We’re All Crazy Around Here

or at least, someone is.

Adam and I–with the ample help of our entire community of thinkers, here at CSID and abroad in the world–have spent nearly a year writing the little piece that came out in the Chronicle Review this week. We measured and weighed every word (as has the Chronicle, for that matter), testing its ideas out with a hammer, as Nietzsche might say. Moreover, beyond the 10 months spent on this particular piece, the thoughts collected here represent the accumulation of years of reflection–in my case, some 30 years of trying to understand what philosophy is and how it hooks onto the world.

The result? Well, we have received a large number of comments (still coming in) that represent a wide spectrum of views. Overall, a gratifying experience. But I would like to highlight one particular review that saddens me: Brian Leiter’s.

Britt has already commented on many of the details of Leiter’s response, in an earlier blogpost; I have little to add to that. I note only how discouraging Leiter’s response is. After all, Leiter is Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director, Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago–a prominent position at one of our most esteemed institutions of higher learning. His work should represent the best of what it means to be an engaged philosopher in contemporary society. And what do we get? A farrago of ad hominem attacks, misrepresentations, and straw man arguments, sewn together by a tone of contempt.

Philosophers are supposed to do better than that.

Now maybe we are all so crazy around here–or so inept–that we are unable to see what a laughably transparent attempt at self-advertizement our little piece is. But the situation actually reminds me of the state of the Republican party today. Obama has tried to govern in a center-right fashion. His signature achievement, the health care bill, incorporates many of the Republican proposals made in the ’90s and early ’2000s, and is considerably to the right of Clinton’s. And the response has been hysterical, as the party of Lincoln denounces Obama as a socialist with a Kenyan-colonialist mentality.

Andrew Sullivan notes the challenge, quoting Orwell: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Reasonableness is always a fragile thing. Judgment requires a judicious mix of humility and audaciousness.

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