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Pro Tips For Young Academics


For those aspiring to teaching careers, I would like to note the following exhaustive list of circumstances under which it is appropriate to inform a student that you have been jerking off while thinking of them:


As with the “ticking time bomb,” I’m sure someone can contrive a scenario in which implausibility piled on top of impossibility leads to a situation in which such an invocation is a powerful and necessary teaching tool rather than a gross ethical violation. And as with the “ticking time bomb,” the solution is to maintain a categorical ban and throw yourself at the mercy of the appropriate tribunal if you happen to be in that one-in-a-trillion situation.

In addition, I would note that if you find yourself defending such conduct on the basis of your belief in the credo “Eparter [sic] les bourgeois,” you’re really demonstrating an unhealthy interest in self-gratification on multiple levels.

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  • ChrisTS

    “Eparter [sic] les bourgeois,”

    Thank you, thank you. Anyone can fall afoul of a typo. But when you are trying to write your way around guilt for scumminess by being oh-so-intellectual, you had better be correct.

    • Warren Terra

      It’s not the typo. It’s the sheer gall of rolling out a list of extraordinarily talented people who “shock[ed] people regarded as conventional or complacent” to defend your own harassing a student in your department. The fact that he’s using a pompous phrase and effectively saying he, like they, should be accorded social leeway in recognition of an enormous cultural contribution just adds a pompous absurdity to his inability to recognize that what he did amounted to deeply, personally, aggressively obnoxious behavior that really is not terribly similar to the “transgressions” of those he lists as his purported idols.

      Oh well, he probably wasn’t going to get hired anyplace else anyway. Nice of him to help make sure, though.

      • ChrisTS

        Yes, yes, to our first paragraph.

        As to your last line: I hope he will not find another position*, although I might be less sure than you.

        *I am uncomfortable saying this about anyone, but I think this person is both sufficiently well-off and sufficiently awful to deserve such a curse.

        • ptl

          I confidently expect a British university to give him a hand job, of course I mean, a position, of course I mean… .

          I just hope it won’t be his and my alma mater.

          • Immanuel Kant

            Isn’t he too old for a British university?

            • ptl


          • ChrisTS

            Some McGinn apologist on the web was trying to say that his behavior was just the British academic style. I’m sure all the British academics are thrilled.

        • JoyfulA

          And old enough to collect early Social Security, which is supposed to be enough for those who have lost a job at that age through no fault of their own.

          • ChrisTS

            But he resigned. Does that make a difference?

            • desertrat

              Nope , SS doesn’t depend on employment status., only 55 and plder (maybe 57 now?) You get royally screwed on benefits, though.

              • Rebecca Ore

                Nope , SS doesn’t depend on employment status., only 55 and plder (maybe 57 now?) You get royally screwed on benefits, though.

                62 for US Social Security. Know this because I took it.

          • ptl

            Surely he also collects a massive pension from Miami? After all, he “resigned”.

            • Presumably his pension isn’t the same size as what his salary was. Equally, starting to draw it early means that it’s not as big as it would have been.

              It’s definitely a hit, though how bad a hit is hard to say. I doubt it impoverishes him.

  • Lancelot Link

    I am so, so tired of people thinking that acting in an offensive manner makes them brave, nonconformist, socially superior geniuses. Usually it just makes them assholes.

    • ChrisTS

      I agree. But, I care very less much less about those who adopt this … cover .. and whose idiocy does not harm others. McGinn’s use of this cover was harmful to his students, and that is a whole other pile of evil.

    • LeeEsq

      Me to, I think that a lot of people thing that being “subversive” is a good in itself and than they go on to think that being subversive and being an asshole are synonyms. IMO, being subversive is not good when the thing that you are attempting to subvert is something good or neutral. What your trying to subvert is also important.

      • herr doktor bimler

        It is all well and good to be subversive, but it is not really “subversion” if you combine it with a tenured university lectureship.

        • LeeEsq

          Yes, you can’t have your cake and eat it to. If you want to engage in “eparter (sic) les bourgeoisie” than you should give up bourgeoisie benefits like financial stability. Otherwise you are a hypocrite.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Right. I hate to tell McGinn, but when you’re a highly compensated tenured professor it doesn’t get much more bourgeois.

