Cologne, Peter Singer, and Disinvitations

koln cathedral at nightfall a photo from rheinland pfalz west.

As revealed at Leiter Reports recently, the Cologne Philosophy Festival disinvited Peter Singer, who was to speak at this major philosophy forum which took place in Germany in late May/early June 2015.

Whatever you think of Singer’s philosophical positions, it is unprofessional, and indeed outrageous, to invite an eminent speaker… and then disinvite them without some dramatic change in circumstances. No one has a right to be offered a particular platform, but once you’ve been offered it on your merits - and accepted it - you can legitimately expect that your acceptance will be honoured and that the gig will go ahead. In particular, you can legitimately expect that you will not be disinvited as a speaker merely because of your well-known and previously expressed views on controversial topics.

Singer is not the only victim of what seems like a current fashion for disinvitations. In recent times, a wide range of speakers have found themselves dropped like hot potatoes when there’s been organised opposition to their views - even views on subjects remote from what they have actually been asked to speak about!

While I have considerable sympathy for Peter Singer’s utilitarian viewpoint on bioethical issues, I have no sympathy at all for (what seem to me) the bizarre political theories espoused by software engineer Curtis Yarvin, also known as “Mencius Moldbug”. Nonetheless, Yarvin should not have been disinvited by the computer technology conference Strange Loop, as reported here by David Auerbach.

We need to get the beyond the current fashion for disinviting speakers who hold controversial, unpopular, or even wrong opinions. That is highly illiberal. If conference organisers come under pressure to disinvite particular speakers who are controversial, they should resist it. I suggest, furthermore, that we need to do what we can to produce a culture where caving in to that kind of pressure is seen as more shameful than presenting a speaker whose opinions are controversial, unpopular, or wrong.

[Edit: Dates for the festival corrected]