Thank You . . . and a Note on Pronouns.

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Rick Visser

I just now came upon your blog and wanted to say how refreshing it is, and how impressive it is from a purely human standpoint. It is generous, unpretentious, knowledgeable, informative, instructive, kind, and well-connected to heaven and earth. In other words, it is free inquiry at its best. Clearly, it is the product of a deep, clear and gentle mind.

I must raise one issue, an issue which I’m sure you’ve addressed many times. Your decision to use the male pronoun is seen by many–very many–as a stumbling block. I’m sure you know this and have already addressed it, but I must raise it. In much philosophical literature the pronoun ‘her’ has become the preferred pronoun. And I must say, I concur with this protocol. I have come to think that we men should, as a matter of courtesy, use the female pronoun and women should do whatever they like. Th field of philosophy has been dominated by men since time out of mind. It is time for “redemption” and “redress.” And it simply must be done.

Among the young people I am in touch with (I am 74) your decision would be interpreted as archaic–at best. When I read today’s post (May 29, 2020), I was shocked to see: “This inner truth is the only truth that matters to man as man. . . ” Surely, one could just as easily have used “person to person” rather than “man to man”. And on May 20, where you wrote: “…some philosophers including David Hume argue that all man’s knowledge requires…” you could just as easily have written: “all human knowledge” rather than “all man’s knowledge”. Or so it seems to me.

I make this point only as part of my greater aim of commending you and thanking you for what you are doing: you are a blessing to the world, a world that is, on many days, much too fierce, even among those who think of themselves as more thoughtful, more enlightened. On most days I feel close to Socrates: “like a man who has fallen among beasts, unwilling to share their misdeeds and unable to hold out singly against the savagery of all . . . he remains quiet, minds his own affair, and, as it were, standing aside under shelter of a wall in a storm and blast of dust and sleet . . . is content if in any way he may keep himself free from iniquity and unholy deeds through this life and take his departure with fair hope, serene and well content when the end comes (Plato’s Republic Book VI).

Even among philosophy blogs, yours stand out in a very worthy and touching way. Again, Thank you, and

best wishes, rvisser

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  • Edit
    AvatarGreg Ciliberti

    Rick,
    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful remarks about my site. I appreciate your expressing your opinion on the value of its content to readers and welcome your input on both its strengths and defects.
    I would like to respond to your very fair comments on pronouns. When I decided to take on the task of translating the philosophy of the great thinkers into practical guidance for living a meaningful life, I gave considerable thought to this issue. I sought the advice of my adult daughter who majored in women’s studies; she concurred (perhaps reluctantly) that masculine pronouns and references should be acceptable in this situation. I believe you saw my page on disclaimers published October 25, 2018 which included this statement:
    “Last disclaimer: in writing of this type an author must decide on pronouns and articles. It seems to me that the masculine form of these is most usual and reads better than naming both genders repetitively, switching between them, or limiting pronouns to ‘one’ or ‘they.’ So let me state for the record, while I will most often use the male gender, everything applies to both genders and the word ‘man’ can be universally substituted as ‘woman’ or even ‘human’, though I find this less fluid to the reader. I certainly hope no one will take offense, and as in all things, I am open to suggestions and comments on a preferred alternative.”
    With your prompting, I believe this should be revisited. Overnight I reviewed essays published in The Philosopher’s Magazine by authors of both genders and some contemporary philosophy books I have on hand, and I see you are absolutely correct. In fact, it appears to me that the state of the art is to avoid either gender in general, but instead use first and second person pronouns, and the designations - person, people, human, humanity, individual, etc. exclusively. My only defense is my ignorance to changing standards, my mirroring of classic thinkers, and the absence of an editor. It is of course a sobering reminder that my philosophical journey began nearly 5 decades ago in the mid 1970s.
    That said, in the future I pledge to avoid gender in writing except when it is absolutely unavoidable in which case I will commit to use the female pronoun and limit the male pronouns to reference to specific individuals. (God remains the biggest challenge!) I also plan to edit all 251 of my prior posts to this end…although that will take some time.
    Again thanks for visiting Philosophicalguidance.com and helping make it the best possible. I am always open to comments and criticism.
    Regards,
    Greg Ciliberti

