Here is some more context

[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.]

51 thoughts on “Here is some more context

  1. Which claim is bullshit? I presume the fact that Leiter is not mentioned by name is stipulated (and trivial to verify). Surely the negative behaviours described don’t form a *definite* description of Leiter, even though, I suppose, for many he is a poster child for such behaviours. Is that what constitutes the putative attack? Surely it is intended to apply to more than just Leiter.

    I guess there’s a potential slight infelicity in talking about treating people who regularly perform the negative behaviours as non-representative or normal members of the profession (as opposed to those behaviours themselves as in the first bullet point of point 2). But I think that the intent is that such behaviour is not only not constitutive (in her view) of appropriate professional behaviour but antithetical to it. (After all, empirical it might well be the case that someone regularly exhibiting such behaviour is normal and representative at least in a statistical sense.)

  2. “Surely it is intended to apply to more than just Leiter.”

    Indeed! Especially since she explicitly says that *she herself* has in the past failed to meet the standards she lays out for herself.

  3. Although comment #1 almost certainly violates the comment policy here, I certainly hope that it is preserved and not removed.

  4. I should note that it’s perfectly possible for a facially neutral statement to be intended to (and successfully) attack a particular person. But if it’s done so as to be indistiguishable from a neutral statement then we have to accept it as such absent specific (and fairly compelling) evidence to the contrary. Mere past disputes aren’t sufficient.

  5. If Mr Leiter thinks he was being criticized by Jenkins, when he was not so much as mentioned by her, then that alone speaks volumes, does it not? It seems as if he recognized, at some level, what the rest of us recognized more consciously: that his behavior over the last several months, in particular, has blatantly failed to satisfy the minimal standards of decency that Jenkins articulated. Sadly, he is not the only one but, as Bijan said, he is the poster child for such behavior, having gone so far as to defend that sort of incivility on the ground, apparently, that the only alternative is saying nothing in the face of “nonsense”.

  6. For the record, I just want to say that I don’t know what Leiter is talking about when he says (in his post on the current situation) that I was the one who told him about Carrie’s post. I was corresponding with him around that time on his attacks on Carolyn Jennings, and there is nothing in that correspondence referring to Carrie’s post (I went back to it and checked). Maybe through social media? I have no idea. (Not that it matters much, but for the record.)

  7. {duplicate of a comment I made on phil nous}:

    I’ve long thought — even before I saw the recent (disturbing) emails — that there should be a boycott of Leiter’s blog. I wonder if there have been any previous calls for a boycott I missed (i don’t generally read phil blogs). And I wonder how best to implement this? An online petition?

    And, a bit more on topic, I strongly oppose the PGR, both on methodological grounds and on the grounds that our profession’s rankings should not be so much under the control of one individual. (there are other, more nit-picky reasons, e.g., that it favors mega-departments over smaller departments in a way that is good neither for the discipline nor for the people in those mega-departments). Why does the APA not appoint a ‘rankings’ committee to come up with a more inclusive panel of reviewers, and a more diverse set of criteria?

    lest some should suppose my remarks to reflect a personal bitterness about the influence of the PGR or as reflecting some kind of anti-analytic bias: my training is thoroughly analytic, and I’m at a top-10 PGR institution. I have already personally benefited from, and will no doubt continue to benefit from, the PGR. I just don’t think it’s the best way.

  8. The timing of the post (which exactly coincided with the Leiter/Jennings row), plus the fact that the points under (1) exactly describe Leiter’s conduct towards Jennings, plus the footnote under **, all strongly imply that the post is a thinly veiled criticism of Leiter.

    I can see why Jenkins wanted to build in some ‘plausible deniability’, but let’s be honest here: the implied criticism of Leiter is completely obvious to anyone who remembers the overall context at the time the post was published.

  9. Jonathan:

    Let’s suppose it was a thinly veiled criticism. Just to be clear, you’re *not* saying that would warrant the vague threats and verbal abuse from Leiter, right?

  10. Either BL subscribes to Jenkins’ code or he doesn’t. If he does, the post was a *reminder*, not an “attack” or “criticism”, since (context!) even he had apologized for some of his behavior at the time. If he doesn’t subscribe to the code, then his influence on the discipline should be minimized. Pretty straightforward.

  11. Oh please. It was obvious to anyone that the primary target of Jenkins’ post was Leiter and others who exemplify the conduct she finds objectionable.