            • Popeye

              But isn’t this how the phrase is used nowadays? Epater les bourgeois = someone got a tattoo and is sleeping with a bartender even though his or her parents paid full cost for Columbia. McGinn is using the phrase entirely correctly, it’s just strange to see someone apply it in the first person.

            • CD

              So you have to epater yourself.

          • I disagree. You can have your cake and eat it, but some hours and peristalsis later the cake will be gone.

            • ChrisTS

              The opposite of love, then?

          • herr doktor bimler

            He mis-spelled “departer”.

            • ChrisTS

              Really, he screwed up the whole thing: not les but le or la.

    • Linnaeus

      Agreed. I’ve run into more than a few people who describe themselves as people who “say what they think” and are “brutally honest”. Now, there’s something to be said for being direct and honest, and sometimes you can’t sugarcoat things, but in my experience, people often use that as an excuse to be jerks.

    • BobS

      I’m reminded of this:

      During the evening, a drunken (John) Lennon was also reported to have gone into the women’s toilet and emerged with a sanitary napkin on his head; when challenged by a waitress, he yelled “Don’t you know who I am?” — to which the waitress famously replied, “Yeah, you’re an asshole with a Kotex on your head!”.

      • pete

        Indeed. And a sober Lennon agreed with her, rather than writing blog posts defending his actions.

  • Can I ask a question on behalf of a friend? IANAL, neither is my friend.

    Does the same advice apply if my friend were to inquire if the student ever had thoughts of my friend when they (the student) were masturbating? That’s a simple question that doesn’t involve any sexual activity on my friend’s part nor does it imply explicitly that my friend has any sexual interest in the student. It is merely an attempt to catalogue which students are including him in their fantasies – simply as a matter of personal discovery that is so intrinsic to the college experience.

    And assuming that such inquiry might be misconstrued by the student and, heaven forfend, litigation averse administrations, can the Saxby Chambliss age/hormonal defense be invoked even if the classes involved are not ROTC?

    Also, would attempting to collect this information while drunk dialing around 2am this past Saturday – rather than by email – limit or expand his options, legally speaking? He’s hoping this will all blow over without further complication but you never know.

    • Warren Terra

      I don’t think you’re really providing enough context. In this case, it wasn’t just the obnoxious nature of the communications, nor that they were (helpfully) provided in writing – it’s that McGinn was an eminent tenured professor in Philosophy, and the student was a much, much younger graduate student in the same department. I don’t know how big the Philosophy department there is (their website appear not to exist right now), but I’m guessing there’s a fair bet McGinn would be serving on her committee, or be extremely close to those who did. That adds a potential power imbalance to the situation that takes this out of the realm of terrible personal behavior and into harassment. But, I’m not a lawyer, either.

      • Warren Terra

        As Doktor Bimler points out below (and I which missed previously when I skimmed the article, the (alleged) victim was serving as McGinn’s research assistant, which means he was effectively signing her paycheck, and makes it more likely her own studies were to be supervised by him or partly by him. All of which makes this ever more solidly a case of Harassment rather than a mere case of Asshole.

    • daveNYC

      Generic response. With any question that goes, “Would it be OK if [person 1] [verb] with direct or indirect object [person 2’s junk]?”, and person 1 and person 2 aren’t intimate (or in very limited cases doctor/patient), the answer is No. Add exclamantion points to taste.

      • DrDick

        There are not enough exclamation points in the known universe for that statement.

        • Gregor Sansa

          Is that like one of those “how many triangles in this picture” deals? That is, can a given atom participate in multiple exclamation points?

    • witless chum

      Judge Thomas, don’t you have some research to do into exactly what year in the 19th century you want to roll the constitutional odometer back to?

      • Gregor Sansa

        I’m pretty sure it’s Scalia. Thomas is the friend.

    • Immanuel Kant

      Is this serious, or a joke?

      • Joke, I’m pretty sure.

        • JKTHs

          Poe’s Law is a harsh mistress.

          • firefall

            Dont say that, it’ll encourage the conservatives

        • Immanuel Kant

          That was my assumption, but Warren Terra’s response was completely serious, so I wanted to check.

          • Warren Terra

            I may be humor impaired at times. Or, in honour of McGinn, humour impaired.

