Ted Honderich, Persona Non GrataBrian Leiter, on his Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, reported back in 2005 in the paragraph below on a piece by Ted Honderich on the website CounterPunch -- and issued invitations to comment. The comments, including his own, follow his invitations.
Ted Honderich, now emeritus at University College London, is best-known to philosophers for his work on free will and determinism. More recently, his views on the moral right of Palestinians to utilize terrorism against Israel have attracted considerable attention and controversy. Professor Honderich here describes a curious series of events involving conference invitations that were withdrawn, relocated, protested, and so on. One involves the LSE. I'm opening comments, in case anyone has first-hand knowledge of these matters. No anonymous postings, of course. (By the way, the Counterpunch bio describes Honderich as Britain's "outstanding progressive philosopher." Thoughts on this welcome, also.)
I don't have any inside knowledge of the events discussed in Hondereich's article, and I'm not sure whether he is *the* outstanding progressive philosopher in Britain. I do think, though, that he is one of the most interesting political philosophers around, possessing a constellation of philosophical virtues that few in the field share. He is clear-headed and rigorous, but also challenging and radical - radical because he follows arguments where they lead, not because he affects radical postures. He is prepared to get his hands dirty by looking closely at difficult political questions (like terrorism and the Israel-Palestine conflict) and drawing provocative, surprising conclusions. He is not afraid of making himself unpopular, and does not set out just to bolster any liberal democratic or other consensus. In all these respects, I think he captures an approach that is unfortunately absent from most political philosophy these days. I wish that there were more like him.
Posted by: Simon Keller | February 21, 2005 08:15 AM
(2) Before (and, to some extent, even after) Oslo, the Palestinian leadership (PLO) did not recognize Israel's right to exist, and with the aid of a major power (USSR), sought as a policy matter, to destroy Israel, and replace it with a Palestinian state, with all non-Middle Eastern Jews to be expelled to Europe.
Thus, even if one accepts the very dubious (especially because this was the Palestinians' first, not last, resort) argument that terrorism is a valid tactic to use to achieve the goal of a Palestinian state in the territories formerly occupied by Egypt and Jordan, and currently occupied by Israel, the actual history of Palestinian terrorism (which actually starts in the 1920s, and ramps up with the founding of the PLO in 1964, obviously before the "occupation") doesn't match Honderich's justification.
Posted by: David Bernstein | February 21, 2005 12:14 PM
Posted by: Neil | February 21, 2005 05:46 PM
Posted by: David Bernstein | February 21, 2005 06:27 PM
Finally, to put all my cards on the table, I don't think Palestinian terrorism is just. Not because I think terrorism is always wrong, but because I think that anyone who resorts to it has a very heavy burden of proof to shoulder: to show that the consequences are likely to be good enough to outweigh the suffering inflicted. I think that it is very likely that Palestinian terrorism makes the situation of everyone worse off, and makes a just settlement less likely. If one bomb could lead to the creation of two states with pre-1967 borders, I would support using that bomb. But instead every bomb strengthens the hands of the extremists on both sides (as the extremists on both sides well know).
Posted by: Neil | February 21, 2005 06:51 PM
Like Simon Keller, I lack inside knowledge of the events discussed in the article quoted by Prof Leiter. All I can do is express my agreement with what Keller says. I agree with him that Honderich is "challenging and radical", and that he is so because "he follows arguments where they lead". I also agree that this is a virtue, and that this virtue is absent in most contemporary political philosophy. Thus, what seems to distinguish Honderich from others is that while many philosophers have the skill to do good philosophy, he has also the philosophical courage that most of his peers lack. Honderich is special, in a word, because he has the proper attitude for philosophizing —the attitude Peter Suber aptly terms the clinical one.
Posted by: Pablo Stafforini | February 21, 2005 08:00 PM
Posted by: Brian Leiter | February 22, 2005 08:38 AM
I would have thought that following arguments where they lead is a very minor and common accomplishment among philosophers. If I follow an argument where it leads, and it leads to an absurdity, then I rethink the premisses. If I decide to retract some of them instead of endorsing the conclusion, is that because I failed to "follow the argument where it led" and manifested a failure of philosophical courage?
If the point is simply that what others thought were absurd conclusions, Honderich thought were positions worth embracing, is this obviously a *philosophical* virtue? (Rather than a political virtue, or a moral virtue--or some subspecies of vice?)
I'm sure there is much to be praised about Honderich's philosophical oeuvre, but are there perhaps clearer ways of phrasing his distinctive contribution?
