APA Issues Contradictory Policy

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You know, I'd have thought that philosophers would be the ones pointing out contradictions in what other people are doing, not contradicting themselves. But the American Philosophical Association has just passed a new policy regarding discrimination that seems to me to be flat-out inconsistent. It very clearly commits something that it itself condemns as unethical.

According to Alastair Norcross (via Brian Leiter), the policy will be worded as follows:

The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status, where "integrally connected" means (a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation), or (b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy), or (c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage). At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; and it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliation do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement. Advertisers in Jobs for Philosophers are expected to comply with this fundamental commitment of the APA, which is not to be taken to preclude explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives.

For those who don't know the background behind this, the change is mainly due to a petition to change the APA policy, because it's been widely believed to have been inconsistent before the change. The problem case has been (mainly) Christian institutions that have statements of faith or conduct that faculty have to subscribe to, that include statements that homosexual conduct is immoral and that faculty will not engage in it. Members of the APA petitioned to declare such institutions discriminatory according to the APA's own anti-discrimination policy, which at the time did prohibit discrimination against someone for sexual orientation but did not indicate whether it would count it discrimination to refuse to hire someone who is actively gay while being willing to hire someone who is gay but celibate (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church has exactly this distinction with priests, and a lot of evangelical institutes of higher learning have exactly this practice, as I understand it; it was definitely the policy of the requirements for leadership of several Christian ministry groups I know of on campuses, two of which I know to have had either (a) celibate gay or (b) heterosexually-married but homosexually-abstinent gay or bisexual leaders).

So due to this petition, the APA has indeed indicated that it would include such policies as discriminatory, but it didn't go all the way to banning schools with such policies from participating in APA activities such as the main publication for advertising jobs in the profession. They'll just report which schools don't indicate compliance with the new policy and investigate any schools with actual complaints, indicating also which schools have been investigated and found non-compliant. I don't think the APA has actually achieved the result of consistency now that the petitioners have gotten what they wanted (which some insisted they were supporting only for the reason of getting the APA to act consistently with their own policy). In fact, I think now they've simply instituted a new inconsistency and worked it into their explicit statement.

Consider a college that expects its faculty to refrain from male-male and female-female sexual acts. According to the policy, such a school is discriminating against sexual orientation by discriminating against the "normal and predictable expression" of homosexuality. Such a school would be flagged as discriminatory. But that means the APA is now differentially treating that school and schools that don't make such distinctions. In other words, they are discriminating on the basis of the behavior of requiring faculty to conform to a moral code that includes abstaining from gay sex. Such discrimination is not a problem as long as it's not along the lines of anything in the list or anything that's the "normal and predictable expression" of anything in that list (or one of the other two requirements, but those aren't relevant here). But conservative evangelicals, for example, do consider such conduct immoral, and they do want their faculty to uphold a moral standard on such things. It is in fact the "normal and predictable expression" of conservative evangelicalism to insist that your institution's faculty not engage in gay sex. That means the action of flagging such schools as discriminatory is itself discrimination against religion, based on the "normal and predictable expression" of that religion, i.e. by the policy's own standards.

You could run a similar argument based on political convictions, which is also in the list. Someone, for political reasons, might oppose the normalization of homosexual sexual behavior and thus want their politically-conservative college to reflect that in the moral conduct required of faculty. That means the APA policy is also discriminatory against the "normal and predictable expression" of such political convictions. For that matter, you could say exactly the same thing about a school that doesn't cater to a certain group but that refuses to hire KKK members, which certainly is a "normal and predictable expression" of the KKk's political convictions. The new APA policy begins to look ridiculous once you examine its implications. I don't think it's possible to treat all the categories on their list as equally protected without contradiction, at least if different treatment according to the "normal and predictable expression" of being a member of the category can count as equivalent to different treatment because of merely belonging to the category.

14 Comments

Isn’t it illegal for employers to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation? I wonder how boards establish the candidates’ sexual orientation and behaviour.

I can't see how there can be academic freedom in an institution where a particular view of religious dogma and what it entails lie beyond criticism. This is the fundamental contradiction that I’d expect philosophers to be troubled by in the first instance: If the policy statement reflects uneasy compromise it may be because the APA has failed to address the underlying antinomy.

As of a few months ago, it is now illegal for the U.S. federal government to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. Until then, even that was legal. Even now, it's not illegal for private employers to do so. But this isn't sexual orientation discrimination that we're talking about here. It's adoption of a moral code that employers need to subscribe to. Sexual orientation is about who your sexual desires are oriented toward. It's not about doing anything about that. The APA considers that too fine a distinction to matter, but that's because they're only against religious discrimination in theory. The U.S. government would never get away with passing a law preventing this kind of discrimination, because it would violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Religious organizations have a constitutional right to choose to employ like-minded people and hold each other to a moral standard that the rest of society deems unethical. The APA can blacklist them for doing so, but it couldn't be illegal without a constitutional amendment or a significant change in how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution.

As for academic freedom, there is plenty of room for academic freedom within constraints. But people choosing to accept employment at an institution with a statement of faith aren't considering academic freedom an absolute good worth seeking above all else. They value the community of like-minded people enough that they'll agree to sign a statement they happen to agree with and if they change their mind then at that point seek employment elsewhere. Most people who sign such things would say they'd die for their faith, so it's relatively inconsequential to sacrifice a small degree of academic freedom in comparison (there are plenty of issues not covered by these statements).

