Journal of Controversial Ideas

(ISSN: 2694-5991) Open Access Journal
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Controversial Ideas, Volume 3, Issue 1 (April 2023)
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* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 1; doi: 10.35995/jci03010001
Received: 26 Sep 2022 / Revised: 14 Feb 2023 / Accepted: 16 Feb 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
Merit is a central pillar of liberal epistemology, humanism, and democracy. The scientific enterprise, built on merit, has proven effective in generating scientific and technological advances, reducing suffering, narrowing social gaps, and improving the quality of life globally. This perspective documents the ongoing attempts to undermine the core principles of liberal epistemology and to replace merit with non-scientific, politically motivated criteria. We explain the philosophical origins of this conflict, document the intrusion of ideology into our scientific institutions, discuss the perils of abandoning merit, and offer an alternative, human-centered approach to address existing social inequalities. Full article
1 Department of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 2; doi: 10.35995/jci03010002
Received: 17 Feb 2023 / Revised: 1 Apr 2023 / Accepted: 3 Apr 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
How can historians of philosophy justify spending the preponderance of their professional lives writing about historical philosophers who held racist views? I use the controversy over University of Edinburgh’s David Hume Tower as a jumping-off place for discussion of this issue. I argue that worthwhile philosophical ideas in historical philosophers can be conceptually isolated from their racist views. Full article
1 California State University, Chico, CA, USA
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Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 3; doi: 10.35995/jci03010003
Received: 3 Oct 2021 / Revised: 11 Mar 2023 / Accepted: 26 Mar 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
We offer a consequentialist-based rejection of a recent argument claiming that patients should no longer be required to specify a sex category (i.e., mark “male” or “female”) on healthcare forms. The targeted argument—based on claims that non-binary and transgender patients experience negative consequences when asked to choose a sex category—fails because (1) no data are provided to support this claim; (2) the broader consequences of removing this information have not been considered; and (3) eliminating the sex category question is unlikely to solve the problems identified. Full article
1 Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong;
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Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 4; doi: 10.35995/jci03010004
Received: 15 Jan 2022 / Revised: 17 Oct 2022 / Accepted: 8 Feb 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
Several recent arguments trying to justify further free speech restrictions by appealing to harms that are allegedly serious enough to warrant such restrictions regularly fail to provide sufficient empirical evidence and normative argument. The two recent arguments critically examined here confirm this picture. Ann E. Cudd tries to make all kinds of clearly protected free speech responsible for “trauma.” However, she misrepresents the psychological studies she relies on and her account legitimizes anti-speech violence on a massive scale, which renders it morally absurd. Melina Constantine Bell tries to combine John Stuart Mill and psychological studies to argue that sexist and racial jokes and slurs produce severe harm and should therefore be restricted. Yet the studies are flimsy and the picture of Mill unrecognizable. I will, then, address, as a corrective to the one-sidedness of those who warn against the alleged harms of free speech, the harms imposed by compelled speech, using the topical example of compelling people to use female pronouns for males who claim to be women. I show that this practice is abusive and wrongful. I conclude with a reminder about the nature of liberal democracy. Its raison d’être is not protection from harm per se but the safeguarding of freedom. There are no convincing reasons to further restrict or, especially, to compel speech, but every reason to defend free speech. Full article
1 Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 5; doi: 10.35995/jci03010005
Received: 7 Oct 2022 / Revised: 3 Apr 2023 / Accepted: 4 Apr 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
In recent years, pronouns have become a white-hot interface between language and social and political issues. “My pronouns are he/they” signals allegiance to one side in the culture wars, as does “My pronouns are whatever.” But there is surprisingly little philosophical work at this interface; this paper aims to chart the main questions and argue for some answers, with the hope of stimulating more research. Full article
1 Department of Philosophy, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 6; doi: 10.35995/jci03010006
Received: 11 Jan 2022 / Revised: 1 Mar 2023 / Accepted: 30 Mar 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
