24 YEARS AFTER (PART II)
Further Reflections on Time in the Ditch
My reasons for publishing my research on American philosophy and the McCarthy era, discussed in the previous post, gave Time in the Ditch a complex relationship to two different theses. One (“thesis A”) was that the McCarthy Era decisively affected American philosophy; the other (“thesis B”) was that there was enough evidence for that to make it worthy of discussion. A was not really my point; but in order to prove B, I had to argue as vigorously as I could for it. I explained this double structure at the beginning and end of the book, and at one point in the middle. But some people have missed it, I think because of the standard philosophical view that a publication should nail down just one thesis—not support one c;aim by arguing for another one
Some have recognized this double structure, or had it explained to them, and concluded that I was really trying to prove A, and invoked B because I knew that A would be successfully attacked. I can hardly refute such penetrating insight into the depths of my soul, except to say that it didn’t look like that to me. I knew, and stated, that I hadn’t proved A, and that because of the fog of history it probably could not be definitively proved; I even, at times, allowed myself to hope that it would be disproved. But as I have explained, B was needed if the profession was to arm itself against eventual detractors in possession of the existing evidence.
There are also some who seem to believe that the book was written out of an animus against analytical philosophy. I would like to state that said animus is, frankly, fictional. Sure, like other continental philosophers, I have had my run-ins with ignorant arrogance; I once, long ago, had a well-respected analytical philosopher simply turn around and walk away when he discovered that I was interested in Hegel. But in my final sojourn in a philosophy department—the “pluralistic” Northwestern department of. the Eighties and Nineties—it was the analysts from whom I learned the most. And back when I was active in continental philosophy societies, I was recurrently criticized for inviting analytical philosophers to address them. As I have explained here in my previous posts on “Habermas and Me,” it was the continentals at Northwestern who drove me out of philosophy. So it is not analytical philosophy that bothers me, but what is often called its “dominance” in the American profession (a strange word for philosophers to use, by the way). I think this dominance has been bad for analytical philosophy, allowing it to wander at times into trivial and useless debates (see Daniel Dennett’s “Higher-Orde Truth About Chmess” for one way this works).
Another reaction, which seems to be rather widespread but never ceases to amaze me, is what I might call the Argumentum ad Anglophoniam: the view that because analytical philosophy gained *dominance* in Australia, English-speaking Canada, and the United Kingdom, none of which had a McCarthy Era, the politics of that era could not have played a role in the United States. Right. So if we have two cups of water at 150º, and one of them was heated in a microwave, the other could not have been heated on a stove top. It astounds me that people supposedly trained in logic could advance such an “argument,” but there it is. More reasonable would be to say that the microwaved water suggests that the other water may not have been heated on a stove top—but then, in the present case, we are back at the need for discussion, which is where I wanted to be.
So. The aim of Time in the Ditch, conveyed in Thesis B, was to instigate reflection. This, at bottom, is I believe a moral challenge: are philosophers going to put their own professional self-esteem at risk by entertaining the possibility that the profession which has rewarded them with jobs and fellowships was not operating as a dispassionate evaluator of philosophical merit, but as a wounded group trying to preserve itself in the face of political pressures?
But that is only one side of the moral challenge the book tried to pose—its challenge to analytical philosophers. The challenge to continentals was different. When you are recurrently receiving messages that you are of inferior professional worth—as happened regularly to continental philosophers back when I was part of the profession—you tend, inevitably, to internalize it, at least as a suspicion: “maybe I really am inferior.” The challenge to continental philosophers, then, was to take to heart that those suspicions, however widespread and unrelenting, were ungrounded—the result of political pressures and a failure to admit them, rather than a reflection of any real incompetence. Many philosophers have told me that the book had just that effect—one famous feminist said that while reading it she had the feeling that a weight was being lifted.
I am happiest about that.
And what was the overall result? Did the discussion I had hoped for get generated in the profession at large? Three invitations came from the American Philosophical Association. Two were from Western Division, which held a session on Time in the Ditch at its annual meeting (though the title of the session was somehow left off the program). The next year I was asked if I would be interested in another session. I responded that l had had my say; if they wanted a second session I would participate, but I didn’t think it was necessary.
A packed session was held at Pacific Division, during which I noticed some gray heads at the back of the room. It turned out that these were philosophers from that time who had been wondering if somebody would ever figure out what had happened. Having now reached the final sunset myself, I am pleased that I was able to solace them in their old age.
Such solace did not come, I regret to say, for Morris Judd. When, in 2000, his Freedom of Information Act lawsuit enabled him to uncover the specious nature of his exclusion from philosophy, the University of Colorado made amends as best it could. A football-free autumn Saturday afternoon was designated Morris Judd Day, and the entire University community was invited to assemble in the school’s largest auditorium. There they heard the president of the university apologize for his predecessor’s highhanded treatment of the young philosopher. The chair of the philosophy department, who had nothing to apologize for—the department had fought hard for Morris—expressed the department’s regrets that they had not had the benefit of Morris Judd’s collegiality for his entire career. He was in his eighties; it made him happy.
So, I thought, why not have the APA do something similar? There was no need to acknowledge guilt—there was, on the part of the philosophers, no guilt to acknowledge. But telling an old man that you were sorry that his career was unfairly ended, through no fault of yours or his, would be a kind thing to do. Over a few years, I and others brought this suggestion to various committees at Eastern Division. All were rejected. Finally, seeing that the rejections by different committees over different years were not the work of a few bad apples, but represented a common mentality of the profession, I resigned from the APA. The incident helped squelch any regrets I might have felt about leaving the American philosophy profession. Though I do still, on occasion, enjoy reading Daily Nous.