Editor's Note: Thanks for this submission from listener and long-time supporter Laura Davis, covering a story that we likely wouldn't have gotten around to writing about here ourselves.
I expect most have you have seen this article or some other about the renown philosopher Colin McGinn and his recent resignation from the University of Miami. The story has been covered and discussed extensively as it has unfolded by Leiter Reports.
But I wanted to post something about it as it highlights not only my concern about women in the academic world of philosophy but about women--everywhere.
Louie CK said once "The biggest threat to women is men, and the biggest threat to men is...heart disease."
Funny, yes, but because its true. Painfully true.
When I read about Colin McGinn sexually harassing a graduate student seriously enough he had to resign, my heart sank. Currently, two candidates for high city offices in New York City (Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer) are famous--more famous--for their sexual harassments/acts/exploits against women, than their political accomplishments. In addition there is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF president who is being charged with pimping a year after he was charged with raping a hotel maid and the mayor of San Diego who is currently in the news after 10 women have bought claims of sexual harassment against him.
Then last week I came across this article about Colin McGinn and his resignation from the University of Miami--not because he refused to follow orders from his superiors based on some academic principle, not because he refused to teach a specific text because it contradicted his own philosophical position...no...but for sexually harassing a female graduate student.
My heart sank again. One would think, or I would, that those who pursue an "examined life" would be more...how shall I say...thoughtful?
But no. Then I read his explanation:
"There was no propositioning,” he said in the interview. Properly understanding another e-mail to the student that included the crude term for masturbation, he added later via e-mail, depended on a distinction between “logical implication and conversational implicature….Remember that I am a philosopher trying to teach a budding philosopher important logical distinctions,” he said.
I guess he felt he failed in properly teaching those distinctions.
So he resigned.
My heart sinks further. Yes it is clarified in the article that this situation with Mr. McGinn, "many philosophers say...are the edge of a much bigger problem, one that women have long been unwilling to discuss publicly, lest it harm their careers."
Or, one that reflects a big, current and historical problem that women have and do face,....everywhere. Recognizing the reality and honoring the suffering incurred in the sexual abuse against women in war, Syria for instance; the horrific group raping going on in India; the history of abuse in African countries which practice female genitalia mutilation…and more, I have recently become profoundly confused and alarmed within my culture--by the endless...just seemingly endless reports of sexual harassment and abuse by men in positions charged with helping others--governments, global initiatives, people--by men, in power.
Now this is not a Hate Men post. I'm actually a big fan of men. Rather this is just a plea for some clarification, some cleansing rain water of words which would help me understand not only why this keeps happening, but why it happened in the first place.
See, I believe those of us who live the examined or even partially examined life should be held to a higher standard. I'm a lawyer and am held, under that mantle, to a higher standard. As are doctors, teachers...uh, politicians. But, it seems to me that the standard is even higher for philosophers for the mere fact that their business is to reflect, to think before they act.
I wonder if my heart will ever lift again.
Read the NY Times coverage here.
hi LR, the broader duties/obligations of faculty aside (yikes! but bear with me) why assume from the actual tasks/socialization of the professional philosopher that “that their business is to reflect, to think before they act” ?
this doesn’t fit with my experiences of what they do for a living, certainly not something they are tested in, proven at, which is a whole broader problem in that there is so little emphasis in higher-ed on knowing-how vs knowing-what….
oops meant LD not LR, ah this typing thing not my forte.
Well yes putting the broader responsibilities of faculty aside (way aside), my point is that it is a standard that should exist–that it doesn’t is the problem, particularly as, ultimately, it prevents women from feeling safe enough to openly address the problem of harrassment lest it damages their prospects and career.
The standard should exist, should be discussed, taught, succinctly understood–(as a lawyer I am keenly aware that many in my profession don’t care or adhere to the standard this profession is held to but, oddly, I have greater hopes for abilities of philosophers)
I don’t know why the sign off says Laura Rankin–editor’s oversight I guess, so don’t blame your typing…
ah memory/typing all fleeting abilities I’m afraid, the standard actually is taught to faculty and I would imagine is easily understood but that still leaves out actualized/internalized,
social skills/graces are not part of the modern education in philosophy and while folks like Foucault, various pragmatists, and the neo-aristitotelians have tried (in their own and slightly ironic bookish ways) to raise the topic there seems to be no real movement towards actually cultivating such response-abilities.
