Homophobic and Sexist Rant in Synthese

Edited to include a response from the editorial board at Synthese.

Thanks to one of my graduate school friends for pointing me to this article in Synthese, written by Jean-Yves Beziau, the logic subject editor of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article title is “The relativity and universality of logic” and is intended, I believe, to argue in favour of the author’s universal logic project.

I find the article worth criticizing on several philosophical grounds, but a more egregious problem is its inclusion of this rant against political correctness that manages to compare homosexuality to dictatorship, and logical pluralism to a sexy young woman whose attractiveness will eventually fade. Really.

“Logical pluralism” is linked in another way to sexuality: it is connected to homosexuality. The flag of homosexuality is the rainbow seen as a general symbol of pluralism opposed to the black and white dichotomy. It is a bit weird to promote plurality through a sexual activity between people of the same sex. It would be similar to promote democracy through dictatorship saying that democrats are open to every politicians including dictators. However supporting homosexuality is politically correct.
To be pluralist is a politically correct way of being. The expression politically correct has progressively flourished during the last 30 years. It is now being used to characterize what is correct or not in the same sense than morally correct was used before. Moralism now looks quite old-fashion, but politically correct is just a new skin for the old ceremony. What is correct or not has changed but the correctness mood is the same: political correctness shares with the old-fashioned moralism the same blind normative aspect. One has to think or behave in a way without really understanding why and if one disobeys she (to use a politically correct way of speaking, contrasting somewhat with the sexism of using “sexy expressions”) is considered as an eccentric or/and a dangerous female. And political correctness like the old moralism is full of absurdity and hypocrisy: for example, it is not politically correct to eat dogs; at the same time it is politically correct to eat cows; although it is politically correct to recognize the plurality of religions, the fact that for Hindus eating cows is not good.
Logical pluralism is fashionable and fashion is ephemeral and superficial, like a sexy young woman that 1 day will be a not so attractive old lady. To claim that logical pluralism is a fashionable nonsense would be more aggressive in the line of Sokal and Bricmont, and it is not necessary to go on up to this point. Nevertheless logical pluralism can be said to lack of meaning because it is not an articulated theory of logical systems.

It seems fairly inexplicable that this was published in a journal as prestigious as Synthese, though as was pointed out in a recent pronoun tantrum post, there may be some real problems with editorial processes these days that they allow these rants such a forum.

Updated Jan 21st – The editorial board at Synthese has written to us with the following message:

We are truly sorry about any offense caused by the special issue article published in Synthese. We are strongly committed to feminist and LTGB values. We take full responsibility for every article of published in Synthese, and are committed to learning lessons from every problem that arises. We are now looking into the problem, and although we would like to react as soon as possible, we also want to do a thorough investigation and discuss this with all concerned.

Thank you very much for your concern and patience.

Gila, Otavio, and Wiebe

23 thoughts on “Homophobic and Sexist Rant in Synthese

  1. In addition to being homophobic, sexist, and splenetic, the passage is practically incoherent; the sentences almost appear to be given in random order. I assume that makes it likelier to represent an absent or incomplete editorial process than to reflect a knowing editorial approval.

  2. I’m somewhat baffled by the acknowledgement of anonymous reviewers at the end of the piece — what reviewer would let this paper slip by as written? It’s not like the homophobia and sexism are the only bad things about it.

  3. Is there any chance this is a really poorly done joke? I’ve just started the paper but a lot of it seems awful and there are references to Sokal. Here he is, for instance, being awful with Sokal:

    “Sokal (1996) in its hoax has promoted confusion because he has juxtaposed quotations by Bohr and Heisenberg rejecting objective reality with post-modernism nonsenses. Since he has proposed no other interpretations of quantum physics one may conclude that Bohr and Heisenberg’s ideas have the same value as post-modern nonsenses.”

  4. (I’ll freely admit this being a joke is probably a long shot. It’s just the paper isn’t very good throughout and I’m flummoxed as to why any of it was published.)

  5. How utterly bizarre. The entire paper is little more than a string of superficial observations, loose associations, and strange claims, liberally intermixed with personal recollections. Note the passages on hexagons towards the end. It would be funny if it weren’t so irritating to think of the hours that I have spent refereeing for this journal, more than once ending up rejecting a paper that was not entirely without merit because I thought it didn’t meet the “standards” …
    The fact that this kind of thing can slip through is a serious blow to the reputation of Synthese.

  6. The paper is in a special issue (the whole issue is listed here http://link.springer.com/journal/11229/192/7) and it seems to have had a different refereeing process than Synthese uses for regular issues. This is a very egregious case of what is more common to special issues and invited papers—a lax refereeing process. This does damage to the author, the editor, the journal, and the wider discipline and profession. There’s a lot of embarrassment to share in this particular case.

    I’m glad it’s getting attention, so we work harder at cleaning things up. (And I’m very happy that logical pluralism has better critics than the author of this paper.)

  7. Like Shao Ping, my first thought was, “this just can’t be real. Is it a bad joke?” Between the content and the horrid writing, it blows my mind that it could have gotten through even a lax refereeing process….

  8. Dummett’s comments on his discovery of Frege’s journals come to mind here. Of course, the philosophical community was guilty in that case of suppressing the offending texts in the interest of vouchsafing a notable philosopher’s reputation.

    I’m not disappointed that Synthèse published the paper. But I’m tremendously disappointed that they chose to do so without a decisive editorial rebuke.

  9. This is kind of amazing. Putting aside the egregious homophobia/sexism, is there anything LIKE an argument here? Or even a realistic picture of a position?

  10. Shao Ping: Sadly, having heard numerous talks given by Jean-Yves, I can report that this is not a one off Sokal-type hoax… The last talk I saw by him included similar language along with accompanying photographs taken from the internet.

