“David Chalmers” Generalized and the Depoliticization of Philosophy’s Present

During the other night or early the other morning, I had a dream about David Chalmers. I’ve never met Chalmers, so this dream was unexpected. What was even stranger (though maybe not as far as dreaming goes) was that the person who, in my dream, I knew as David Chalmers didn’t look anything like the David Chalmers that I’ve seen in photos or that many of you have seen in person. The “David Chalmers” in my dream was, to be sure, a cisgender man, but had dark curly hair and was shorter and wider than the David Chalmers with whom many of you have spent time and that I’ve seen depicted in photos.

In any case, the dream consisted of me trying to convince “David Chalmers” that he should revise the PhilPapers system in order to more adequately and appropriately represent philosophy of disability and feminist philosophy of disability in the system. As the dream ensued, I became increasingly bewildered with Chalmers’s seeming unwillingness to seriously entertain the idea, or to even engage with me on the matter. Moreover, I was flabbergasted that “David Chalmers” seemed to be largely unaware of the multiple critiques that I have advanced about the exclusion of critical philosophical work on disability from the system and the medicalization of disability that the current architecture of the database promotes. In the dream, I even enumerated when and where my critiques had been published, the titles of the articles in which they were advanced, etc. In the dream, “David Chalmers” just stared back at me, mumbling that he didn’t know anything about this sort of criticism, that he didn’t think it was possible to adjust the system, questioning and doubtful about whether it was necessary.

I take the “David Chalmers” in my dream to represent the philosophical community at large. For despite the fact that I have repeatedly argued that the PhilPapers system is outdated and needs an overhaul in ways that: would (1) more suitably take account of philosophy of disability, as well as feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, and other subfields that many underrepresented philosophers produce; would (2) work to decolonize philosophy; and, would (3) work to decrease the hierarchical character of philosophy, few philosophers (including few philosophers of disability and few feminist philosophers) seem concerned about the ways that PhilPapers, one of the most influential mechanisms of the discipline and profession, upholds and reproduces the status quo in philosophy.

A couple of years ago, in a dismissive flourish, one relatively well-known philosopher scolded me on social media for advancing these sorts of criticisms of PhilPapers, telling me in no uncertain terms that I shouldn’t criticize the database in the way that I have, at least not on his Facebook page, because David Chalmers and David Bourget are such “nice guys” and have done a great service to the profession. The sentiment that this gendered-as-a-man philosopher expressed is likely typical rather than extraordinary. That the scolding philosopher in question is widely regarded as an advocate for diversifying the profession and discipline is indicative of the mutually constitutive character of ableism and masculinism in the profession as well as evinces the pervasive refusal to recognize the simultaneous constitution and depoliticization of the apparatus of disability in philosophy.

Although the formula of PhilPapers represents philosophy as a value-neutral, detached, disinterested, and impartial enterprise, as my critiques of the database have emphasized, political, social, cultural, and institutional force relations influence every aspect of the discipline (and profession) of philosophy. My critiques of the database have emphasized, furthermore, that every philosophical question and concern, as well as every subfield and specialization that these questions and concerns comprise, is a politically potent artifact of historically contingent and culturally specific discourse. As historical artifacts of discourse, every question, concern, subfield, and specialization in philosophy can be traced genealogically.

Some philosophers seem to think that the profession and discipline of philosophy are somehow impervious to fascism and neoliberalism, assuming that they themselves recognize the gamut of historical configurations that these forms of power have taken and their extant permutations. I think, however, that these philosophers should consider whether they themselves have succumbed to the incremental normalization of neoliberal force relations, missing the innovative renditions of its sameness and difference. Indeed, my argument is that these and other philosophers must begin to more closely examine the local, must begin to attend to what is happening in their own departments, their own circles; that is, they must begin to identify the ways in which the professional and institutional practices in which they and their colleagues engage have facilitated and continue to enable the neoliberal constitution of the apparatus of disability and thus must scrutinize the role that they themselves play in the culture of eugenics to which these relations of power aim.

An earlier post about PhilPapers can be found here.

Follow BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY on Twitter @biopoliticalph

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