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09/26/2014

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Mary Margaret McCabe

Mary Margaret McCabe: Thank you very much indeed for this thoughtful response as well as for your far too kind words – and I am so sorry to disappoint! Thank you, also, for the link to Johnson and Kazarian, which I had not seen, and which helped me to think about where we may or may not disagree. Perhaps the starting point is that I have been talking about attitudes, rather than merely forms of speech; it is the attitudes of civility that seem to me to be vitally important, but very difficult to form and to maintain. The attitudes are represented by the speech; but it is not the speech, but the attitudes that matter most (as several of my correspondents today have observed).

I think that there are three separate issues that you address: the question of what counts as a community and where that falls short; the club-and-stick question about silencing what is represented as uncivil; and the role of anger.

Perhaps the ‘what counts as a community?’ question is the trickiest. I guess that we are all part of all sorts of communities all the time, both inside the academy and outside it. Surely the groups we belong to have, in fact, vague boundaries, overlaps, embeddings and so forth, all the way out to humanity as a whole (as the Stoics would have said); and the attitudes of civility may allow us to cross the boundaries, keep the borders open, rather than slamming them shut. In the same way, might not philosophers reasonably think of themselves -- not as analytic or whatever -- but just as thinking with some others (whether the others be other philosophers, from whatever kind of group, or other humanists, or scientists or just whoever)? Anyway – my thought is that when we do this subject or any other with others; or when we talk with others in our institutions or outside them, we are best served and so is everyone else if we seek the attitudes of civility. Those attitudes, if the boundaries are properly porous, will allow us to listen, and to be heard.

This thought may have got damaged, perhaps, by an association between civility and collegiality, the latter of which may coincide with institutional boundaries and constraints which are unhelpful or pernicious and damaging to what we do. This is where your club-and-stick worry comes in, I take it; and this is about regulating the language that people use (in some cases where that regulation may fall also under state legislation), or about using their language as a ground for regulating their behavior. But this institutional abuse of the notion of civility should not, I think, outlaw the attitude that matters, any more than it should lead us to think that our institutions are the only communities there are.

None of this precludes our expressing outrage or even fury to someone with whom we do indeed share civility; but it does, perhaps, show that outrage or fury should not replace civility. Part of my point was that anger is not the same sort of thing as civility; not an abiding attitude nor a policy nor a stance. For speaking and listening, what matters is the real civil deal – the relations of civility, rather than its tone.

Just a footnote on the role of ‘sneering and the elegant putdown’: yes of course – amusing, often repeated over and over (although the better and funnier stories are kindlier). But what happens to its target? And what happens to us, when we think that this is the way to proceed?

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for this elaboration, Prof. McCabe!
I guess, I can imagine (well I know the type) a philosopher that is animated by anger (at injustice, at fate, etc.)--so that the attitude is problematic from your vantage point. I think that for such a philosopher anger could still be constitutive not just of her practice but even of her notion of civility (in your attitude focused sense which I like).

Mary Margaret McCabe

Thank you! Perhaps there might be a distinction to be had here -- between someone who is, as you say, animated by anger at injustice; and someone whose anger dictates their attitudes *to other people*. It seems to me very worthy to be regularly angered by injustice, and to do and say something about it; and still to occupy a settled attitude of civility in one's relations with others (the openness and hearing and listening). There is a different situation where someone's anger informs and affects how they deal with others (they may be just splenetic!). In that case, the spleen hampers their relations with others in speech and hearing, not least because it makes others anxious about how they engage with them. Does that help?

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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