Susan Haack — Passionate Moderate

Susan Haack is one of my absolutely favourite living (and still very active) philosophers. The appellation Passionate Moderate had such deep resonance from the moment I read her eponymously titled book. (This is a great book to read if you are coming to formal philosophy for the first time: Susan writes without ever being “jargony” or condescending and whose interests are very much recognizably a part of the “real” world). Susan, I fear, seems to be a last vestige of decency, integrity, humaneness and intellectual honesty — in a prevailing climate of sanctimonious know-alls, a ruling class of (very clever but hardly wise) illiberal groupthink hipsters, hucksters and bullies. Pretty much everything that Susan says substantively is notable for its modesty. Susan has a lovely disposition: a mix of commonsense informed by the scholarly and the empirical  always tempered by a dose of humour and fearlessly scathing if need be. It’s worthwhile reading Richard Carrier’s interview with Susan:

I am not, however, like so many, an evangelical atheist. I will tell anyone who asks what my views are; but I’m not inclined to try to dissuade religious people from their convictions—in fact, I’m repelled by evangelism, whether for religion or against it, and allergic to atheism-adopted-with-religious-fervor. I’m especially disturbed by the recently popular (and disagreeably self-congratulatory) idea that atheists are somehow smarter than religious people—not true, in my experience: I know plenty of thoughtful and intelligent religious people, and plenty of shallow and none-too-bright atheists.

I’m sorry to say that our profession seems to me in even worse shape now than it did then. It has become terribly hermetic and self-absorbed; bogged down in pretentious and pseudo-technical jargon; in the thrall of those dreadful “rankings”; and splintered into narrow specialisms and—even worse—cliques identified, not by a specialty, but by a shared view on a specialized issue. A friend of mine put it in a nutshell when she described professional philosophy as “in a nose-dive.”

When setting up EPISTEME I asked Susan to provide a paper for the first issue and moreover get her to London to speak at the EPISTEME launch — little did I know that she was arriving from China that very day and was not feeling well at all, a real trooper!

Take some time to listen to the lectures I’ve posted below and you will see that in every aspect of her philosophical interests however disparate they may seem, Aristotle’s “appropriate feelings” is the thread. It’s in the last video that her absolute (moral and intellectual) brilliance comes through, a function of the intimate format.