Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Is My Usage of "Crazy" Ableist?

In 2014, I published a paper titled "The Crazyist Metaphysics of Mind". Since the beginning, I have been somewhat ambivalent about my use of the word "crazy".

Some of my friends have expressed the concern that my use of "crazy" is ableist. I do agree that the use of "crazy" can be ableist -- for example, when it is used to insult or dismiss someone with a perceived psychological disability.

I have a new book contract with MIT Press. The working title of the book is "How to Be a Crazy Philosopher". Some of my friends have urged me to reconsider the title.

I disagree that the usage is ableist, but I am open to being convinced.

I define a position as "crazy" just in case (1) it is highly contrary to common sense, and (2) we are not epistemically compelled to believe it. "Crazyism" about some domain is the view that something that meets conditions (1) and (2) must be true in that domain. I defend crazyism about the metaphysics of mind, and in some other areas. In these areas, something highly contrary to common sense must be true, but we are not in a good epistemic position to know which of the "crazy" possibilities is the true one. For example, panpsychism might be true, or the literal group consciousness of the United States, or the transcendental ideality of space, or....

I believe that this usage is not ableist in part because (a) I am using the term with a positive valence, (b) I am not labeling individual people, and (c) the term is often used with a positive valence in our culture when it is not used to label people (e.g., "that's some crazy jazz!", "we had a crazy good time in Vegas"). I'm inclined to think that usages like those are typically morally permissible and not objectionably ableist.

I welcome discussion, either in comments on this post or by email, if you have thoughts about this.

Update: On my public post on Facebook, Daniel Estrada writes:

I think the critical thing is to explicitly acknowledge and appreciate how the term "crazy" has been used to stigmatize and mystify issues around mental health. I don't think it's wrong to use any term, as long as you appreciate its history, and how your use contributes to that history. I think the overlap on "mystification" in your use is the extra prickly thorn in this nest. Contributing an essay (maybe just the preface?) where you address these complications explicitly seems like basic due diligence.

I like that idea. If I keep the title and the usage, perhaps we can premise further discussion on the assumption that I do something like what Daniel has suggested.


Nick said...

Eric, it's not ableist. "Crazy" has all sorts of meanings and uses that go well beyond the mental health context (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crazy). Even used as largely overlapping with terms like insane or lacking reason it is not clear to me that it is ableist, unless it is used to stigmatize a category of people.

Shelly Tremain won't be happy but you can live with that.

howie berman said...

From my experience psychiatrists hesitate to use the word crazy as being non diagnostic- a patient would be referred to as having a diagnosis of a given mental illness or instead if having crazy thoughts, thinking unclearly or having racing thoughts.
Personally, I think that not using crazy is a nice gesture and an act of kindness, which matters for people who interact regularly with the mentally ill but there are systemic obstacles to the treatment of the mentally ill such as insurance not covering treatment and so forth

Unknown said...

Well what is a normal end game in philosophy today...

Callan S. said...

To me it seems like something that needs a book in itself (particularly by a 'crazy' philosopher), this cultural movement to hunt down certain words, as if if certain words aren't used, then the world is somehow fine.

Pilot Guy said...

We may have to recall the whole "___ for Dummies" series of books.
On a more serious note - I googled "crazy as ableist" and there went my morning.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

My own best judgment is that it my own usage, in this context, is not objectionably ableist. However, some others who have thought more carefully than I about disability issues do think it's ableist. I might defer to that, if that seems to be the general opinion among those who know best.

chinaphil said...

Likes may be a bit superfluous, but I personally agree 100% with your last comment above. Far-out Philosopher? Philosophy takes us places we never thought we'd go? Freaky Philosopher?
To offer you a bit of empathy - I'm a translator working in a Chinese company, with mostly Chinese colleagues. So they give me a document to be translated into English, and I do so, and then the querying and criticism begins: Why did you use the word "breakneck" to mean fast? That sounds dangerous! This word doesn't seem very common, can't you use something simpler? And so on and so forth, lots and lots of comments from that seem, well, crazy. I occasionally stand my ground, but in the vast majority of cases, the best thing to do for all involved is simply to accept whatever preference my colleagues express, and find another expression to use. It's an exhausting process, but I haven't found any way around it yet.