Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Clarifying ‘sexual violence’ September 26, 2014

There are many forms of sexual and gender based violence. Some of them have only come to light in more recent history, and some we still tend, collectively, to fail to understand. However, the University of Michigan’s (otherwise seemingly wonderful) initiative to prevent and more effectively respond to domestic and intimate partner violence, has offered a very worrying example of sexual violence. The site reads:

Examples of sexual violence include: discounting the partner’s feelings regarding sex; criticizing the partner sexually; touching the partner sexually in inappropriate and uncomfortable ways; withholding sex and affection; always demanding sex; forcing partner to strip as a form of humiliation (maybe in front of children), to witness sexual acts, to participate in uncomfortable sex or sex after an episode of violence, to have sex with other people; and using objects and/or weapons to hurt during sex or threats to back up demands for sex.

Withholding sex and affection is not a form of sexual violence. Rather, too often, claims of failing to be sexually available and affectionate enough have historically been used to justify mistreatment of (and sometimes violence towards) partners–just think of the offensive (and mythical) stereotype of the ‘frigid wife,’ and the various ways in which it has been employed.


A clarification

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:00 pm

I wanted to highlight a comment that Kate Norlock makes in a previous post:

I think the main reason this is all depressing to me is that at times like these, complexities in individuals are ignored for the sake of other ends. The ends are endorsed by admirable people. I hope they achieve good things. But I don’t want to forget that the conduct being argued against does not constitute the whole person.

I think Kate is absolutely right about this. So let me be completely clear: what I have been trying to do in these posts is draw attention to problematic patterns of behavior, and the negative effects those patterns can have. I make absolutely no claims about intentions, and – more importantly – about character. I’m not saying Brian Leiter is a bad person. People are really complicated, and no one deserves to have their character judged based on the small glimpse of it we see in an online persona.


Rankings and Implicit Bias

Filed under: academia,bias — jennysaul @ 2:19 pm

There’s some really interesting discussion starting to take place about the pros and cons of various kinds of ranking systems for philosophy. A couple of years ago I wrote a paper on the potential for implicit bias in both the PGR and the REF. I thought it might be useful for that paper to be a part of these discussions, so I’m posting the penultimate draft of it here. (Also, I can’t figure out how to use my university’s newly updated CMS. Grr!)

The paper is “Ranking Exercises in Philosophy and Implicit Bias”, in Journal of Social Philosophy, 43:3, 2012.


It was only after publishing the paper that I noticed another interesting difference between REF and PGR. I’m no great fan of the REF– it has lots of problems, but it does have the nice feature of not weighting an areas of philosophy more heavily than any others. Whatever area your work is in, it’s only ranked by people in your area, and there’s no overall ranking of departments, except in so far as various competing ones can be (and are) arrived at through the rankings of work, impact, etc. So there’s no case to be made that a department will do better in the REF by hiring an analytic metaphysician than a pragmatist. Departments are free to just go by quality and teaching/supervising needs, without worrying that they should favour particular areas for the sake of the rankings.


The CHE interviews Brian Leiter

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:27 pm

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on this week’s events involving Brian Leiter, which includes an interview conducted with him on Thursday. Some excerpts:

Despite those steps, Mr. Leiter remained dismissive of the recent wave of criticism of him, which he attributed partly to feminist philosophers irritated by his defense of the due-process rights of scholars accused of sexual harassment, and partly to philosophers who periodically rebel against The Philosophical Gourmet because their own departments rank poorly.

. . .

Mr. Leiter attributed some of the criticism of him to a “cultural gap” that he said had developed in his argumentative field as younger philosophers had become heavily involved in social media and engaged in what he called “tone policing,” denouncing online comments they see as offensive or uncivil.

Mr. Leiter said that he had not made a decision about his continued involvement with the rankings report and that he had yet to hear a compelling argument for his stepping down. “What I am not going to do,” he said, “is capitulate to a cyber mob that is exercised about issues that are irrelevant.”


Just to be clear, this feminist is not ‘irritated’ with Brian Leiter because of anything about due process. This feminist finds bullying unacceptable, and is concerned about ways in which Brian Leiter’s role in the PGR has the potential to make his repeated acts of what I take to be bullying particularly harmful.

