This argument that the availability of certain speech or ideas causes real "harm" will be the death of the West. https://t.co/wuJdnrD337
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) May 3, 2017
So, let’s recap what’s going on here for a moment:
- Junior philosopher publishes paper suggesting that if you support the idea of transgender then transrace may be on the table
- more senior (postmodern) philosophers FREAK THE HELL OUT and launch an attack on her
- The attack hits many marks and may be successful in beating the “Wrongthink” back down.
Cooke raises a good point about this being perhaps a death knell for the west, or at the very least the western idea of free inquiry. But I think we should take a good hard look at why the postmodern faculty started to freak out like they did.
Lets take a look at Signal’s piece (in the tweet) for a second
Anyone who has read an academic philosophy paper will be familiar with this sort of argument. The goal, often, is to provoke a little — to probe what we think and why we think it, and to highlight logical inconsistencies that might help us better understand our values and thought processes.
What Signal is getting at here more or less is the idea (predominantly featured in Rawls) of “reflective equilibrium.” The quick and dirty description is that you should take a look at your particular judgments (basically conclusions) that you derive from applying your general principles, determine if the outcome matches with your intuition (which Rawls felt to an extent had a role in determining the appropriateness of outcomes.) If not, then either your general principles are wrong or your application of them. Go back, make adjustments, repeat until correct.
In this way Rawls arrived at his “Ttheory of justice as fairness.” We can debate the validity of his theory a different time, but broadly speaking the reflective equilibrium model works well enough.
Returning to Signal:
Tuvel’s article rebuts a number of the arguments against transracialism, and it’s clear, throughout, that Tuvel herself is firmly in support of trans people and trans rights. Her argument is not that being transracial is the same as being transgender — rather, it’s “that similar arguments that support transgenderism support transracialism,” as she puts it in an important endnote we’ll return to. It’s clear, from the way Tuvel sets things up, that she’s prodding us to more carefully examine why we feel the way we do about Dolezal, not to question trans rights or trans identities. [Emphasis Added]
Ah, but there’s the rub isn’t it? If Tuvel’s conclusions are accurate (and from what I’ve read they seem to at least follow logically from her premises which are largely the premises of current postmodern though) and the outcome doesn’t match our intuition, then we need to go back and reconsider our general principles or our feelings about the outcome.
This puts the postmoderns in a tough spot. Their intense focus on aggrieved minorities, power structures, and bias mean they have to reject Dozel’s claim of being “transracial” while at the same time their idea that identity is primarily defined by one’s own idea of self means that they must embrace the idea of transgender.
Contradictions abound. Under Rawlsian reflective equilibrium we have to fix these contradictions by either a) changing our general principles or b) changing our intuition about the outcome (in this case accepting transracial as a thing.)
But postmodernism is such a house of cards, moving these things around risks its collapse. Which is why they’re lashing out like they can. If reflective equilibrium might show that they’re wrong about several of their general principles then it’s better to entirely avoid it. In order to do so they silence anyone who attempts to engage in it.