Feb 17, 2018

February Online AMA (Ask Me Anything) Session

At 12:00 PM Central Time today, I'll be going onto YouTube Live for my next monthly AMA session!

These sessions are where my viewers, subscribers, followers, backers, fans - and anyone else who happens to show up - gets to Ask Me Anything.  I try to respond to as many of the comments and questions as I possibly can, though I don't always manage to get to all of them.

I started holding these last Fall - committing to doing the first session when we met our first modest goal in Patreon crowdfunding support.  After my backers got us to the next goal, I committed to providing an AMA each month, and that's what I started doing in December.

Here's where you can log into the session - and don't worry if you're early! YouTube will keep that screen open for you until it starts, and even send you a reminder, if you think you need it.



If you'd like to see me in action in the previous sessions, fielding questions, addressing comments, even tackling complaints and confusions, here are links to the previous three AMA sessions:
All of the time and labor involved in these - and many other - free online events are underwritten by my Patreon supporters.  Their pledges help me earn a living for myself and my family doing work I love - making philosophy accessible to people of all walks of life, all over the world.  If you'd like to become a supporter, here's where you can do that.

Feb 16, 2018

As A Father of a Daughter

For several years, I've been observing an interesting dynamic take place when matters of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and other matters involving wrongs being done to women are discussed.  Many men weigh in, making clear that they are against all of that, but then they say or write the fateful phrase.

As a father of a daughter, I don't want to see her suffer. . . 

Those words - and others like them - have crystalized into something like a moral kidney stone, a source of considerable pain and aggravation.  Writing them by way of support of women inevitably draws irritated, offended, and occasionally mocking responses.  These responses don't come from the quarters one would expect - from people who claim, for example, that harassing women in the workplace is just fine, or that what others construe as "harassment" isn't actually such, or that offenders ought to get a pass - those sorts of positions. 

Instead the criticisms of these men come primarily from women who would presumably welcome allies supporting their struggles for equality, for recognition, for justice, but who instead view that identification - the father of a daughter - as evidencing the wrong sort of motivation for men lining up alongside women.

We don't generally see similar dynamics occurring in other cases where a person expresses support for a position or group, and states that their motive (at least in part) has to do with their relationship with another person.  If I declare myself for marriage equality or gay rights more broadly, and I mention that I have gay friends, family, or co-workers, and I don't want to see them discriminated against, that's taken to be a perfectly good reason. If I am "for the cure", and I say that my aunt surviving breast cancer gave me insight I never had before about what cancer patients went through, then that's viewed as moral progress.

This specific "as a father of a daughter" dynamic stands out.  It could use some analysis, and I do have also  broad argument to make on the matter.  I don't intend to provide a lot of that here in this post - I plan to write a longer post in Policy of Truth - but I would like to set the stage a bit here in this short post.

Adding Another Wrinkle To The Issue

Having been involved in a few of these online arguments in the past - and seen them to generally result in little but time wasted, feelings hurt, and positions unchanged - I generally stay out of these tiffs about expressing support for women by referencing one's daughter.  That's a pragmatic rather than principled stance on my part.  But I did get in there recently, and briefly mix it up with a former colleague about the matter in a short Twitter exchange.

Here's part of that back and forth:


I should point out that, if you look at the original post, there were a number of other people who took Devin Duke to task over the "as a man with a daughter of my own" line.  What nearly all of those criticisms have in common is making the assumption that somehow what he wrote means that the only reason he criticizes President Trump's sexism is because he has a daughter.

If he didn't have a daughter, they presume (and in some cases, declare), Duke would not have taken a stand against sexism in general, and against Trump's many instances of it in particular.  Before reading through his recent posts on Twitter - so just going by the tweet itself - there's no reason to make or assume such a strong claim about his motivation for calling out sexist behavior.  After looking through his Twitter stream, there's good reason to think that Duke's having a daughter is not the sole reason for asserting that President Trump's behavior is sexist, and - for that reason - wrong.

In this case, I jumped in because the conversation had shifted in an interesting new way.  Instead of just going after Duke for being on the right side for the wrong (particular, rather than universal) reason, Michael DeValve did something rather clever, from a rhetorical perspective.  He brought up the fact the he himself was the father of a daughter, and grounded - at least in the first response, and at least rhetorically - his own response on that fact.

My own response followed suit.  I took a stance on DeValve's criticism, also as "a man with a daughter of his own".  This was not to support or endorse Duke as such, but rather to point out where DeValve's criticism seems off-base.  And, by extension, where other similar criticisms are off-base as well.  

Notice that the stance that DeValve adopts at the start ends up self-negating.  If he's entitled to stake out his position precisely because he is the "father of a daughter", then so is Duke (and, presumably, so am I).  Each of us involved in the conversation share the view that sexism is wrong - we're in total agreement about that.  The only issues of contention here seem to be two.  

