Pogge, Trial by Internet, and Professional Norms

Some really excellent careful reflection on the Pogge case and related issues has been appearing.  First, we have Leigh Johnson:

Absent the conditions for “ideal” knowing– which are rarely, if ever, present– we make do with what we have for forming careful, considered, albeit incompletely-informed judgments.  Given what I know, and given what anyone else who has bothered to pay attention to the scandals of our discipline over the last half-decade or so should know, there is more than enough sufficient reason to suspend the requirements of ideal epistemic standards in one’s judgments about the verity of female philosophers’ accounts of sexual exploitation.

Where there is smoke, there is not always fire.  But where there is smoke, there was, at least, very recently a fire.

And almost everywhere in professional Philosophy, the smoke is suffocating.

Next, Eric Schliesser:

The way we treat plagiarists — ejection, shunning, publication bans, etc. — reveals that we recognize harms against the profession and that we are willing to act rather severely against  violators of professional norms. It shows, in fact, that we tacitly recognize that even if the world is wholly corrupt and fallen, we treat norms of the profession with utmost seriousness (a seriousness that seems ridiculous to outsiders). This is not hypocrisy.  But rather an acknowledgment that we take the collective pursuit of knowledge (wisdom, truth, etc.) as a fundamental collective good. It is collective not in so far as we expect society to endorse our commitment to a substantive good, or to echo our sanctions of violators, but it is collective in so far as we remove norm violators as members in good professional standing.

As it happens, the Buzzfeed story accuses Pogge of treating letters of recommendation as a form of currency to elicit more favorable behavior from young women he encountered. Even if the accusation were true it does not follow that Pogge’s letters of recommendation are not to be trusted; it is compatible with the accusations that Pogge only wrote actual letters of recommendations for people whom were not involved in any (proposed) quid pro quo.

I have no idea if these accusations about treating letters as currency are true. In an ideal world, some of the institutions that proudly list Professor Pogge’s name on their website (Yale, Oslo, London, etc.) would investigate this charge. The more likely, utterly imperfect, response is that wholly innocent junior folk start scrubbing traces of Pogge from their CV, when possible, and removing his letter from dossiers. As is usual, the downside risks are unevenly distributed and fall on the less powerful. Here withholding public judgment is tantamount to buck passing professional norm enforcement to those with least professional influence and status. To accept the previous sentence, does not entail that public judgments must go against Professor Pogge without a ruling authority (which may be very imperfect,  too) individuals will come to their own imperfect judgments. One option is to use the occasion to rethink the role letters of recommendation play in the discipline and to make them instruments that allow for less abuse.

I urge you to read the entirety of both of these.


One thought on “Pogge, Trial by Internet, and Professional Norms

  1. Now retired, but saw a lot of ethically, ummm, dubious things in my years of university study/teaching. (Worst, maybe: encouraging clearly incompetent graduate students to invest yet more years into their study…) And people I respect and admire for other reasons did some things which…
    But “A for a lay” — actually soliciting sex from undergraduates with the promise of a better grade — was NOT tolerated: led to immediate termination of one assistant professor I know of. It seems to me that offering letters of recommendation for sexual quid pro quo is very, very, similar to this: something that even conservative academics, willing to tolerate a fair bit of sexual misconduct, will see in a very serious light. (And I think it should be– I don’t know this, but it seems reasonable– considered the sort of “gross moral turpitude” for which even the AAUP would allow a tenured faculty member to be sacked.)

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