The Cynical Theorists Behind Cynical Theories

The Cynical Theorists Behind Cynical Theories

A specter is haunting the West—the specter of Social Justice. All the powers of old civil society have entered into a wicked alliance to convoke this specter: colleges and universities, broadcasters and newspapers, preachers and politicians. It is high time that the West should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish its views, its aims, its tendencies, and meet this horror story of the Specter of Social Justice with a Manifesto of Western civilization itself.

This paranoid rendition of the Communist Manifesto’s opening lines might well be a summary of a certain sort of criticism of today’s “Social Justice” or “Woke” ideology. This criticism, exemplified by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s Cynical Theories, traces the origins of this ideology back to the postmodernist philosophy of 1960s and ‘70s Europe. The “Specter of Social Justice” is an apt name for the union of contemporary scholarship and activism Pluckrose and Lindsay identify as an existential threat to “the foundations upon which today’s advanced civilizations are built.” If we fail to fight back against this rising tide of illiberalism, they prophesy, we risk paying the ultimate price: the total collapse of Western civilization.

If this all sounds a bit melodramatic, that’s because Cynical Theories is a melodramatic book. Pluckrose and Lindsay guide the reader through postmodernism’s metamorphosis as it transforms into the “applied postmodernism” of the ‘80s and ‘90s—comprising the new fields of postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory, gender studies, feminist studies, disability studies, and fat studies—which eventually gives rise to the most dangerous of all postmodernism’s transmutations, the “reified postmodernism” Pluckrose and Lindsay sometimes refer to as “Social Justice scholarship.”

Through the various lenses of applied postmodernism, this scholarship focuses on knowledge—the study of which is known in philosophy as epistemology—and related concepts located along the intersections between knowledge and power, including ‘epistemic injustice’ and ‘epistemic oppression.’ Painting the movement as “a kind of authoritarianism in our midst,” the authors declare that disobedience to the dictates of Social Justice “can be literally or—more often figuratively—fatal.” Sadly, Pluckrose and Lindsay elect not to elaborate on the claim that resisting this movement has been “literally…fatal,” leaving readers incapable of paying formal respects to the brave heroes who sacrificed their lives in the noble war on Wokeness.

How do decent, well-meaning progressives become such militant Social Justice warriors? Pluckrose and Lindsay offer a simple answer: indoctrination. Social Justice, they contend, is more accurately described as a religion or cult than a political movement. They see it as “a new religion, a tradition of faith that is actively hostile to reason, falsification, disconfirmation, and disagreement of any kind,” “a postmodern faith based on a dead God, which sees mysterious worldlyforces in systems of power and privilege and which sanctifies victimhood,” “the fundamentalist religion of the nominally secular left.” Moreover, something in the indoctrination process dehumanizes Social Justice converts to the point of unrecognizability; they “speak [their] own language” and “represent a wholly different culture,” one which “feels as though it originated on another planet.” Thankfully, Pluckrose and Lindsay promise to guide us through this “alien world” revolving around “Theory” (their catch-all term for postmodernist approaches to social philosophy) so we don’t have to chart such terrifying waters alone. 

Readers with a nuanced understanding of postmodern philosophy are sure to be discouraged by the sophomoric analysis of Foucault and his peers as committed to indiscriminate moral and epistemic relativism. Worst of all, however, is the frequent tendency of Pluckrose and Lindsay to characterize as postmodernist thinkers who cannot by any scholarly standard be put into that bucket. Chapter eight of Cynical Theories, “Social Justice Scholarship and Thought,” is an especially egregious example of this, and so will be our main focus. 