One is whether a man is entitled to mention his being a "father of a daughter" in affirming that position or whether he is not so entitled.  The other is whether having that motivation for taking the stance that sexism is wrong somehow vitiates that stance or not. 

If it's somehow relevant that DeValve is a "father of a daughter", and it's all right for him to stress that in staking out his own criticism, it's hard to understand how that doesn't then imply it's equally all right for Duke to have invoked his own "father of a daughter" status in the original tweet.  If it's not relevant in some way, it's strange for DeValve to have articulated his original response by invoking his own fatherly bonafides.

Several Issues Involved In This Matter

As I note above, I plan to write a longer, more fully argued piece examining this dynamic and the assumptions built into it in detail elsewhere.  This is a matter I have been thinking about and discussing with a few interlocutors from time to time over recent years.  So at this point, I have a few reflections - not entirely thought through, to be sure - that I'll share at this point, with the understanding that I'll be developing these more fully in the follow-up piece.

Here's one to start with.  Let's say - contrary to fact - that every single man who takes a position that sexism is wrong does so because he has a daughter who he loves and cares about, who he does not want to suffer the effects of sexism.  Better yet, let's just restrict this to all fathers who have daughters.  They have no other motivation whatsoever for thinking sexism is wrong.  In fact, if those men did not have a daughter, they would all be misogynist, chauvinist, macho asses.  In that case, doesn't having that motivation make them, if not good people, or reliable allies, at least not bad people in that respect?  Why criticize that motivation for not engaging in something bad (sexism) - and indeed opposing something bad - as if that motive was itself something bad?

One could of course respond that having such a motivation is not only a reflection of the very sexism that it superficially opposes, but that it somehow even furthers and perpetuates sexism, patriarchy, and traditional gender roles (e.g. father as protector of the daughter as potential victim).  There's doubtless an argument to be made there, and like all arguments, it then has to be examined.  So that's a second issue worth exploring.

A third issue that I think has to be addressed is why such a sweeping assumption so routinely gets made about the motivations of those men who do take a stance against sexism, but who also mention their "father of a daughter" status.  Why is the go-to interpretation for so many the view that this motivation would be the only one these fathers could or world have?  Why make that assumption?  What motivates that assumption on the part of those who thereby push aside their would-be-allies?  What does anyone engaged in that dynamic get out of that?

I've mentioned above a fourth and very important further issue to explore.  When it comes to other moral matters about which considerable disagreement exists, it seems perfectly all right to say "as a person who knows and cares about some other person affected by this. . . "  In fact, it's not merely permissible in many cases, but even seems to grant the person making that statement a greater legitimacy to be part of the conversation.  It grants a kind of moral status, and in some cases, is even viewed as a sign of good character.  So, why such a big difference here?  (Maybe this leads back to the second issue?)

A fifth issue, which also turns on an interesting, generally unquestioned assumption, bears upon the interplay between particular and universal.  Let's say - and I do think this is the case myself - that sexism is wrong.  One doesn't have to be a woman, or be involved in any ways with any women, to assert or to believe this to be the case - that's quite true.  But does having a more particular concern about one's own daughter somehow - in the head or the heart of the father involved - somehow rule out that more universal belief and commitment?  That seems to be the assumption, but there's no reason I can see why one ought to make such an assumption.

Lastly (for now) - and playing off of the fourth issue - I think we probably should acknowledge that for many people - of whatever gender, or more broadly speaking, with whatever traits, qualities, background, etc. - it really is the case that being connected to, and caring about people who are different from them does turn out to play some role in that person developing and adopting moral commitments.  Developing compassion for others, condemning injustices that they have to face, criticizing those who would excuse or impose such injustices - that's something good.  I think, in the case of many men, having a daughter would make them more attuned to problems women still face.  Why would we not construe that as a sign of moral progress, rather than as something that ought not be mentioned?

Feb 10, 2018

Philosophy Pop-Up Coming Up Today - Stoicism and Relationships

Each month, I hold two live online Philosophy Pop-Up sessions - one on Facebook Live and the other on YouTube Live.  Today from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM Central Time, we'll be having the YouTube Live session.

The topic this month that I'll start the session with is Stoicism and relationships.  Since it's Valentine's Day coming up this month, and since I've just authored a piece over at Stoicism Today on that very topic, we'll be focusing particularly on what Stoics would make of romantic or erotic relationships.  But as usual, related topics are fair game.