That’s not tone policing. I don’t object to Leiter’s tone per se. I object to the way he repeatedly says personally insulting and even threatening (in the sense of threatening legal action) things to people who are much less professionally established than he is. So yes, that amounts to ‘denouncing online [or in some cases, emailed] comments [I] see as offensive’. But that doesn’t mean it’s tone policing. That just means that I speak up when I find something offensive or unacceptable.

I can’t speak for others, and I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I’m willing to bet that this characterization of those who are critical of Leiter is in general as inaccurate as it is in particular inaccurate of me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go grab my torch and pitchfork. . .


Is civility a professional error?

Filed under: academia,free speech,improving the climate,language — jennysaul @ 7:25 am

A guest post from MM McCabe

Amid the debate about academic freedom which has been in the professional news recently, there has been a parallel discussion about the nature and importance of ‘civility’. It is a category mistake (as I have argued) to take civility to be the converse of academic freedom. But some have argued that civility is still a professional error: that we may or even should use uncivil language and a hostile stance at times in dealing with opposition and criticism. And the demands for incivility are heard more acutely when we face attack on our very institutions and seem to be fighting for our academic lives.…..

Begin, however, with the ordinary case. In the corridor or the classroom or the seminar, civility is at least an aspiration – that we speak and listen to each other in a civil manner: it is an aspiration within an existing community – hence the political overtones of the word. Why should we bother? Civility is an attitude displayed in the content of what one says, revealed by tone or linguistic choice, but it is fundamentally an attitude to another person – of taking them seriously, of treating them with respect and care, and without prejudice. This, I take it, matters intrinsically – just because whatever enterprises we are engaged in, we are engaged together. This explains the shock and outrage and the sympathy for its target when civility seems to be cast aside.

But civility matters practically and instrumentally, too. For discussion – not only in philosophy, but perhaps philosophy is a paradigm case – is a fragile thing. In its full sense it relies both on each party’s having the confidence to speak without hesitation or fear and on each party’s ability to listen to the other. Shouting, of course, precludes listening; and so does its behavioural counterpart, incivility – where the damage may be done at a distance, or over a length of time. For these are exercises of power; and they distort and damage and stunt each party over time. (As a young graduate student, in seminars with an array of philosophical heavyweights, I said not a word in public for years; and the sense, both of terror at speaking up, and of hubris in daring to think I have something to say, has remained with me ever since, only overcome, regrettably, by a natural garrulousness). The wielding of power is bad for each party; both the silenced and the speaking end up with a view of what they each think that comes from their squinted sense of themselves, rather than from some better assessment of what they (might have) said. That is bound to limit what we think about – since some stuff never gets said; and some gets said too much. And it is bound to limit us.

For all this has both a narrowing effect and a broadening one. Incivility relies on an assumption of being right; and that assumption itself may make a speaker risk-averse (this is the Mastermind syndrome – you too can be a specialist within a vanishingly narrow scope…) or pontifical everywhere (this is the God syndrome – to which both those who believe in a god and those who do not are prone…). Both syndromes affect both parties to a discussion where the balance of power is out of whack: but they are the assumptions of power, not of careful inquiry.

For the hearer, civility has an obvious epistemic advantage, that it does not tempt us to accept beliefs whose warrant is sustained only by force majeure; it allows us to see the limits of expertise or authority; and it encourages us to think that we too might have something to say. Moreover, in eschewing particular attack, it allows us to turn our attention better to what is impersonal and abstract; it has that instrumental value.

For the speaker (or the writer) it may be hard to remember that we might be wrong, or that we could think again, or that others might have thought about the same things too; and in the grip of a passionate conviction it is especially difficult to make oneself look at the passion from the outside, from the perspective of another, from the abstract stance of the discussion itself. But discussion gives us these other perspectives: if we are able to listen, then we can think about what we think is different ways. If we are sure we are right about something, we can surely afford the patience to listen to a different view; and if the different view is worth hearing, then perhaps we are not so right after all. But that sense of perspective arises only if the other party to our discussion is able, not only to listen, but also to speak. Listening, if you like, goes both ways; and each of us has to have courage to speak, as well as the patience to hear, if the deep intellectual benefits of discussion are to be reaped. That courage can be very hard indeed to find. Civil exchanges, where the exercise of power is absent, are one condition for finding it.