Social justice scholarship and thought

“Social Justice Scholarship and Thought” stands heads and shoulders above the rest of Cynical Theories for its sophistry and imprecision. In it, the authors set out to explain reified postmodernism—the current and most advanced form of Theory—and how it evolved from the applied postmodernism discussed in earlier chapters. Although reified postmodernism is not uniquely tied to any one discipline, eighteen of the twenty-one scholars cited in the authors’ exposition of reified postmodernism are academic philosophers. Presumably, then, we can expect that they’ve assembled a star-studded lineup featuring academic philosophy’s proudest postmodern thinkers. Sadly,  none of these philosophers are postmodernists, and none of them can be reasonably interpreted as believers in “The Truth according to Social Justice.”

To see why, we need to get clear about what Pluckrose and Lindsay mean when they talk about reified postmodernism and the “Truth” with which they associate it. In their own words, reified postmodernism accepts both the Knowledge Principle—“objective truth does not exist and knowledge is socially constructed and a product of culture”—and the Political Principle—“society is constructed through knowledge by language and discourses, designed to keep the dominant in power over the oppressed.” More ambitiously, the authors tell us that reified postmodernism sees these two principles as simply “The Truth,” as it “tolerates no dissent” and “expects everyone to agree or be ‘cancelled.’” Ultimately, reified postmodernists are distinguished by their absolute certainty that “rigorous knowledge production is just a product of white, male, and Western culture and thus no better than the Theoretically interpreted lived experiences of members of marginalized groups, which must be constantly elevated and foregrounded.”

At this point, you might be wondering whether any philosopher who has ever lived could possibly qualify as such a reified postmodernist. Do Pluckrose and Lindsay really believe our universities are under siege by a brigade of illiberal, reified postmodernist professors-turned-insurgents? As a matter of fact, they do. Rationalizing this belief becomes the central function of chapter eight.

The authors begin by summarizing the five preceding chapters, which present a robust genealogical narrative of postmodernism explaining how we got from Foucault to fat studies. What happens next, they tell us, marks the beginning of reified postmodernism. This third wave of Theory begins in the 2010s, when scholars turn postmodernism on its head: far from entailing radical skepticism, the central tenets of postmodernism become the foundation of Social Justice dogmatism. “Consequently,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write, “we now have Social Justice texts—forming a kind of Gospel of Social Justice—that express, with absolute certainty, that all white people are racist, all men are sexist, racism and sexism are systems that can exist and oppress absent even a single person with racist or sexist intentions or beliefs (in the usual sense of the terms), sex is not biological and exists on a spectrum, language can be literal violence, denial of gender identity is killing people, the wish to remedy disability and obesity is hateful, and everything needs to be decolonized.” The authors don’t give citations for any of these radical claims, so we can expect them to highlight examples of this Gospel of Social Justice throughout the rest of the chapter, as they analyze some of the scholarship they see as central to reified postmodernist thought.

The first work of scholarship the authors focus on is the philosopher Miranda Fricker’s influential book, Epistemic Injustice, published in 2007. They interpret Fricker’s purpose in coining the term “epistemic injustice” as “connect[ing] knowledge and knowledge production to Theoretically derived notions of justice and injustice,” which they describe as the central concerns of “standpoint theory” and “postmodern radical skepticism.” This is sure to come as a surprise to anyone who has read Epistemic Injustice even somewhat carefully, for Fricker makes her dissatisfaction with postmodern radical skepticism abundantly clear in the first three pages of the book. Moreover, we should be especially skeptical of the claim that Fricker is working with “Theoretically derived notions of justice and injustice,” given that her analysis of the central justice violation in cases of epistemic injustice relies heavily on the Kantian dictum that we ought to treat our fellow human beings never merely as means to an end but always as ends in themselves. The quintessential philosopher of the enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, would have been as harsh a critic of postmodernism as any, and he certainly would have rejected the postmodern principles from above in their original, applied, and reified manifestations. Maybe the authors were unaware of this fact, though. Elsewhere, Lindsay traces the origins of neo-Marxist critical theory to the Critique of Pure Reason, which he describes as “the anti-Enlightenment project of Immanuel Kant.” No references are given for this hilariously misguided historical claim—a claim which could have prevented Lindsay (and perhaps Pluckrose, too, if Lindsay has sold her on it) from appreciating just how antithetical to Theory Fricker’s Kantian notions of justice and injustice actually are.