If you're just finding out about this session today, and you'd like to have more lead time for future ones, then you'll want to become a Patreon supporter.  Each month, one of the perks for all the people who underwrite my work doing public philosophy - from the $1 per month level on up - is that they get to find out the days and times for these Philosophy Pop-Ups ahead of time.

Here's the video link for the session:


If you'd like to watch any of the Philosophy Pop-Up sessions from previous months, here's links to all of them:



Feb 1, 2018

Five Reviews of Recent Books on Stoicism

In the last decade, quite literally hundreds of books have been published, aiming to present Stoic philosophy and practice to a popular, non-academic audience.  They come at it from all sorts of angles, and vary wildly in quality.  So given the wide variety of choices, how can readers determine which books to spend their time, money, and attention on?

Last year, I had the idea to start reviewing books in my main YouTube channel - with a focus on literature having to do with practical philosophy, very broadly speaking. That would include works in applied ethics, philosophy as a way of life, self-help and personal development, leadership and organization, and even culture and technology.  Philosophy winds up being involved in pretty much all of those areas.

Since I was getting quite a few authors on Stoicism sending me their books - and as the editor of Stoicism Today and a member of the Modern Stoicism team - I decided works on Stoicism might be a good place for me to start.

At this point, I have reviewed five books in my new Sadler's Honest Book Reviews video series.  Each of them comes at Stoicism - both ancient and modern - in its own way.  If you're interested to know what Stoicism has to offer and why it has become such a strangely popular philosophical approach among non-academics, you should check out these reviews.

Here they are:



I've overall recommended each of these five books - some more highly than others.  In these reviews, I note what sorts of readers might enjoy or benefit from the book.  I also discuss the style and structure, summarize some of the key ideas, tell you what I liked about the book, and point out any problems I see with it.

So click on any of these that sound interesting to you - you'll get my well-informed, honest assessment - and then you can decide for yourself if you'd like to spend your time and cash (if you don't just get it at your local library) on one or more of these!

Jan 26, 2018

$75 Million To Philosophy (For The Elite)

One of John Hopkins University alumni, Bill Miller - who did really study philosophy there in what appears to be a more or less serious way - made a massive donation earmarked specifically to support the Philosophy Department at that institution.  $75 million dollars.  That is the sort of money that can be "life-changing" not just for a person, but for an institution.

Here are a few representative pieces about Miller's gift, discussing his reasons for the donation.
My first reaction upon reading that piece was a mixture of two main sentiments.  That's awesome!  And also: That's too bad. . .

That an alumnus who studied philosophy would make that level of a donation on behalf of the discipline philosophy is awesome, for a variety of reasons.  First, it does go to show that there are people who study philosophy, become successful, and then recognize that philosophy played some role in that success, and then want to give back in tangible ways.  Second, in an era when donors are often much more interested in getting the prestige that comes with charitable giving than in precisely who the recipients are, it is excellent that he specified that the money is supposed to be used to advance and sustain philosophical study.  Administrators and trustees can't get their proverbially grubby hands on it, and use it for their pet projects or favored programs.  It will hopefully get spent on genuinely worthwhile projects, people, and programs.  Here's what the money will accomplish, according to Bloomberg:
The commitment will help the department increase full-time faculty to 22 from 13 and create endowed professorships for the chairperson and eight others, the school said Tuesday in a statement. The university also aims to attract more undergraduates to study philosophy through new courses.
As Baltimore Business Journal reports, the department will also be changing its name to the "William H. Miller Department of Philosophy."

At the same time, for the rest of the profession, it is indeed too bad.  A wonderful opportunity to make a major difference has effectively been squandered. This one lump-sum donation to one single institution - if the goal really is to help out a discipline so often on the ropes - seems poorly thought out.  John Hopkins has some great researchers and teachers who make solid contributions to philosophy.  But so do countless other colleges, universities, and other organizations that do not enjoy the high prestige or financial status and security of John Hopkins, or of elite universities in general.  Was it really a rational allocation of that generosity to funnel it straight and solely into one department rather than to spread it around?  There assuredly are places where even just a portion of that money would have much greater impact on promoting philosophy as a profession, and in better educating students in philosophy on a potentially massive scale.

Of course one can respond that it's Miller's money, and he can therefore do whatever he likes with it.  Quite true.  I doubt anyone asserts his gift to John Hopkins is somehow a bad thing.  It is a net gain for the profession.  But it is entirely legitimate for any of us to criticize his choice, precisely as philosophers.

It's perfectly reasonable to see that gift and think:  "Right, more money for the already abundantly well-funded."  In a time when across the nation we see programs being cut, students struggling, and the widespread impoverishment of an entire adjunct class, even a fraction, a sliver, just crumbs of that money could have been used to make a major positive difference throughout the field.