Pet prejudices may not acquire automatic immunity through elevation to the status of religious dogma, in an academic context. No one has a problem with discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, colour, bras size etc in choosing a partner. But invoking some interpretation of quotes from a holy book can’t be adequate justification for public policy: People kept trying to do this to justify apartheid in South Africa till they could no longer convince themselves even. So I can’t see why one should be expected to drop either one's moral and intellectual integrity or one's partner to get an academic posting, unless it’s so one’s new neighbours aren’t tempted to desire the integrity or the partner! Is there a thought-police employed on campus too?

We’re not talking of seeking admission to e.g. the Groupthink Club, or is this what ‘the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution’ guarantees in your view, that there’s a blur between a university and a club of like-minded people? University rankings certainly aren’t based on who sleeps around with whom. So I can’t imagine how expectations of conduct in a tutor’s bedroom may enter into a philosophy graduate’s choice of an institution to do research in. I’m not suggesting the APA should necessarily stand in the way of those who may want to commit moral and intellectual suicide in the name of their faith: I doubt the APA should allow such people to take philosophy with them, without a fight!

The problem with having a code of ethics is that you need an actual ethical system on which to base it, not merely an incoherent assemblage of politically correct slogans. Perhaps the APA should simply adopt a code of labelling instead, by which they flag this institution as one supporting any and all forms of sexual practice; that institution as supporting Christian morality; the other as supporting plentiful convenient parking, etc. That way everyone can draw his own ethical conclusions... not as noble, but more practical. On the other hand, perhaps they can get away with simply flagging themselves as a group that doesn't uphold their own ethics and leave it at that.

Also, I fail to see how being faithful to a religion in any way curtails academic freedom. Attacking something and learning about it are two very different things. Of course, as you indicate, "academic freedom" is not the summum bonum anyway, but seeking truth is going to be compatible with any religion, at least any that claims to be true. (And if your religion claimed to be opposed to the truth, it probably wouldn't be running universities and hiring philosophers to begin with.)

Hi DL! Academics at the University of Teheran may well agree that seeking truth is compatible with adhering to a religion that claims to be true. So a question is whether religions claiming to be true are compatible with one another. Philosophers have felt free to make fun of religion from since the game began, and Socrates was sentenced to death for impiety inter alia. I admit I’m not quite clear how the ‘free exercise clause’ may interface with quality assurance, higher education qualifications, accreditation etc. in the US, where I guess you live: It’s probably Americans who expect to commute in private vehicles, though I doubt it’s just philosophers who expect to have sex. I’ve already addressed a reply to our host but you beat me; perhaps because I come from further afield.

EO, no one here is arguing for anything here regarding public policy. Some religious schools want to maintain what they see as a moral standard. People who disagree with that moral standard think what they are doing is wrong. So they want the national professional organization of philosophers, which controls the hiring process to a significant degree, to take a stand on that moral issue, which they have now in fact done. I would prefer for them to be neutral on that issue, but they are a private organization, and they have the legal right to do what they're doing, as these schools have a legal right to do what they're doing. No one is breaking any laws here, and no one is arguing that the laws be changed.

As for the issue of academic freedom, we're not talking about viewpoint-neutral institutions. We're talking about religious colleges and universities that make it very clear that they educate from within the context of a statement of faith. Some of them require their students to sign the statement of faith. Some don't but do make it publicly known that the faculty do. I've applied for jobs at some of these institutions, and they usually want a statement about the integration of faith and the pursuit of knowledge, which I've written up for myself (in a few different versions, actually). So it's not as if academic freedom is unknown to these institutions. But they do sometimes ask faculty who can no longer subscribe to a statement of faith to find another job, and they do sometimes ask faculty who do not abide by the code of conduct to leave. A major evangelical seminary just released a professor for publishing a book that they determined to be inconsistent with the institution's view of the authority and inspiration of scripture.

You may not think this is academic freedom, and it may not be 100% academic freedom, but people who take jobs at institutions who see their primary mission to educate within the faith know that this is what they're getting. The APA has indicated that they support such institutions so long as they don't violate the ethical code the APA prefers. I'm all right with that when the APA members don't find such ethical statements controversial (which is certainly true with racial discrimination, for example) but find it problematic when they take a moral stand and expect everyone in the profession to agree and follow it when a significant minority of APA members themselves do not agree.

In case what you're worried about with academic freedom isn't the views of the faculty but what they teach in class, I don't think there's a problem with the top institutions that are under consideration here. The best evangelical seminaries, colleges, and institutions do teach the issues from what I've been able to tell. The seminaries teach mainstream biblical scholars alongside evangelical ones. You get a broader perspective than at Harvard or Yale, where you only get the mainstream ones. The arguments for more conservative positions are off the radar entirely. At evangelical institutions, they want their graduates to be familiar with liberal biblical criticism so they know how to respond to it, so they teach them both. Biology departments teach standard science, even if they might teach the intelligent design arguments. They don't teach creation science. In ethics classes, they will teach Judith Jarvis Thomson alongside criticisms of her, the same thing my students get a a private secular institution and a Jesuit institution. Some people who teach philosophy give very short shrift to pro-life positions, but in my experience evangelical and Catholic faculty do a better job of teaching the fuller spectrum of arguments and positions. I'm sure the same is true of sexual ethics. It's not as if the policies of these schools are leading them to hire philosophers who will only teach the school's official position on sexual orientation and sexual ethics in general. But that view will be taught, when it usually isn't taught from a very sanguine perspective in sexual ethics discussions in most philosophy classes in my experience. So these students are actually getting a fuller perspective on the actual views that are out there rather than the narrower set of views found among the majority of academics or professional philosophers. That strikes me as more academic freedom, not less, at least in terms of the issue of what gets taught in the classroom.