Following their peculiar comments on Fricker, they turn to the philosopher Kristie Dotson. In 2011, Dotson wrote “Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing,” in which she defines “epistemic violence” as “a failure of an audience to communicatively reciprocate, either intentionally or unintentionally, in linguistic exchanges owing to pernicious ignorance.”[1] As Dotson explains it, communicative reciprocity is roughly equivalent to mutual comprehension in a linguistic exchange, and pernicious ignorance is ignorance that is, in the relevant context, harmful. Anticipating the objection that this definition is too expansive, Dotson simply bites the bullet; on her view, even a toddler who is ignorant of the harmful effects of fire will qualify as acting in an epistemically violent manner if, in failing to heed her mother’s warning against it, she starts a fire which causes harmful property damage.[2] Pluckrose and Lindsay, however, have their own interpretation of Dotson, as they expound her conception of epistemic violence as “having one’s cultural knowledge repressed by that of a dominant culture” due to “pernicious ignorance on the part of hearers who refuse to understand.” While this would certainly qualify as a form of Dotsonian epistemic violence, it is not the definition Dotson gives and repeats several times throughout the paper. Moreover, it obviously fails to accommodate the toddler example: how could a toddler’s ignorant conduct constitute repression by a dominant culture?

As the chapter progresses, the authors’ misstatements of Dotson’s work go from sloppy to outright defamatory. To illustrate their claim that “Theory views evidence and reason to be the cultural property of white Western men,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write, “Dotson famously called the dominance of reason and science a ‘culture of justification’ in 2012 and argued instead for a ‘culture of praxis.’” The grain of truth in this slanderous sandcastle is that Dotson does in fact argue that what she calls a “culture of justification” in professional philosophy ought to be replaced by a “culture of praxis.” But for all that, the implications that Dotson thinks academic philosophers should do away entirely with reasoned argumentation and scientific evidence and that she sees these tools as usable only by “white Western men” are, frankly, appalling. What Dotson means by “culture of justification” in the paper in question (“How is This Paper Philosophy?”) has absolutely nothing to do with epistemic, scientific, or rational justification. She has no desire to expunge “processes aimed at establishing the soundness of some belief, process, and/or practice,” which she conceptualizes not as “justification” but “validation.”[3] Instead, she describes a culture of justification as one which “privileges legitimation according to presumed, commonly held, univocally relevant justifying norms” which perpetuate illegitimate exclusions from the philosophical canon, as evidenced by the widespread problem of Eurocentrism in many American philosophy departments.[4] The fact that Africana philosophy and Chinese philosophy continue to be neglected in American universities makes it harder for philosophers working in these areas, as they bear the burden of having to justify how their scholarship is really philosophy, hence the title of Dotson’s paper.  

Pluckrose and Lindsay can’t seem to shake this idea that Dotson is deeply invested in dethroning evidence and reason and elevating non-rational and non-scientific strains of knowledge or “other ways of knowing.” “In her 2014 paper ‘Tracking Epistemic Oppression,’” they write—the title of the paper is actually “Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression,” but I’m sure they read it very carefully—“Dotson ultimately asserts that knowledge is inadequate unless it includes the experiential knowledge of minority groups.” In fact, the words “experiential” and “minority” are not used even once in Dotson’s paper, which is so technical and abstract that the words “black” and “women” only occur on one page each, and only in Dotson’s analysis of other scholars. “Furthermore,” they write, “the knowledge produced by dominant groups—including science and reason—is also merely the product of their cultural traditions and is not superior to the knowledge produced by other cultural traditions.” I really have no idea where Pluckrose and Lindsay got this from; “science” appears only in a quote Dotson references, and the article contains absolutely no mention of “reason” in the relevant sense of the term.

