The American Philosophical Association regularly sponsors various types of gatherings to promote diversity within the discipline. A majority of the discipline is male and so the profession as a whole ought to go about trying to increase the amount of gender diversity in its ranks (the same could be said about increasing racial diversity). The underlying assumption behind such activities is that diversity itself is a good that ought to be pursued for its own sake. But is it really?
Because the good of diversity is most often just assumed (as opposed to being established by an actual argument) there is a lot of room for muddled thinking on the issue. In the most basic sense, there are two broad ways of thinking about diversity. When people talk about racial, ethnic, or gender diversity they have in mind a diversity of appearances. (This is best exemplified in the Canadian phrase “visible minority”.) But there is at least one other type of diversity. This type has to do with religious, socio-economic, or philosophical diversity (among others). Diversity in this sense doesn’t have to do with appearances, but ideas. Now of course being diverse in one way doesn’t preclude it in the other, but you can have one type of diversity even if you don’t have the other. Let’s start with the first of the two categories.
Diversity of Appearances
Diversity of appearances seems to be what people usually have in mind when they talk about diversity, but is such a thing really a good? The main worry in championing diversity of appearances is that it looks like it quickly reduces to something I’ll call ‘tokenism.’ If an organization looks to add someone to their group simply because that person is part of a “visible minority” then such an organization is guilty of tokenism. Many times the drive behind tokenism is a desire for a website or brochure to look more cosmopolitan. For example, Toronto is regularly billed as one of the most diverse cities in the world so there may be an expectation for local organizations to reflect that diversity. If Tyndale University College (which is located in Toronto) had only white male faculty members then someone might conclude that this lack of diversity should be rectified by purposefully hiring non-white, non-male faculty members. But if the goal of such hiring is simply to look like the community in which Tyndale is located, then such a process would be guilty of tokenism.
The obvious problem with tokenism is that it’s just reverse racism. It flies in the face of Martin Luther King Jr.’s challenge to not judge people based upon the color of their skin (nor, presumably, their gender). If it is obviously wrong to not hire someone based upon their skin color or gender, then it is also wrong to hire someone for the same reasons.
So far it looks like a diversity of appearances is off to a pretty bad start. But is there any good to it at all? I can think of two, but both are instrumental goods and not inherent goods (and so diversity is not worthy of pursuit for its own sake). First, to use the example above, there is some good that results from an organization having a more diverse appearance. In a place like Toronto, all things being equal, it’s better for Tyndale University College to reflect the diversity of the city than to not. So a diversity of appearances can be instrumentally useful in branding a company as being open to hiring visible minorities and things of that nature. But it is highly unlikely that these marketing goods would outweigh the badness of treating people in minority groups as tokens – as mere means to the school’s end.
Here it will be helpful to consider an objection to my characterization of diversity of appearances since that objection will help illustrate the second type of good I have in mind. It’s very unlikely many today would say we value diversity simply because we value websites and brochures that have people that look different. Instead, we value diversity of appearances because it makes it more likely that different ideas and opinions from a broad range of society will be represented. Since, the objection goes, majority groups don’t have the corner on the market of truth, we ought to encourage minority groups to set up shop too. While there is much to this response, what it really boils down to is saying that diversity of appearances is good because it is instrumentally useful in encouraging diversity of ideas. In other words, what we really want is diversity of ideas and to get that we may pursue diversity of appearances.
Here it must be noted that both the goods above are real goods, but they are only instrumentally useful in bringing about some other good. If what we’re after is a certain marketing advantage or the encouragement of diversity of ideas, then there may be other ways to achieve those goods without having to pursue diversity of appearances at all. It’s not that diversity of appearances is always bad, it’s just not something that must be pursued at all costs. In other words, diversity in this sense is overrated. But what of the diversity of ideas? Surely it’s something that is inherently good and so a worthy desideratum. Well, let’s see.
