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It’s the thought-police who are making a mistake; Philosophy is an intellectual ‘safe space’, where we should not be afraid to speak for fear of being wrong or causing offence, and where we should be graceful in accepting criticism and changing our minds if we are proven wrong.
In fact we can take this even further: if we’re uncomfortable with Tuvel’s conclusion that considerations in favour of accepting transgender identities support accepting so-called ‘transracial’ identities, because we think we have good reason to accept the former but reject the latter, then surely what we need is more people working on this rather than less, to figure it all out.
I’ve heard a version of this criticism made many times by philosophers with activist commitments: we shouldn’t argue for such and so, even if it’s true, because of the possible political consequences of arguing for such and so.
I’ve always found these kinds of worries to be exaggerated, because of the extremely low public readership of papers in Philosophy (not to mention that Hypatia papers, in the specific case at issue here, are not open access).
What are the risks of a ‘dangerous idea’ like Tuvel’s?
(A lot depends on the differences between these two cases, because protecting the vulnerable means different things in each of them.) Let me note that I am taking others’ words for it on the demographics of those initially angry and the open letter’s signatories. Journals that are explicitly interdisciplinary are bound by the norms of all of the disciplines they include, so whether a retraction of the paper is warranted is not settled by the fact that it wouldn’t be warranted in Philosophy.That is to say, that although Tuvel herself thinks we have good reasons to accept transgender identities, and that those same reasons support accepting ‘transracial’ identities, others may take the parallel as a .Many people find ‘transracial’ claims absurd, so drawing a parallel between the two might have the effect of weakening the former rather than strengthening the latter.[Note by CB: This is a guest post by Holly Lawford-Smith, a political philosopher at the University of Melbourne.Internet discussion on this topic has been very heated so we intend to enforce quite a restrictive comments policy. Here’s what I thought it was: a member of a marginalized group within our profession (a pre-tenure woman) published a paper; a group of philosophers were angry about the paper; those same philosophers signed an open letter to issued an apology for publishing the paper; another group of philosophers rallied in defence of paper’s author, against both the journal and the group of philosophers who were angry about the paper in the first place.