Wayne Schroeder says
I think one of the great illusions of life is that to think well is to live well. If anyone should have been made wise by his philosophizing, it should have been the expert in being itself, Heidegger. And yet he became a Nazi. I think we are called to a higher standard. The trick is to find that standard without suffering from illusions which violate those standards.
Though I’m no expert, I believe the relationship between Heidegger and Nazism is controversial. I believe he regretted that involvement but I’m not sure.
That said, yes, I agree it can be an illusion and you are right, it is difficult to meet that standard but it’s critical. I think powerful female voices are being silenced due to the fact that philosophers such as Mr. McGinn deal with them as merely objects, not philosophers with important contributions in their own right to make.
1. Many people ambitious enough to gain power, specifically in the realms of business and politics, possess psychopathic traits in that such people only care about their intended goal. They will do whatever they like because the rules, they think, do not necessarily apply to themselves.
2. Confirmation bias sets in because we never hear about the myriad people who don’t do the wrong thing.
The way I see it, people mostly suck. I think I have acquired enough empirical evidence to justify my generally misanthropic demeanor. As to whether or not men are more sucky than women, perhaps. Before we can come to any conclusions I think we need to see a proportionate number of women in positions of power as compared to the general human population in order to suss out the truth. In the great organization that is the NFL (I’m being facetious) there is this thing called the “Rooney Rule” which mandates teams looking for head coaches to interview at least one qualified person of ‘Minority’ status. Perhaps we should have such a rule in the political arena mandating that at least one qualified woman should be on every ballot in every election… Now that would be progress. Let the chips fall where they may!
Frtiz Donaro says
Ted Turner says all men should be banned from political office for…oh what was the precise number the genius came up with here? Well a long time. Because, he believes, there would be a reduction in military spending, less war and a massive increase in education funding, etc., etc. Less violence, more compassion, nicer world. I think he only mentioned doing this in the U.S. is the thing. But in any case, it is a fascinating prospect.
Reminds me of an old misandric NYT piece of rubbish:
Anyway I appreciated this from the rowdy, entertaining comments section:
“Men are more competitive, more inclined to react with anger rather than fear, both more inclined toward and more tolerant of dissent, and have better mathematical and spatial skills.
Some of these are attractive advantages, others aren’t — all are advantages. It’s my opinion that if we had a solely female society, it would be more static, be more inclined to demand complete conformity, have less technological ability, and be unlikely to win any contest with a male-dominated society.”
Jason–I tend to think it would be very hard to address your statement here but I’m always one for a challenge:
Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Saint Cathrine of Sienna, Eva Peron, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Catherine II, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi…….and on……..
Frtiz Donaro says
Exceptions proving the rule.. 😉 But seriously, my mention of Ted Turner or the post from NYT? I’d qualify the post but I was amused by his retort to that crap article. He added at the end, “since we’re making it a competition” you see. Your list is intended to show women can be leaders? No kidding. Absolutely. Hope to see one in the White House soon (not Clinton. I admire Elizabeth Warren but that’ll never happen). And as the list demonstrates they’re capable of evil. No need to reply. This is a waste of time. Like I said below, I’ve been exposed to some real nastiness online and grown a tougher skin. I agree with you regarding philosophers needing to be held to a higher standard, but politician’s sex lives.. I *mostly* shrug.. more a matter of relevance.
I think Elizabeth Warren would be great! Alas she’s too new. And whether you like Clinton or not, that’s where the $ is, aside from the fact that she’s held every political position ever–not white house grounds keeper, or, ahem, president.
Jason Stable says
@ Laura you mention $.. yeah that actually touches on why I don’t care about sex scandals, like Bill’s for one among countless examples (see JFK, the BIGGEST FREAK possible). Hillary stayed with him btw (Mrs. Weiner stays with her man. etc.). Chelsea, in regards to her father, said it is nobody’s business. Agreed. Stepping onto my little soapbox here, what is everybody’s business is the fact that working people and the lower middle class do not have a political party that represents their interests in this country, esp. since Clinton swerved right. Not to mention foreign policy. And that our political and economic system is endangering life on the planet. It sickens me. Seriously have contempt for almost all of ’em. But hey they’re feminists and love the gays. Anyway!