Civility is hard, though: it is easy indeed to feel oneself under threat and to respond without hesitation, seeking to defend ourselves. This escalates – one remark construed as uncivil provokes another and another; and then the history of the offence is just repeated and rehearsed. This is the rhetoric of the playground, of ‘she said, he said, she said…’, the endless recapitulation of grievance, the constant repetition of what was done, by whom, to whom, and under what provocation. Such disputes, legalistic in their detail, may be not only interminable, but utterly indeterminate, since the original offence is often lost in the retelling itself. Both parties, of course, take themselves to be in the right, and to have behaved impeccably. Either may be right. But in such a situation, remember Jarndyce v. Jarndyce: we are all the poorer for it (apart, perhaps, from the Court of Chancery). Return, then, to the nature of the aspiration to be civil. The prospect of restoring good will and the possibility to speak and to listen together demands that the endless detail is, at last, abandoned. The future of collaborative discourse is more important than its past.

In all of our exchanges, perhaps, we fall short: civility is under construction, but it continues to be an aspiration. But there is still a question of the role of rage: are we never right to express fury, or righteous indignation? Communities, after all, are not only the place for polite discussions of an afternoon in the study, but the locus of structures of power, places where wrongs can be done and go unnoticed or unprotested. When that happens, there is another demand upon us, a different kind of courage called for – the courage to protest, to object, to stand up for one party against another – a courage that is demanded even where there is no risk of physical harm. So in counterpoint to the aspiration to civility, there is a proper demand to call out wrong, and to insist on expressing disapproval or disdain or condemnation. This may be a case, merely, of objecting to a wrong; or a protest against the improper wielding of power. (It should not, I think, for all the reasons above, simply call out an intellectual mistake – accusations of stupidity promote the wretched ‘smartness’ competition). Such a protest may indeed express other responses than civility: anger is the properly moral emotion in response to some appalling injustices. And that rage may be, not only about the content of the injustice, but directed against the perpetrator – after all, we regularly think that there is a connection, sometimes, between the views that someone holds and their moral character. As so often, there is a matter of fine judgment here between the demands of moral indignation, and the demands of attentiveness; and this, we might think, works within any community, whatever its boundaries. But once again there is a difference of category: moral indignation may be a moment or a stance against some particular offence; but it should not be a general attitude, nor a repetitive trope, nor, indeed, a policy. Instead, in general, civility serves us well; for it underpins the virtues that promote freedom of inquiry: modesty, a sense of community and intellectual courage.


On Apology, Redux September 25, 2014

Filed under: forgiveness,improving the climate,professional conduct — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 12:34 pm

Tensions are running really high in philosophy right now. We’re in the midst of a sea change — on awareness of climate issues in the discipline, and on thoughts about what constitutes “good” philosophy. It’s a sea change that some philosopher-friends have quietly speculated may change the 2000-year-old face of philosophy itself.

One of the sources of the tension is the fact that certain prominent philosophers — I count at least eight in the past year — have been publicly accused of certain transgressions. Some of those philosophers have attempted to defend or explain their actions (or, worse, failed to accept that the fact that someone is offended means that there has been an offense), and, in doing so, have made the situation worse.

About six months ago, I wrote a piece called “On Apology,” in which I made a first pass at a few guidelines for apologizing. Conversations with colleagues on Facebook over the past few days have led me to think it might be helpful to republish part of that post at this particular juncture.

Here are the guidelines I proposed:

1. In order for an apology to be effective, it must be presented in a way that enables the offended to privately decline:

The offer of an apology should be made in a way that it does not further violate the autonomy of the offended. Specifically, it should be worded in a way that permits the offended to gracefully and privately decline the offer, without further conflict.

