How to discuss Searle, etc.


COMMENTS ON THIS POST ARE NOW CLOSED.  I can’t keep up with the moderating.

UPDATE: I want to make it really clear that I’m genuinely uncertain about what to do in these cases.  I’m calling for discussion because I think the issues are hard.  I would not be at all surprised if the discussion here changes my mind, and I’d welcome that.  I put some initial thoughts up to get the ball rolling, but I really do think it’s far from obvious what to do.


I’d like to open up a (carefully moderated, as usual) discussion about strategies people are taking for discussing men like Searle, with high-profile allegations of misbehaviour against them.  I’ve had two discussions of this issue just in the last couple days, and I’m wondering what others think.  Here’s what came out of the discussions I had:

  1. If you can avoid teaching/discussing them, that may be the best strategy.
  2. You should mention the allegations, making clear that you think the behaviour is unacceptable, but also flag up efforts to improve things in the field.
  3. For conference papers (and sometimes in teaching), additional issues are raised by the fact that you may well have victims of these particular people in the audience.  This means that it’s important to have a well-publicised abstract that can serve as a content warning for people who want to avoid mention of them/prepare themselves.

What else do people suggest?


Hop over to Twitter and check out the two-day-old hashtag, #thanksfortyping. The creation of UVA mediaevalist Bruce Holsinger, #thanksfortyping aggregates screen shots of book acknowledgement excerpts in which men thank their (typically) unnamed wives (and sometimes their daughters) for typing their scholarly works. Indeed, in many of the acknowledgements, the wifely duties extend beyond typing to transcribing, editing, and more.

There are two striking feminist lessons from this growing archive. First, it is stunning just how much scholarly work by women was historically unpaid and went uncredited. Not only the careers of individual male scholars, but the smooth functioning of departments and disciplines owed much to women’s uncompensated labour. Second, it is worth remarking that any scholar who did not have a wife to serve as their voluntary r.a./co-editor/co-author — so, for instance, women scholars — was competing on a very uneven playing field indeed.

Kate Manne on harassment, assault, and mandatory reporting

An important article, which contains upsetting descriptions of sexual harassment and assault.  It makes a powerful case for mandatory reporting of sexual harassment.  This is something I have a lot of qualms about because (a) I want victims to be comfortable talking to someone about what’s happened even when they’re not comfortable about reporting it; (b) I don’t want to take more autonomy away from victims who have already had their autonomy disrespected; (c) even when anonymity is guaranteed it is often very easy for harassers to figure out who has complained and to retaliate.  Still, this is a powerful case on the other wide of this issue.


Read it here.

Gratitude for Joanna Ong’s bravery

Once more, philosophy has made the national news with a sexual harassment case, this time against John Searle.

Despite being a reasonably well plugged-in person, I did not know about allegations of this particular sort of behaviour from Searle until the story broke.  Now, I’m learning that others had been hearing about it for a long time.   (This kind of information does not always circulate in the way that people expect it to.)  Over and over again.  This is why it’s so incredibly important when victims are willing to come forward as Joanna Ong has done.  Our entire profession owes an enormous debt to brave people like her.

Comments will be heavily moderated.  We welcome further expressions of support for Ong. We don’t welcome questioning of her integrity.  You may not agree with this policy.  That’s OK– there will be other places you can say the things we don’t want here.

Syllabi and Diversity

Luvell Anderson and Verena Erlenbusch have a really useful article, “Modeling Inclusive Pedagogy: Five Approaches,” appearing in the Journal of Social Philosophy. In it, they canvass five conceptually distinct approaches to making syllabi, and thereby course content, more diverse. Their taxonomy of approaches clarifies the advantages and disadvantages of each, but also illuminates the metaphilosophical aspects of diversifying courses. E.g., are diverse practitioners principally being employed as critics of the standard fare and approaches? Is the conceptual architecture itself reflective of diverse philosophical concerns or are diverse voices being brought to bear on a traditional core set of questions?

The essay as a whole does much to clarify what sorts of embedded assumptions or concerns can render diversifying a syllabus challenging. Anderson and Erlenbusch don’t provide any quick or easy resolution to these challenges, but that’s sort of the point. This is one of those cases where simply mapping out the landscape of possibilities and naming the rough terrain in each helps a lot. Do check it out!