As for the idea that one should drop one's views or partner, that's ludicrous. These schools have a statement of faith. They don't want someone pretending to subscribe to it but not really agreeing with it. They want someone who is like-minded. If it's a school with an alcohol standard, and they require faculty not to partake in alcoholic beverages, they may hire someone who thinks it's all right to drink who is willing to abstain. Someone who doesn't place their identity in their alcohol consumption might do that for a job. But it's entirely different with sexual orientation. Someone who places their identity in something that the school considers sinful is not the sort of person the institution wants to hire, even if the person is willing to abstain from sex for the sake of a job. On the other hand, someone might be welcome who considers themselves gay in the sense of having an orientation toward being attracted to people of the same sex, but who does not consider that to be identity-forming and does consider acting on it sinful. That would involve no dropping of views or dropping of partners, because they would already be committed to not having a partner (at least a partner fitting their orientation) because of their view that a partner would be wrong for them.

Consider the analogy of someone who has a sexual orientation toward children. We call them pedophiles (although I suppose you would call them paedophiles). It's almost universally agreed that something is wrong with such a person, and it's almost universally agreed that acting on that orientation is immoral. A school with a moral code that disallows sex with children does not want to hire someone who is a pedophile by orientation in an active relationship with a child. We happen to consider such acts illegal as well, but you could imagine a school taking such a moral stance in a society that doesn't make such acts illegal. What if the society at large were beginning to accept the behavior as moral and had begun passing legislation preventing the federal government from discriminating against people who did such a thing? What if other countries made it illegal for private institutions to discriminate in employment against pedophiles? If a few religious institutions held on to their moral standard and refused to hire such people, we would see them as morally courageous.

I submit that the only difference here is that you don't agree with the moral standard. That makes all the difference for you, but the point isn't whether the moral standard is right. It's whether an organization like the APA that has a majority perspective should choose to expect every member to abide by the majority perspective when it's still a live issue for a significant portion of the APA membership and whether they should as an organization provide a black mark for religious institutions who disagree and want to maintain a standard of practice for their faculty. I'm all for full disclosure of practice, by the way. This isn't about flagging schools that have such codes to warn applicants. It's about the language they use to speak for the whole APA about the APA view of such schools. They label them non-compliant with a code of conduct that the APA chooses for themselves, and that code of conduct declares such acts unethical. I do find that problematic, and that it does so in a way that seems inconsistent with its own standard of opposing religious discrimination makes it even moreso.

Jeremy Pierce's attempt to show the APA policy contradictory suffers from several confusions. First, there is confusion over what the APA policy is supposed to cover in the first place. The policy concerns discrimination "in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate." It is pretty clear, then, that the policy is about discrimination by institutions against individuals. Pierce claims that the APA is itself discriminating against certain institutions. So, as far as strict consistency goes, there is no issue here. However, he might nonetheless claim that, even though the APA isn't being inconsistent, it is acting in a kind of bad faith. It is doing to institutions what it claims shouldn't be done by institutions to individuals. No doubt, if he were to adopt a more accurate use of "consistency", this is what he would say.

The next confusion concerns the scope of the discrimination rejected as unethical by the APA. It clearly doesn't refer to just any differential treatment. Presumably many institutions discriminate between men and women concerning what treatments are covered by their health care plans (women are not covered for prostate exams, for example). Such discrimination is clearly not unethical. The APA policy is designed to be read by adults with at least a little common sense, and so it isn't necessary to spell out the sense of "discrimination" at issue. At the very least, the discrimination in question must be harmful. Is the "discrimination" now about to be practiced by the APA harmful? Who are the most likely subjects of harm? Presumably the institutions which will now be marked in the Jobs for Philosophers as either not agreeing with the APA policy or not complying with it. How, exactly, is this harmful to them? They are still allowed to advertise, but now it will be clear to all what their policies are regarding active homosexuals. How is this supposed to harm them? Aren't they already quite open about their policies? Don't they, in fact, proudly proclaim their policies as somehow "integral" to their mission as colleges of such and such a denomination? Does Jeremy Pierce really think that telling the truth about these colleges to job seekers, a truth that the colleges in question don't try to hide, will harm these colleges?

Another confusion arises when Jeremy Pierce claims that "the action of flagging such schools as discriminatory is itself discrimination against religion, based on the "normal and predictable expression" of that religion, i.e. by the policy's own standards." He bases this claim on the claim that "It is in fact the "normal and predictable expression" of conservative evangelicalism to insist that your institution's faculty not engage in gay sex." So, he moves from what is claimed to be a "normal and predictable expression" of conservative evangelicalism to what is claimed to be a normal and predictable expression of religion. Given that many Christians and Christian denominations are quite accepting of homosexuality, it is quite clear that discrimination against homosexuals is not part of the normal and predictable expression of Christianity as such (in fact, a close reading of the words attributed to Jesus Christ, the guy for whom the religion is named, suggests quite the opposite). So, Pierce is treating conservative evangelicalism as a religion, separate from, say, Presbyterianism or Methodism. Fair enough. He is free to carve up the conceptual space of religions any way he wants. But why does he think that the APA shares his view of what counts as a religion?