Posted by: Tad Brennan | February 22, 2005 10:16 AM
Posted by: Simon Keller | February 22, 2005 11:26 AM
Posted by: Tad Brennan | February 22, 2005 12:50 PM
I share many of Professor's Leiter’s concerns
freedom. In the past few months he has addressed the matter through
different examples: the controversy surrounding Columbia's Massad,
Colorado's Ward Churchill's and now Ted Honderich. In his comments he
has been analytically careful in differentiating between the moral and
analytical validity of one's opinions from one's right to voice them.
While he makes his political views clear, he seems to assume that they
do not determine his opinions on academic freedom. However, the
exclusive use of examples of silencing of like minded thinkers (those
from the far left) and the lack of any counter examples, such as
countless cases of boycotting Israeli professors within the academic
arena, raise questions whether the arguments for academic freedom and
freedom of speech are really what is fuelling the debate. The real test
of Leitner's convictions on academic freedom is to be found in cases
where people sharing his political views (not a rare commodity on
university campuses) silence and exclude others from the academic
debate, not the other way around. Until he tackles what are the harder
cases for him, he cannot escape being suspected as an advocate of one
side using the legal and moral arguments at hand, rather than a true
defender of the principles themselves. Ideological dogmatism dressed up
as radical criticism is just the ill which plagues activists such as
Massad and Churchill, I do not think Leitner is cut from the same
cloth, however he should be harder on himself at times.
Posted by: Ori Herstein | February 23, 2005 09:24 AM
The simple, and unfortunate, fact is that in a right-wing country like the United States, the most serious threats to academic freedom arise for those on the left: this was true in the McCarthy era, it is true now. Even in the cases of Professors Rasmusen and Yoo, we did not have elected officials calling for them to be fired, as we have in the case of Professors Churchill and Massad. Isn't that obvious? Some sense of proportion is required in these matters. Ideological dogmatism seems to blind some to the vast differences in degree in the kinds of threats to academic freedom that are actually out there.
Posted by: Brian Leiter | February 23, 2005 09:33 AM
When I alluded to boycotts of Israeli
professors I had in mind
several petitions and cases of baring or rejecting Israeli scholars
from academic conventions, positions and publications in Europe. I did
not realize that the debate on academic freedom was limited to the
boarders of the U.S., especially seeing Honderich is English.
Posted by: Ori Herstein | February 23, 2005 06:06 PM
Posted by: Brian Leiter | February 23, 2005 06:28 PM
In support of David Bernstein's comments,
above, re: the
extent to which the accuracy and validity of Honderich's logic - from
premise to conclusion - informs one's evaluation of Honderich as
Britain's "outstanding progressive philosopher" (or not...) I would
like to also point out that, in the article quoted, Honderich makes the
grossly inaccurate charge that Israel is involved in ethnic cleansing
of the Palestinian people, an erroneous charge that I feel leads to an
erroneous conclusion (i.e., the suitability of terror as a valid means
of resistance.) In this instance, a false premise leads to a false
conclusion, and would seem to decrease the appropriateness of Honderich
receiving the aforementioned accolade. Whatever aspects to the conflict
indict Israel or the Palestinians for various abuses, strategies and
policies, ethnic cleansing is not one that is accurately applicable to
Israeli policy, strategy or action, and is similar to other inaccurate
hyperbole, which is dangerous and demeaning to accurate debate, in
charges such as Bush = Hitler (and I am no fan of Bush, just for the
Posted by: trey lewis | February 24, 2005 06:02 PM
Morris describes the policy as "partial ethnic cleansing". He also says that it was necessary and justified. I express no opinion on his views.
Posted by: Neil | February 24, 2005 08:51 PM
The current academic boycott of Israel was
launched in April
2002 in Britain, then spread to France and many other countries. It
started with a relatively moderate petition by Professors Hilary and
Steven Rose from the open university in London calling for the freezing
of official European Union contacts with Israeli universities. This
petition led to a second, more radically phrased French petition and a
third Australian petition. The initiative got some support from various
British organizations including one major British teaching union
(NATFHE). The British initiative led some French universities to issue
official declarations supporting the boycott. Most recently, in
December 2002 the administrative council of Paris VI issued a
resolution calling for an academic boycott, while a similar initiative
was rejected by the Council of Paris VII.
