, but about that some other time.
***This paragraph was inspired by a Facebook comment by Jason Stanley, who may well disagree with nearly everything in this post.