  12. “Oh please. It was obvious to anyone that the primary target of Jenkins’ post was Leiter and others who exemplify the conduct she finds objectionable.”

    I didn’t make that connection, but I also don’t see how it matters.

    Who cares whether Jenkins’ post was inspired by or brought on by or reacting to Leiter’s specific behavior. The post was about general conduct and behavior that she finds objectionable (and pervasive). Why couldn’t she have seen a specific instance of objectionable behavior, then decided to make a statement against that sort of behavior in general? I don’t see how that is relevant to whether Leiter’s reaction was warranted. She could have called him out specifically, but she decided to make a general point (and hold herself accountable as well). That seems like a good way to deal with that.

  13. Even if Prof Jenkins had explicitly stated that her post was inspired by Leiter’s remarks, I think it could hardly be called an “attack”. Even under the assumption that Jenkins had Leiter explicitly in mind as she wrote, the post still seemed obviously and primarily to be a gentle and sincere general protest against a certain kind of behavior that is all-too-common in our discipline. Rather than claiming moral high ground, she acknowledged that she would need others to hold her accountable in order to live up to the standards she was trying to set for herself; and she also went out of her way to say that she did not take herself to be setting standards for others. Even if her post had been intended as direct criticism of Leiter’s recent online behavior, Jenkins hardly deserves the abuse to which she has apparently been subject as a result. Would that all such “attacks” were so gentle. She deserves our respect for being willing to take a stand.

  14. “Oh please. It was obvious to anyone that the primary target of Jenkins’ post was Leiter and others who exemplify the conduct she finds objectionable.”

    In addition to what others have said in response to this, even if a primary motivation was Brian Leiter’s postings on his and other blogs, the target of Carrie Jenkins’ post was definitely not the PGR or Leiter’s editing of the PGR. But Leiter’s most recent postings on this whole issue make clear that he takes this to be about the PGR. This suggests that he will take criticism of his online behavior to be an attack on the PGR (where he responds to criticism with legal threats). In the past I have deplored Leiter’s online behavior while viewing the PGR as an issue to be judged separately, but this is not a possible stance toward the PGR any longer given how Leiter conflates personal criticism with his PGR editing.

  15. No one that I’ve seen has or would deny that the description (and thus the recommended actions) *apply* to Leiter (poster child that he is) but surely that’s not sufficient to make it an attack on Leiter per se (“thinly” veiled or not).

    For example, it’s perfectly possible to say, “It was a recent event involving a particular that prompted me to reflect on such behaviour and conclude that the problem is not that individual but our tolerance, indeed, celebration of such behaviour. That behaviour is unacceptable and we should start treating it as such.” This is, prima facie, not an attack per se on the prompting individual.

    Of course, it is possible for it to be a dodge, but that requires some access to the intentions of the poster. What additional evidence we have (e.g., all the people taking the pledge) suggests that it was neither intended nor universally interpreted as an attack on Leiter, but a good idea.

    What’s the alternative? That is, people who think it’s an attack, how could Jenkins even talk about the behaviour patterns disapprovingly without ipso facto (in your view) being an attack? That’s a pretty strong constraint on criticism if the only people who can make the critique are people who have never in any way been negatively involved with someone who meets the general criterion of the critiqued!

  16. I was flabbergasted when I first learned that Brian Leiter responded somewhat aggressively to Carrie Jenkins’ aspirational and (assuredly) critical blog post about what she has come to expect (as normal, in the sense of routine), vs. what she ought to do (what norms she and we ought to strive to uphold). A challenge need not be taken to be an attack. Among philosophers, I would go so far as to say, normative challenges *ought not* be taken as personal attacks — unless it is explicitly stated that they are attacks — because we are tasked with seriously considering normative challenges, and treating the authors as attackers to be repelled gets in the way of serious discussion. It also fails to respect the challenger, who could have been seriously engaged in public discussion, but is instead privately reduced.

    I find all this rather depressing.

  17. Well, at least all the helpless and clueless undergraduates out there can, thanks to the selfless martyrdom of Brian Leiter, count on the PGR to continue, WHAT A SURPRISE!!! “Since the PGR is *for students*, I’ve got to think of ways to continue it without endlessly having a bull’s eye on my forehead.”

  18. Kate, indeed! “A challenge need not be taken to be an attack,” as you say. And what’s more, a challenge *in general* needn’t – and shouldn’t! – be interpreted as a challenge *to you in particular*. Carrie is challenging herself, her colleagues – all of us. I’m not Brian Leiter, and I took that post to be directed toward me as much as it’s directed toward anyone other than Carrie. (As, I take it, did many people, given the response.)