Yet the misrepresentations get even worse. After their specious declaration that Dotson treats “folk wisdom” and “witchcraft” as “knowledge-producing methods”—claims which, of course, Dotson has never so much as suggested in her work—the authors go on to argue:

“Dotson explicitly proceeds from the two postmodern principles. Her argument, which is central to standpoint theory, denies that science and reason belong to all humans and are the same for all humans and, in effect, assigns them to white Western men. Dotson goes further than this. The logical implication of her third-order oppression is that if someone from a dominant group does not agree that that [sic] her knowledge-producing systems are limited by their failure to include experiential knowledge from outside them, that is because she is unable to step outside of her own culture. In other words, legitimate disagreement is not an option.”

The icing on the cake: there are no citations for any of these claims. Nor is there a shred of evidence in Dotson’s entire body of work to suggest she endorses cultural relativism or the claim that there is no such thing as objective knowledge or truth; “knowledge” and “truth” always take on an objective connotation in her research, as is typical of most contemporary Anglophone scholarship in epistemology.

Further, the idea that denying the universality of science and reason—which, we should note, Pluckrose and Lindsay have now attributed to Dotson in three different contexts—is somehow connected to standpoint theory is just incorrect. Many feminist philosophers of science have employed versions of standpoint theory to illuminate the ways in which women have identified biases and spearheaded progress in dominant scientific models and theories.[5]

Finally, the authors claim Dotson is logically committed to the view that, if someone denies that their epistemological system excludes the “experiential knowledge” of others outside the system, one is simply blinded by their own culture; therefore, “legitimate disagreement is not an option.” But what the notion of “experiential knowledge” amounts to is never fully explained. Maybe this is because the expression “experiential knowledge” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, entirely absent from the academic articles in which Lindsay and Pluckrose ostensibly locate it. Their only attempt to elucidate the idea of experiential knowledge in chapter eight is the assertion that “‘[k]nowing that’ is propositional knowledge, while ‘knowing how’ is experiential knowledge.” Identifying the ill-defined “experiential knowledge” with “knowing how” is unhelpful and unintuitive; worse, it seems to fly in the face of contemporary scholarship exploring the relationships between distinct kinds of knowledge.

Though their distortion of philosophical scholarship unquestionably peaks when they write about Dotson, the authors fail to give accurate depictions of several other philosophers throughout the remainder of the chapter. After a series of sweeping, unsubstantiated claims about contemporary Theorists being opposed to science, Pluckrose and Lindsay argue that these scholars view “reason and evidence-based knowledge [as] unfairly favored over tradition, folklore, interpretation, and emotion because of the power imbalances baked into them. Without the slightest awareness of the racist and sexist implications, Theory views evidence and reason to be the cultural property of white Western men.” We have already seen their groundless accusations against Dotson on this issue, but do they have any evidence of others making such racist and sexist claims?

Citing a recent essay by Lorraine Code, Pluckrose and Lindsay state that some philosophers “have argued that rational and scientific approaches limit Anglo-American epistemologists from accepting broader and multiple ways of knowing.” This is yet another opportunistic perversion of the scholarship they purport to be describing. What Code is pushing back against is the atomistic model of epistemology suggested by excessive focus on individualistic cases—e.g., a knower who knows there is a cup on the table in front of him—the sort of epistemic exemplars that ignore the degree to which acquiring, producing, and disseminating knowledge are situated, social practices. Rather than giving up on science and reason, Code explicitly recommends that “respect for empirical evidence, commitment to truth-seeking and objectivity, [and] adherence to public standards of inquiry remain.”[6]

In their final example, Pluckrose and Lindsay cite an article by Allison Wolf, in which they claim Wolf “advocates foregrounding feelings as a way of knowing.” In fact, Wolf never talks about “ways of knowing,” but rather argues that recognizing the role of emotion in philosophical contexts can be useful for rational purposes by bringing us closer to knowledge of the truth. Lindsay and Pluckrose provide no actual evidence that any of the scholars they call “reified postmodernists” see reason and evidence as parochial values exclusive to white people, the West, or men.