However, lets grant, for the sake of argument, that conservative evangelicalism is a standalone religion, and lets further grant that discrimination against active homosexuals is a normal and predictable expression of that religion. This leads us to yet another confusion in Jeremy Pierce's attempt to convict the APA of inconsistency. Certain religions may practice human sacrifice. Some political convictions entail that genocide is not only justified but obligatory. If an institution refused to hire someone who had performed human sacrifice or participated in genocide, would that constitute unethical discrimination, according to the APA's code? Obviously not. The reason is clear. The normal and predictable expressions of the religion or political convictions in question are themselves clearly unethical. Again, the APA's policy is written for adults with a modicum of common sense. The policy doesn't need to spell out the obvious fact that normal and predictable expressions that are themselves morally objectionable are not protected. The APA policy states that discrimination against homosexuals, active or otherwise, is morally objectionable. Therefore, even if such discrimination is somehow a normal or predictable expression of a religion, it is not protected by the policy.

Perhaps some will object that the APA shouldn't pronounce on the immorality of discrimination against homosexuals. There are certainly some philosophers, albeit a fairly small minority, who think that such discrimination is perfectly ethical. But when can the professional organization that represents philosophy, of which ethics is a major subfield, pronounce on the ethics of certain practices? Do we have to wait for absolute unanimity? Would the APA have been wrong to declare racial segregation immoral in the 1950's? (For all I know it did so declare) There was almost certainly a larger proportion of philosophers in the 1950's who approved of racial segregation than there is now who approve of discrimination against homosexuals? If the APA had existed in the 1850's, would it have been wrong for it pronounce slavery unethical? Again, there was almost certainly a larger proportion of philosophers in the 1850's who approved of slavery than there is now who approve of discrimination against homosexuality. If Jeremy Pierce thinks that discrimination against homosexuality is ethically acceptable, presumably because homosexuality is itself ethically objectionable, he is free to present his arguments.

Alastair, there are several different ways something can be inconsistent. A policy of this sort could contain two statements that put together amount to something of the form P and not-P. It might recommend or command doing something that is opposite what it itself is an instance of (or command refraining from doing something that is opposite what it itself is an instance of). It might recommend or command something that is inconsistent with the only plausible (or the most common actually-given) line of argument in favor of something it includes. It might include something that is morally equivalent to something it condemns. I think what we've got here is clearly of the third kind and probably of the fourth. Your arguments seem to me to be explanations of why it isn't of the first or second.

As for the second confusion, this is a concession you shouldn't want to make. If you want to assume that only harmful discrimination is wrong, then you need to establish that refusing to hire someone because of their sex practices is harmful when hiring them into a community that consider such practices immoral would be not harmful.

I'm not sure why you don't recognize that it's harmful to an institution that includes a philosophy department to be declared by the official professional organization of philosophers to be unethical in its hiring practices. I have no problem with indicating those institutions that have certain hiring standards and restrictions. I'd be fine with indicating which institutions have a statement of faith or a standard of moral conduct and even specifying the details of those policies. It's the claim that such practices are unethical that I oppose, even if it's better than the popularly-supported proposal of not allowing these institutions to advertise at all. I don't think the professional organization for all philosophers should be taking a stand as an organization on an issue that's controversial among its members. That strikes me as unprofessional and indeed harmful to those who are being marginalized by the statement. I would have said the same of the Iraq War resolution a few years ago that garnered popular support but not without opposition. It would be different if the group in question were so marginal that they would already be marginalized, but the numbers here are much higher than, say, with the issue of racial discrimination.

On the issue of how to carve up religions, you're making a conceptual error yourself. You're assuming that the only way to be inconsistent is to be inconsistent by your own standards. Your published work argues that it's generally wrong to kill people for the sake of eating them but that we ought to eat them as long as they're already dead. But suppose you also said that sleeping people are temporarily dead, and it's ok to eat them then. Then you would be willing to allow what most people would calling killing them in order to eat them. You (in this hypothetical) just won't call it that. The right thing to say about such a view is that it is inconsistent in fact, even if it's not inconsistent by its own terms. It takes a crazy view of what counts as being dead for it to remain consistent, and even if you hold such a view it's crazy to hold it. The facts of English language usage won't support such a view. So I think such a view is in fact inconsistent.

I think the same is true of any view that tries to put everyone calling themselves Christian in the same category as one religion. Bishop Spong is an atheist, but he calls himself Christian. The same is true of denominations. There's no way the leftward end of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. counts as worshiping God with the same religion that the conservative Presbyterian Church in America does. Their theological views are more like Unitarian Universalists. But conservative evangelicals, even if they differ on non-essentialist like baptism and such, share a core that clearly ties them together in common worship. In fact they often see themselves in exactly this way and see the leftward fringes of the mainlines as not genuinely Christian. So I'd argue that the way I slice things up is correct, and I'd argue that my way of dividing things up is thus the appropriate one to use for my claim that someone else is inconsistent in fact. (And if you don't like this inconsistent-in-fact stuff, you should at least recognize that we should use my standards of consistency when assessing my claim of inconsistency, since you're unwilling to go externalist enough about it to accept my inconsistent-in-fact stuff.)

Now if you'd like to accuse me of not reading, I'd like to hold you to that standard. I didn't say that discrimination against homosexuals is the normal and predictable expression of conservative evangelicalism. I said the moral standard that conservative evangelicalism hold them to is both essential to conservative evangelicalism and the basis for the practice that you define as unethical discrimination. That practice isn't itself identity-forming, but the standard of biblical practice that leads to it is.

