Subjectivism in Metaphilosophy: towards a definition

Subjectivism in metaphilosophy, at least in the form dominant in the early part of the 21st century, is view that the value and correctness of a view in philosophy consists entirely in its acceptance by an elite oligarchy of top-rated philosophers at a handful of well-financed universities in the English speaking world. A refined, and probably more correct, version of this view is that strictly speaking, the value and correctness of a view in philosophy consists in the acceptance by an elite oligarchy of philosophers of the main proponent ( or proponents) of a philosophical view, since correctness is generally an ‘ad hominem’ centred construction.

Points to note: firstly, this is not to say that those picked out as being the main proponents of a view actually are its originators, or even those who have done most to develop it. They are those who simply, through the course of philosophical practice especially expressed through the medium of certain conferences, seminars, drinks and dinners, and an oblique and preferential system of referencing, have become, by an oligarchical elite, associated most strongly with that view. This view then is properly understood as ‘double subjectivism’.

Secondly, ‘acceptance’ is not to be understood in a merely conative way. Acceptance implies and necessarily entails (i) invitations to speak (ii) milling about with the right people in conference breaks (iii) a complex web of mutually reinforcing referencing amongst a small circle of other elite philosophers (iv) exclusion of other views and other philosophers as ‘outliers’ as indicated in various ways with social stigmata indicating lower social standing; and may in addition almost certainly but optionally involve (iv) close personal relationships from within a medium-sized pool of philosophical elite.

Tools to keep the status quo include:

Subtle ‘failure’ to notice the attempts of others to speak at seminars; positioning of the critical comments of others as ‘failures to understand’ the doctrines of the ruling elite; keeping up the ‘noble lie’ of so-called ‘blind reviewing’. This is of course reinforced institutionally at a high level by formal structures such as the so-called Research Excellence Framework (REF); and by including as a criterion for high-level appointment not any reference to the quality of a candidate’s research per se, but the criterion ‘must have an international reputation’. ‘International reputation’ can be cashed entirely and without loss by the following equivalent proposition ‘must have a large group of mates who are already in positions of philosophical power’.

Paula Boddington

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