As Elizabeth Spelman explains in Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, for a victim who does not want reconciliation, an apology can be problematic if it is not presented in a manner that provides the offended an opportunity to reject it without further harm:

“My apology is a kind of subpoena, pressing you for an appearance, a response. Given what I have declared, and declared openly, about my deeds and my attitude toward them, shouldn’t you be pleased? Shouldn’t you give up any anger and resentment you have? Don’t you at least owe me some kind of response?… You have lost the moral high ground your anger might have afforded you. But more, it shifts the burden now to you.” (Spelman 2002, 99)

To issue a public apology without the express permission of the offended can be worse than not apologizing at all.

(Thanks to Alice MacLachlan for this insight.)

2. It should also aim to be a redistribution of power and a performance of vulnerability:

Apologies are important because they provide an opportunity for the relatively powerful to experience vulnerability, to comprehend one feature of the offense, and, through that comprehension, empower the offended. In other words, apologies can act as a channel for the redistribution of power, which is often a precondition for moving forward. As Aaron Lazare, former Dean and Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, explains in On Apology:

“what makes an apology work is the exchange of shame and power between the offender and the offended. By apologizing, you take the shame of your offense and redirect it to yourself… In acknowledging your shame you give the offended the power to forgive.” (Lazare 2004, 42)

For this reason, apologies typically cannot accomplished through a single written message.

An effective apology is often a series of performative speech acts — an attempt to transform a social reality, rather than simply describe or ruefully acknowledge that reality. In the case of apologies for offenses that reflect an existing power asymmetry, to apologize in a way that reasserts that power is not transformative. In order for an apology to be effective, it must be a performance of vulnerability, not an extended expression of power.

So, for example, Madonna’s botched attempts to issue an apology for using a hashtag with a racial slur were unsuccessful because, even after dropping her attempts to defend the indefensible, the “apology” she offered was an expression of power, an assertion of her imagined role as an inspiration and bearer of messages of tolerance:

“MY job is to inspire and bring people together. My message has always been about tolerance and non-judgment. The last thing I want to do is bring chaos or cause separation in anyway. #revolutionoflove”

An effective apology in this case would have been a process of: acknowledging that a racial slur is an expression of intolerance; attempting to genuinely comprehend why outrage is an appropriate reaction, perhaps via dialogue with the offended or an effort to empathetically imagine the experience of those offended; and publicly admitting ignorance and explaining why the slur is offensive, with credit to those who helped her with the process of understanding. Given the complexities of the often intersectional nature of discrimination, harassment, and violence, dialogue and performative imagination is a particularly important aspect of our attempts to comprehend.

In the case of institutional, official apologies, a performance of vulnerability—as in, say, publicly admitting culpability despite concerns about the possible legal ramifications—is particularly important, given that the relationship is almost always asymmetrical. (And, for what it’s worth, any aversion to apology on a purported legal basis is probably worth questioning. Case law is rife with examples in which apology and remorse have resulted in the mitigation of damages and even punishment.)

3. If the offended is willing to accept an apology, it should be both public and private:

Apologies should be both public—provided that the apology is couched in a way that does not violate the privacy and autonomy of the offended, if the offended either does not want the facts known or does not want an apology—and private.

To issue an apology that is only public is like referring to someone who is in the room using the third person; it is to fail to understand that an apology, as a transaction of power and shame, must occur between the offender and offended. So, for example, in the case of Madonna’s apology above, a “real” apology would have been not just a public broadcast on her Instagram page, but also a personal apology addressed to each individual who expressed disgust in response to her use of a racial slur, and/or a letter of apology to associations representing the offended group.

To issue an apology that is only private, on the other hand, is like issuing a promissory note without any intent to pay. Transactions should have a public or verifiable element in order be a legitimate, enduring, and trustworthy exchange.