That may be a good first step–though it worries me that I say “first step” in 2013–but in the realm of politics that is likely problematic to mandate that due to the key democratic principle that political elections are engineered by the voice of the people–the electorate. Yes, I know that it is highly dubious that the people’s voice is truly represented in elections (money talks) but to get a mandate that at least one person from a minority group must be on any and all political tickets is against the law.
C. M. Frederick says
I was being mildly facetious… I just think we are generally doomed. I also find it amusing that women are so often thought of as a minority in the first place!
Laura Davis says
I agree. As women make up 50%+ of the voting public.
Reply a Leave says
Yet another speculative and ill-founded propaganda towards the McGinn “case”? Great. I wonder why this emotionally ridden extravaganza even had PEL’s blessing of being published.
Speculative? I’m not speculating. It’s an undisputed fact he sexually harassed a faculty student. Propaganda? Ill founded? That women are regularly harassed by men in powerful positions, in higher corporate and academic offices? I expect you read the article I referenced but just in case you haven’t, I quote:
“Today, many in the field say, gender bias and outright sexual harassment are endemic in philosophy, where women make up less than 20 percent of university faculty members, lower than in any other humanities field, and account for a tiny fraction of citations in top scholarly journals.”
That statistic is extremely worrisome. Don’t you think? Perhaps not. Perhaps you, like many of philosophy’s famous and profound founders, “questioned whether women were fully capable of reason”.
No, I doubt you believe that. Here you are in the 21st century, like me, educated and intellectually aware that men and women are equally capable of intellectual thought and reason.
That’s why it surprises me you categorize my discussion as ridden with emotion. If you are asserting that it should have been structured and colored with more ‘reason’ then I ask you to imagine how you would respond if you found yourself belonging to a group endlessly dismissed merely based on gender, or religion, or color.
You might get a little pissed off.
Mark Linsenmayer says
We’d like to include some debate on the big issues going on in the philosophical world, and as with the Chomsky vs. Zizek thing, this is not one that I have strong enough feelings about to write on, so I welcomed Laura’s submission chiefly because it would raise the issue here for folks to air their opinions. (I do also sympathize with her position, though I think it not so great that this one arrogant mistake this guy made will apparently define his career given that this is the most press he’s ever gotten.)
Well I feel a little like this one “arrogant mistake” should define his career. To assert that he was teaching a “budding philosopher” that she was misunderstanding key philosophical distinctions in how she interpreted his email about masturbation was just pathetic. And reflects a serious problem with the job he was supposed to do.
Daniel L. says
For me, the most important implication of this was the line, “One would think, or I would, that those who pursue an “examined life” would be more…how shall I say…thoughtful?” I personally quit the academic philosophy route because I lost sight of what the point of it was. Why do we care about the true nature of things if this has no discernible impact on our life or behaviour? As the New York Times article points out, much of philosophy seems to come down to ego inflation, one forum for this being uncivil debate. Really examining your life in some meaningful way is something other than writing, talking, telling other people they’re wrong and you’re right, and ultimately abusing the power you’ve derived from your ability to impress your friends to abuse and coerce other people. Obviously not all philosophers are like this, but academia in general has problems like these due to some serious unchecked ego issues.
George Blesi says
It is interesting that the advertisement directly under this post is playing on gender stereotypes and how they manifest to define the female body.
Frtiz Donaro says
Media sex scandals each resulting in her heart sinking.. and these are relatively recent. If this continues she may have heart problems like us males! How old are you? Louie CK is a funny man and it is ok to laugh at (stupid) sexist jokes. (Everyone is fair game. Wear a cup. I don’t want to contradict myself. I have no sympathy with humorless feminists and their intolerance and will to censor and punish even comedians for their jokes.) My heart sinks when I consider the hatred I’ve seen online directed at McGinn. He was foolish, it appears. As for Eliot Spitzer – he was making the right enemies, seems to me, and he’s got a few accomplishments that rank higher than paying for sex outside marriage.
Wayne Schroeder says
Your response is extraordinarily disturbing to me.
