When Your Favorite Philosopher is a Bigot

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Here is my latest column for the magazine Philosophy Now, which asks how we should respond when we find figures in the history of philosophy expressing views we now find obviously repugnant, e.g. justifying slavery or making misogynist remarks. Something I didn't have the chance to add in the piece itself (since there is no room for notes or acknowledgements) is that it was partially inspired by a talk I saw given by Charles Mills in Berlin, and that upcoming co-author of the podcast Chike Jeffers gave me some useful feedback on an earlier draft as did my brother Glenn Adamson.

I'd be very interested to hear what other people think about how historians should deal with these passages. I have been thinking about it anew even since writing this piece since I am just working on a script about medieval theories of sexuality and gender so am being confronted with plenty of scholastics explaining just why it is that women are worse than men, homosexuality is a heinous sin (in one case, deemed worse than incest with one's own mother), etc.

Ken on 11 April 2018

My favorite philosopher

My favorite philosopher generally is Søren Kierkegaard, so nothing too terrible beyond some less than friendly remarks on the credibility of Islam (which one expects from a Chrisitan theologian), still kinder than what he says about Hegelianism and  Chrisitan Apologetics.

Now my favorite work of political philosophy is the Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. This is very unfortunate for me as an African-American as Locke was a very strong supporter of the Atlantic Slave Trade. I still like the work, but I look at it very closely and consider the author's personal views. It's the same thing with reading Faulkner or the modernists. The only person whose bigotry has really affected how I viewed their work was Flannery O'Connor, I knew she had thesame racial bias as most of her peers, but I made the mistake of reading her book of correspondences (The Habit Of Being) and saw the depth of her hate. That has sowered me to her more than I realized.

In reply to by Ken

Peter Adamson on 11 April 2018

Yes, it's a real problem isn

Yes, it's a real problem isn't it? In general, I think that we are not necessarily obligated to chuck out the valuable parts of an author's writings because they also said (or did) hatefu things. The first step is surely to recognize it, and as I argued in this piece, avoid pretending that the appalling aspects have no relevance for understanding the bits we like.

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