In the light of a number of recent postings and discussions on Facebook, I have pondered whether to make a general comment about courtesy, and the lack of it, in the profession. On the one hand, this could just be moral grandstanding on my part, as Brandon Warmke has warned us. But if it makes some difference to someone somewhere, then it will have been worth it.
When I first became a professional philosopher, exchanges were often fairly aggressive, manifesting more of a desire to score a point than to aid the speaker in improving the paper. Of late, or so it seems to me, the tone at colloquia and conferences has become more collegial and helpful – a very desirable change.
However, there have also been outbreaks, on social media and elsewhere, of what I can only describe as, at worst, vicious personal attacks or, at best, thoughtlessly hurtful remarks. I expect I am not alone in having occasionally made snide comments about other philosophers in private conversations: something that I regret. However, snide and hurtful comments made in the public arena are another, and much more serious matter. I think it is easy (at least I have found it so) to think of what is posted on Facebook and elsewhere as merely an extension of a private chat that happens to encompass a rather wider audience. A moment’s reflection shows that this is false. Remarks posted here are PUBLIC. Even if they are not addressed to all, they can be easily disseminated to others.
I would hope that we can do better than being merely courteous to each other; we should be friendly and supportive. But we should, AT LEAST, be courteous, especially in social media. Not only will good people be deterred from being philosophers, but those who have started out on the professional path are especially vulnerable to sarcasm, snarkiness, and worse. For many years I was unpublished, comparatively unknown, and consequently suffered from imposter syndrome (as it is now called). People in that position desperately need support and encouragement. I was lucky to get it, but one remark can cut deep. (In my case, it was a rejection letter, which I can still remember, which read, in part: What you say on p. xx is little short of disastrous. No explanation.)
What is to be done? One obvious thing that established members of the profession, whose careers are secure, can do is to make clear to offenders that such behaviour is completely unacceptable. More needs to be done, and should be done. But this is something many of us can do without waiting for systemic changes.