Explaining the silence of the logicians!


We may be better off: Progressives are in a world of hurt with ranking professors like Patricia Williams, whose recent work we reviewed in this earlier post.

Conservatives get dumb listening to Rush. We progressives have folk like Williams to perform that service.

That said, we recommend the recent flap about another ranking professor. We refer to philosophy professor Colin McGinn, who hit the front page of the New York Times this weekend.

We don’t know how to judge the matter which brought McGinn his front-page placement. Nor do we really recommend the New York Times treatment of this matter. But this flap helps us revisit a question we have asked many times in the past:

Where are all the logicians?

McGinn has long been a star in the cosseted, inbred world of academic “philosophy.” Many “logicians” are part of that world—and good lord, has this country needed a few good logicians over the past twenty years!

Given the repeated conceptual confusions marking that era, why have we received so little help from the philosophy professors? We’ll offer three ideas:

They may be living the high life: Some of the top performers are living on the 43rd floors, like Professor McGinn in Miami. They also have gigantic cabanas. They spend their spare time surfing. They have no time to serve the public; they also have no such desire.

Their heads are located up their keisters: Professor McGinn’s troubles began when he taught a seminar on human evolution and the hand [sic]. This led to e-mailed jokes about “hand jobs,” by which, of course, to state the obvious, he now says he meant manicures.

(Actually, no! Alex Rodriguez isn’t serving as the professor’s lawyer.)

They can’t speak regular English: The dispute about McGinn involves a charge of sexual harassment, or something like it. In comment threads at philosophy sites, we have read comments about this matter from many perfectly decent people involved in the profession. Our question: Do graduate students in philosophy know how to speak American English? In a sense, but not as such! If they tried to sort out a public dispute, many would have a wrestling match with the way regular English is spoken. This doesn’t mean that they’re bad people! (We’re talking about American students, not those who are foreign-born.)

As a bonus, we recommend this comical post about the efforts of Steven Pinker to support his embattled friend, who has often written glowing reviews of Pinker’s books. Pinker isn’t a “philosopher,” of course. But all in all, we get this impression:

We may be better off when the professors keep to themselves. Life can be good on the 43rd floors. We may have to learn to settle our problems down here all by ourselves.

For McGinn's web site, click this.