Frtiz Donaro says
lol. Oh? is it now. Your response to my response is disturbing to me especially since you said “extraordinarily”.
Wayne Schroeder says
Jason–in hopes that my initial read of your response was not accurate, here is the reason I was significantly disturbed:
1) The article is on sexual harassment written by a female (Laura), expressing being disturbed that if a philosophy professor can violate valuation of women (most people on this site value the philosophical), a) why? and b) it is very disheartening.
2)Your following comments, it seems to me are a) sarcastic and thus fly in the face of 1)above, b) non-substantive philosophical reasoning c) and combined seem not to respect the problem of sexual harassment–a significant and creepy value to be messing with in my book (hope this was not your purpose ):
“Media sex scandals each resulting in her heart sinking.” (sarcasm about Laura’s heart sinking)
“she may have heart problems like us males!” (sarcasm about Laura’s heart + whining about males=sexism by implication in my reading–p.s, I am fairly sure my reading is the same as any woman reading this blog.)
“How old are you?” (Which I read as contempt)
“Louie CK” (a humorist. Tragedy + time=comedy. Not enough time yet with McGinn, so sarcasm – time =sexism/sarcasm, etc.)
“Wear a cup” (Have you ever told a woman to her face to wear a cup? =creepy contempt to me. How would you feel if a woman told you to wear a bra, and what would that possibly mean to you?)
“no sympathy with humorless feminists and their intolerance and will to censor and punish even comedians for their jokes” (Can Laura or any woman not read this in the light of this blog as anything other than ridicule and contempt? Seems there must be a better venue to work out your concern about comedy without comparing men/women which signifies sexism in the sexual harassment category to anyone of the opposite sex)
“My heart sinks when I consider the hatred I’ve seen online directed at McGinn. ” (Sarcasm directed at Laura’s heart sinking, it seems to me)
“Eliot Spitzer – he was making the right enemies, seems to me, and he’s got a few accomplishments that rank higher than paying for sex outside marriage.” Another man behaving badly by hiring prostitutes which you dismiss in favor of his political accomplishments? Really? Here you seem to be falling in line with San Diego Mayor Bob Filner who excuses his sexual harassment charges as not having been properly educated. It is as if you align with him in the same way.
Jason–I obviously do not know you at all, so my reprehension can not be personally directed toward you. I have two daughters who would have been all over your response by now without even blinking if they had read your response. I am not really as reasonable as the above efforts have attempted to be, and actually feel increasing outrage at the implications of your response as I try to clarify my concerns.
However, in the name of values and in respect for PEL, I have outlined reasonably my concerns and hope deeply for an understanding response. As husband, father and respecter of Nietzsche– Wayne.
Frtiz Donaro says
You responded quicker than expected. Point by point too. Impressive. Thought I’d come back to the site before passing out. Work latter this morning, so maybe I’ll add something latter but probably not. Regarding that Louie CK joke – see I find this is typical of many feminists and too many women and men for that matter. They trivialize problems facing men and blame men for most that is wrong and most of their problems. Hmm, there’s a couple of things you wrote that I wont touch out of respect for PEL. I for the record do not agree with showing pictures of your dick to strange women. And Spitzer was obviously wrong for hiring a hooker. McGinn, well he lost his mind over that girl I suppose. Poor fool. Very bad male behavior.
Frtiz Donaro says
continued: respecter of Nietzsche? What’s this about? Why add that? What do you mean?
Wayne Schroeder says
In the battle of A v. B, or men v. women:
–I respect your experience of life for you: “They trivialize problems facing men and blame men for most that is wrong and most of their problems,” and we all have our private histories of blaming/blamed. Without continuing the injustice, can we not opt for C–the position of integration as a result of successful/mutual respect dialectic/dialogue?
What if we both, A v. B, and men v. women, join together for C (you and me) and fight the world of A v. B.?
If philosophy is not seeking to solve these false opposite positions, then no one is.
Hegel was brilliant in his dialectic–overly simplified (granted) as Thesis (A)+Antithesis (B) =Synthesis (C).
I think finding the common position in opposition (men v. women) which is justice/truth/respect=(C) is an amazing paradigm shift/goal to strive for, versus A v. B, men v. women, you v. me, etc.