4. It must be grounded in an affirmation of a shared norm:

An apology should be an affirmation of a norm that the apologizer believes to be appropriate and binding. In order to serve as a basis for reconciliation, it cannot be a mere acknowledgement of a difference in belief or values, with a request for forgiveness based on a provisional acceptance of the difference. To respond to an offense by saying, “I think the restrictions that are being imposed on me are misguided, but I understand that my actions have been perceived as offensive and therefore apologize,” is to acknowledge that a transgression has taken place—but in a manner that places the onus for the judgment of unacceptability on an unshared belief or value endorsed by the offended, rather than on a shared belief or value. It therefore blocks reconciliation by calling attention to differences, rather than by recalling and reaffirming the legitimacy of communal codes of behavior or values that have been violated in the offense.

Similarly, the language of the apology must name and describe the offense in the way that the offended understands it—in terms that acknowledge that it is in fact an offense and demonstrate that the offender has acquired some level of comprehension of the underlying issues. Attempting to apologize for “non-consensual sex” with a “freshman” is unlikely to be effective, when what happened was the rape of a first-year student.

5. It should be mindful of the needs for restitution/reparation:

Restitution is the act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken, lost, or surrendered. Reparation is the act of repairing or making amends for a wrong.

If we use case law as a model, then it is reasonable to think that whether restitution and/or reparation are a required in order for an apology to serve as grounds for reconciliation depends on the degree of the harm experienced by the offended. (Note that I said the degree of the harm experienced, not the degree of the harm inflicted. This is a subjective measure, not an objective measure of the harm, as substantiated by evidence such as the testimony of counselors and other experts, the victim’s narrative as relayed via correspondence at the time of the offense, etc.)

It may also depend on whether the offense takes place in an environment of systemic inequity or power imbalance. When an offense results in the loss of a job, opportunity, or other tangible benefit, an apology, arguably, must be more than words. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarks in God Has a Dream:

“If someone steals my pen and then asks me to forgive him, unless he returns my pen the sincerity of his contrition and confession will be considered nil. Confession, forgiveness, and reparation, wherever feasible, form part of a continuum.” (Tutu 2004, 57)

Many believe that when an offense is an example of the kinds of actions that perpetuate a deeply entrenched or systemic form of injustice, an apology that aims to reconcile must include both a commitment to both restitution in the form of working to try to restore the particular loss(es) of the offended, and reparation in the form of a commitment to trying to address the broader problem of the systemic injustice(s).

6. It should be sincere and non-obsequious display of empathy and/or affect:

Some victims point to an affective element that must be present for an apology to be a “real” or effective. The affective component of the offer, in order to be sincere, also should not be excessively beseeching—as was the case, for example, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s early January 2014 press conference, in which he apologized more than two dozen times for the George Washington Bridge incident.

Perhaps even more important than the affect is empathy. As one survivor of an instance of sexual misconduct in philosophy said to me last fall, “I don’t want him [the offender] to suffer; there’s already been enough of that. I just wish I could somehow make him see what I’ve been through.” To see or feel what a victim has been through requires an empathetic and vivid re-imagining of both the offense and the context of offense from the point of view of the offended.

I don’t know whether bona fide apologies regarding certain transgressions in philosophy are possible right now, particularly given that we appear to be struggling to agree on norms, and what is and is not bad.

But it can’t harm to at least be thinking about what an apology might look like, particularly if we feel inclined to apologize ourselves, or witness an attempt to apologize.

Comments closed to allow time for thought.


Here is some more context September 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:25 pm

[Moving to the front - see update]

It has been claimed, in a post I am not going to link to, that Carrie Jenkins wrote this blog post in order to ‘attack’ Brian Leiter. Brian Leiter says that ‘apparently our profession is so degraded that if one philosopher declares in public that she will not treat Brian Leiter “as a normal member of the profession,” that’s OK, and I’m supposed to say nothing.’ (He did not say nothing, of course. He sent her this email.)

Here is how Prof. Jenkins opens the post:

Yesterday was my first day as Full Professor at UBC, so it seemed like as good a time as any to reflect on a few points about how I want to conduct my professional life.
I think of the following as pledges concerning my future behaviour qua professional philosopher. I’m making them public in the hope (and expectation!) of being held accountable to them.* This isn’t a complete list of my aspirations in this domain, of course; just a few basic things to start out with.
When I look at these statements, formulated quite generally as they are, they sound so basic that it feels important for me to note that there have been occasions where I haven’t behaved according to them (and this was received as entirely normal).