The last thing I'll say on this matter is that I have no doubt that Miller was given advice from all sorts of people about his decision.  But he might have done better to set aside a mere fraction of the massive gift he intended ultimately to make simply to hire someone (or even a team) who could have drawn up a list of worthy potential beneficiaries of his largesse.

He could have decided that John Hopkins philosophy department gets $50 million, and then doled half of that out to other departments, programs, and organizations.  He could have endowed chairs of philosophy at dozens of struggling state schools or private colleges.  The list of other measures he could have taken with his money, with aims of promoting and protecting the discipline he praises, stretches out interminably. 

So, good for philosophy at John Hopkins, and for those others to whom some good trickles down.  But for the rest of the field, it is like hearing about how a castle several countries over is getting a beautiful new remodeling job, funded by a local magnate.  We might glance at the pictures, but then it's time to get back with the work in the unchanged world we know and live in.

Jan 23, 2018

Farewell, Ursula K. Leguin. . .

One of the greats among science fiction and fantasy writers - Ursula K. Leguin - died yesterday, aged 88.  Her works of excellence are too numerous to enumerate in a short piece, and it would be extremely difficult even to decide which among her many novels or stories deserve to be ranked within a top five or ten - that's how consistently good her writing, and the thought poured into it, has been over half a century.

If you haven't read LeGuin, now would be an opportune time to do so.  If you are interested in her own reflections upon the craft of writing, you might start with her essay, "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie".  If you want a well-crafted moral dilemma, read "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas" (which you can find in the collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters).  If you'd like to dive right into one of her novels, I would probably suggest The Lathe of Heaven, The Word for World Is Forest, or The Left Hand of Darkness.  Alternately, if you have an interest in Chinese philosophy or in anarchist ideas, you might check out her translation of the classic Tao Te Ching.

I first encountered her books early on in middle school. I was already into reading science fiction and fantasy literature (and devouring what works on mythology I could find).  Her Earthsea trilogy - A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore - were the first works I read, and I found them captivating.  A world of water, islands, magic, true names, and dragons - and the coming-of-age story of the young, lone mage Ged - those elements drew me along the threads of the story.  But there was more, a depth of feeling, emotion, affect depicted  - with a hand both light and weighty - in LeGuin's writings.  Ged becomes who he is - and comes to know the world and to find his own place in it not just through what he does or suffers, but through how he chooses, and what he feels and then learns, often through sacrifices, his own and others.

The next book I read - one I have not gone back to since I was young - was The Beginning Place.  That story - of two young people finding their way in a hostile world, to a threshold of another world, and ultimately into trust, tenderness, and love - made such an impression upon me that I still remember the place and the posture where I read it.  Recalling the story reawakens the same feelings that the story guided me through - loss, sadness, loneliness, eagerness, fear, and joy.  I would say that for me, that novel gave me a sense - a realistic one, by contrast to so much other fantasy - of what a growing love might look like between two partners.  I talked about that experience of reading and being affected by her work a bit in the Worlds of Speculative Fiction talk devoted to her books.

I suspect that millions of readers will in some manner or another remember and grieve for the late Ursula K. Leguin.  And that is particularly fitting, given how many times she depicted characters - each narrated in their own way - coming to terms with the loss of those they love or admire (as well as those who they are thrown together with, or find themselves rivals to, or even hate).  Death, loss, grieving.  These are matters she knew, and wrote into her worlds and characters in ways that - here I speak only for myself - communicate a sort of wisdom, helping the rest of us make sense out of these matters.  For that, towards this great writer I never met, I bear a deep debt of gratitude.  And I mourn her loss as I would any of my loved ones.

Jan 19, 2018

AMA (Ask Me Anything) Session Coming Up Today

At 1:00 PM Central Time, I'll be going onto YouTube Live for my next monthly AMA session!

This is where my viewers, subscribers, followers, backers, fans - and anyone else who happens to show up - gets to Ask Me Anything.  I try to respond to as many of the comments and questions as I possibly can, though I don't always manage to get to all of them.

I started holding these in the Fall - committing to doing the first session when we met our first modest goal in Patreon crowdfunding support.  After my backers got us to the next goal, I committed to providing an AMA each month, and that's what I started doing in December.

Here's where you can log into the session - and don't worry if you're early! YouTube will keep that screen open for you until it starts, and even send you a reminder, if you think you need it.



If you'd like to see me in action in the previous sessions, fielding questions, addressing comments, even tackling complaints and confusions, here are links to the previous two AMA sessions:

All of the time and labor involved in these - and many other - free online events are underwritten by my Patreon supporters.  Their pledges help me earn a living for myself and my family doing work I love - making philosophy accessible to people of all walks of life, all over the world.  If you'd like to become a supporter, here's where you can do that.