  19. In Leiter’s email to Jenkins you can see what got him riled up is this: “I will not accept or treat those whose behaviour regularly fails to meet these standards as normal or representative members of my profession.” This is not just a pledge to be respectful to others, but a pledge to somehow decommission violators of her norms. Since it does seem to me (from context) that she was primarily thinking of Leiter as a violator, it’s understandable that he takes this personally.

    Also, it’s not fair to say Leiter is the only one making the PGR the main issue. As he points out, there are dozens of define descriptions that pick him out, but Velleman and Halsanger choose “the author of the PGR.”

    Not trying to say Leiter’s in the right–he obviously gets unduly abusive when criticized. That strikes me as a shame, because in a lot of ways he’s a good guy–has the right opinions on a lot of topics, does a service for the profession, writes well, etc.

  20. Frank, I disagree that Brian Leiter’s statement, “Since the PGR is *for students*, I’ve got to think of ways to continue it without endlessly having a bull’s eye on my forehead,” is an indication of seeing himself as a selfless martyr. The PGR is his creation, for which he’s received some gratitude from students, and it is easy to take his statement at face value; of course he would want to continue it, whatever his self-perceptions.

    Having said that, I’m dispirited that his statement suggests it is not obvious to B.L. how to continue in a bullseye-free way. I should add, since testimony of the following kind is in short supply at the moment, that his email replies to occasional queries of mine have always been unfailingly polite and respectful, even kind. But the Statement of Concern makes it very clear that he has not managed to refrain from surprisingly aggressive emails and tweets to others, and when coupled with his influence and power as the PGR creator and author/editor of his high-traffic blog, threats of publicizing his low opinion, his insults, or his desire for legal action are intimidating. What not to do seems to be clearly provided in the Letter of Concern: avoid sending emails to colleagues that contain insults, threats, and/or personal intimidation. (We all err. I’ve written emails I wish I could build a time machine to unwrite. But by and large, most of us find it easy to refrain from aggressive responses and insults.)

    I suppose I sound thin-skinned, or oversensitive, to readers who figure we should be able to say whatever we think to fellow adults. But it’s not just that I object *in general* to emailing to say “I think you’re an idiot” — I’d have no problem emailing this to a politician, for example. But no one thinks it’s okay to write to one’s own student the same way, because our positions of power as their professors come with responsibilities. They can reasonably fear what we’ll do if we’re aggressive and insulting, and suggest telling the world what we think of them on a high-traffic blog. Similarly, I have occasionally feared saying something foolish in an email to Brian Leiter, even when I just want to call his attention to a news story, because — in all honesty — I am not completely certain he’d refrain from writing on the Leiter Reports that I’m a dumbass, and the part that completely confounds me is this: He doesn’t seem to ken that his public opinion might affect my well-being in the profession. But he *does* clearly get that what Carrie Jenkins says might affect how he’s perceived. There’s something perverse about this. He senses danger from less influential and powerful people’s statements. (And I’m not saying he’s always wrong to.) Yet he seems non-receptive to arguments that we feel more danger from his emails, tweets, and blog posts, than he reports perceiving in ours.

    What am I failing to say clearly? How is this not clear? This seems really obvious to me. I am destined to fail to persuade some of my colleagues to my view, I suppose.

  21. Hi Jean,

    Yes, part of the pledge is to treat certain patterns of behaviour as delegitimising. And yes, since Leiter enacts the patterns of behaviour (arguably), he’s going to be a target of delegitimisation. Which is no more than he does and defends as appropriate, although his criteria are different. I don’t think he finds the existence or articulation of such criteria and resultant judgments as attacks per se. I don’t see that this is any different. One might use the criteria to attack him, but, afaict, no one has done that *yet*.

    And again, what’s the alternative? No one can critique his behaviour? Its inherently impossible to come to the conclusion that his behaviour falls beneath standards we might want to establish?

    While perhaps understandable that he takes it personally (i.e., as specifically directly toward him), it seems *inaccurate* to take it that way (even though it will affect him).

    But there are other options. He could alter his behaviour. If something like Jenkins’ pledge became the norm of philosophy, then he would, in fact, be acting against the norms of the profession. Jenkins is hardly the only one who have articulated such norms (c.f., Chalmers).

