OPINIONWritten by Stephanie Zarecki | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gadzooks! After reading Reid Ahlbeck’s ghost story about the reign of “Theory” in the College of Arts and Sciences at UT, I feel like I need to climb in bed, pull the sheets over my head, and count to ten until the bad things go away (“Even Chomsky opposes politically correct theory,” May 23 online exclusive). A superstitious response to an outrageous story. If philosophy (my discipline) is good for anything (it is in fact good for many things) it is its power to dispel illusion by substituting critical and careful thought for sloppy, badly argued, ill-informed drivel — like Ahlbeck’s ghost story.
So, what is “Theory”? Ahlbeck never tells us (it’s scarier that way!). He only lets us know we ought to be very afraid of it. In short: theories are explanations. That is why we have theories of evolution, of quantum physics, of reality, of gender and race, of emotion, etc. Some of these theories are controversial in everyday discussion, like the theory of evolution or the labor theory of value. Almost all theories are controversial in academic discourse, because some theories are good and some theories are bad and scholars have to sort the good from the bad. A pseudo-ideological theory is presumably bad (history — which we study at UT — is full of examples). A “relativistic” theory might be bad, but it might not be bad if the truth is indeed relative or constructed or a consequence of what we do and agree to rather than something absolute, inaccessible, or independent of life as we experience it every day.
But wait. Ahlbeck can’t be afraid of that! That’s just research and scholarship. So maybe he’s seen something at UT that I haven’t seen? After all, according to Ahlbeck, “academic power struggles in the College of Arts and Sciences represent one prime local example of the fierce ‘Theory (or Culture) Wars,’” and “a publicly funded conglomeration of Theory factories (universities), mass-producing Marxist/feminist propaganda, postmodern gibberish and the indoctrination and consent of young minds.” Holy Guacamole! Ahlbeck “sees dead people,” because I haven’t seen any of this! So I put on my special “see-dead-people glasses” and do a virtual walk of UT’s corridors and what do I find? Nothing. I take them off again and see scholars of history trying to help young minds grasp the past in relation to the present, scholars of literature teaching texts in Old English, scholars of Women’s and Gender Studies introducing young minds to impact of war on Sudanese women and children, and scholars of philosophy writing essays to newspapers that demonstrate the following: Reid Ahlbeck does not know what he is talking about. He conjures ghosts, manufactures political and ideological struggles that simply do not exist at UT, and admonishes academics whose work he cannot begin to understand. To Mr. Ahlbeck — and to all our students and constituents — we at UT pursue the truth whether or not it reaffirms the obvious and comfortable, whether or not it conforms to commonly accepted opinion. That is called scholarship (and it has been called this since the inception of the university in the 10th century), and its consequence is called ‘enlightenment’ which we fervently hope will help us worry about more important things than Reid Ahlbeck’s scary monsters.
Ben Pryor is chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Co-Director, Program in Law and Social Thought, University of Toledo.