- Reply to Eric Schliesser
I am grateful to Eric Schliesser for his gracious response, and to Philosophy East and West and Roger Ames for hosting this discussion. The challenges currently facing the profession regarding exclusionary practices are many, and Schliesser's work at both NewAPPS and his newer blog, Digressions&Impressions, is sensitive both to how many and how complex these challenges are. Schliesser is correct that my discussion of the profession's conversational patterns is both a bit ungenerous and more than a little ambitious, asking for "revolution" in how the discipline not only talks, but operates. Likewise, Schliesser is right to point out that there are now many, and more than ever before, seeking to probe critically the profession's reflexive habits of mind and, more pertinently, unexamined replications of long-standing hierarchies and sociological patterns. Schliesser's own work on this score is particularly sensitive to several of the issues I address, albeit in different contexts.
In his response, Schliesser observes that I largely neglect many of the more charitable or welcoming remarks sometimes found in the profession's discussions of Asian philosophies. To some extent, this but confesses a familiar psychological effect, the human inclination to attend most to what wounds rather than what pleases. However, it also remarks my own sense of being conflicted about the more generous gestures. Schliesser's parsing of David Chalmers' remarks about Buddhist philosophy of mind captures some of what I find dispiriting: too often even the generous gesture can unintentionally certify or "cement" hierarchies, implicitly casting Asian specialists in a subordinate role. The work of Asian specialists may be found good insofar as [End Page 1044] it is good for addressing the preoccupations of "mainstream" philosophers. However, I want here to attend to an even more troubling aspect of professional generosity, an aspect Schliesser invokes but does not explicitly address in his response: the struggle among deviant outliers in the profession with servility. The blog post about this that Schliesser references—his "On Servility in Professional Philosophy"—details a phenomenon I find at once uncomfortably familiar and uncomfortably at work in my own often ambivalent or conflicted reactions to more generous conversational gestures.
The phenomenon that Schliesser describes as servility concerns how members of outlier intellectual territories may seek entry points into the "mainstream" or "core" by commending the utility of their work to those resident and working in the more prominent and prestigious areas.1 Inhabitants of deviant areas of philosophy may in effect promote responses such as Chalmers', articulating for "mainstream" peers how deviant work can profit conversations happening within the "core." That this is a servile posture is evidenced by the absence of mutuality and reciprocity: Such conversations about utility rarely extend into addressing how the "mainstream" might assist the deviant. So the risk here is that outliers working in deviant areas are positioned—indeed position themselves—akin to "research assistants" aiding others in the "grand project" of philosophy, a project presumably well under way without them. This self-subordination, then, is what Schliesser characterizes as servility, and it, too, is one of the patterns structuring professional discourse about inclusivity: insofar as deviants participate in discourse about inclusivity, it is quite commonplace to find us doing so by attempting to sell others on our usefulness in helping sort out the "grand project." For my own part, I own that anxieties about servility play an outsized role in my reactions to the more generous conversational gestures. Let me address this, then, by simply describing my own reactions to the generous gestures, the worries about servility that render me ambivalent and often conflicted.
First, while I am often mildly pleased that Chinese philosophy has been useful in consideration of some philosophical issue perceived as pressing by contemporary Western-trained philosophers, I internally balk where this is all the notice it receives. For such does not merely encode a hierarchy in which Chinese philosophy serves projects devised external to it; more deeply it represents an unwarranted confidence that the discipline has already well identified what philosophical problems and challenges—whatever we include in invoking the "core" or the "mainstream"—demand our greatest attention. I am not...