  22. Very, very well said, KateNorlock. But, as someone said elsewhere (can’t know find it), there are two kinds of people: Those who understand the role social relations of power play, and those who do not.

  23. Thank you, Richard Heck, for the compliment.

    In all seriousness, it is the complexities of the more-than- two kinds that cause me struggle. Brian Leiter’s past behaviors indicate understanding when, as he says, he helps members of the profession. And then there are the other behaviors, which do the opposite of help. 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.

  24. “But I don’t want to forget that the conduct being argued against does not constitute the whole person.”

    Absolutely, Kate. And I don’t think anyone – or at least anyone sensible – involved in the current efforts would deny that. There isn’t a pledge going around asking people to affirm that, e.g., Brian Leiter is a bad person. This isn’t about his character, it’s about his actions. And more specifically, it’s about how his position in the profession allows some of his actions (and a broader pattern of behavior) to be particularly damaging and harmful.

  25. How is this not a professional scandal on par with the McGinn case yet? This includes the alleged threats perceived by both parties, and ostensibly a case of ‘professional’ bullying.

  26. I am finding this all difficult in someways for the same reasons as Kate. So I’m going to take refuge in a bit of psychology. So, with apologies Richard, I’ll pick up on your statement, “there are two kinds of people …” (27 above). As we’d normally understand it, this looks at least very questionable. It turns out that some people get one half and not the other. That is, they understand impact in one direction and not in the other. I DO NOT MEAN THIS AS AN ACCOUNT OF BL.

    One of the odd things is that people who lack a feel for when they are attacked can look as though they have an overdeveloped sense of being attacked. At least two things might account for these deceptive appearances: 1. if you are not getting when you are attacked, then really your percetion of social reality is really screwed up; you may be frailing around. 2. If you are not really getting when you are attacked, you aren’t taking in when others are reacting negatvely in order to get you to stop or moderate your behavior. Here again you are living in a different social world. (1 and 2 are my conjectures.)

    I actually do not think this problem describes BL. But knowing that we can in this and a multitude of other ways fail to live in the same social world as others might diminish our confidence in our inferences from actions to character.

  27. Just to be clear, Anne, Kate, and others: When I said, “There are two kinds of people”, I did not have Leiter in mind at all. I understand why that was unclear, but I meant to be resopnding to Kate’s last paragraph:

    “What am I failing to say clearly? How is this not clear? This seems really obvious to me. I am destined to fail to persuade some of my colleagues to my view, I suppose.”

    I didn’t have Leiter in mind at all, and I strongly believe that it is important to try to be compassionate toward him, as hard as I find that. I was talking about the reactions that *other people* have to his behavior: People who dismiss it as a merely private matter, perhaps on the ground that he is “a nice guy”, or because he does “important work”, or whatever. Those are the people who do not understand the impact of relations of power.

  28. Wow, I had to read this over several times before I fully understood. Despite years in the profession and years reading Leiter’s blog, I couldn’t quite process that he would send such a hostile and threatening response to someone who posted something so innocuous. Whether or not Professor Jenkin did have Leiter in mind is irrelevant: Leiter was not named in her post nor was he referred to by a definite description. End of story.

    I find it very difficult to square his reaction here to his professed role as a champion of free speech. This is just bizarre behavior, and I’m embarrassed that he has come to be something of a spokesperson for philosophy.

  29. I find myself wondering about the thought processes and just the general way of life of someone who would read a pledge aimed at creating a more civil and respectful professional environment whose immediate reaction was to believe it was about them, and to then respond with such uncivil hostility and aggression toward the pledge creator and signers. That seems to be all that anyone would need to know about someone — that they’d take it that way and react that way, whether or not they were the aim. The truth being an absolute defense and all.

  30. Mateo, as Mike Rea points out in #17, there’s a big difference between Leiter taking that post ‘personally’ and taking it as a personal attack on him. It’s really, really hard to read that post as an attack, even if you think it’s somehow specifically about Brian Leiter.

    Regarding what Catarina said, she regarded the post as an implicit defense of Carolyn, not and implicit attack on Leiter. And I can understand how you could read it that way – Carrie’s post is an implicit defense of Carolyn insofar as it’s a general defense of everyone in our profession who’s at the receiving end of bad behavior (and Carolyn was one such person).

    But it’s just really hard to see how the post could be about Brian Leiter in particular since it’s phrased in such general terms about a kind of bad behavior that’s incredibly endemic in our profession, and a massive point of the post is to comment on the way that this kind of behavior is so common and so taken for granted throughout our profession. I just don’t think reference works in a way that would make such a post, written in this way, uniquely or specially about Brian Leiter.