Diversity of Ideas
While it might be good in a superficial sense for a university department to have a website that looks diverse that’s not what we really care about. If a department at a university is made up of two men and two women, and three of the four are from different visible minority groups, then that department’s website is going to look great in the eyes of diversity’s champions. But a professor’s seminar isn’t based upon what the professor looks like, it’s based upon the professor’s ideas. So in this case there might be a great visible representation of diversity without an actual diversity of ideas. All four might be Christian capitalists that were philosophically trained in the analytic tradition (as opposed to the Continental tradition) and believe in things like the correspondence theory of truth, mind-body dualism, and freedom of the will. In this case the diversity of appearances has not led to a diversity of ideas so all that’s left is the superficial good of having interesting photos on the department website.
So is the lack of diversity of ideas a bad thing? It seems not. If you’re a Christian then you have to admit that not all diversity is good. Take religious diversity for example. Historically orthodox conceptions of Christianity have all included the idea that those that reject Christ are doomed to spend eternity in Hell. Because of this, the last thing the Christian should want is religious diversity. We see this in action in the New Testament regarding specific Christian doctrine as well. The Apostle Paul informs us that he went back to Jerusalem to confer with the leaders there to make sure the gospel he was preaching was the same as theirs (Galatians 2:2). He recognized that having different ideas about the gospel was bad and went out of his way to ensure he wasn’t encouraging such diversity. Apparently Paul did not find diversity of ideas to be all that important when it comes to something as important as the gospel.
The reason a gospel-diversity is not important is because of the exclusive nature of Christianity. But what if you hold other beliefs that are also exclusive, would the same principle apply? It seems it does. If you believe in moral absolutes then you should be pretty hesitant in seeking diversity of moral ideas. For example, I believe honor killings are morally abhorrent and have good reasons for that belief. If people move to Canada and don’t share my belief then that’s just too bad for them. We shouldn’t adjust our moral ideas to accommodate them, they’re the ones that are wrong. Why should we want diversity of moral ideas when it allows people to continue practicing something morally abhorrent? If I am right about honor killings being morally wrong, then everyone that disagrees is simply mistaken. I’m right, they’re wrong and no diversity on the issue should be encouraged. Further, in this case we should not only discourage diversity from forming, we should go out of our way to eliminate it. We should tell our government to start pressuring other countries that allow for this because we are right and those that engage in such a practice are wrong. The parallel with Christianity is clear. We ought to seek to convert non-Christians to Christianity because we are right about a very important matter and they are wrong. Whatever incidental goods might come along with a diversity of ideas will not outweigh the bad of encouraging religious or moral diversity.
It turns out the same is going to be true in any case in which there is an exclusive claim being made. If you believe that signs and wonders are still for Christians today then you should discourage diversity on the issue. Why would you want your fellow Christians to miss out on such wonderful blessings? If you think the best way to approach philosophical problems is by having solid training in the analytic method, then why would you encourage students to do otherwise? If you think free market capitalism is the best way to help people overcome poverty why would you encourage people to go on advocating for a system of government that would impede it? I’m always hesitant (though not so much so that I refrain) to psychologize about other people’s reasons for believing things, but it seems the only reason for rejecting this is that many people are still closet relativists. If you don’t think there is a truth to the matter about signs and wonders, philosophical method, or helping the poor, then it’s easy to seek diversity.
Some Concluding Thoughts
Because neither type of diversity is inherently good (but only, at best, instrumentally good) one must ask whether the goods aimed for are worth the cost of diversity. For example, some academic disciplines (like Philosophy) have vastly different approaches to their subject matter, but from that fact it doesn’t follow that all departments must seek to hire people from those differing approaches. If the good of training students deeply in one method outweighs the good of training students shallowly in two or three methods, then that good should be pursued even if doing so means there isn’t as much diversity as there would have been otherwise. When resources are unlimited then it’s much easier to pursue both goods, but when resources are constrained one would be perfectly justified in seeking the former over the latter.
Finally, it must be noted that I have not denied that diversity is a good. I have simply attempted to show that it is not always a good, and the times when it is, it may not be a very great one. Diversity might be something nice to have, but there are times in which it isn’t worth the trouble. In other words, diversity may be good, but for the most part it’s overrated.
Please feel free to email any comments or questions about this post to Comments@TheBayviewReview.com.