Editors of the feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, have issued a formal apology for its daring to publish an article by feminist philosopher Rebecca Tuvel exploring arguments surrounding the legitimacy of “trans-racialism,” and its potential equivalency to “transgenderism.”
The published article sparked outrage among her peers, readers, and fellow philosophers, basically because it was too evident Ms. Tuvel wrote it from a perspective of white and cisgender privilege. An open letter to the journal demanding a complete retraction of the article made the rounds among the offended.
Without going into too many of the details (The Daily Nous has a great review; the original article is here; the demand for retraction is here; formal apology is here), Ms. Tuvel defended her research and scholarship and lamented that so little of the leveled criticism is based on anything actually written in the article. In other words, she is being criticized for how the article was perceived, received, or inferred — rather than on the merits of the arguments she presents.
The demand for retraction lists four reasons Hypatia should scuttle the scholarship, but ironically each of the demands contains some form of intellectual fallacy.
Demand 1: [The article] uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields; for example, the author uses the language of “transgenderism” and engages in deadnaming [use of the pre-trans name, like “Bruce” instead of “Caitlyn”] a trans woman.
This is a fallacious use of argumentum ad auctoritatem, or appeal to authority — that simply because a framework for vocabulary is conventional means researchers must conform to that framework even when exploring potential new subfields. Simply because convention is authoritative over one subfield does not mean it is authoritative over another, or a new. This fallacy is also called the argumentum ad verecundiam.
Demand 2: [The article] mischaracterizes various theories and practices relating to religious identity and conversion; for example, the author gives an off-hand example about conversion to Judaism.
This is a fallacy of equivocation because in the context of the article, Ms. Tuvel clearly uses an analogical form of argumentation of religious conversion and sexual conversion that is not meant to be inferred as direct equals. To infer as such is to equivocate the analogy and completely miss the point being made.
Demand 3: [The article] misrepresents leading accounts of belonging to a racial group; for example, the author incorrectly cites Charles Mills as a defender of voluntary racial identification.
Strictly speaking, this is an informal fallacy, only because the premise is absolutely false. In other words, it’s not so much an error of logical reasoning as it is a straight-up untrue statement. As the Daily Nous notes, “Point 3 is just plain false.” Tuvel cites her sources, and even uses a quoted sentence from Mills: “Charles Mills identifies at least five categories generally relevant to the determination of racial membership, including “self-awareness of ancestry, public awareness of ancestry, culture, experience, and self-identification” (Mills 1998, 50).”
Demand 4: [The article] fails to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color) in its discussion of “transracialism”. We endorse Hypatia’s stated commitment to “actively reflect and engage the diversity within feminism, the diverse experiences and situations of women, and the diverse forms that gender takes around the globe,” and we find that this submission was published without being held to that commitment.
In other words, the letter rejected the authority of the scholars she did cite, only because they were not “women of color”. This is a gross form of ad hominem that denies an individual’s ability to reason cogently simply because they speak from a perspective external to the identity in question. It makes the personal experience, the identity, or the subjectivity superior to the logic, essence, or objectivity of the argument. This is so much existential claptrap, and it is no wonder that the offended place the priority of their offense over the merits of the case.
Ms. Tuvel perhaps realizes this herself, as she notes, “Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they ‘dignify’ the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger.”
She’s absolutely right. But why is she surprised?
Hypatia did issue an apology for harm — actual harm — that this discussion may have brought about. The harm from this apology to logic itself is more real than any harm the original article could have ever had. Reason is abandoned, and fallacy reigns king (or queen, or “other” — who am I to judge?)
Hypatia‘s refusal to defend either Tuvel or logic in this apology should be a clarion call to any serious intellectual that is interested in the pursuit of truth. Today’s epistemology is more interested in emotion than truth, no matter how sound your argument may be. Even though I disagree with Tuvel on many things in her article, I would never censor her argument.
In a dialectical irony, some of her critics defended shutting down the paper because of her misuse of the dialectical. “It isn’t that dissent and disagreement aren’t welcome or even inevitable. Tuvel BUTCHERED dialectical treatment of race and gender,” wrote Zoe Samudzi.
Never mind that Tuvel didn’t “butcher” any dialectical treatment (I thought it was quite fair) — but censoring an argument is the absolute OPPOSITE of a dialectical treatment.
Hypatia should be ashamed of itself; its offended readers should abandon their existential self-indulgence; and Ms. Tuvel should continue to fight using reason. As she notes, however, “the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.” I would amend that those who would censor rather than discuss are no philosophers at all.
Update: Hypatia’s editor several days later did in fact issue a statement defending Tuvel and their publication of her article, stating “that it is utterly inappropriate for editors to repudiate an article they have accepted for publication (barring issues of plagiarism or falsification of data). In this respect, editors must stand behind the authors of accepted papers. That is where I stand. Professor Tuvel’s paper went through the peer review process and was accepted by the reviewers and by me.”
This is welcome, and stands in stark contrast to their Facebook page’s original statement.