As for Jesus: Whatever you want to do hermeneutically to explain the New Testament relation to the Torah (and lots of things can be done with that), it's hard to accept his statement that the Torah is perfect and from God given some of its statements if he thought as you claim that it's immoral to discriminate against people for their participation in something that the Torah declares to be sin and even deserving of the death penalty. Jesus did indeed say and do lots of stuff about forgiveness, but forgiveness in his teachings always comes only after repentance and turning aside from sin. I don't think he'd agree with your characterization of his views.

You claim that the policy doesn't need to spell out that policies that are themselves morally objectionable aren't protected under the first statement of which kinds of discrimination are unethical. But the policy itself does state explicitly such an exception when stating that schools should be able to discriminate according to religion as long as it doesn't violate any of the other means of discriminating that the policy decries. One thing that was crafted well is that such a clause isn't redundant. It's necessary to avoid the consistency of kind 1. Without that, the policy would say P and not-P. You might argue that readers with common sense would see what was meant, but this is supposed to be a clear statement written by philosophers about how the organization will conduct itself, and it has disclaimers and clarifications. But it has none for certain things, including the one that you think is obvious that I've seen professional philosophers (including Peter Singer in his mostly-excellent discussion of discrimination) working hard to make explicit due to their not being obvious enough to most people writing about them.

I have argued that it's not the APA's role as a professional organization for all philosophers to take stances on issues that are controversial among its members. Now that we're all in agreement on forced racial segregation, we can look back with horror at how many professional philosophers might have supported it in the 1950s. But the fact remains that this is the professional organization for the entire profession, and a large percentage of the profession wouldn't have been represented if the organization took a stance that didn't represent their minority position (as I'm guessing it probably was at that time). It's not that it would have been wrong to say that it's wrong. It's that they wouldn't have the authority as an organization to speak on an issue that the organization itself was divided on.

If I can pick on your own extremely controversial view again, let me ask you what you would think of the APA taking a stance that it's unethical to eat people's bodies even if they're already dead and have consented to it. You have argued that we ought to do that rather than burying or burning our dead. What if enough people became convinced that society began to change a little, and efforts were being made to accommodate people to the idea, perhaps even states legalizing the process? But then the majority in the APA decided to condemn it and to issue a policy statement that it's unethical, insisting that institutions that do it be flagged as non-compliant and investigated to be flagged as in violation if anyone complained. Would you consider that harmful to those trying to change society on this issue? I would consider it harmful to the effort. Would you consider it an illegitimate use of the APA authority when they have a majority but not a true consensus on the issue? I would. I say this as someone who disagrees strongly with your view. I still wouldn't want the APA to condemn the view. It doesn't seem like it's its place to do so. It's not as if people who happen to do ethics as philosophers are more ethical anyway (in fact, it seems the opposite) in order to come across as experts to the general populace, and it's not as if all philosophers do ethics anyway. As I said, it would be fine for the organization to find ways to inform applicants of the hiring policies of institutions advertising in the APA's job publication. What I'm objecting to is the moral claim (and not on the ground that I disagree with it but on the ground that I don't think it's the place of the APA to do that).

For the record, I think it's a category mistake to say that homosexuality is wrong. Homosexuality is a social construction that individual people with same-sex attraction define themselves as and use to form their identity. It isn't an act, an omission, a desire, a motive, a choice, or anything else that we might find morally wrong. What the moral standard in question takes to be wrong is same-sex sexual acts. The view is that same-sex attraction is unnatural and bad, something worth making efforts to keep oneself from carrying out and that the acts themselves are wrong (where acts do include lustful acts of the mind). This is parallel to the claim that opposite-sex attraction isn't itself morally wrong, but lustful thoughts about someone other than one's spouse are wrong, and acting on them is wrong. The one difference is that with the same-sex case this view declares the attraction itself to be bad and unnatural (but not wrong). I say this to encourage you to characterize the view correctly. It isn't accurate to say that the view takes homosexuality to be wrong, even if people (including those who hold the view) actually put it that way. That's not really what they think when you put it under closer examination, in the same way that pro-choice people on abortion don't really think a fetus isn't alive.

It's a matter of public record what the arguments for such a view are. I'm not going to use this comment space to get into them. I'm sure you're familiar with them, even if I'm also sure that you haven't really given them much serious consideration. As a utilitarian, you wouldn't have much use for natural law considerations to begin with, and I certainly don't expect you to accept biblical arguments as a non-believer. All I wish is for you to recognize that people can have good-faith arguments for such claims and that the presence of them among a significant minority of members should lead to greater hesitancy in such moral pronouncements than there is. I don't expect you to recognize that, but that's what I'd like supporters of this policy to see.

Thank you for the long and thoughtful response, Jeremy. As you can probably guess, it hasn't convinced me at all. I stand by my claim that only harmful discrimination is wrong. Of course it can be harmful to refuse to hire someone into a group that considers their behavior wrong. Gainful employment is more beneficial than not having the institution that employs you consider you immoral. Most people would prefer to work for institutions that didn't disapprove their behavior. But, most people would also prefer to have employment. The job market in philosophy is tough.

As for the eating dead people thing, I didn't think that the paper in which I argued for cannibalism was published. It was written as part of a humorous festschrift for a grad student friend. That said, I stand by the arguments. It would be far better to eat people who have already died than to raise and kill animals to eat them. It would be better still (ethically, prudentially, environmentally, you name it) not to eat flesh at all.