    See the update.

  31. Magical, It might have been her intention in writing those general words both to make general points and to get others to think certain things about Brian Leiter. People communicate in this non-literal, indirect way all the time, especially when they wish to convey something about an individual they believe is likely to retaliate. I don’t think it would be far-fetched for someone (including Leiter) to interpret parts of her post that way. It goes without saying that interpreting her that way didn’t justify Leiter in actually going ahead and retaliating…which he did.

  32. It seems to me that the following ought to be acceptable to everyone.

    (1) Carrie’s post involved a general characterization of certain sorts of behaviors that are widespread in our profession but that she regards as unacceptable, and a pledge publicly to name such behaviors and to work to reduce or eliminate them. There is no way that making such a declaration can possibly be regarded as anything other than praiseworthy, given the sorry state of our field in this respect.

    (2) Though hardly the only one, Leiter was at the time, and would have been at any time, a salient individual whose behavior is well known not to conform to Carrie’s standards.

    (3) It follows that, at least in some weak sense, Carrie is implicating that she intends no longer to tolerate Leiter’s behavior—or that of others who violate the standards she had articulated.

    (4) If you think this is a “threat”, then in response I quote Karate Bearfighter, who said over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money: “If Carrie Jenkins’ blog post was an unacceptable ‘attack’ on Leiter because it criticized behaviors Leiter has exhibited, then Leiter effectively immunizes behaviors from any criticism or discussion just by exhibiting them. Which, in terms of public displays of narcissism and thin skin, is just one small step up from that kid on the Twilight Zone who wishes people into the cornfield.” [’s_a_Good_Life_(The_Twilight_Zone)]

    (5) Power dynamics matter. Carrie was threatened with repeated public humiliation by someone who is arguably the most powerful single person in our profession and who has made it clear, by doing so repeatedly in the past, that he is absolutely prepared to carry out that threat. (Yeah, I would kind of know.) Why else would Leiter have needed to “reassure” Carrie by writing: “P.S. Don’t worry I’m not going to embarrass you in public about this…”? If this still isn’t clear, then please read the comment from Aimai added as an update here:

    (6) Proportionality matters. Even if Leiter, for some reason, rational or irrational, thought Carrie was “attacking” him, his response to her is so unbelievably over the top that it cannot possibly be regarded as appropriate, by any measure.

    (7) Patterns of behavior matter. This is not, by a long shot, an isolated incident. It is one of at least half a dozen this year alone, all of which have targeted either women, junior faculty, or graduate students. There have been boatloads of such incidents over the last fifteen years or so. It would not surprise me if the number of Leiter’s victims had reached triple digits at this point.

    (8) It is high time we put an end to this. And we should thank Carrie for getting us to do it.

    The end.

  33. “Magical, It might have been her intention in writing those general words both to make general points and to get others to think certain things about Brian Leiter.”

    Yes, I agree that *may* have been her intention. Likewise, I think there is a consistent way of reading what she says such that she is specifically directing her post at Leiter. It just seems like a *wildly* uncharitable (and, frankly, pretty far-fetched) interpretation of her. It doesn’t seem a good interpretation of her given the content of what she actually says, especially things like “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).” It also doesn’t seem a good interpretation of her when you combine the very general nature of her claims with the fact that these behaviors she’s talking about are incredibly widespread. And I think charitable interpretation is important!

    But in general, I agree with Richard. Whether she meant to direct her post to Leiter is mostly a side issue (though I think it matters, insofar as it matters to the badness of his attacks toward her, and is part of the explanation for just how harmful those attacks were to her.)

  34. @Jean: “This is not just a pledge to be respectful to others, but a pledge to somehow decommission violators of her norms. Since it does seem to me (from context) that she was primarily thinking of Leiter as a violator, it’s understandable that he takes this personally.”

    Or, as a woman philosopher in a field that has been unfriendly to women since at least the time of Aristotle, she was likely able to come up with a number of incidents in her mind when writing what she wrote.

  35. Richard, many apologies for misinterpreting you yesterday. It was kind of you to take yourself as having been unclear.

  36. I can’t remember in what context, but George Boolos once quipped that “Philosophers Misunderstands Philosopher” isn’t exactly front page news. But it would make a great story for the Onion.
    No need to apologize, Anne. But I appreciate it, anyway.

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