Thursday, August 13, 2009

Learning how to listen in the academy

Levi has one of those emotional and rhetorically strong posts about the bullshit of the academy, dealing especially with the insufferable scholar. If you are into those posts (I for one, am) go read it. It's one of his better ones.

I made a longer post here, but I decided it was unnecessary. Instead I will sum it up, telling you things most of you already know.

Practice freedom when reading.

Practice listening, as well as responding.

Don't defend criticisms against your cherished thinkers, instead hear what philosophical argument is advanced by that criticism.

Practice generosity when reading and listening to another thinker, looking for what is useful and where alliances can be made.

Don't worry overly if those alliances end up being one-sided. It's sad for the other thinker if they don't understand how radical their own thought is. Double ditto if the thinker is dead and we are simply talking about their disciples.

When making a critique, have a useful goal in mind. And no, setting the record straight is not actually something useful.

Never ever ever ever ask someone after they presented their argument, "What would Lacan say to your argument?" Or Marx, or Heidegger, or Deleuze, or whomever. You are hack if you do that.

Don't get in the middle of personal feuds disguised as philosophical arguments (if possible).
EDIT: In the comments section of his post Levi makes a series of enumerated points. Let's call these heuristics for a more productive intellectual dialogue (this assumes the point of the dialogue is to produce something, not peacocking). Here they are:

1) Don’t lecture others about your pet figure. Nobody likes it and it is generally insulting as it begins from the premise that the person you’re lecturing is ignorant.

2) Give the person the benefit of the doubt or exercise the principle of charity in communication. The principle of charity in discourse proceeds on the basis of both attributing basic knowledge to the person you’re talking to and giving the most generous possible interpretation to the claims that they’re making.

3) Work on the premise that if the claim you think another person is making is entirely absurd such that no reasonable person would advocate it, it’s likely that you’ve misinterpreted what they’re claiming and need to explore alternative interpretations.

4) Work hard not to characterize the claims of others as conflations or mischaracterizations, i.e., recognize that there can be genuine differences in positions that are matters of dispute, not mistakes in communication. The speculative realist does not “conflate” fundamental ontology with ontology at all, but disputes the entire thesis that the human has some privileged or central place in questions of being. For the speculative realist ontology investigates being qua being, not being qua the human or language or culture or history or whatever other human phenomena we might like to put in the second place holder. This is a matter of genuine philosophical dispute and should be addressed as such, not an issue of misinterpretation.

I don't have a label for this post. I don't write advice posts, and I don't have a bullshit of the academy label. I'll put it under boring stuff about me, because that's what this post really is.