Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Count is Now: 25

I suppose having my intelligence insulted is a good way to kick the counter up by ten. The quotation below is in response to an open letter published in the Duke University newspaper by a conservative student group. The letter contained statistics showing the overwhelming tendency for members of the faculties of Duke's humanities departments to be aligned with liberal political parties.

The professor was quoted as the following:

"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.

"Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."

Viewing my libertarianism as really old-school conservatism, I had to do the count to keep from writing complete gibberish here.

For now, I shall show why I despair that this professor is teaching anything that involves philosophy or logic. The statement, "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire," followed by, "Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too," implies that this professor believes that anyone of sufficient intelligence will come to adhere to a liberal viewpoint. More succinctly, a conservative viewpoint can only be held by the stupid.

The logical fallacy is glaring. I'll allow, for now, that stupid people may be more inclined to conservatism. The facto that doesn't ipso is the assumption that the relationship is reflexive, that conservatives are more inclined to stupidity. Mathematically, it is true that if A=B, then B=A. That only holds true, however, when speaking about discrete, individual entities. If we have multiple red balls under discussion, then both "the balls are red" and "the red things are balls" are both true. If we release the condition that a well defined set of objects is to be included in the discussion, then the reflexiveness is lost. While it may be true that "all the balls are red", it is no longer necessarily true that "the red things are balls" because we might have red shoes, red cars, etc.

Directly to that professor, please get your logic straight if you should have to try to teach it to your students.

(Link via Andrew Sullivan)

Update: Now that I have gotten the bile out and have had a few minutes to think about this, I can't help but get hit with the irony. Should I make some snarky comment about how the guy who hires for the Philosophy department can make such a ridiculously illogical statement? Probably not, stooping is bad for the back.

Update II: Kieran at Crooked Timber proposes that conservatives can not make an issue of liberal dominance in academia without falling into hypocrisy. He looks at saying that either institutional bias can exist (if it does against conservatives in academia, then it could against women or minorities in the rest of the world) or conservatives must admit that what the professor said is essentially true.

I believe that Kieran misses the point. Most universities promise a marketplace of ideas for students to create their own opinions. If one school of thought is completely lacking, then it would be impossible for the department to adequately communicate the ideas. I know that it would be impossible for me to speak without slight signs of disapproval about Marxist theory. People can pick up on that, if only in the teacher's tone of voice or other methods of delivery.

I do not propose any type of coercive action upon the universities to enforce balance. There are web sites available that provide information regarding university policies and faculty to the public. From there, students can decide the tenor of academic instruction in which they wish to immerse themselves.

No comments: