- Response to Amy Olberding, "Philosophical Exclusion and Conversational Practices"
A full third of the book is devoted to "Buddhist themes," and although I am unfortunately unqualified to comment on its exegetical and interpretative quality, I can report that I found the discussion fascinating and enlightening. Priest gives us clear, precise, technical, and philosophically sophisticated theorizing based around these thinkers, giving the lie to the not-uncommon trope among analytic philosophers that so-called "continental" and Eastern thought are inherently wooly, without rigor.1
At the start of her insightful and disconcerting essay, Amy Olberding mentions that "while responsibility for the conversational practices" (that she has "assayed") that "exclude" and are forms of boundary policing "are not evenly distributed throughout the profession, they likewise belong at once to everyone and to no one, influencing how our interactions transpire but rarely are consciously adopted or mindfully endorsed." In reading these remarks I expected her to outline, perhaps obliquely, the [End Page 1038] powers and persons who have more of this responsibility and who may very well know what they are doing. Yet, when she returns to the question of responsibility, while commenting on the partially "salutary" use of "we" to "reference the profession at large," she notes that "it does succeed in identifying the problems of inclusion as collective action problems, and it likewise implicitly acknowledges collective responsibility for exclusion." There is no contradiction in her position: within a collective some may have more responsibility than others. Yet, more can be said.
Much of the evidence that Olberding reports, analyzes, and deconstructs is drawn from blogs. In checking out her references to these, I noticed that at another collective, NewAPPS, I had curated (or edited) two of her main sources of information, and that a third blog post by Mohan Matthen was a direct response to one of these.2 While I am not a journal editor nor employed at a leading Ph.D. program in professional philosophy daily shaping the minds of "our students," I am at least partially responsible for prompting and providing a space for certain discussions that, indeed, constitute and reconstitute performative patterns of exclusion3 and, thereby, also put some fellow scholars in the position of "supplicant." It is no outright coincidence that I have been asked to comment here.
The exclusionary effects of the patterns of conversation Olberding discusses and dissects are real. But she is also a bit one-sided in presenting the nature of the disciplinary discussion today. For example, one particular series of conversations was prompted by a remark by David Chalmers that I had reposted (with permission) on NewAPPS. The remark is significant because of Chalmers' philosophical and sociological significance in the discipline and his role in two leading departments (NYU/ANU). He shapes and influences many discussions,4 including discussions about the norms of the profession5 and has provided part of the technological infrastructure (Phil Papers) that is leveling access to intellectual resources and, non-trivially for the present topic, treats different niches of philosophy with equal respect. The point is not merely to praise Chalmers; rather it is to note that he is somebody who is actively engaged in shaping the institutions and norms of the profession. I quote:
Having spent the last week thinking about Buddhist philosophy of mind—an enormously rich tradition that anticipates numerous key ideas in contemporary analytic philosophy of mind—it's a little stunning that hardly any of the leading research departments of philosophy in the anglophone world employ anyone who specializes in Buddhist philosophy, or indeed in any area of non-western philosophy. How hard would it be to change the conventions so that every department would be expected to have at least one specialist in non-western philosophy?6
It is clear that (in 2012) Chalmers does not think it would be "very hard" at all for "leading research departments" to hire somebody in Buddhist philosophy of mind. But it has to be admitted that in 2017, NYU has more than twenty-five faculty members, yet, as far as I can tell, still nobody who specializes in Buddhist philosophy (or even the intersection of Buddhist philosophy and analytical...