Tuvel’s Hypatia Article

There is a ton of commentary on this controversy, so I won’t try to summarize it.

This wiki page does a decent job, as far as I can tell.

Here is Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In defense of transracialism.” It may be helpful to read it before weighing in on the controversy.

It is unfortunate that Tuvel failed to engage more deeply with the work of non-white and transgender scholars prior to publishing her article. The editors of Hypatia should have required such engagement. I suppose the peer reviewers chosen did not have the required expertise in the relevant subfields. Peer review, while absolutely essential in all academic disciplines, remains a largely unpaid form of scholarly labor. Established, tenured or tenure-track professors can donate more of their time to it. Scholars who are transgendered, non-white, and/or female must struggle to find a place in the predominantly white male discipline of professional philosophy, so I imagine finding time to accept requests to peer review articles for free is extremely difficult. So there are structural problems here preventing thorough review of such articles.

That said, it is also unfortunate that Tuvel’s critics for the most part appear to have entirely ignored her argument, speculative though it may be. Tuvel does cite the transgender scholar Susan Stryker, whose call is important in the context of the backlash over the article’s publication:

I follow transgender theorist Susan Stryker’s call for those of us thinking through the Jenner–Dolezal comparison to “hold open a space for real intellectual curiosity, for investigations that deepen our understanding of how identity claims and processes function, rather than rushing to offer well-formed opinions based on what we already think we know” (Stryker 2015).

It may very well be the case that Tuvel’s arguments are spurious, that issues surrounding racial and gender identity transitions cannot or should not be so easily compared. But even if she is wrong, I think there are many live philosophical questions here worth exploring. Identity formation is not a simple enough matter to warrant bypassing critical reflection to denounce anyone and everyone who dares to make unpopular arguments. It is interesting to note the gap between what people said in public about Tuvel’s article versus what they told her in private.

[Update: Adding a link to Kelly Oliver’s take on this dust up, which is supportive of Stryker’s call: HERE]

Petals Rising

I forgot about this short poem I penned back in August on the inside of the back cover of Ramey’s book after sitting on a bench intending to read in a rose garden in Golden Gate Park. It seems relevant to some of what I’ve covered above:


I stand here watching

rose petals fall.

I pick up a fallen flower.

I see

the beauty of this rose

in falling petals;

the light of that sun

in burning plasma.

This rose


only petals curling

from an unseen center.

This living rose


an eternal idea whose light

spirals brightly out of a

still silent stem.

Gradually arriving in time–

instantly arising in space–




to show itself,

curling into colored folds,

descending into death,

dissolving into soil.

Once arising,

now falling away,

it is again




This living rose,

just like

the Living God,

is a dance of veils:

in the glances of many

passing faces,

one by one,

God and the rose reveal their lightness.

In the end,

last petal fallen,

all that is left

is you.

You are the breathing of the world

inward to thought,

outward to being;

You are a cosmic force

from beyond

the earth.

To be you,

to be this rose,

to be this rose in you,

or you in this rose,

is to be between ecstasies.

The essence of this rose

is the scent released

by its corpse

into sun-warmed air,

there lifted from my hand

and delivered the stars above my head.

Belief in a Personal God

The following is my response to the theologian Jason Michael McCann’s blog post about the personal nature of God in the Christian tradition. Yesterday, he posted a critical response to one of my short essays on materialism and imagination that I will also respond to soon.

The distinction between truth and fact (which I understand to be similar to that between archetypal/a priori and experiential/a posteriori knowledge, respectively) is very helpful. Your point that Medieval Christians were not trying to explain the measurable motion of matter, but rather (as I see it) to understand the existence of personality in the universe (which, indeed, seems to require entering into a loving relationship with this universe and His/Her/Its* personality or spirit) is also well taken. Post-Enlightenment materialists like Richard Dawkins refer to the “God hypothesis,” and dismiss it as unscientific since scientific explanation must refer only to natural phenomena. God is supposedly immaterial because supernatural, and to admit the existence of such a being (with each of His/Her/Its usual characteristics, especially omnipotence) would put all scientific attempts to explain the universe by reference only to physical phenomena in a rather uncertain epistemic situation. All the sudden, natural phenomena no longer exist and behave as a result of arbitrarily imposed “physical law,” but instead draw their being from the Being of God, and act according to His/Her/Its grace. But Christianity is not committed to an engineer’s conception of the universe, wherein “God” serves the role of explaining how the whole thing was designed and put together. God is not, as I imagine Him/Her/It, a clock-maker who oversees the proper functioning of the cosmic machine, interfering with its natural processes to perform miracles at various points of human history. God, rather than a hypothesis, is the very basis of my own existence, confirmed not by scientific proof but by the immediate relationship or felt presence of divinity in my personal and interpersonal life. God is present in my life as the voice of conscience which I know guides not only myself, but every human being. It is not my voice, it is the voice of God. His message and only commandment is simple: “Love.” We do not always have the ears to hear this voice, of course. We can become deaf to its gospel. Sin is a reality.
As for your reading of my thesis [“that autonomous human imagination and creativity is able to construct its own reality”], I would remove the words “autonomous” and “own.” The human imagination is to the divine imagination what the microcosm is to the macrocosm. As Coleridge put it, imagination is: “…the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and is a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I am.”
You write: “Like the primal relationship between mother and child, the primordial relationship between Creator and creature is one which occurs within the interiority of the human spirit without the demand of either party lacking concrete reality.” The notion of our relationship to God being only interior feels lacking to me. My relationship to the exterior cosmos as God incarnate is no less revelatory (indeed, perhaps it is more so). Earlier in your essay, you spoke of personality being a pre-requisite for sociability. I’d want to balance this statement by pointing out the opposite but equally reasonable notion that personality depends upon relationship. I do not think there is a specific point in time when a developing human becomes completely “cognitive” or self-conscious. There is a continuous movement toward more consciousness, if we’re lucky, but never a sharp break where we move from “dependent” to completely autonomous. My identity is never fully my own, as I remain dependent for the entirety of my life upon my relationships with others. Others are forever like mothers, in this sense. I can only be as intimate with myself as I can be with others, since I come to know who I am as a result of the way others respond to me. Personality is constituted by love and its need for both expression and recognition. I note in closing that the notion of a personal God would (if the above is valid) imply that God is not unaffected by human love.
*(sorry for the clumsy use of pronouns, but I think the nature of God is neither exclusively masculine or feminine, nor exclusively personal… Men [Him], women [Her], and children are made in the image of God, as is the universe [It]).