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Why Call for Heterodoxy in the Academy?

By Preston Stovall

In a series of three essays published at Crooked Timber, philosopher John Holbo argues that the Heterodox Academy’s campaign against ideological homogeneity in the academy is not well founded. Holbo’s argument takes the form of a reductio ad absurdam, developed over his first two essays. Suppose Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) is true. According to MFT, the left-dominated academy of today is characterized by a lack of individuals who respect the loyalty/authority/purity axis of moral sentiment. This results in a narrowness of moral vision that, so the Heterodox Academy tells us, leads to problems. At the same time, (Holbo argues) PC-culture displays reverence for values along just that axis—for what is all the protesting and shouting down of debate, the aggressive suppression of those who disagree with orthodoxy, and the call for safe space from microaggressions, etc., but the display of loyalty to a cause, respect for the authority advancing that cause, and an emphasis on social purity? Thus, by MFT’s lights, these displays of outrage should be the corrective to the problems the members of the Heterodox Academy are pointing to. But the Heterodox Academy takes precisely the opposite stance. And so the project is incoherent.