Over the past decade, many politicians and celebrities in North America have found themselves embroiled in scandals that involved them having worn black make-up and in at least one incident white make-up. In most of these cases, the used make-up was part of a costume for Halloween, Purim, Carnival, or a themed party. This article challenges the view that wearing cross-racial make-up on such occasions as part of personal costumes—as opposed to costumes that are integral to specific cultural traditions, such as the New Orleans Zulu parade—is always wrong. To do so, it assesses the five most promising objections to this practice. Although some of these objections count against certain uses of cross-racial make-up, I show that in several high-profile cases where such make-up was worn, none of them had force, whether because the objections themselves were implausible and/or because they did not apply. Full article
1 Health Professionals Support Association, London, UK;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 7; doi: 10.35995/jci03010007
Received: 11 May 2021 / Revised: 19 Feb 2023 / Accepted: 21 Feb 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
Cases of practitioner ill-health and suicide have been attributed to disciplinary proceedings carried out by healthcare regulators. The methods operated by regulatory bodies when investigating claims of practitioner wrongdoing exhibit judicial irregularities and raise significant ethical concerns. Revealing how and where regulators fail to execute their fitness-to-practise responsibilities constructively creates a starting point from which fairer and safer systems of regulatory interventions can be considered. This paper is an analysis of how the regulatory establishment administers fitness-to-practise procedures, and endeavours to identify how existing approaches cause harm and undermine the integrity of regulatory oversight. Full article
1 HPRS, Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 8; doi: 10.35995/jci03010008
Received: 7 Nov 2021 / Revised: 15 Feb 2023 / Accepted: 14 Mar 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
This article argues that non-consensual vaccination is morally impermissible, for the same reasons for which sexual assault is not permissible. Likewise, mandatory vaccination is morally akin to sexual harassment, and therefore is not to be allowed. Full article
1 University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA;
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* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 9; doi: 10.35995/jci03010009
Received: 7 May 2022 / Revised: 16 Mar 2023 / Accepted: 30 Mar 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
The authors locate contemporary fissures in academic freedom in two interrelated macro-societal developments that intensified across the second half of the twentieth century: massification, involving the exponential expansion of higher education, and standardization, an isomorphism of structure and content in academic organization. The article develops a theoretic argument that the unfurling of higher education nationally and globally together with its sociocultural consistency creates a supranatural order endowed with unprecedented power centered in the core actors of universities. While these historical developments create for universities a dominant moral authority in the contemporary epoch, they also engender moralism—an evaluation of speech, writing, and behavior that venerates emotion. To illustrate the strategies of those who deploy moralism, a comparison is drawn between moralism’s contemporary instantiation in higher education and the early medieval Catholic church’s approach to perceived competitors. The comparison demonstrates that while displays of moralism in higher education may be comparatively new, their historical uses are well-worn. While massification and standardization have entailed individual and societal benefits, a rise of moralism obstructs the academic freedom on which institutions of higher education depend. Full article
1 Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine;
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1), 10; doi: 10.35995/jci03010010
Received: 23 Aug 2022 / Revised: 20 Apr 2023 / Accepted: 24 Apr 2023 / Published: 28 Apr 2023
The 2022 article “Legislation restricting gender-affirming care for transgender youth: Politics eclipse healthcare” by K. L. Kraschel et al. implies that attempts in the United States to restrict medical interventions for gender dysphoria are due to political motivations. Although there are likely some whose stance on these interventions is based upon politics, there are sound medical reasons, independent of politics, for advocating for more cautious medical intervention protocols. Neglecting mention of these reasons obscures the fact that medical intervention outcomes are difficult to predict and that serious risks and irreversible consequences are present. In other countries, following extensive evidence review, supportive alternatives to medical intervention are being prioritized instead. Here, several claims of Kraschel et al. regarding the state of medical intervention healthcare are compared to the research evidence and shown to fall short. Healthcare issues alone justify challenging current United States medical treatment protocols. Full article

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