Posted by: Alon Harel | February 25, 2005 01:15 PM
Posted by: Brian Leiter | February 25, 2005 01:40 PM
Posted by: Alon Harel | February 25, 2005 01:52 PM
While I was glad to join the debate on this thread, it does not seem useful to engage in a battle of experts and websites, though ample resources exist on the web (and in libraries) to counter the comparison, as such a battle feels to me akin to debating Holocaust denial - perhaps a worthy effort at times, but I would think not on this thread or weblog.
For those who are interested, the erroneous comparison referred to above by Neil is specifically addressed at
and further info on other myths and facts in regard to the larger conflict can be found at -
The work of Benny Morris is far from becoming anywhere near the normative view of Middle East history (he is one of several current Israeli writers known as "revisionist historians," and has been challenged by others in that same group whom he relies on for documentation, as well as many other noted historians.) The same argument I posed above in regard to Honderich - false conclusions based on a false premise - applies here, with the additional caution of relying on false documentation and discredited "experts."
Posted by: trey lewis | February 25, 2005 06:45 PM
Posted by: Neil | February 25, 2005 10:59 PM
Posted by: Neil | February 25, 2005 11:10 PM
"In passing, though, it asserts the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism -- to what as truly is their resistance to ethnic cleansing, their self-defence of their homeland."
A Feb. 24th response from you to my comment
not only misquotes
Honderich's article -
"Trey Lewis doesn't provide enough context when he says that Honderich is wrong when he uses the term ethnic cleansing. What Honderich actually says is that Israel is founded on "the ethnic cleansing of 1948". If it is true to say that Serbians engaged in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the early 90s, it is surely true to say that Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing in 1948: there was a concerted and official plan to rid the country of much of its Arab inhabitants. This is not disputed by anyone anymore..."
which I strongly disputed in my subsequent comment on Feb. 25th. The charge of ethnic cleansing is erroneous when applied to 1948, as is such a charge based on comparisons to Serbian atrocities in Bosnia in the early 1990's, a comparison you did make in your Feb. 24th post, excerpted above. (In a subsequent post, you claim you were not suggesting an equivalency between the actions of the Serbs in the 90's and those of Israel in 1948, but that you were only stating (twice in the subsequent post) that both actions constitute ethnic cleansing. Beyond the fact that Honderich's original statement which elicited my response did not refer to 1948, such a statement was wrong when Honderich said it as he phrased it in his article, it was wrong the first time you said it, and it was wrong the second (and third) times you said it. I included a link in my comment to document the error of the charge, and pointed out why I feel Benny Morris, for whom you seemed to rely upon in making the charge, is not a worthy source for documentation, despite your wildy inaccurate suggestion that the allegations behind the charge ("a concerted and official plan," etc.) "is not disputed by anyone anymore."
In offering documentation for my position, I offered a link to a four paragraph refutation of the charge (and a second link dealing with a wider variety of myths and facts about the Israeli/Palestinian and Israeli/Arab conflicts.) The section I linked to is constructed in a myth vs. fact format, and the heading of the section did indeed posit for refutation the myth that "Israel is pursuing a policy of genocide toward the Palestinians that is comparable to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews."
However, had you read all four of the paragraphs at the link (rather than merely the title to the section where the documentation appears, which seems from your latest response to perhaps have been the case, though I'll allow that you did read the entire four paragraphs and somehow missed the pertinent part) you would have found the following -
"The absurdity of the charge is also clear from the demography of the disputed territories. While detractors make outrageous claims about Israel committing genocide or ethnic cleansing, the Palestinian population has continued to explode. In Gaza, for example, the population increased from 731,000 in July 1994 to 1,225,911 in July 2002, an increase of 68 percent. The growth rate was 3.95 percent, one of the highest in the world. According to the UN, the total Palestinian population in all the disputed territories (they include Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem) was 1,006,000 in 1950, and rose to 1,094,000 in 1970, and exploded to 2,152,000 in 1990. Anthony Cordesman notes the increase "was the result of improvements in income and health services" made by the Israel. Since the intifada, the Palestinian population has continue to grow exponentially, increasing more than 20 percent just from 1995 to 2,000 when it reached 3,183,000.
You also charge me personally with either bad faith or stupidity, and suggest that I based my reasoning on Israel's actions being less egregious than those of the Nazis. I based my reasoning on the facts in the excerpt reprinted above, which was the link I provided in my earlier post - had you read the entire post, and read it carefully, you might have seen that it specifically addresses the ethnic cleansing charge with facts that are supported by many other sources as well.
