- Treating others fairly, equitably, and with dignity;
- Respecting the philosophical opinions and traditions of others, without disparaging those who hold positions at odds with one’s own;
- Maintaining integrity and trust in all professional commitments and interactions; and
- Recognizing that power and seniority do not offer reasons for being inattentive to the values just mentioned.--APA Code of Conduct
Some professional friends expressed surprise at my hostility toward the APA's Code of Conduct. They assumed that I would be supportive of the APA's attempt to set out some guidelines to respond to the history of bullying and sexual harassment (and worse) in the profession. In addition, Kathryn Pogin, who has taught me a lot on these issues, was unmoved by my concerns (themselves influenced by Ed Kazarian and Leigh Johnson) over the downside risks and abuse that this particular code has (associated with names like Salaita, Patti Adler, etc.), suggesting (and i am paraphrasing!), that such abuse is always a risk of some such codes and as such not sufficient reason to reject the code. Before I get to that, I articulate why -- despite undoubtedly the noble and sincere intentions of the drafters -- this is a very unsatisfying document; it is unsatisfying when we compare it to the historians's and the engineers's codes (I return to these below) -- and on its intrinsic merits.
First, the APA's Code neither reflects the ways (plural!) philosophy is practiced nor offers a coherent vision of the profession. For example, historically and presently, philosophers do not respect "the philosophical opinions and traditions of others." And this is not an esoteric secret, but plainly visible in our undergraduate curriculum. Plato was not respectful to many of the Sophists or rustic wisdom; Descartes, Bacon, and Hobbes made fun of the Scholastics; Voltaire ridiculed Leibniz; Schopenhauer, Kierkegard, and Nietzsche all poked fun at Hegel. It's not just the boys (and the relentless attacks of analyticals on continentals and [lest we forget] continentals on analyticals), Cavendish made fun of the Royal Society; Stebbing mocked Eddington, and Anscombe, enough said. Maybe all of this is an argument to reform the canon -- and eliminate the history of all philosophy --, but we need an argument or narrative that explains disrespecting other people's philosophical views is a wrong. To be sure, it probably is wrong and wrong in philosophical ways to disrespect views one is ignorant of in the manner, say, plenty of Anglophone professional philosophers continue to be disrespectful of Buddhist philosophy; to prematurely close off conversation, to fail at a certain species of inquisitiveness and listening.
No, I am talking about situations where folks actively disrespected views they fully understood. (I am not denying that plenty of mutual loathing of analytical vs continental is also based on considerable ignorance.) They understood all too well and oppose and disrespect on moral, political, metaphysical, aesthetic (etc.) or (let's be frank) self-interested grounds. Here I am not defending such disrespect and expressions of it, but the APA's code does not even acknowledge this lived reality, does not even nod at all the complexities involved. It is notable that the historians' code uses the word "dilemmas" multiple times and emphasizes their multiplicity. The philosophers's code operates in a friction-less moral universe. To be sure, it is extremely imprudent to express disrespect of a philosophical tradition/position that happens to be held by a direct colleague (read any campus novel of the way such petty disputes can sour whole lives).
The point is that by not even acknowledging the reality of philosophical practice, the APA's code is entirely hollow and, thereby, incapable of shaping a shared professional future. This is exemplified by, as I noted before, the code's inability to even articulate a stance toward the many concrete ways conflict of interest (a term bizarrely albeit revealingly missing from this document) and minimal lack of scholarly standards are manifested in the profession (the financial, moral, and institutional corruption of some pockets of applied ethics, citation practices, journal capture, the leveraging of professional prestige for worldly goods, etc.)--these omissions make a mockery of the use of 'integrity' as a shared standard. For, far too long, in professional philosophy ,'trust,' means: can you close ranks (against pesky critics, against the simmering sexual scandals, etc.). Through its pattern of silences and omissions, the APA's code indirectly and unintentionally helps to perpetuate the myth that professional philosophy's ethical problems really revolve around a few bad apples, who happen to be 'powerful' and 'senior,' but that our internal professional practices and our dealings with the world are fundamentally in order. This is especially astounding because all the issues mentioned in this paragraph have been intensely debated and discussed in national and social media, conferences/workshops, and various special issues during the last decade.
It need not have been this way. The engineering code is a list of 'canons' which then are turned into a long list of dos and don'ts. Even a quick survey of that list makes clear that they are responding to a long list of potential conflicts of interests and real world risks and professional abuses. Now, any trained philosopher can pick holes in that list, yet, simultaneously, it expresses a world-view about society and technology in which engineering has a proper role. In addition, and this is notable, the code is supplemented both by an individual creed (which even draws on 'divine guidance') and an ethical review board (both dating from 1954), which, by engaging with particular cases, generates an evolving reflection on the lived experience and practice of this code. Nobody thinks that the code, creed, and review board have banished vice from engineering. But if an engineer wishes to act even live with professional integrity, it is pretty clear what this involves. The engineering code claims that the "engineering profession's emphasis on ethics dates back to the end of the 19th century."
The historians have, by contrast, woven a narrative, that aims to present a vision of historical professionalism inside and outside the academy and that is also rooted (say I qua expert in historiography) in the nineteenth century conception of history as a profession with shared values--these are the first two main articles of the document. Now, to be sure, neither the engineering code nor the historian's code mentions the professional's worst abuses: professional history has been implicated in producing the intellectual machinery of violent imperialism, orientalism, and virulent/racist nationalism; engineers have facilitated war crimes and genocide. These abuses have occurred in the context of people appearing to live up to their professional standards (even setting them). The historians' and engineers' codes clearly aim to articulate, not wholly successfully albeit admirably, a response to the genuine possibility of a conflict among professional ideals, moral demands, and human imperfection.
Above, I have listed the 'core values' that animate the APA's code. Of these, only "respecting the philosophical opinions and traditions of others" is a substantive philosophical commitment, and, as I argued above, it can't withstand scrutiny (yet--maybe one day it will). Peculiarly, the fourth 'core value' is a kind of meta-value that "power and seniority do not offer reasons for being inattentive to the" other three core values. Here the APA's Code acknowledges an aspect of our professional lived reality: that professional philosophy has operated as a (status) hierarchy in which we operate by different kinds of rules. It frankly, sensibly, and admirably recognizes that the Code will remain hollow and, itself, an instrument of power if those atop the hierarchy can exempt themselves from it. (Sadly, it fails to explore how our professional values and practices may, in fact, facilitate these hierarchies.)
That is to say, the fourth core values signals some awareness of how the implementation of the code matters to its prestige, effectiveness, and moral status. This makes the Code's silence on the known dangers of abuse of its rules for good behavior so striking. It need not be like this. Recall that when The University of Chicago's "Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression" addressed its own call for civility [this is not the infamous letter], it is also explicit that this very norm can be abused: "concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas," (emphasis added)--obviously, that 'can' is an ought.] Such utterances are undoubtedly not sufficient to prevent further abuse. How to make systems of thought and proposed mores more resilient against abuse is not a simple matter (although I explore it regularly in my blog see the tab analytical egalitarianism). In fact, recognition of this point would be the start of a distinctly philosophical contribution to professional codes.
So, in conclusion the APA's code does not articulate core values for professional philosophy as a profession (despite its own repeated claims to the contrary). Maybe that's good--maybe philosophy should not understand itself as a profession. I have already explained why I think that it does not take the philosophical impact on and entanglement with the world seriously. Leaving aside, the Code's silence on enforcement and sanction, in this post, I have tried to hint at the ways in which the Code does not take our practices as philosophers seriously enough, even if, and this is no small matter, it frankly recognizes and tries to end the many ways we also too habitually corrupt it.