Another philosopher the authors fail to understand is José Medina. They introduce his concept of “hermeneutical death,” which they define as “a failure to be understood so profound as to destroy the person’s sense of self.” This is not exactly right, as Medina usually talks about hermeneutical death in terms of the loss of one’s voice rather than the loss of one’s sense of self. The more serious misrepresentation occurs when Pluckrose and Lindsay describe the notion of “hermeneutical privacy”—which they mistakenly attribute to Medina, although the term was coined by Fricker—as the right of marginalized groups “to be completely incomprehensible.” Nothing Medina says about this concept suggests anything like such an interpretation. Had they read Fricker’s paper in which she coined the term, they might have learned what it really means: the right to make use of a private set of hermeneutical resources in order to stay safe from potential harm.

Pluckrose and Lindsay are at their most naïve when they call Charles Mills a “Theorist,” attributing to him the postmodernist approach to social philosophy. For one, the slightest amount of research on Mills reveals he has been a proponent of meta-ethical and epistemic objectivism throughout the entirety of his career, which precludes the possibility of ascribing to him any kind of radical skepticism about the objectivity of truth or knowledge. What is more, given that his most recent book concludes that liberalism can be repurposed for antiracist (and, more generally, anti-oppressive) purposes, one would expect the authors to find in Mills a natural ally in the fight against Social Justice scholarship—although they would, for good reason, be hard-pressed to convince him of their catastrophizing view of the Social Justice crisis. They could certainly learn a thing or two from reading his work and taking it seriously.

No room for debate

The authors wrap up their analysis in chapter eight by analyzing three works they see as denying certain groups the right to disagree with claims they find contestable: Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy by Barbara Applebaum (2010), “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes” by Alison Bailey (2017), and White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard to Talk to White People about Race by Robin DiAngelo (2018). I generally agree with the authors’ assessment of DiAngelo’s book; taken as it is, White Fragility entails that any white person who denies anything DiAngelo says, or disagrees with any person of color on racial issues, is merely expressing their internalized white supremacy.

When it comes to the Applebaum book and the Bailey article, however, we have two more cases of misrepresentation. In Being White, Being Good, Applebaum employs a Foucauldian conception of power to argue that white people are complicit in systemic racism, and acknowledging this fact is not sufficient to absolve oneself from this complicity. As Pluckrose and Lindsay interpret her, “Applebaum demands people believe this paradigm, even though she is quick to point out that she is not technically forbidding disagreement.” To illustrate this, they cite Applebaum: “One can disagree and remain engaged in the material, for example, by asking questions and searching for clarification and understanding. Denials, however, function as a way to distance oneself from the material and to dismiss without engagement.”[7] On their reading, Applebaum is saying that “denial of ‘The Truth’ (what we usually think of as disagreement) can only mean one has not engaged with the material enough or in the right way.” For Applebaum, they write, white dissent on racial issues can be dismissed as “refusal to engage with The Truth,” and thus we are left with the paradoxical result that the only permissible way to disagree with Applebaum is to force oneself to agree with her.

Intentional or not, this interpretation rests entirely on an equivocation of “denial.” In one sense, denial is a mere expression of disagreement. But this is not what Applebaum has in mind when she contrasts denial with disagreement, and this is why she defines denials as dismissals without engagement; indeed, as she clarifies later in the book, “one must engage before one can disagree.”[8] Unless they are willfully ignoring this distinction, Pluckrose and Lindsay conclude that Applebaum rejects the possibility of legitimate disagreement because they fail to understand the difference between denial and disagreement.

