In "Changing Places" David Lodge describes "the humiliation game," where English professors have to list the most important book they've never read. The winner is the person for whom it is the most humiliating to admit s/he hasnt read the book s/he gives.
In the novel, humiliation ends up generating something analagous to a Priest type enclosure paradox with respect to practical reasoning.* Howard Ringbaum represents a particular kind of hyper-competitive obnoxious American academic, and so of course at a party with all of his colleagues present the game renders him momentarily speechless as his will battles out what to do. He has to win the game, but you win by looking the stupidest, which for someone like Ringbaum also means losing game in a broader sense.**
Lodge's game worked perfectly as satire given the level of status anxiety of the star culture of the 1980s English departments. I don't know the extent to which it works for philosophy today. First, we don't quite have that star culture any more. With punk/grunge DIY, the internet and open access, our swath of academia is increasingly starting to resemble folk art, where you get small groups of people making philosophy for each other*** (in the Baby Boomer era Lodge satirizes, all of the pressures worked to push people to ape mass art with respect to academic celebrity). Second, analytic philosophy isn't really a culture of the book.
Continental philosophers can I think still play humiliation in its original form. What's the most important philosophical book that you haven't read? For analytic philosophy at least, the analogue would have to concern a position or argument or maybe paper. It would be something like this- Given your area of expertise, what is the most important argument about which you are shockingly ignorant.
All philosophers could amend the game in this way. What is your most strongly held commitment that is deemed least plausible to those around you? Call the contest involving this question "humiliation-prime."
I think a lot of views and figures are humiliation-prime paradoxical in this way. Examples:
- Standard set theory is incoherent (Graham Priest).
- There is one correct logic and it is not classical (Michael Dummett).
- A divine sense gives us factual knowledge (as opposed to merely affective moral intuition) about the world (Alvin Plantinga).
- There are no moral beliefs (insert name of famous meta-ethicist).
- There are no beliefs (Churchlands).
- Possible worlds have the same ontological status as the actual world (David Lewis).
- Zombies are conceivable, so possible, and so consciousness isn't physical (David Chalmers).
One could probably continue this list into the high tens at least. I don't know the extent to which its existence ruins humiliation-prime as a parlour game. I also wonder about the extent to which fields other than philosophy have an analogous list of humiliation-prime paradoxical figures. Perhaps they serve the role of Descartes' evil demon in contemporary philosophy. We are to learn what is true by seeing how they are wrong.
This can't be the whole story though because many of us are willing to humiliate ourselves by "actually believing" (said scornfully or with the rising intonation of a question) humiliation-prime paradoxical views. I don't know what else is going on though.
*There might actually be something interesting here with respect to intrinsically self-defeating games and Priest's enclosure schema. I don't know.
**He ends up blurting out "Hamlet!" in a scene certainly to some extent modelled on poor Tom Sawyer's "David and Goliath!" And as a result of winning the game he doesn't get tenure. It really is very nicely done. Please read the novel if you haven't. "Morris Zapp" is based on Stanley Fish. I don't know how well the fictional character has worn over the years. As noted above, Lodge's academic caricatures aren't quite as incisive in a neo-liberal era. . . There was a great supernatural academic novel from a few years ago where the library burns in the end and the university is privatized. I can't remember the name of it though.
***This is good and bad, largely depending upon how members of the small communities interact with people not in them. You see this difference at APAs where some groups are really excited and supportive when someone not in them shows up and asking sometimes uninformed questions, and some not so much. This actually corresponds to two stages of religion formation, the earlier where you have missionary zeal to expand the group. And the later where you are angry that your group is no longer expanding. If you ask a Hegel person an ignorant question, they are generally just excited that you are interested. But if you ask a Kant person an ignorant question, they tend to be angry that you don't understand Kant better.**** In the late 19th and early 20th Century, it was almost certainly the other way around.
****These are just tendencies. Individual personality traits intervene, and maybe my impression is wrong in any case. . . I don't know.
It does occur to me that there are enough Hegel and Kant people at the up and coming Pacific that everyone reading this who will be there can test the hypothesis by asking members of both groups ignorant questions. We can then collate the results and get some X Phi people (who will be there anyhow) to help us do statistics and whatnot. Since I'd already intended to ask members of both groups lots of ignorant questions, I'll help to organize the effort.]