Over at Times Higher Education, Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has written an important piece calling the discipline on the carpet for its overall failure to critically engage its own whiteness.*
There is a lot of remarkable stuff in the piece, which is organized around the paired questions of "who 'gets to do' philosophy?" and "who 'gets done' in philosophy?." It should be read in its entirety. As a teaser, however, let me just reproduce the following paragraph, which I'll discuss a bit below:
In a 2012 blog posting titled “What could leave philosophy?”, Brian Weatherson, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, argues that “[f]or a few areas [of philosophy], it is easy to imagine them being in other departments, because they already overlap so substantially with work done in other departments”. Thus, instead of seeing overlap as an opportunity to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries, Weatherson sees overlap as an opportunity to police, enforce and constrict the boundary around philosophy. This narrow-mindedness is an example of what Kristie Dotson, assistant professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, has called philosophy’s “culture of justification” – not the legitimate demand that one justify the conclusion of one’s arguments, no, but the illegitimate demand that one justify that what one is doing counts as “philosophy”.
If you haven't seen it, it's worth reading Weatherson's original post. As a friend pointed out on Facebook, it may not be clear that Weatherson has any intention of doing boundary-policing, rather than making a point about precisely the historical contingency of the boundaries of the discipline. But his title and his conclusion, that "ethics, epistemology and metaphysics" would be the hardest subfields to offload, can certainly be read as having the effect that Coleman is concerned about, marking a boundary between the indispensable core of the discipline and the parts it could stand to 'lose.'
And in the end, it is effects—even and perhaps especially unintended, unanticipated, or unrecognized effects—that are the chief stakes here. The key to the paragraph is Coleman's invocation of Kristie Dotson's characterization of philosophy as structured by a 'culture of justificaiton.' This forms the context in which Weatherson's thought-experiment inevitably has to operate and produce its effects. Boundary-policing here occurs globally and at a systemic level. So that, within such a culture, one need hardly make any deliberate effort to find oneself engaged in boundary-policing activity. One need not mean or even want to police boundaries in order to effectively do so.
Nor, and perhaps this is the even more important point, need one recognize oneself as drawing a boundary in order to be heard by another, on the opposite side of the boundary, as having done exactly that. If Weatherson's argument appears to Coleman as a case of boundary-policing, that needs to be taken seriously—even and especially by those for whom Coleman's reading is a surprising one.
*There are, of course, exceptions; but the more one looks, the more one sees that 'philosophy' as an academic discipline has a long, long way to go in terms of coming to grips with its systemic privileging of the products of a 'white,' 'European' intellect—which it most often fails to even recongize as marked by either of those qualifiers. As John Drabinski clarifies in his own post on Coleman's article, part of what we need to get much better about recognizing and working to change is the way in which "philosophy in the U.S., England, and Europe is, at bottom, a racial project"—that is, one which continues to circulate almost exclusively "around white figures and traditions, thereby rendering questions of diversity a matter of who writes in philosophy, not who one reads or thinks about, or what histories are worth encountering, interrogating, and extending." The 'who writes' question is, of course, profoundly important—but as Drabinski points out, following Coleman, it does not come close to addressing the whole of the problem.