Brian Leiter is nowhere mentioned in this post. Nowhere. This post was about her own conduct and her own intentions.

[UPDATE: There's discussion in the comments of whether Carrie's post was in fact about Brian Leiter, whether or not it constitutes an attack. A main point of Carrie's pledge was to reflect on problematic behaviors that are endemic across our discipline, and to comment on how harmful they are precisely because of how common and taken for granted they are. Given that, it's hard to see how her pledge could be about Leiter in particular, or about any other individual in particular. The pledge makes sense only insofar as its about a problematic pattern of general behavior in our discipline, given that what Carrie is pledging is to resist that pattern and be an active bystander when she witnesses it.]


Sometimes an apology doesn’t help

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:24 pm

[UPDATE: Just to be clear, I posted this in full consultation with Carrie Jenkins and with her approval. I would never have dreamed of posting it otherwise.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: Brian Leiter is now claiming publicly on his blog that Carrie 'threatened' him and that his tweet to her was in response to a tweet she sent to him (which is demonstrably false - she tweeted at Tim Crane and never once made any reference to Brian Leiter.) This makes the discussion below even more salient.]

In an update to the post I’m not linking to, Brian Leiter mentions that he sent the following email to Carrie Jenkins:

Dear Carrie: Laurie Paul and Heidi Lockwood tell me you were upset by the Twitter exchange from the other day. I am genuinely sorry for upsetting you, it was, truly, the opposite of my intention. May I please try to explain what I thought was going on?

Tim Crane and I had a series of back-and-forths on Twitter about the contested Nietzsche review, which he had commissioned for TLS. He needled me, and I needled back. I posted his comment in defense of the review on my Nietzsche blog, and he quipped that I would now call him a charlatan (I told him he was only a charlatan when it came to wine expertise in a separate tweet). You weighed in with a tweet that I took to mean, “Don’t worry, Brian calls lots of people charlatans, including me.” I thought that was funny and a friendly gesture, so I replied to say, “Well, I did once call you a sanctimonious arse, but never a charlatan, and in any case, I don’t dislike you and know there are lots of good things about you.” Unfortunately, that’s more than 140 characters.

Now as you know several months ago I did send you an intemperate e-mail, which I regret sending, but it was in response to something you had done which really upset me. I read your “pledge” back then (as did Catarina at NewApps, from whom I learned about it) as directed at me and as saying: “I am not going to treat Brian Leiter as a normal member of the profession.” I found that very offensive at the time. I should have cooled off for 24 hours, but instead I sent you an intemperate e-mail. I learned you then put it into public circulation, so I took that to be the context of the tweet exchange. Part of what I wanted to convey with the tweet exchange was only that I wasn’t annoyed about that earlier incident, and I took the fact that you tweeted what you did to mean you weren’t either.

I have spoken to Carrie at length about this email. It did not make things better for her. In fact, for quite understandable reasons, it made them worse.

After the July email Carrie received counseling during which she was advised very strongly that, in order to recover from the incident, she should under no circumstances enter into any further correspondence with Leiter. She attempted to comply by ensuring emails to her from his address were filtered so they would not appear in her inbox.

However, Leiter posted his message to her to the Facebook page of a mutual friend, making it impossible for her to avoid contact with him as she was attempting. Although she did not read it when it appeared (in her best attempt to follow her counselor’s advice), many friends saw it and discussed it with her, so she could not ignore its contents or avoid the further harms caused by them, which are described below.

In Leiter’s message, no awareness is evinced of the serious harm that has been caused to Carrie over the months since July. Hence there is no acknowledgement of responsibility for this harm and no apology for it. There is no attempt on Leiter’s part, in this message or anywhere else, to discover how she was affected by the events during and since July, or even why she was “upset” by the September tweet.

In addition to harm caused by the July email and September tweet, Carrie had been in a state of elevated anxiety in the meantime because of various of Leiter’s public comments on his blog and Twitter feed about “meaningless pledges”, how “fortunate” it is that other philosophers did not take the “kindness” pledge, how “funny” the FP post supporting her pledge post was, and so on.