  11. This is really shocking. Here is Synthese’s editorial board (taken from here: http://www.springer.com/philosophy/epistemology+and+philosophy+of+science/journal/11229/PS2?detailsPage=editorialBoard)


    Otávio Bueno, University of Miami, U.S.A.
    Wiebe van der Hoek, University of Liverpool, U.K.
    Gila Sher, University of California, San Diego, U.S.A.

    Advisory Board:

    Christina Bicchieri, University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
    Peter Gärdenfors, Lund University, Sweden
    Clark Glymour, Carnegie Mellon University, U.S.A.

    Editorial Board:

    Mark Bedau, Reed College and Portland State University, U.S.A.
    John Bickle, Mississippi State University, U.S.A.
    Giacomo Bonanno, University of California at Davis, U.S.A.
    Raymond Dacey, University of Idaho, U.S.A.
    Eli Dresner, Tel Aviv University, Israel
    Hans van Ditmarsch, LORIA, Nancy, France
    Brigitte Falkenburg, TU Dortmund, Germany
    Luciano Floridi, Oxford University, United Kingdom
    Sven Ove Hansson, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
    Paul Humphreys, University of Virginia, U.S.A.
    Jerome Lang, CNRS – Université Paris-Dauphine, France
    Fenrong Liu, Tsinghua University, China
    Elisabeth Lloyd, Indiana University, U.S.A.
    Paolo Mancosu, University of California at Berkeley, U.S.A.
    Margaret Morrison, University of Toronto, Canada
    Duncan Pritchard, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
    Robert van Rooij, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Gabriel Sandu, University of Helsinki, Finland
    Gerhard Schurz, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany
    Sonja Smets, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Lucia Vaina, Boston University, U.S.A.
    Achille Varzi, Columbia University, U.S.A.
    Gregory Wheeler, Max Planck Institute, Berlin, Germany
    Michael Wooldridge, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

  12. I just contacted the blog with a short response message. I hope they will post it right away. We are looking into it, and a more detailed response will follow soon. Best, Gila (editor in chief, Synthese)

  13. I expect that the editors of Synthese will get to the bottom of what happened and ensure that something like this is not published in Synthese (including in special issues) in the future. I know, in particular, how dedicated Otávio Bueno is to improving the climate for women in philosophy and to the careful and high-quality editing of Synthese when he serves as the actual editor. Otavio’s commitment to being trained as an APA CSW Site Visit Team Member in spite of how difficult it was for him to fit into his busy schedule and his public support of the APA CSW Site Visit Program are exemplary!

  14. The author says “It is a bit weird to promote plurality through a sexual activity between people of the same sex” and no argument supporting why it is weird is present in the article. Plurality of opinions and practices about sex is and must be part of political pluralism. Really incoherent way of saying that “I don’t understand (or like) gay people”..

  15. @Erkan Saner
    That was the only sentence that did make sense to me. It’s point is that homosexuality is but one stripe of the plurality, so to celebrate plurality using a symbol for homosexuality in specific is contradictory.
    It reminds me of contradictions Paul Berman points out in Democracy and Homosexuality.

    I am not defending the rest of the author’s rant.

  16. The author’s statements are odd and indefensible.
    Nonetheless, it would incorrect to say that homosexuality is equated with dictatorship when the author clearly means this as an analogy for promoting plurality through the symbolism used by one stripe of that plurality.

  17. Beziau’s argument might have some flaws, but this post and its corresponding comments somehow prove part of his point, namely: “political correctness shares with the old-fashioned moralism the same blind normative aspect. One has to think or behave in a way without really understanding why and if one disobeys she (to use a politically correct way of speaking, contrasting somewhat with the sexism of using “sexy expressions”) is considered as an eccentric or/and a dangerous female.”

    What do SJW in the field of philosophy plan to do after this thoughtcrime? Will you try to stop him from publishing again in any journal? Will you try to get his boss to fire him and make sure that he will never work again in a philosophy department? Will you track him down until you find him and demand public apologies and full repentance for thinking what he thinks?

    He’s lucky he works in Brazil and not in the US or Europe, lands of freedom.

  18. By “homophobic” you mean “critical of homosexuality”, right? So the more effectively critical of homosexuality a paper is, the more homophobic and therefore the less fit for publication?
    Can you please offer a list of issues on which quality in writing philosophy means taking one side?
    Is it sufficient sanction to “unpublish” a paper? After academic freedom is intended to protect academic in doing quality work. If taking certain positions means that the work is not of quality, should one attempted publication of this type be sufficient for depriving someone of an academic position?

  19. How Wilde. I’m going to venture answers to the questions in #21: No. No. No. n/a (see previous), n/a (again, see previous).

    Regarding my first No: I didn’t write the post or headline, but it seems fairly clear that Audrey’s objection to the excerpt is not that it is “critical” of homosexuality. Since she avers that the author “compares homosexuality to dictatorship,” and since she is herself a professor who instructs others in logical argumentation, I infer that her objection has nothing to do with “taking one side.” Her objection seems to be that the comparison is not apt.

    Therefore, and regarding my second No, Audrey seems to be taking the position that the paper is not “effectively” critical. The excerpt of the paper is very ineffectual in its presentation of its criticisms, which seem to be criticisms of political correctness and/or logical pluralism, anyway, not criticisms of homosexuality.

    Therefore, and regarding my third No, I doubt that Audrey or anyone else at FP could offer a list of issues, a request I’m sure you intended oh, so sincerely.

  20. the complete lack of any logical basis for that statement was appalling.
    fuzzy logic went unconsidered, and the red-herrings where numerous.

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