Bright on Inconsistency

Liam Kofi Bright has a blog post from November that seems useful to raise today in light of some of the responses to newly publicized allegations regarding sexual harassment against John Searle (story here). Originally posted to register how concerns regarding racism in the US election were addressed, Bright’s post also captures the way responses to sexual harrassment allegations too often transpire, particularly in the philosophy blogosphere.

Informal Omega Inconsistency is when people agree to a general claim but will stubbornly deny or remain absurdly sceptical as to every particular instance of it you produce. So, somebody may well agree that there are bad drivers in Pennsylvania — but every time one points to a particularly erratic person on the road in the state they will say that, no no, this is not a bad driver, this is somebody whose car has suddenly and inexplicably stopped working, or is cursed, or at least they will not believe it is a bad driver till these possibilities have been ruled out, or… whatever. Just for some reason every instance that might witness the existential claim granted turns out not to be granted as an actual instance, no matter what lengths must be gone to deny as much.

Sounds wacky, right? Maybe, but I think it will be easily recognised as a very common by anybody who has ever argued about racism. Of course everybody will agree there are racists, certainly, it’s still a terrible problem and there are lots of liberal pieties I could complete this list with that would gain equally near universal assent in my social circles. But this or that particular instance? Oh no, you have to understand, he’s a very kind soul, you must be misinterpreting what he meant by “All coloureds must die” — maybe he was talking about a novel method of rendering crayons reusable? And, look, he really likes dress up even months after halloween, so that was probably just a ghost costume, and of course he’s a very devout man so he likes to build crosses wherever he goes, but alas he’s a smoker (nobody’s perfect!) so he probably was getting his lighter out then he tripped and fell and it just happened to set the cross ablaze, and….

I parody, but not by as much as you’d like. Lots of people are Informally Omega Inconsistent and it’s super annoying. I think what prevents more general recognition of this fallacy is two things. First, it’s a fallacy that is only recognisable in aggregate. On any one occasion it’s consistent to deny that this witnesses one’s general claim — it only becomes Informal Omega Inconsitency once it’s apparent that this is a matter of policy, that this is how the person always responds to apparent instances of the general claim being made. Second, for reasons that are a bit opaque to me, we tend to think that people `want’ to make the strongest claim they can, so it seems that if somebody wanted to make the general claim they’d be only too happy to grant some instances — but not so, as this experience has taught me.


Animal Ethics: Is it okay to eat ants?

Cheryl Abbate authored the most recent Philosophy Phriday entry over at The Daily Ant on the subject. Here’s a preview if you haven’t already seen it:

Even though some animals have different behaviors and different neurological structures from that of humans, we, more likely than not, are the same in a way that matters. The evidence of ant sociality, communication, teaching, and memory, taken together with Barron’s and Klein’s (2016) finding that the insect brain supports a capacity for subjective experience, provides us with compelling reasons to believe that even “mere” ants are conscious and thus deserving of our moral consideration. The behavior of ants is highly complex and arguably intelligent, and it indicates that there is something that happens in ant life other than mechanical stimulus-responses similar to reflexes.

The whole post is here.


How Did Clinton Lose: A discussion in two parts

This looks like must-see discussion.  (Can’t wait to watch it!) Participants:

Part 1 (afternoon)

Laurie A. Rudman, Professor of Psychology, Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences
Corinne Moss-Racusin, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Skidmore College
Maya Godbole, The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)
Noelle Malvar, The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)
Virginia Valian, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Hunter College
Charles Tien, Professor of Political Science, Hunter College

Part 2 (evening)


Tiffany Dufu, Chief Leadership Officer, Levo
Hon. Kathy Hochul, New York State Lieutenant Governor
Karen Hunter (Moderator), Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, radio talk-show host and Distinguished Lecturer, Film & Media Department, Hunter College
Sonia Ossorio, President, National Organization of Women in New York
Christine Quinn, President & Chief Executive Officer, Women in Need
Gloria Steinem, Writer, Lecturer, Political Activist, and Feminist Leader