The message posted to a friend’s facebook page, however, focuses on explanations of Leiter’s own perspectives and views.There is no apology for anything in the message except the fact that Carrie may have been “upset” by the September tweet.

Likewise, there are no regrets for anything expressed except for Leiter’s “intemperateness” in sending the July email. If at any point Leiter indeed regretted sending that email, he could at any point have written to Carrie to apologize and retract his remarks, to enquire as to whether any harm had been done, and to ask whether he could do anything that would help to put that harm right. None of the above has happened. (She has now checked through her previously filtered email messages to confirm this.)

Similarly, if Leiter genuinely wished to make a plausible apology for upsetting Carrie with the September tweet, he might have enquired how he might remedy the upset caused. But even the most minimal and obvious of remedies, taking down the tweet in question, is not offered or even considered in Leiter’s message. Indeed, at the time of writing (24 September) the tweet is still live and public on Leiter’s Twitter feed. It is therefore difficult for Carrie to feel that even the minimal apology offered consists in a genuine attempt to alleviate any of the damage done.

Instead of making an effort to understand Carrie’s experience of what has happened, the apology focuses primarily on Leiter himself, on his perspective and interpretations, and on claims about his intent. His intent, and how events were perceived and interpreted by him, does not determine the effects of his actions.

Moreover, the explanations proffered have been disturbing to Carrie and caused her further distress. From Leiter’s message it is clear that both on the occasion of the July email and the occasion of the September tweet, Leiter assumed that she was talking about him despite having made no mention of him anywhere on either occasion, nor having been in any prior contact with him at either time.

Carrie’s July blog post is written in very general terms. Many philosophers do not always behave in the ways she describes in that post, including, as she explicitly notes in the post, herself.

Carrie’s tweet to Tim Crane was to Tim Crane, and was about how philosophers being called ‘charlatan’ is nothing unusual. Moreover, though he offered plenty of insults to her, Leiter never once called Carrie a charlatan, making it particularly odd that he interpreted Carrie’s tweet as being somehow about him.

Carrie finds it very unsettling – scary, even – that Leiter assumed she was talking about him both times. It has made her afraid to post public content to the internet in future, for fear of similar interpretation, leading to similar results.

Another disturbing element of the message is that Leiter claims that Carrie put his July email to her into “public circulation”. In fact, she shared the email privately with some friends, via email and Facebook (on a private thread), because she was in need of their help and support in understanding and processing something very frightening that had happened to her. One of her friends then violated her trust and posted the email to the comments section of a blog. Thus the email was put into public circulation without her knowledge and without her consent, in a violation of her trust and privacy at a time when she was already scared and vulnerable.

Carrie was additionally disturbed to learn that Leiter interpreted her September tweet to Tim Crane as friendly to him (Leiter), and as treating the July incident in a light-hearted manner. This suggested that what for her had been a frightening and traumatic occurrence was something Leiter considered a fitting subject for light-hearted Twitter exchanges.

She was also upset by Leiter’s suggestion in his message that he used his own tweet to convey to her that he “wasn’t annoyed” by the earlier incident. She does not think he had a reason to be “annoyed” with her in connection with her post. And as mentioned above, had he genuinely wished to to convey any such thing to her, he could have contacted her at any time since his July email. Why would Leiter attempt a reconciliation using a public forum in which he is limited to 140 characters and then spend 18 of those characters making public his earlier insult and another 9 of them tutting at her as if she were a child?

I don’t dispute that Brian Leiter attempted to apologize to Carrie. But not all apologies are created equal. And sometimes, apologies only make things worse.


A statement

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 2:29 pm

[UPDATE: The google site is currently down for 'violating terms of service'. There is an alternative, temporary site here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/421308/statement.html]


It is up to each of us individually to decide what we will volunteer to do. The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.

We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.


A statement of concern September 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 11:03 pm

From David Velleman and Sally Haslanger:

We are concerned about a pattern of emails sent by the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report to individuals whom he apparently perceives as critics. We hope that colleagues will report any steps by the author to carry out his threat that “things will get around”.



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