            • I didn’t quite get it in the Chambliss paragraph (which got me suspicious) but the drunk dialing bit made it clear ;)

    • ChrisTS


      • The lack of actual physical contact between my friend and the student precludes any passing of STD’s.

        But thanks for your implied recommendation to practice safe sexual harassment.

        • ChrisTS

          De nada.

  • Clive Clemmons
  • Snuff curry

    McGinn’s also something of a scat man, in his (now considerable) spare time. (He also likens vaginas to wounds, to nobody’s surprise.)

    • herr doktor bimler

      Oh my. That is hilarious.
      I can see why McGinn’s university was disappointed in him. They pay him to conduct his masturbation in a metaphorical, literary way, rather than literally.

    • herr doktor bimler

      It may be, of course, that the risible passages cited in the linked review are not representative of McGill’s oeuvre. Or perhaps he was trying to write a clever parody of vulgar Freudian / evo-psych bafflegab. Or perhaps there is a “Write Like Camille Paglia” competition of which I was not previously aware.

    • Sargon

      Wow, that article is fantastic and hilarious. Makes me a little jealous, too. We never get to twist the knife so gleefully in physics…

    • Please let this meaning the style of singing.

    • elm

      “Sometimes with ideas, as with farts, it’s better to just hold it in.”

      I’ll let the last line of that review stand on its own.

    • delurking

      That was wonderful. Thank you!

  • herr doktor bimler

    “The written records, I believe, show that this was an entirely consensual relationship,”

    The relationship being ‘research assistant / researcher’. It is reassuring to learn that research assistants at Miami are still recruited voluntarily, and not through enslavement.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Press gangs!

      By the way, my own experience with “research assistants” is limited to having officially been one (during, approximately, the Babylonian captivity), in mathematics; in that case, precisely one act of assistance was ever required of me, namely, to compile a list of a certain candidate-for-a-prestigious-award’s publications (in, naturally, cuneiform) for the convenience of my assistee.

      That sort of “assistance” aside, given the nature of mathematical research I cannot imagine what mathematics RAs do (other than their own research, which may or may not be related to their advisor’s or assistee’s research, but can surely not be “assistance” in the sense possible in a laboratory science, or in engineering, etc.). And I have even less capacity to imagine what philosophy RAs do (again, other than their own research). Can someone enlighten me (preferably by whale-oil)?

  • daveNYC

    I’d be iffy about joking about something like that with one of my friends, and that’s with a face-to-face conversation where the full range of sarcasm indicators can be applied.

    Even if this were even vaguely something that could be appropriate, until Google manages to invent working sarcasm tags email is not a good place for that kind of conversation.

    • Warren Terra

      To be sure, no one should (and you would ever) harass an underling, let alone in a manner ths crude and demeaning. That he did it inelegantly and provided documentation makes him assure to catch, but aren’t actually the point.

  • Mike Schilling

    Suppose the only way to disarm a ticking H-bomb was to sexually harass a student? Then what, Mr. high-and-mighty?

    • You have Jack Bauer harass the student for you.

      • Actually, that’s a bad idea, given how many people in the last dozen years would have sent Bauer messages that they were masturbating to the thought of him if only he existed.

        • Malaclypse

          Then have Scalia do it.

          • DrDick

            I think that is far more Justice Thomas’s venue.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Oh, c’mon. The man is a philosopher; we should stay within his professional comfort zone. Surely someone can craft a suitable Trolley Problem variant!

      • Karate Bearfighter

        “… and the only way to stop the trolley is to induce your grad assistant to jump on the tracks.”

        • Hogan

          Why would that be a problem?

          • Bill Murray

            what if she had not finished her last journal paper?

            • what if she had not finished her your last journal paper?

              Fixed that for you.

        • catclub

          By grossing out said grad assistant with unwelcome emails?

      • Pseudonym

        What if the only way to stop the trolley is to throw the Fat Man atomic bomb in its path and then get your female research assistant to give it a hand job, i.e. detonate it manually?

    • CD

      there’s a trolley…

  • Gareth Wilson

    The ticking time bomb thing actually sounds fair to me – as long as we kill the torturer immediately after we get the information. Just another sacrifice for the greater good.

  • LeeEsq

    Maybe I’m just expecting too much from humans but it constantly surprises me how many people who should know better, don’t.