Posted by: trey lewis | March 1, 2005 03:02 AM
(2) You say that you *included a link in my comment to document the error of the charge, and pointed out why I feel Benny Morris, for whom you seemed to rely upon in making the charge, is not a worthy source for documentation, despite your wildy inaccurate suggestion that the allegations behind the charge ("a concerted and official plan," etc.) "is not disputed by anyone anymore."*
I should say several things here. First, as I already said, the link you provided was to a site answering the charge that "Israel is pursuing a policy of genocide toward the Palestinians that is comparable to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews." Here's an analogy. Suppose you're a defense lawyer, and your client is charged with assault. Do you really think that basing your defense on the claim that Jack the Ripper did worse things will get your client off? It is bad argument, and it is an egregious attempt to smear me.
Second, how is the claim that the Palestinian population in Gaza has grown supposed to be relevant here? Ethnic cleansing refers to the removal of members of an ethnic group *from a particular place*. It is not, as you seem to think, genocide. The fact that people from that ethnic group are alive and increasing elsewhere is simply irrelevant to the charge. Indeed, if the ethnic cleansing occurs through removal of the people, rather than killing them, you'd expect their population to grow in the place to which they were removed.
Third, you say you pointed out why Benny Morris is unreliable. What did this consist of, precisely? It consists of saying that Benny Morris was unreliable. Excuse me for not being all that convinced.
Fourth, you're right that Morris's claim is dusputed. You dispute it. Reputable historians don't dispute it, thought.
(3)Once again, we were quoting from different documents. But I'm also prepared to defend the claim that Israel engages in ethnic cleansing *now* - for instance, in East Jerusalem. See that notoriously anti-semitic newspaper, the Washington Post:
Posted by: Neil | March 1, 2005 05:55 PM
1) In regard to the Honderich quote and the article from which it comes, you misquoted Honderich in your earlier comment, and I quoted him correctly. We are not referring to different articles, we are referring to the same article, the one that was linked to in Leiter's original post, which I read before my initial comment on this thread (apparently more closely than you did.) I included the correct quote in my initial response to you on March 1; you included a quote from a third party who protested Honderich's appearance at a speaking engagement. (If you re-read the article, you'll see the attribution, complete with quotation marks...)
2) First, as I said in my earlier comment, the item I linked to in order to document my response to your earlier comment does refer to ethnic cleansing, as stated in the excerpt I copied for the thread - "While detractors make outrageous claims about Israel committing genocide or ethnic cleansing..." Though the item from which this excerpt is taken does deal with the additional outrageous and erroneous charge of genocide in the situation we are discussing, at no time was I suggesting what you imply I suggested in regard to the "less than so not at all" argument; because you apparently did not see or chose to ignore the reference in the item to ethnic cleansing, you therefore made an assumption in regard to the "less than so not at all" argument and my reasoning, which is not only an argument I did not make, but which I also find inappropriate. I included that link for documentation for two reasons - first, I do consider the two charges discussed in the item (genocide and ethnic cleansing in the situation we are discussing) to be equally erroneous and outrageous; also, mass deportation and genocide are often included in definitions of the term "ethnic cleansing," so my link to an item including this wider discussion was, in my view, appropriate; secondly, in preparing my response to your earlier comment, I searched on the web for documentation that I could easily excerpt and link to in my reply, finding seven or eight sources which specifically refuted the charge, with the one I included being the easiest one for me to excerpt and link to (the others either required registration, were only abstracts, or were in a PDF format that I found unwieldy for these purposes.) You are the one who chose to ignore the reference to ethnic cleansing in the documentation link, and focus only on the issue of the Nazis and genocide, and then unfairly accused me of making an argument I did not make. You go on to (unfairly) accuse me of unsound reasoning, either bad faith or stupidity, egregiously smearing you, and attributing to you a claim I did not attribute to you, all based on your erroneous suggestion of an argument I did not make in the first place.
