Sunday, September 27, 2009

Like A Dog Not Walking On Its Hind Legs

I suspect that I tend towards the more formal end of views about the appropriate standards of staff-student interactions at universities. This is probably partly because of the structure of teaching that I'm most used to; tutorials, sometimes with only one student, make particularly obvious how seedy Terence Kealey, vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham, is when he tries to claim that external regulation of exam grades has eliminated power differentials that would corrupt relationships between students and staff at universities here. Still, one would have to have a remarkably laissez-faire attitude to causal misogyny and leching to think that his attempt to legitimate patriarchal sleaziness through clever-clever irony and literary allusion was not rather exploitative, notwithstanding his willingness to blame if not the victim, at least the more vulnerable of the two parties. For one thing, if this is merely about the tributes that age pays to youth and vice versa, why is the relationship in question explicitly defined as one of male professors and female students? I'm not sure whether academia is any better or worse than society at large, but it certainly suffers from various gendered norms and on occasion outright sexism. No male graduate student of my acquaintance would dress more formally to teach, whereas I know women who do, just as no man I know has been harrassed by one of their colleagues. I suppose, though, if you're the kind of person who thinks that the relevant relationship in The History Man is one of acolyte and academic hero, rather than a gradual bullying into submission, and more, in a position to benefit from doing just that, then you would think that any unwillingness to accept that that sort of thing is really not OK was a bit humourless.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Can Do No Other

I was reading - in bed: devotion to the cause I tell you - one of the early, pre-A Theory of Justice Rawls papers last night, entitled 'The Sense of Justice', and was struck by its explanation of a sense of justice in terms of guilt. The idea is, perhaps more commonly than I'm aware, that it is our capacity to form relationship both with others and to principles where failures to live up to the terms of those relationships generates guilt that accounts for and makes sense of our idea of justice and so our inclusion in the scope of principles of justice. In the absence of a sense of justice, we wouldn't be able to have those relationships; we might be able to have relationships of a similar sort, but since those relationships are marked by the way in which we conceptualise our failures to live up to their terms, we wouldn't be able to have them. Now, what's interesting about this is its foundation in guilt. People have been criticizing Kantianism for secularising - more and less successfully - the fiercely self-directed and often self-critical religious sentiments of mid-to-late eighteenth century Prussia for some time; it's been a persistent theme of Alasdair MacIntyre's writings, for example. For a Kantianly-minded philosopher to begin from guilt though, is perhaps rare. It's also revealing, because it makes it clear how central an ethic of responsibility is to Kantians, or at least Rawls. Unlike shame, guilt is only an appropriate response to something you're responsible for, so to make the capacity for guilt central to being a subject of justice is to make one's sense of responsibility, of having to bear the costs of your actions, central to being a subject of justice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Blond Beasts

Richard Layard apparently thinks that there is "no nobler ideal" than crude utilitarianism. Let us do him the charity of assuming that he actually means what he says. Presumably then he thinks it noble to discount the suffering caused by injustices, like say rape, against any pleasures that those who inflict them gain, or that if I could make myself happier by stupifying myself, doing so would be noble. Whatever one might say in favour of crude utilitarianism, the thought that treating all pleasures, regardless of what they are pleasures in, as equally significant would be noble is not usually one of them. Assuming that Richard Layard doesn't actually think that it's better if child molesters enjoy themselves whilst molesting children, perhaps he should leave doing philosophy to philosophers, rather than economists who are apparently neither familiar with the rather long history of philosophical critiques of crude utilitarianism nor capable of understanding the basic implications of positions they advocate.