  • brad

    That statement of entitlement on his part is quite extraordinary. I can’t help but wonder how many times he’s done this before, and what he did to the ones who said no.

    • brad

      And even more extraordinary is the comment at his post trying to “evenhandedly” argue that the student was equally to blame for all this.

      The student is happy to play along, as she can clearly see that this will benefit her career immensely.

      I’d quote further but I don’t have enough bleach to wash out my eyes after reading it all a second time. He even mentions her taking “thousands” for research as a result of her whore-bargained status, which is something that has happened in philosophy. Ever.

      • brad

        I forgot to finish reading.
        The entire episode was manufactured, according to the nut I’m picking at McGinn’s post, by the grad student in order to cover up her own failure to produce the work required for the thousands in Philosophy Grant Money she took.

        NB: I don’t know that this is what happened, but it seems to me that this is the most plausible explanation of the facts I know via reliable testimony.

        Fucking girls, using grant money to buy unicorns and shoes and then blaming their profs.

        • Hogan

          I’m no philosophy talking guy, but that seemed like an awful lot of words just to say “bitch had it coming.”

          • brad

            It gets worse. This by the proprietor of the main blog of which McGinn’s is but a subsection very strongly suggests that this nut’s story isn’t just a random theory, but is what McGinn is telling people slightly off the record.
            In the meantime, he’s got a new post up today digging that hole deeper. You see, he’s gotten away with it before.

            • Yep, he seems to be spreading this around. However, I’ve not seen it get much uptake.

              It certainly doesn’t ring as plausible for most people and even a cursory run through various possible worlds (e.g., that both Jane and NN felt uncomfortable but Jane wasn’t pushed over the edge by a labor dispute, etc.) does him no good.

              The ever extending “It’s a joke + research” defence is ever more silly. (Lots of things can and should be appropriate in research which could seem (or be!) offensive out of context…all the more reason to exercise due care and diligence. For example: Don’t joke about it.)

              • brad

                Yeah, I don’t see how anyone who’s spent 15 minutes inside a philosophy grad department could think that a “star” hire like that versus a random all too easily disposed of grad student would go the way it has without SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS proof of blatant harassment.
                If anything it’s a shame the grad student has to remain semi-nameless for the general sake of her career. The idea that she’s manufactured all this to cover up a failed grant or head off a bad evaluation is pretty directly equivalent to saying women will use rape charges as a form of retroactive regret for sleeping with someone.
                It is possible, but to take only McGinn’s word when Miami agreed to shut up to be rid of him quickly is simply stupid, or perhaps evidence of guilty conscience.

                • brad

                  The shame is that the grad student can’t take a bow and get a few awards/rewards for having the courage to do this. But the truth is anyone who’ll be considering hiring her will know. I just hope there’s enough out there who’ll consider it a plus to balance out the ones who will toss her resume for not letting boys be boys.

                • Agreed.

                  The existence of such obvious proof fits in well with McGinn’s increasingly bizarre attempts to explain away the (not yet shown) evidence: Oh, there’s no context. Oh, it was a joke. Oh, it was a pedagogic trick. Oh, I didn’t before and she didn’t mind. Oh, the president would have overridden the exculpatory investigation. Oh, it was a labor dispute and she was in the wrong. Etc. etc. etc. etc.

                  It’s not all that common to gyrate like that when there’s no evidence or the evidence is weak.

                • To be clear, being a public fool about a case is not, itself, convicting. But given that McGinn himself has closed off the investigation I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to note that his behavior is more consistent with guilt. It certainly is untoward at best.

                • herr doktor bimler

                  It’s not all that common to gyrate like that when there’s no evidence or the evidence is weak.

                  Freud’s ‘kettle’ illustration.
                  “I never borrowed your kettle; and anyway it was fine when I brought it back; and anyway it was broken already.”

                  Unexpectedly, increasing the number of alibis does not enhance one’s credibility.

            • Warren Terra

              Delightful; a little bit of fisking:

              Colin’s choice not to pursue an inquiry by the Faculty Senate Committee as he believed that the ruling would be overturned by the administration despite their findings and lack of evidence

              This whole affair has progressed this far precisely because McGinn put his harassment in writing. In this, his (alleged) vitim was fortunate; if he had instead been more directly crude it would have been her word against his.

