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Ethical Limits of Academic Inquiry (ELAI)

Ethical Limits of Academic Inquiry

Co-Directors:

Contact: elai.workinggroup@gmail.com

Goals:

  • Create visibility for the ethical limits of academic inquiry as a topic worthy of scholarly attention,
  • Build a community of scholars interested in the topic,
  • Promote and provide a platform for sharing research on the ethical limits of academic inquiry, and
  • Create and maintain a working bibliography on the topic.

Members: 

  • Academics from various disciplines with an active interest in the ethical limits of academic inquiry.

See: About | Events | Past Events | Bibliography

About

Over the past few years, the humanities and social sciences have been marked by repeated and polarizing controversies over what kinds of views should and shouldn’t be debated by scholars. Recent examples include Peter Singer’s views on disability and Kathleen Stock’s views on gender. Many scholars hold that some positions should not be defended or engaged with in print or at conferences. Others believe that, in academic inquiry, anything should be up for debate, such that we need to leave room for the offensive and the outrageous.

The Ethical Limits of Academic Inquiry (ELAI) Working Group provides a space for the systematic, scholarly investigation of this meta-debate. While much recent scholarship has concerned itself with related topics, such as “cancel culture,” “free speech on campus,” and “no-platforming,” the difficult question of which views scholars should debate amongst themselves has received comparatively little attention in professional venues.

Pertinent questions are:

  • Can we distinguish, on principled grounds, which kinds of views fall inside the ethical limits of academic inquiry and which fall outside?
  • How is academic inquiry similar to or different form other kinds of speech?
  • What can this tell us about the justifiability of content restrictions?
  • How does the aim of excluding certain views from scholarly debate relate to the pursuit of truth?

Upcoming Events:

Ethical Limits and the Strict View of Academic Freedom

Date: April 8, 2024, 12:00 pm CT

This event will take place via Zoom. Registration is required. Register by clicking the button below.

Speaker: Robert Mark Simpson, University College London

Abstract: The Strict View of Academic Freedom says that academics, alone, should decide questions about the internal norms of academic practice. E.g. (1) “Can we distinguish which viewpoints fall inside and outside the ethical limits of academic inquiry?” (2) “Which criteria make a viewpoint worthy of exclusion?” (3) “Does the ethical acceptability of a viewpoint depend on the identity of the scholar?” If the Strict View of Academic Freedom is correct, then these questions will need to be answered from two importantly distinct perspectives. There’s the External Perspective – the perspective of governments, university managers, and other policy stakeholders – and the Internal Perspective – the perspective of academics themselves. Or, more precisely, there is a plurality of Internal Perspectives, corresponding with different domains of disciplinary authority and expertise. If the Strict View of Academic Freedom is correct, then the External Perspective’s answers to the above questions should be fairly simple: (1) no, (2) there are no such criteria, (3) no. But these answers are consistent with a range of different answers on behalf of different academic disciplines, and their corresponding Internal Perspectives. At least some of the difficulty we face in addressing questions such as (1), (2), and (3) owes to confusion about how these different perspectives operate.



Bibliography: (Forthcoming)