From Oct. 24, 2016
Ok, so the APA has a code of conduct now. Several people have been raising questions about whether it could be used to silence people, and the questions are well taken. This code joins about 25 or so “Statements” that the APA has made over the years, having to do with a range of things, some related to ethics and some not.
Here’s what I’ve always found a bit strange – if you compare the APA’s statement to ethics statements in other disciplines, you find nothing about any ethical stance toward the objects of inquiry in the discipline. Anthropologists include in their statement issues about the treatment of research subjects. So do most other disciplines. In philosophy, though, we assume that we have no research subjects, or rather, that our objects of investigation are concepts which have no place, no source, and no audiences.
But of course, concepts do come from places, and that’s not just a contingent feature of their existence. If we assume that all concepts are already universal ones, and their source is irrelevant, it is no wonder that we have a hard time thinking philosophies of culture. It is no wonder it has taken so long for the organization to wrap its mind around the possibility that women’s experience is a unique source of concepts.
This occurred to me long ago because of African philosophy (and, it should be said, if the APA ever gets around to thinking about the sources of its concepts as having ethical standing, I’d like this to be known as an African philosophical contribution to the field). Odera Oruka went out to interview sages about philosophical concepts – is there any responsibility to those people, to represent those concepts faithfully, or to at least always recognize that a concept came from somewhere? What if we’re talking about concepts that come from linguistic structures, as people like Kwasi Wiredu and (in a different way) Barry Hallen have argued? Are there ethical standards we need in philosophy when we admit that the universal and the particular are in some way connected, or do we end up just absorbing all concepts into the great ocean of philosophical concepts, and so yet again miss any contribution made by cultures or people outside of the mainstream?
So, I think we need a new project – an ethics of philosophy which is not just a prelude to thought (i.e., how do we treat each other as professionals), but is embedded in our thought. It is ironic that the discipline that claims ethics as one of its areas, doesn’t actually apply that to its own scholarly activity.