It seems like our main disagreement is over whether the APA should be taking a stand on the ethics of discrimination against homosexuals or homosexual behavior (I think it's perfectly clear that the act-orientation distinction as used here is pure sophistry, but I'm also happy to talk just about the behavior). You say that the issue is controversial, and the APA shouldn't be taking a stand on controversial issues. I disagree on both counts. The existence of some bad arguments from a small minority of philosophers doesn't make for a controversy. Likewise, whether the theory of natural selection explains the diversity and complexity of life on earth is not controversial within the scientific community. There are an extremely small number of scientists who disagree. They are well-funded and loud, but they haven't succeeded in making the scientific community doubt the essential soundness of evolutionary theory. The same goes for skeptics about anthropogenic global warming in the climate science community. Discrimination against homosexuals, or, if you prefer, those who engage in same-sex erotic behavior, is so egregiously harmful and unjust that the APA would be abdicating its moral responsibility not to take a stand on it. Your claim that the APA would have been wrong to pronounce on the evils of racial segregation in the 1950's is pretty much a reductio of your position. If the APA can't take a stand on moral issues, who can? When the APA says that it (the APA) rejects as unethical various things, it isn't claiming that every one of its members agrees with it. That's the nature of a democracy. When the US signs various treaties, it isn't claiming that every US citizen agrees with it either.

As for arguments against homosexual behavior, I have studied many, and taken them very seriously. My considered view is that they are uniformly bad. You are correct that I have no sympathy for natural law approaches to ethics, although I do consider them far better than divine command approaches. I would simply recommend reading John Corvino's excellent work on the ethics of homosexuality. I realize that some people accept arguments against homosexuality (or homosexual behavior) in good faith. I simply don't see the relevance of that. A bad argument accepted in good faith is still a bad argument. If it's a bad argument for harmful, oppressive, and unjust treatment of people, it needs to be resisted.

Anyway, good talking with you. Happy Thanksgiving. May I suggest eating either someone who has already died, or, better yet, Tofurkey?

If academic qualifications awarded by faith universities are recognised beyond the campus perimeter, I don’t quite see how the ‘free exercise clause’ entails they should be exempt from employment legislation or accreditation requirements on the grounds they’re ‘religious’ or not public. I just care about philosophy, and I thought you and the APA might too. But I doubt there’s much love lost between the institutions you stand up for and philosophy.

That ‘statement about the integration of faith and the pursuit of knowledge’ one drafts oneself looks to me like a blueprint for one’s lobotomy. So employers may differ as to the precise contours of the required operation, and you think it’s OK because the operation is reversible and you can walk away at any time. But you can only do that because those precious little enclaves of totalitarianism and theocracy you go out of your way to defend are safely contained within a pluralist democracy; I guess it’s different in Teheran. I have no doubt religious institutions may see it as their primary mission to educate within the faith: I fail to see why you’d refuse to teach or admit a student to a faith university whom you deem worthy of admission to a philosophy programme and would be glad to teach in a non-faith university. Are you registered in a faith institution yourself?

I know you don’t think much of my biblical interpretations, and I don’t blame you. But the tenth commandment and the Sermon on the Mount seem to me to entail that a desire can be morally evaluable irrespective of whether it’s acted upon or not; which sounds in line with what you say the APA position is, that there’s too fine a distinction between having a sexual desire and acting upon it. If the condemnation of lesbian sex was meant to be a central plank of Jesus’ message perhaps he wasn’t entirely successful in his mission, which may explain why God sent Paul so soon after; except I’m not sure Paul talked much about lesbianism either.

I don’t know what a neutral viewpoint is, but there’s more than one viewpoint and there’s competition. I do wonder why the APA is prepared to put up with ‘confessions of faith’: Is it because it’s an employers’ market and they don’t mind if the ‘faithful’ can apply for more jobs than the heathen? A cost is that those jobs with strings attached and for the suicide-prone only get the status of ‘academic posts in philosophy’ which they may not deserve.

Your several statements of faith must make fascinating reading: Do they reflect your own moral and intellectual development, or just different employer requirements? Did you ever wonder how Socrates’ statement of faith might read? Perhaps schools with an alcohol standard can’t hold ‘symposia’; but those without an alcohol standard may not hold them either unless they vet every single participant first. Libraries would have to be pretty frugal too I expect: Aquinas & co and commentary basically. Otherwise students and faculty might be exposed to the views of people with the wrong sexual orientation or who’ve failed to subscribe to the statement of faith prescribed. So Greek philosophers are certainly out; subversive stuff on every count. I’d be amazed if there are bodies in the US prepared to recognise philosophy degrees awarded in such circumstances. Because if these aren’t the circumstances, I don’t see why like-mindedness is a sine qua non, what confessions of faith are for or who’s maintaining which moral standard.

I admit I’m not convinced religious schools care about philosophy, and also admit I have no idea what the difference is between mainstream biblical scholars and evangelical ones; perhaps I’ve had a deprived philosophical education. I don’t see either why an ethics syllabus is deemed deficient if it fails to reflect faith perspectives; for interested students there must be courses in theology available round the corridor. I suspect that in religious institutions philosophy is treated just as an instrument, that precious ancilla to pursuing another agenda, which is ‘the primary mission’; and which seems to have political overtones too, judging from the emphasis on applied ethics and abortion. But philosophy will never make a good slave, because she’s a daughter of democracy and leisure; and a slave-driver will never make a good philosopher, I submit.