    • Edit
      AvatarRick Visser

      In your defense, I found this in my reading today, from T. L. S. Sprigge's "The God of Metaphysics" (2006). Of course he was an older British gentleman (Died July 11, 2007, 75 years old):

      "I ask the reader at this point to note that henceforth in this book
      pronouns referring back to ‘God’ will mostly be grammatically masculine. Most of the philosophers discussed in the book think of God neither as father-like nor as mother-like, but ‘he or she’ might suggest that God was both, and ‘it’ could be misleading in another way (while ‘she’ alone looks as though a point is being made). I shall also occasionally capitalize ‘He’ with reference to God, partly for clarity. Incidentally, in speaking of an indefinite person, I shall use ‘he’ rather than ‘he or she’ in order not to make my prose more tortuous than it has to be, while alternative uses of ‘he’ and ‘she’ would be unhelpfully distracting in a book of this kind." (p.29)
      You can download the whole book here:
      phttps://www.academia.edu/4205961/the_god_of_metaphysics_by_sprigge

      • Edit
        AvatarGreg Ciliberti

        Fascinating! I am not familiar with Professor Sprigge, but seem to have come to his position in my own writing by accident.
        Still tonight I perused Julian Baggini's - "The Edge of Reason" - published in 2016 and he avoids gender pronouns except for particular individuals. Also Roger Scruton, a British conservative philosopher, in his 1996 book - "An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy" - uses predominately first and second person and neutral nouns such as human and humanity. I suspect you and they are more in touch with current taste and I intend to follow that course.

        I would love any other feedback on my blogs and thanks for your interest in the site.

        Greg

        • Edit
          AvatarRick Visser

          I am particularly interested in skepticism right now and have become quite fascinated with Robert Pasnau's article “Snatching Hope from the Jaws of Epistemic Defeat,” Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (2015) 257-75. (available at his website: https://spot.colorado.edu/~pasnau/inprint/

          I'm also interested in reading his recent book, "After Certainty: A History of Our Epistemic Ideals and Illusions" (Oxford: OUP, 2017).

          Thank you for what you are doing. rv

  • Edit
    AvatarRick Visser

    Thanks much for your response. I appreciate it. Yes, I had read your disclaimer. And from your response (which surprised me) I think I have caused you some considerable trouble; I wish I could help you make the necessary changes. Perhaps it would be easier and completely OK with your readers if you simply told them that as of such and such a date, you changed your practice on this question. Perhaps create a post on just this issue, perhaps tied to a broader topic.

    Regarding God's gender; I am reading much secondary literature on Spinoza right now and notice that it is not an issue when authors write about God sive Nature. Though great care is taken. Of course, Spinoza did everything he could to dissolve all anthropomorphic conceptions of God. Perhaps it is an issue that only arises in theism. In the Indian religions--Hinduism and Buddhism, and perhaps others--no issue of course, but for other reasons. Taoism: no issue. This might be an interesting topic in itself.

    Again, thank you for your kind response, and I wish you all the very best in what you are doing,

    Rick

  • Edit
    AvatarRick Visser

    I am particularly interested in skepticism right now and have become quite fascinated with Robert Pasnau's article “Snatching Hope from the Jaws of Epistemic Defeat,” Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (2015) 257-75. (available at his website: https://spot.colorado.edu/~pasnau/inprint/

    I'm also interested in reading his recent book, "After Certainty: A History of Our Epistemic Ideals and Illusions" (Oxford: OUP, 2017).

    Thank you for what you are doing. rv

    • Edit
      AvatarGreg Ciliberti

      I also find skepticism intriguing, and in fact, my next two posts address it though of course only superficially and mainly in contradistinction to certainty. I will try to look at Professor Pasnau's article this weekend, and offer what humble comments I can to follow.

      Regard,

      Greg