Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An Academic Manifesto on Civility v. Servility

Paul Horwitz (Alabama) has a great post on PrawfsBlawg:  An Academic Manifesto From A "Courageous" Scholar:

I see evidence all too often that there are junior faculty members out there whose pre-tenure activities are geared toward avoiding controversy, not saying what they believe to be true, and otherwise calculating their moves, whether as scholars or members of the university community, with tenure in mind. ...

There should be "less anxiety about civility, and more anxiety about truth, sensible argument, and intellectual integrity." We must value truth first and foremost. We must, within disciplinary standards, have the presence of mind and force of will to say what is right and what is wrong, what is good argument and what is bad argument. Civility should not serve as a brake on our doing so, or it becomes something other than civility; it becomes servility. "Here I stand, I can do no other," or "Still it moves," should be the watchwords of the academic, not "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

None of this is to say that one can't be blunt and fierce in defense of the truth and civil. Sometimes those two may be in tension, but more often, I think, they are not, and sometimes one can actually serve the other. There is a difference between annihilating an argument, step by step and sentence by sentence, until nothing remains of the opposing argument, and disparaging a person. There is a difference between saying, as I recently did of Phyllis Schlafly's JLPP piece, that not one sentence of it is either honest or valuable, which I think is true and eminently supported by the article itself, and saying she is an idiot. I am not terribly interested in whether she is an idiot, I fear making such judgments lightly in a fallen world of which I am one more fallen remnant, and in any event even a stopped clock can be right twice a day; I am interested in whether her argument is wrong.

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