So I’m not sure what you take the moral standard we disagree over to be, or why it matters, if it’s not a variable in academic rankings: I did have a gay tutor; arguably so did Plato.

"However, lets grant, for the sake of argument, that conservative evangelicalism is a standalone religion, and lets further grant that discrimination against active homosexuals is a normal and predictable expression of that religion. This leads us to yet another confusion in Jeremy Pierce's attempt to convict the APA of inconsistency. Certain religions may practice human sacrifice. Some political convictions entail that genocide is not only justified but obligatory. If an institution refused to hire someone who had performed human sacrifice or participated in genocide, would that constitute unethical discrimination, according to the APA's code? Obviously not. The reason is clear. The normal and predictable expressions of the religion or political convictions in question are themselves clearly unethical. Again, the APA's policy is written for adults with a modicum of common sense. The policy doesn't need to spell out the obvious fact that normal and predictable expressions that are themselves morally objectionable are not protected. The APA policy states that discrimination against homosexuals, active or otherwise, is morally objectionable. Therefore, even if such discrimination is somehow a normal or predictable expression of a religion, it is not protected by the policy." -- Alistair Norcross

This seems to me, unless I'm missing something, to undercut the whole purpose of the policy. If the policy is implicitly limited to only morally unobjectionable behavior, then the debate again devolves into a debate over whether homosexual behavior is morally objectionable. Suppose folks at a particular conservative religious school is reasonable in believing that homosexual behavior is actually morally objectionable. Then, if they accept Dr. Norcross's qualification here, they can in good faith claim that they are in compliance with the policy -- because, according to them, the policy does not protect morally objectionable behavior, and homosexuality is morally objectionable. Isn't that right? If so, perhaps Dr. Norcross is assuming that everybody is irrational if they believe homosexual behavior to be wrong. But rationality really isn't that hard a standard to meet, so I think that would be a very tough position to sustain.

In any case, it can't be the case that only morally unobjectionable behavior is protected by anti-discrimination laws and policies. Suppose Islam is correct and the Christians commit a great sin simply by believing in and preaching the Trinity. Surely Christian believing would still be protected by anti-discrimination law. So the rule can't be qualified in the way Dr. Norcross thinks it "obviously" is.

Or to keep it on the grounds of philosophy: the APA has asserted that a certain philosophical position is the only acceptable one. It has become dogmatic and has limited academic freedom in the ideas which can be discussed, on what grounds, and the conclusions which can be drawn.

EO: You said, "But I doubt there’s much love lost between the institutions you stand up for and philosophy."

Wheaton College has an very good academic reputation in general compared with other schools of the same size, and Calvin College has traditional had a stellar philosophy department for an undergraduate institution with no Ph.D. program. Biola University has developed an extremely effective masters program in philosophy in terms of placing people in top Ph.D. programs. None of these schools has had any program with accreditation as far as I know. All of them have statements of faith and moral standards for their faculty (and I believe students too), of exactly the sort that this policy discriminates against.

I guess it’s different in Teheran.

It sure is, and if you can't see that then you don't have a clue what a theocracy is. A theocracy is a government that enforces a particular religious framework as if directed by God. That's not remotely what's going on here. This is a private organization wanting to hire according to a moral framework that the government allows. The other sorts of things that I accept that have been wrongly called theocracy involve (a) moral arguments with no religious premises or (b) religiously-accepted premises but a goal of enacting them because of popular support rather than because some source of purported divine revelation says to do so.

In case (a), the claim of theocracy is ludicrous. Those who accept the moral status of a fetus do not do so merely because their religion tells them to and can easily put forward philosophical arguments, even if controversial ones, for that thesis. The resistance to Thomson-like arguments comes from, again, philosophical commitments.

In case (b), I think it's perfectly legitimate in a system that allows democratic institution of policies to allow the democratic constituents to use any basis they prefer to decide how to do so. If they can achieve a majority wanting to use the word 'marriage' a certain way, that should be fine, even if a strong minority resists. It's up to that minority to make their case. As I've said before, my policy preference is to have the government not declare when something is a marriage but to leave that to religions, and then civil unions wouldn't be an issue, because there's no greater status the government recognizes as marriage. But I don't think there's a constitutional problem or a generally politically problematic issue if a democratically-elected government does it a different way. It's just not my policy preference.

At any rate, even if you disagree with that (and many do), there's no way you can fairly call it theocracy, which is a government whose intrinsic structure bases its decisions on a source of religious teaching, directly from a religious authority structure. The only theocracies I know of in the world are the Vatican and any states controlled by Islamic authorities (and there may be some small governments somewhere, perhaps on the tribal level, that would count, but those aren't on my international radar). Even Turkey, where the religious party now dominates after years of secular rule, is still not a theocracy the way Iran is. Feel free to oppose governments that allow (b) as the United States does. But confusing it with theocracy is like calling something socialist because it happens to benefit the people or calling it fascist because it happens to restrict liberty in a small way.

I'm a student in a Ph.D. program at a private, secular institution. I teach at a Jesuit institution whose only religious requirement is that Catholic views are supposed to have a place at the table (i.e. the Catholic perspective gets presented in the overall context of a student's education, and the faculty consider that in hiring at least insofar as they want to have faculty who can favorably and charitably present Catholic views, whether they agree with them or not). I have nothing (at least at the moment) personally at stake because of this policy. I would take a job at one of these institutions if they were to offer me one (and it was the best offer), and I'd gladly step down from my position if at any point I changed my mind on the statement of faith or if I could no longer in good conscience hold to the moral conduct the school expects.