              I served on a grand jury and all that the prosecutor had to say was ‘kiddie porn,’ for the jury to vote guilty regardless of evidence.

              IANAL and all that, but I don’t think Grand Juries are empowered to vote Guilty.

              there is an immediate assumption of abuse of power due to Colin’s position and sex but a graduate student is an adult, not a powerless victim. She consented to be his RA and understood the subject matter.

              What does this even mean? She agreed to having him sign her paychecks, and she knew the subject matter was sensitive, so she had in effect consented to quietly endure personally degrading messages? And aren’t essentially all instances of workplace and collegiate sexual harassment (and this is both) about “adults”?

              But, yeah, she is pushing the line you describe, apparently believing a fuller story told het by McGinn in which he is the true victim of perfidy and conspiracy. Charming.

      • daveNYC

        Other than the words “happy”, “play along”, and “benefit”, I don’t see much wrong with that sentence. Other than the fact that someone thought it was worth writing.

      • sharculese

        Because if there’s one thing we know about sexual harassment, it’s that speaking up about it never has repercussions for your career.

        What a fucking dingus.

  • This should, perhaps, be a pro tip for old academics.

    McGinn’s meltdown is…interesting. It’s not too surprising (prominent people who screw up often screw up the post screw up discovery). In this case, there are some McGinn defenders in the profession, but, afaict, they are few and far between. (Though some do go a bit further than the “well, look, we don’t have all the facts” line which was, perhaps, reasonable before McGinn started talking stupid on the web.) This is good.

    I guess I do find it surprising that McGinn would think that his blog posts are winners. That he’s posting at all is a bad idea given that e.g., only his side is presented. But the content is so egregiously bad you really have to wonder why he didn’t retain his lawyer a bit longer.

    • BigHank53

      If you’d been his lawyer, you probably would have told him it wouldn’t hurt to get his side of the story out there. After all, if you nuked your own career, you’d never have to listen to this whiny, overprivileged skeezbag ever again.

      This is, of course, assuming that McGinn would ever consider asking a grubby menial like a lawyer for advice…and take it.

      • LeeEsq

        If I was his lawyer, I’d be telling him to shut the hell up and let me do the talking or at least let me vet what you’re going to say in public first. Don’t make a bad problem worse by saying something stupid somewhere is a good piece of advise for any lawyer to give to any client.

        I really shouldn’t be but I’m constantly surprised at how many people lack any sense of caution when doing something. They think that “I’m a special snow flake, I won’t get in trouble for doing this dangerous, immoral and/or illegal thing like everybody else, I’ll get away with it.” Then they get caught and find themselves in an undesirable place and what do they do; they increase their problems by issuing idiotic justifications for their actions. We really need to do better as society in drilling the idea of caution into people’s head and get them to think things through before they act. We can actually solve many issues relating to sexism and other problems if people would do more of a cost-benefit analysis. They might be doing the right things for the wrong reason but thats better than nothing.

        • Yes, this last bit esp.

          My interest in getting people to think correctly has waned ever more over the years: I’d just like them to act more or less reasonably. If they are doing it for cynical reasons at least they’re doing it.

          One of the things that astonishes me about the failure to reason about the expected utility of being a sexist (or racist, etc.) jerk is not just the misestimation of risk or of the downside, but bizarre misevaluation of the upside. What did Lindsey (for example) think would be the benefit of blathering overtime on the suckitude of feminism to a feminist audience? Or of following up with absurd blog posts?

          Similarly, how could McGinn begin to think that his blogging campaign would do any good? Or that follow ups would help? Even on his world view (i.e., that we’re all very dim and likely to be against him with our misinterpretations?) what did he think he could accomplish?

          • NonyNony

            One of the things that astonishes me about the failure to reason about the expected utility of being a sexist (or racist, etc.) jerk is not just the misestimation of risk or of the downside, but bizarre misevaluation of the upside.

            One of the things that continues to amaze me is that people still can’t recognize when they’re being a sexist/racist/etc. jerk.

            What did Lindsey (for example) think would be the benefit of blathering overtime on the suckitude of feminism to a feminist audience?

            Like this guy. I guarantee you that he does NOT think he’s being sexist. He’s telling feminists why they’re wrong but that’s not sexist – that’s telling feminists that they’re wrong. A clearly different thing in his mind.