P.S: I see Nietzsche as a primary attacker (of false values) and founder of valid values. I do not yet respect any one else in the field of ethics. (See Caputo, Against Ethics)
Thank you Wayne for your kind and thoughtful (yay!) discussion. And I agree on Nietzsche!
Frtiz Donaro says
Hey Wayne, actually I was hopping you’d give reasons why instead of leaving it at that. Bring it. Open to your perspective and you look like you got a lot to say.
Wayne Schroeder says
Thanks Jason, looking forward to your response.
Frtiz Donaro says
Where’s the reply below the other post? Does it max out? I’m frickin’ so running late. “I respect your experience of life for you…” It isn’t so personal. I love women in general. The default setting is love and only ego and fear have ever obscured the truth of that.. I look at the experience of other men I’ve met. I’ve met countless people at this point of different backgrounds and from all over the country and was thinking of some anti-feminist stuff I’d been reading these pasts months –new perspectives to me since I’ve been a good progressive boy all my life. Awhile back I started getting increasingly tired of some of the things I’d always come across on liberal websites.. the words “hetero-sexual white male” or just “white male” and then the language used. Add to that being from the South, a region I’m as critical of as they come believe me.
Jason, I understand your exhaustion with seeing those crass statements about men. But that wasn’t my goal. My point is that man or woman–philosophers, I believe, should be held to a higher standard merely due to what they practice–namely, thought. Thinking. Reflecting. Think of how many times Mark, Seth and Wes argue in their podcasts about the language, the words they are using or the given philosopher they are discussing are using? Without thought, rather, reflection, our actions end up resulting from–something else.
In my experience, philosophical training enables people to rationalize or justify their behavior with much more ability than people without philosophical training have.
Hence, McGinn’s rather ingenious and sophistical justifications of his abuse of power towards a female student.
McGinn’s rather inflated ego, not unusual among academic philosophers with a high IQ, prevents him from discerning just how sophistical and hard-to-credit are his justifications of his behavior.
I would imagine, without any empirical data, that conscientious behavior towards others is evenly distributed in the general population (if one excludes those in prison), without professional philosophers being more ethically scrupulous than any other human group.
The original post mentions lawyers as being held to more strict ethical standards and perhaps it is so in theory, but my experience with lawyers and that of many people I know tends to be that they are often sophists for hire, for hire by whoever pays the highest fees.
“In my experience, philosophical training enables people to rationalize or justify their behavior with much more ability than people without philosophical training have.”
I think this is true for philosophy, but it’s probably true for any field that requires verbal reasoning, from history to psychology to film criticism.
“McGinn’s rather inflated ego, not unusual among academic philosophers with a high IQ, prevents him from discerning just how sophistical and hard-to-credit are his justifications of his behaviour.”
His case is just another example of how IQ is a limited (some would even say antiquated) measure of a person’s capacity to succeed in any field (yes, he has had success previously, but as is obvious to anybody who read the articles, his career has ended with a massive failure – the result of thoroughly unintelligent behaviour).
I follow the work of the psychologist Robert Sternberg, a researcher of human intelligence, who has suggested that the type of skills measured by conventional intelligence tests are academic in nature; i.e., the type of skills practiced within the academic environment train you for the type of tasks on intelligence tests (Progressive Matrices are a form of geometry (even taught in certain math textbooks) and Miller Analogies Tests require a large vocabulary, which comes from reading a lot). So, the tests can serve as a limited predictor of how well a person will do in an academic environment (but they are not perfect, at all, because so many traits are necessary for performance beyond “intelligence”), but not in the multitude of other human spheres, such as the arts, business, and the social world.
And it is the social world where Colin Mcginn acted like an unintelligent fifteen year old. Hopefully all of this taught him self-control and humility.
I guess the whole case would not have gotten so far if at one point McGinn had been capable of apologizing, of recognizing that he messed up and of offering to change his ways in the future.
The fact that he keeps trying to convince the world, through his superior reasoning skills (aka sophism), that what happened did not happen shows the immaturity and lack of emotional intelligence that Noah points out.
I agree. And yes, ego, sophism exists in many fields. What’s critical is to keep on top of this, to keep questioning why it keeps happening and try to develop ways to stop it from recurring. It’s easy to get angry but my primary feeling about McGinn’s actions, and the endless parade of sexual harassment occurring everywhere, is profound sadness.