Here's my view on desires and acting on them. I think we need to distinguish between two senses of having a desire. One of them corresponds to the biblical concept of being tempted. The other corresponds to the biblical concept of thinking in your heart from the sermon on the mount. For Jesus to be consistent, there must be some such distinction, because he does hold people morally responsible for what's internal, but the gospels say Satan tempted him, and that temptation seems to include asking God to remove the burden that seems to be also his ultimate purpose of being on earth, something that it would presumably wrong for him to want in any ultimate sense, to want at the level at which he'd act on it if presented with the opportunity to do so.

When someone hates their brother, Jesus condemns it as the root sin behind murder. If I lust after a woman other than my wife, Jesus condemns it as the root sin behind adultery. But Jesus doesn't condemn the mere fact that, when I do have sexual desire, it is toward women. I think similarly, on the premise (which I accept) that Jesus would condemn homosexual sex, he wouldn't condemn the mere fact that, when gay men do have sexual desire, it is toward men. I think he'd condemn the dwelling on such desires in a particular case and the acting on them with an actual person. But what is homosexuality? If it is the mere fact of having sexual desires for men, then it's not homosexuality itself that Jesus would condemn. If it's the identification of such orientation as a perfectly good and healthy thing, then maybe he would. I happen to think that he'd at least see it as a bad thing to be resisted. I know people who have considered themselves gay who have experientially testified to that seeming to them to be the right approach as well (though I know others who certainly disagree, but it does show that it can experientially seem possible to draw the lines this way).

I never said the condemnation of lesbian sex is central to Jesus or Paul. All I said is that Jesus would have agreed with it had he been asked, since he agreed with the Torah. It's certainly much more central to contemporary American evangelicals than it ever was for any ancient Christians (except perhaps any with female-female desires, for whom I suppose it would be a big issue). But there is at least one mitigating factor, that homosexuality has become a much more publicly-noticeable occurrence in our day, and biblical concerns often reflect how current something is in how frequent they occur in laws, prophetic denunciations, proverbial warnings, or vice lists. So there's some explanation for a greater frequency of discussion. But I agree with you that the tone and emphasis (and perhaps even the motivation) in many quarters is well beyond any biblical basis, and I've consistently complained about that over the six years I've had this blog.

I can tell you some things Socrates might have had in his statement of faith (and I believe there's evidence for all of these just in The Apology, although other early dialogues confirm some of them at a greater level of detail):

1. It's worse to be alive but evil than dead but good.
2. Pleasure isn't the only intrinsic good.
3. Justice is intrinsically good.
4. If there's an afterlife, it can't be a bad one for a just person.
5. If there's no afterlife, then death is not intrinsically bad.
6. Beings who do what Greek myths say about gods are not worthy of the name.
7. Expertise in a specific matter or respect due to some notable accomplishment does not qualify someone as a moral expert worthy of emulation.
8. The mechanistic world described by some of the pre-Socratics doesn't fully explain the universe, because it explains the how but not the why.
9. Becoming a just person requires understanding what justice is.
10. Understanding what justice is requires finding a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for when someone is just.

It's hard to argue that Socrates didn't hold some of those beliefs strongly enough to be willing to die for them. It's perfectly consistent with that that he was open to an argument against any of them. But he certainly affirmed them to the point of being willing to die for them, and that's all these statements of faith require of someone. They don't require a commitment not to change one's mind, which is all that I think you can reasonably object to under the heading of intellectual suicide.

Schools that don't allow alcohol on campus simply don't have it at any events. Ones that ask their faculty to sign a statement that they don't drink don't go around searching their private residences or looking for them in bars. They certainly don't prevent people from speaking on campus because they have a drink now and then. They just ask their own faculty to sign the statement, and they hold symposia without alcohol present. Do you really think the alcoholic beverages are an essential component of a symposium? Placing alcohol on the level of the intellectual activity of a philosophy department is more on the direction of intellectual suicide than having a statement of faith and conduct.

As for excluding something from the curriculum because it's suspect, that's not remotely what we're talking about here, as I've already indicated. These institutions go way out of their way to make sure their students are aware of views that undermine the gospels' accounts by trying to find contradictions, mainly because they want their students to be able to respond to such claims. They don't teach six-day creationism and hide the evolutionary consensus from their students. They teach contemporary science and explain the reasoning behind it, even if some of them (and I'm not sure they all do this) will also present some of the design arguments that find their basis in biological complexities that are difficult to explain or the narrow range of cosmological constants that would allow life. In their ethics courses, they present Thomson and Warren. They might also present Beckwith, who gets no time in most philosophy classes. In fact, his book, published by Oxford, is a book-length treatment arguing philosophically against legalized abortion without relying on any religious premises, and I've seen almost no response to it from the philosophical community. It's virtually ignored. But I don't see a lot of response to Boonin's book-length treatment arguing for legalized abortion either. Most philosophers consider it a dead issue, and that seems to me to be more in the direction of intellectual suicide than those who insist on presenting the arguments for both sides who continue to evaluate whether their views are correct.

Alex Pruss has picked up on some of the same (and some quite distinct) issues on this. I think the post and comment thread are worth reading in full.

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