 A similar problem arises in their interpretation of Bailey’s article, which takes inspiration from Applebaum. Bailey defines “privilege-preserving epistemic pushback” as “a variety of willful ignorance that dominant groups habitually deploy during conversations that are trying to make social injustices visible.”[9] According to Pluckrose and Lindsay, “Bailey argues that anyone who disagrees with Social Justice scholarship is insincere and simply trying to preserve unjust power structures” and she “assumes that criticisms of Social Justice scholarship are simply attempts to deliberately ignore The Truth According to Social Justice.” At this point it should hardly come as a surprise that these accusations are unfounded, as is evident from taking a closer look at what Bailey actually says: that “we need to be clear about the differences between critical thinking, healthy skepticism, and privilege-preserving epistemic pushback.”[10]

In Bailey’s example, she presents Claudia Card’s claim that “rape is a terrorist institution” and distinguishes two critical reactions from her students: A) “The threat of rape and the threat of terrorism are completely different,” and B) “Men are victims too, according to a recent statistic.” She acknowledges that A is productive in its critique, as it is actually engaging Card’s claim, whereas B is a red herring that offers nothing of value to the discussion at hand and attempts to derail the conversation. Men being victims of rape does not entail that rape is not a terrorist institution—this would be an example of “privilege-preserving epistemic pushback” while the former would not be. Clearly, then, Bailey allows for sincere disagreement and criticism of Social Justice scholarship while drawing attention to a distinct phenomenon.

Their ignorance of this distinction is especially frustrating because Pluckrose and Lindsay obviously know it exists, as is evident from the hoax paper they (in collaboration with Peter Boghossian) successfully submitted to the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. In the paper, entitled “When the Joke Is on You: A Feminist Perspective on How Positionality Influences Satire,” Bailey’s 2017 article plays a central role in the authors’ argument that academic hoaxes against Social Justice fields (including Lindsay and Boghossian’s “Conceptual Penis” stunt) exemplify privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; instead of engaging with and productively criticizing Social Justice scholarship, hoax papers merely mock the ideas they are intended to discredit.

In their lengthy essay publicizing the “Grievance Studies” hoax, however, Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian describe the purpose of “When the Joke Is on You” thus: “to see if journals will accept an argument that shuts down critiques of social justice scholarship as a lack of engagement and understanding, even if one engages fully and knowledgeably with the ideas to the extent of having a paper on them published in a leading academic journal.” Anyone who bothers to actually read “When the Joke Is on You” will notice the problems with this characterization: first, the paper does not advocate shutting down any critiques that actually contain knowledgeable engagement; second, neither of the hoaxes cited in the paper contain such engagement; third, both hoaxes cited in the paper were published in remarkably shoddy academic journals, as Sokal’s was not even peer reviewed and Lindsay and Boghossian’s was published in a predatory pay-to-publish journal. While they represent Bailey’s distinction between genuine disagreement and privilege-preserving epistemic pushback quite clearly  in “When the Joke Is on You,” their description of the paper’s purpose obfuscates this distinction as well as the rest of Bailey’s line of argument.

Pluckrose and Lindsay also interpret Bailey’s article as arguing for the need to replace critical thinking with “critical pedagogy,” citing a passage where she draws this distinction. What the authors either mysteriously overlook or willfully ignore is the opening sentence of the subsequent paragraph in Bailey’s essay, where she clarifies that “the line between these traditions [critical thinking and critical pedagogy] is not hard and fast,” and that “these traditions can work well together to navigate difficult questions.”[11] To be clear, I suspect Bailey and I have some fundamental disagreements about the value of critical thinking, of which I am a staunch proponent. Similarly, I am not too fond of Applebaum’s book, and I see how it might be manipulated in order to shut down any and all disagreement with Social Justice ideas. But Pluckrose and Lindsay appear to think that fully understanding these works requires approaching them in the most cynical way possible, cherry-picking quotes and distorting their distinctions to support the implausible overarching argument of Cynical Theories.

