Letter From Concerned Philosophers

I have been asked to post this letter on behalf of the signatories.  It is not a project of this blog—the blog is just the venue for posting.  Two things to note: (1) Affiliations of signatories are listed for identification purposes only, and not to indicate representation of the institution; (2) The organisers want to emphasize that they are making no claims about the adequacy of the university’s actions with respect to the original complaint or efforts that have been made to protect the student, as most of the signers do not have inside information about the details of the process or any legal limits to the university’s response.  Instead they are calling on those in a position to act to ensure that they are doing all they can to support and protect the student from de facto retaliation.

UPDATE July 19, 2013: Philosophers can read How to Add Signatures here, and an Open Letter of Support from faculty and students at Miami here.

July 18, 2013

Dr. David Birnbach

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs

University of Miami

Coral Gables, FL 33124


cc: President Donna E. Shalala, University of Miami, dshalala@miami.edu

We are members of the philosophy profession concerned for the graduate student at the University of Miami who filed a complaint about the conduct of Dr. Colin McGinn. We are also concerned for other graduate students who may conclude from this case that, although a student pursues a complaint against a professor through the proper channels while purportedly retaining anonymity, she may have her scholarship, work performance, or conduct negatively characterized in a public forum by a powerful professor with no response or defense from her university.

We write to urge the University of Miami to protect this student from negative public assessments of her work or character by or on behalf of Dr. McGinn. Whether or not Dr. McGinn’s observations on his blog are intended to be retaliatory, they have some of the same deleterious effects as intended retaliation. We recognize Dr. McGinn’s right to free speech and his right to criticize whatever treatment he may have received by his employer, and we appreciate his stated desire to defend himself. However, the student is not in a position to defend herself publicly. We ask that her university discharge its duty to protect its students from acts that amount to de facto retaliation from professors about whom they have complained.


Elizabeth Anderson

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies

University of Michigan

David Archard

Queen’s University Belfast

Elizabeth Barnes

Leeds University

Nancy Bauer

Tufts University

Anat Biletzki

Albert Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy

Quinnipiac University

Martha Bolton

Rutgers University

Samantha Brennan

University of Western Ontario

Susan Brison

Chair, Department of Philosophy

Dartmouth College

Jim Brown, FRSC

University of Toronto

Otávio Bueno

Chair, Department of Philosophy

University of Miami

Ross Cameron

Leeds University

Cheshire Calhoun

Arizona State University

Ruth Chang

Member, APA Committee on the Status of Women

Rutgers University

Patricia Churchland

Past President, Pacific APA

University of California, San Diego

Lorraine Code, FRSC

Distinguished Research Professor

York University

Shannon Dea

University of Waterloo

Peggy DesAutels

Director, APA Site Visit Program

University of Dayton

David DeVidi

Professor and Chair, Philosophy

University of Waterloo

Stephen M. Downes

Professor and Department Chair, Philosophy,

University of Utah

Professor John Dupre

Director, Egenis, Centre for the Study of Life Sciences

University of Exeter

President, British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Andy Egan

Rutgers University

Frances Egan

Rutgers University

Catherine Elgin

Harvard University

Simon Evnine

University of Miami

Carla Fehr

Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy

Associate Director, APA Site Visit Program

University of Waterloo

Carrie Figdor

Member, APA Committee on the Status of Women

University of Iowa

Kit Fine

University and Silver Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics

New York University

Branden Fitelson

Rutgers University

Juliet Floyd

Boston University

Don Garrett

Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy


Ann Garry

California State University, Los Angeles

Ronald N. Giere

Professor Emeritus

University of Minnesota

Fellow of the AAAS

Philosophy of Science Association, Past president

Robert Gooding-Williams

University of Chicago

Lori Gruen

Wesleyan University

Kim Q. Hall

Appalachian State University

Sandra Harding

University of California, Los Angeles

Elizabeth Harman

Princeton University

Gilbert Harman

Princeton University

Sally Haslanger

President, Eastern APA


Barbara Herman

Griffin Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law


Alison Jaggar

University of Colorado A&S College Professor of Distinction

Philosophy and Women and Gender Studies

University of Oslo Professor Two

Andrew Janiak

Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Philosophy

Duke University

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins

Canada Research Chair

University of British Columbia, Northern Institute of Philosophy

Tim Kenyon

University of Waterloo

Jeff King

Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy

Rutgers University

Martin Kusch

University of Vienna

Hilde Lindeman

Michigan State University

Kate Lindemann

Mt. St. Mary College

Dominic Lopes

Distinguished University Scholar & Professor of Philosophy, Secretary-Treasurer of Pacific APA

University of British Columbia

Ron Mallon

Washington University in St Louis

Ned Markosian

Western Washington University

Ishani Maitra

University of Michigan

Kris McDaniel

Syracuse University

Mary Kate McGowan

Luella LaMer Professor Women’s Studies and Professor of Philosophy

Wellesley College

Christia Mercer

Columbia University

Charles Mills

Northwestern University

Tim Maudlin

New York University

Kathryn Norlock

Kenneth Mark Drain Endowed Chair in Ethics

Trent University

Kathleen Okruhlik

University of Western Ontario

John Protevi

Louisiana State University

Mark Richard

Harvard University

Alan Richardson

University of British Columbia

Robert Richardson

Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Philosophy, University Distinguished Research Professor

