Some Reflections on Leiter's Insult

What really bothered me about Leiter's gratuitous crack at my competence to talk productively with philosophers on Bloggingheads TV (which he later softened) was his apparent assumption that somebody else would be talking to all those philosophers if I wasn't. But I don't think that's the case. I don't have the sense that I'm simply filling a niche someone else would be filling were I not in it. It's the niche I've made.
I'm proud that Free Will is, I think, I fairly intellectually high-brow show, yet relatively accessible to non-experts. And I've made it a continuing project to try to introduce a slightly broader public to issues in contemporary moral and political philosophy, and especially moral psychology, which is a particular interest of mine. I would in fact be truly excited to talk to Leiter about his work on Nietzsche's naturalism, which I admire very much, and which would fit very well with a few of the show's main themes. It's certainly true that I decided I did not want a career as a philosophy professor. But I do think of myself as a practicing philosopher, and a member of the philosophical community, if only a marginal one. The progress and reputation of philosophy as a discipline is important to me, and one of my aims with Free Will has been to do some small thing to show the interest and relevance of current of work in philosophy. It's been really gratifying to me that a sizeable number of philosophers and philosophy students have told me they appreciate that.
And I guess that's what really bugged me about Leiter's crack. I'd like to think he would appreciate the small service I have done and am trying to do for philosophy and the community of philosophers. Like many others, I benefited from Leiter's program rankings when I was looking at grad schools, and I'm grateful for all the work he's put into it. I really don't mind if Leiter abhors my politics. I certainly don't care for his. (Let's debate it!) And I don't mind if he thinks there are other people who could do a better job talking with philosophers on BHTV. Probably there are. But this is an opportunity I've been given, and I have used it to bring a lot of philosophers on the show because I think what they do is important and deserves wider notice. I think Leiter and I should be able to agree about that.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center