Having examined the views of the scholars identified as the pioneers of Social Justice scholarship (and not merely the straw men and women Pluckrose and Lindsay make them out to be), it is worth reflecting on the aptness of the label “postmodernist” for their views. A close examination reveals that Pluckrose and Lindsay are not merely cherry-picking thinkers or quotes to make their points; they are cherry-picking in an apple orchard. Though Applebaum does express some postmodernist sympathies, none of the cited works by Fricker, Dotson, Medina, Code, Wolf, Mills, or Bailey gives us any reason to classify them as radical skeptics about the possibility of objective knowledge or truth. Yet the authors summarize their analysis of Social Justice scholarship by proclaiming it treats the principle that “objective truth does not exist and knowledge is socially constructed and a product of culture” as “The Truth, tolerates no dissent, and expects everyone to agree or be ‘cancelled.’” For those of us who have carefully read the literature, Pluckrose and Lindsay’s discussion of reified postmodernism in academic philosophy looks much more like incendiary fan fiction than scholarly analysis. What explains this misrepresentation?

Because I can’t access their private mental states, my best guess is not much more than a speculative inference to the best explanation. But I say this quite confidently: Cynical Theories suffers from the exact same problems Pluckrose and Lindsay diagnose in Social Justice scholarship—namely, misplaced cynicism combined with unwarranted confidence in such cynical interpretations. Critical scrutiny exposes an embarrassing fact: Pluckrose and Lindsay have done a better job of revealing themselves as cynical theorists than revealing any of the theories they discuss as cynical. They appear absolutely convinced that there are several humanities fields with a Theory infestation, and that all Theorists think the “master’s tools” of logic, science, and reason are only accessible to white, Western men, and thus ought to be destroyed. Nevermind the fact that there is no evidence of these convictions in the work of Fricker, Dotson, Code, Wolf, Medina, Mills, or Bailey; the authors’ lived experience is surely worth more than citations with page numbers.

I’ll conclude by considering a recent tweet by Lindsay: “The Woke approach really only does the same things over and over again: uncharitable readings, call people names, take things out of context, erase nuance, call people names again. Takedowns of it are exceptionally tedious and require a lot of lengthy explanations.” If this is right, Cynical Theories carries out the Woke approach to perfection. A full takedown of all its bullshit—in the serious, philosophical sense of ‘bullshit’ discussed by Harry Frankfurt—would indeed be exceptionally tedious, so I have, for the time being, restricted my most in-depth analysis to chapter eight, where I already have plenty of experience studying the relevant academic literature. But a full takedown of Cynical Theories is a worthwhile project, and it’s one I plan to take up soon.

[1] Dotson, Kristie (2011). “Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing.” Hypatia, 26(2), 236-257. p. 250.

[2] Dotson, Kristie (2011). “Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing.” Hypatia, 26(2), 236-257. p. 240.

[3] Dotson, Kristie (2013). “How is this Paper Philosophy?” Comparative Philosophy, 3 (1):3-29. p. 7 n. 3.

[4] Dotson, Kristie (2013). “How is this Paper Philosophy?” Comparative Philosophy, 3 (1):3-29. p. 6.

[5] See, e.g., Wylie, Alison (2003). “Why Standpoint Matters,” in Science and Other Cultures: Issues in Philosophies of Science and Technology, edited by R. M. Figueroa and S. Harding, pp. 26–48. New York, NY: Routledge.

[6] Code, Lorraine (2017). “Epistemic Responsibility,” in The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice, ed. Ian James Kid, José Medina, and Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr., pp. 89-99. London: Routledge. p. 93.

[7] Applebaum, Barbara (2010). Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. p. 43.

[8] Applebaum, Barbara (2010). Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. p. 113.

[9] Bailey, Alison (2017). “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes,” Hypatia 32, no. 4: 876-92. p. 877.

[10] Bailey, Alison (2017). “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes,” Hypatia 32, no. 4: 876-92. p. 881.

[11] Bailey, Alison (2017). “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes,” Hypatia 32, no. 4: 876-92. p. 882.

Featured Image is Destruction from The Course of Empire, by Thomas Cole