That it keeps occurring, that women face brick walls when they try to climb up in any field. that they continue to earn less for the same job as men, that their lives are ruined when some powerful man takes advantage of them, that they still struggle to have children and a career without decent governmental or insurance support, that they are tossed away when they aren’t young and nubile anymore…it’s all extremely disturbing, even more so that I find myself screaming about this today, years after my own mother, all of our mothers, faced the same societal struggles.
I don’t like setting up men vs women scenario here. But it seems I’m forced into it.
Like I said, that’s why the McGinn episode really threw me because (and as I’ve found here with the PEL guys), if there is anywhere in this universe that we’d find people who were aware, intelligent, thoughtful and (I know I’ve said it a billion times) reflective–where one searches tirelessly for the clearest, most pointedly correct answer, word, action–it’s in the world of philosophy.
So why didn’t McGinn think?
“why didn’t McGinn think”, well I would make an educated guess that the skills/habits that he has developed (and was rewarded for) as an academic philosopher didn’t transfer into this other realm of behavior, there just isn’t a sort of universal skill of intelligence/know-how that one can develop so many disciplines (not academic disciplines per say) are required, just as the academy finally at least started paying lip-service to the idea that research skills don’t automatically translate into teaching skills and so offer some very limited chances for instructors to learn to communicate their ideas to non-experts.
Wayne Schroeder says
“Why didn’t McGinn Think?,” or what Dr. Phil is famous for: “What were you thinking?” and his armchair follow-up, “How is that working for you?” Well, actually I would like to ask McGinn that question right now.There is a possibility he is actually asking himself that question, hopefully.
This pertains to my previous post–what gets in the way of thinking (reasonability)? There is a higher priority for many of us quite a bit of the time–what I desire.
Desire does not want to be reasonable. Reasonability is my mortal enemy against my desire for pride, power, security, satisfaction (give me the chocolate and no one gets hurt)/ fill in the blank. I want what I want. This places us in a bifurcation between our pleasuring/desiring system and our reasonable/valuing system.
Nietzsche was the first to expose this bifurcation in human nature, and to relentlessly hunt down the problem and recommend the solution. Freud took his revelations and developed the concept of therapy, which for this subject of sexual harassment might be considered appropriate for those who do have access to reasonability (i.e. McGinn), at least in his professional life. Only his personal life to go.
This impulsive/anti-rational aspect of human nature is part of human nature which needs to not be a surprise, but understood and confronted, in self and others.
Shelly Geiser says
This article is so important! To try and bring clarity and, simultaneously, sound the alarm bells on this subject of sexual harassment and rape and violence against women, well, this isn’t an easy task. And it’s all so sad. Bless you, Laura, for bringing your insight and heart to this horrible problem, (I would add, epidemic.) We must keep at this and asking Why? Why? Why? and then, What? What? What? can we do–each and every one of us who care deeply. This is a start. Write about it, talk about it, post online about it, and most of all, report it!
Thanks Shelly! I agree completely! (p.s. Victoria says hey and I hope we see you in NY soon!)
Wayne Schroeder says
I think a great quote on this issue by trauma expert Francine Shapiro was, “Until we treat more perpetrators, we will have to continue to treat more victims.” Ironically, her treatment modality (EMDR) for victims also works for perpetrators. In other words, perpetrators also have (not an excuse of course) a trauma driver.
Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem:
a long and sad history in higher ed. and beyond.
Laura Davis says
@Jason. You worry me.
Wayne Schroeder says
I think your response came from Jason’s reaction to your post above regarding Elizabeth Warren and Clinton. Regarding his response to the sexual harassment issues, he elaborated, “Awhile back I started getting increasingly tired of some of the things I’d always come across on liberal websites.”
I too react to Jason’s equally contemptive responses to liberal issues, just as with sexual harassment issues.
Jason–could you respond to the issues of your concern rather than just make denouncements? You obviously have reasons for your reactions, and you would find less reactivity if you could stick with the issues, which I would appreciate. Thanks, Wayne.
Jason Stable says
You were just saying that. Don’t be ridiculous.