University of Cincinnati

Joe Rouse

Wesleyan University

Debra Satz

Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society

Stanford University

Jennifer Saul

Director, SWIP-UK, Co-Chair BPA Women in Philosophy Committee

University of Sheffield

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord

Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Jonathan Schaffer

Rutgers University

Susanna Schellenberg

Rutgers University

Eric Schliesser

BOF Research Professor

Ghent University

Naomi Scheman

University of Minnesota

Sally Scholz

Villanova University

Laurie Shrage

Florida International University

Ted Sider

Cornell University

Susanna Siegel

Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy

Harvard University

Holly Smith

Distinguished Professor

Rutgers University

Michael Smith

McCosh Professor of Philosophy and Chair, Department of Philosophy

Princeton University

Miriam Solomon

Chair, Department of Philosophy

Temple University

Jason Stanley

Yale University

James P. Sterba

Past President, Central APA

University of Notre Dame

Natalie Stoljar

McGill University

Ronald Sundstrom

University of San Francisco

Anita Superson

University of Kentucky

Ásta Sveinsdóttir

San Francisco State University

Amie Thomasson

University of Miami

Julie C. Van Camp

California State University, Long Beach

Manuel Vargas

University of San Francisco

C. Kenneth Waters

Samuel Russell Chair of Humanities

University of Minnesota

Brian Weatherson

Marshall M. Weinberg Professor

University of Michigan

Cynthia Willett

Emory University

Charlotte Witt

University of New Hampshire

Alison Wylie

Past President, Pacific APA

University of Washington

Stephen Yablo

David W. Skinner Chair of Philosophy


Naomi Zack

University of Oregon

Dean Zimmerman

Rutgers University

Christopher Zurn

University of Massachusetts, Boston

comments closed

Spousal veto

England and Wales have just made marriage between two people of the same sex legal. This is grand news, in some respects, moving us a little closer towards marriage equality. However, things are not so great for trans folks.* The Corbett v Corbett court ruling in 1970 meant that the law treated trans people as being their biological sex. This affected such things as: ability to marry, employment protections, which prison you could be sent to, and so on. In 2004 (!), under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, the government issued a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), allowing trans people to apply for a new birth certificate and so gain rights lost by the 1970 ruling. (The 2010 Equality Act removed some of those rights for good, although it didn’t take things back to the dark days of 1970). However, since marriage could only be between two people of the opposite sex, you couldn’t apply for a GRC if you were married. You needed to either get divorced and then legally change your sex, or stay married and remain your biological sex in the eyes of the law. The new marriage laws just passed should have ended these complications, but this hasn’t happened. It’s no longer essential to get divorced in order to be issued with a GRC, but you have to have your spouse’s permission to apply for one. If your spouse doesn’t give permission, then you have to get divorced. This seems like a pretty strange ruling. The government say they’ve added this clause so that ‘both parties have a say in the future of their marriage’. But what kind of say, exactly, do they have in mind? The only scenario that I can think of is someone, married to a transperson who has transitioned for more than two years (a requirement of being issued with a GRC), who – despite, one presumes, living with their spouse, being seen out and about with their spouse, going to friends’ houses with their spouse, etc. – is so deeply in denial about the situation, that they insist on thinking that their spouse is still a man/woman, and has the power to deny their spouse their rights on this basis. Why might one be in such denial? One obvious reason is that by recognising your spouse’s sex, you thereby acknowledge that you are in a homosexual relationship. The government’s ‘spousal veto’ clause thus seems to be about privileging the straight identity of the cis-partner over that of the trans person.

You can read more, including news about campaigns (completely ineffective so far) here.

*Slight understatement.

Adleberg, Thompson and Nahmias

The authors of the wonderful study at Georgia State have an excellent blog post up. Among other things, they attempted a replication of Buckwalter and Stich’s findings.

In an attempt to replicate Buckwalter and Stich’s findings, we gave a survey to over 300 critical thinking students at Georgia State University (see here for summary of findings). Note that our sample is more representative of the population of undergraduates taking philosophy for the first time than Buckwalter and Stich’s M-Turk sample. We re-ran nearly all of the thought experiments discussed in their paper, using the same wording, but we found a gender difference only in one case (women were more likely than men to agree that George knew he was not a virtual reality brain, which is consistent with Buckwalter and Stich’s report). Yet, when we performed a Sidak correction for multiple comparisons, the gender difference is not significant. Our colleague and statistics aid, Sam Sims, has conducted a power analysis for our replication. Our study has an 80% chance of detecting the effect of gender on responses to any given thought experiment provided that gender explains at least 9% of the variance in responses. Given the concerns expressed above, we doubt that any smaller gender effects, even if they exist, would be enough to contribute to women leaving philosophy.

Being creepy to the creepy guy


He waited until the train was in motion to make his move–a true sign of someone who knows how to make the environment work to their advantage. Then he leaned forward. “Hi.” “How you doing?” “What are you reading?” “What’s your name?” “I really like your hair.” “That’s a really nice skirt.” “You must work out.”

It was painful to watch. She clearly wanted nothing to do with him, and he clearly wasn’t going to take the hint. Her rebukes got firmer. “I’d like to read my book.” And he pulled out the social pressure. “Hey, I’m just asking you a question. You don’t have to be so rude.” She started to look around for outs. Her head swiveled from one exit to another.

The thing was, I had already heard this story, many many times. I knew how it would play out. I knew all the tropes. I probably could have quoted the lines before they said them. I wanted a new narrative. Time to mix it up.

So I moved seats until I was sitting behind him. I leaned forward with my head on the back of his seat.

“Hi,” I said with a little smile.

He looked at me like I was a little crazy–which isn’t exactly untrue–and turned back to her.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” he said flatly without ever looking back.

“I really like your hair,” I said. “It looks soft.”

(Thanks, Mr Jender!_