Secondly, your most recent comment has clarified what I think is a major source of our dispute, which might provide one of those "agree to disagree" moments, enabling us to end our exchange on this thread, so that we can both spend our Internet time on more productive pursuits. My strong initial (and continued) exception was/is to your repeated contention that "if it is true to say that Serbians engaged in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in the early 90s, it is surely true to say that Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing in 1948..." While I appreciate your admissions in various comments that there are important and inherent differences between the two, and your statement that you do not agree with Honderich's conclusions as to the justification for terrorism, and your comments as to certain Israeli actions not being "wrong" or that were justified, it has finally become apparent that we have different definitions for what does or does not constitute ethnic cleansing, a distinction that might have saved us both much time and effort had it been made earlier. In your most recent comment, above, you state, "Ethnic cleansing refers to the removal of members of an ethnic group *from a particular place*." I do not feel that is an accurate or adequate definition of the term, in either its colloquial or legal sense, as the proper definition of the term deals with aspects of force, intent, purpose, design, and agency, and I do not agree that such a definition (encompassing those integral aspects) applies to the dislocation of Palestinians in 1948 or since. Ethnic cleansing, in its appropriate definition, is a crime against humanity, and that is why Serbian leaders are currently on trial in the Hague, and Israeli leaders are not. Serbia attacked Bosnia; Israel was attacked after a UN approved declaration of statehood and a partition plan which was rejected by Palestinian leaders and the Arab world, and while atrocities and violence were committed by both parties, and while both parties bear varying degrees of responsibility for the dislocation of Palestinians before, during and since 1948, and for the resolution of the conflict today, the two situations (Bosnia in the early 90's and Israel in 1948) are not comparable, in neither degree nor definition. I (and the majority of reputable Israeli historians) do not agree with your contention (based on Morris' work) that the recognized government of Israel had a concerted and official plan to rid the country of much of its Arab inhabitants. Such a plan was in place by Serbian leaders in the early 90's against non-Serbs; such a plan was not in place by Israel against the Palestinians in 1948, or since, and I would again reference the International Criminal Court, and the majority of reputable historians.
Thirdly and fourthly, as for Benny Morris, if you re-read my comment, I did discuss, albeit briefly, the term "revisionist historian," as it applies to Morris, so your suggestion that my response to your use of him in making your own argument is by no means of the "yes he is/no he's not" variety. Perhaps the most ludicrous error you have made in your comments is to suggest that I am the only one who disputes his scholarship, or that no reputable historian does. That is simply a false statement, as false as saying no reputable scientist disputes evolution. (Some scientists do dispute evolution, but the majority do not; some historians, such as Morris and other revisionist historians, agree with you, and disagree with me, but it is simply false to suggest that no reputable historian disputes Morris or his scholarship or conclusions.)
3) As stated in response 1) above, we are not quoting from different documents; one of us (me) is quoting correctly from the article linked to by Mr. Leiter; you have quoted incorrectly from the same article.
As for the Washington Post article you link to in your most recent comment, I am sure you are aware of the fact that Jordan was in control of East Jerusalem in 1967, when the area was lost to Israel in a defensive war; since then, the disputed area has been subject to subsequent negotiation, laws and treaties, and the Israeli Supreme Court has responded to individual violations of Israeli law and treaties concerning the land and its inhabitants, with the current roadmap being the most recent attempt to determine its status. Many countries in the world today have similar disputes over borders, territories and ruling authority, with historic grievances and current negotiations toward successful resolution (Northern Ireland, Cypress, Gibraltar, and Kashmir, for example.) As discussed in item 2) above, the proper definition of the term "ethnic cleansing" does not apply in this situation anymore than it does to 1948.
This thread has turned into a time-consuming and somewhat snarky exchange between just you and me, so my preference would be to bring our exchange on this thread to a close, since the major focus of our exchange has devolved into charges and counter-charges as to which one of us is a more precise reader or quoter, and it does not seem an appropriate use of Mr. Leiter's weblog for that debate, nor does it serve the purpose of the original post. If you email me directly, I can send additional links to refutations of both Morris and the ethnic cleansing charges, although I think we have both sufficiently made the points we wished to make.
Posted by: trey lewis | March 2, 2005 10:53 AM
That is simply a false statement, as false as
reputable scientists dispute evolution. (Some scientists do dispute
evolution, but the majority do not; some historians, such as Morris and
other revisionist historians, agree with you, and disagree with me, but
it is simply false to suggest that no reputable historian disputes
Morris or his scholarship or conclusions.)
Posted by: trey lewis | March 2, 2005 05:41 PM
As anyone who has ever been there knows, the
CPNSS has only
one seminar room, T206. Many seminars of the Philosophy Department, the
BSPS, and many smaller public seminars of the Phil Dept are held there.
It has a capacity of about 25 people sitting comfortably if the tables
in it have been removed; there is no standing room.
I don't know where the talk was held, but if this was a large room, like the Old Theatre, the New Theatre, or the Peacock Theatre, this would be rather good evidence for my suggestion. Any participant to the meeting could also give an indication of the number of people present.
I am an LSE graduate, but haven't been to any seminars there for quite some time now.
Posted by: Christoph
Schmidt-Petri | March 30, 2005 06:39 AM