            And if women think what he said was sexist, well it’s just because they don’t understand him. Which is why the need for all of the follow-up posts to explain to people exactly why what he said wasn’t sexist and why they all need to shut up and make him a sandwich.

            • And if women think what he said was sexist, well it’s just because they don’t understand him. Which is why the need for all of the follow-up posts to explain to people exactly why what he said wasn’t sexist and why they all need to shut up

              Sure, but the not understanding and persecution complex should, I would think, trigger caution rather than reckless abandon.

            • FMguru

              “It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.” – Snow Crash, Neil Stephenson

              Sexism is for knuckle-dragging cavemen / I am a person of considerable intelligence and moral sensitivity / Therefore I cannot be a sexist QED.

              This is also the animating impulse between 90% of the skeptic male bleating – they can’t be sexist because that would mean that they’re not that different from the unthinking herds that they gather together to feel oh-so-superior to, so clearly any complaints about “sexism” at skeptical gatherings are the result of hysteria and radical feminist mind-bending, QED.

              • LeeEsq

                So basically it is “special snow flake” syndrome. I tend to see life in more Calvinistic/Hobbesian terms and recognize that “I’m not a special snowflake” and probably can’t get away with any of this. Its not exciting but you avoid more injuries or life ruining events that way.

                • FMguru

                  No, it’s even simpler than that. Sexists are bad people / I am a good person / Therefore I am not a sexist QED.

                  You see this a lot when those people who send around photoshops of Obama with a bone in his nose cultivating his patch of watermelons on the White House lawn, get caught and are genuinely offended to be called racist. Racists are horrible people who burned crosses and lynch people and hate blacks / I did none of those things plus I am civil to my black coworkers / therefore I am not a racist QED and I demand you retract that scurrilous charge.

                  Society says “racists/sexist/homophobes are horrible people” and the very natural response is to say “well, I am not a horrible person, so I’m pretty clearly not a racist/sexist/homophobe” and that’s the extent of any self-criticism or anaylsis.

                • herr doktor bimler

                  I tend to see life in more Calvinistic/Hobbesian terms

                  You have an active fantasy life involving a toy tiger?

          • LeeEsq

            Thats it. There isn’t really any private or public benefit to Lindsay’s actions or similar actions in this day and age. Chances of getting sex are practically none but the possibility of ruining your life is very high. The internet makes things worse because Lindsay’s blog posts expose himself to even more people for public mocking. In the pre-internet age, Lindsay and similar people would have just ranted off in a bar or at their office or something but the damage would be localized. Ranting on the internet, especially when your not under a pseudonym, exposes you to thousands of people. Did Lindsay really think that most people would take their side?

          • ChrisTS

            Bijan, I think you are being too rational about this (and I say this as a fellow philosopher): being a pompous, arrogant, jerk does not incline one towards caution or careful weighing of risks and benefits.

            • This is true. And I’m sure if I were caught up in some catastrophic misdeed, I would be vulnerable to making it worse in some analogous way.

              But still! I find it striking that McGinn paid a lawyer and didn’t ask about whether this sort of publicity campaign is a good idea.

              And…has he no friends?

              • Hogan

                If his friends are encouraging him in this, he really needs new friends.

                • Maybe his friends have had enough of him and are encouraging his self immolation.

                • Malaclypse

                  Maybe his friends have had enough of him and are encouraging his self immolation.

                  I’m assuming that his wife’s strategy is exactly this.

              • ChrisTS

                As I suspect you have heard, he is not exactly a lovable guy.

      • ptl

        Particularly as Miami’s bound by a gagging clause and he isn’t.

    • Pseudonym

      His reasoning is so egregious that it calls into question his competence as a philosopher. Or is that not a bug but a feature?

      • Hogan

        You think any guy off the street could produce reasoning that specious at that length? It takes years of professional training. Don’t try it at home.

        • ChrisTS

          Gorgias thanks you.

  • No love for the musings of Brian Leiter in the fuller account linked in the underlying article? He notes that Miami may drop out of the top 40 rankings for philosophy compiled by…him.

    You’re welcome.

    • Lee Rudolph

      “Frankly, the thing that catches my attention here,” Mr. Leiter said, “is that the allegations, as I have heard them, are not particularly serious, compared to other cases I’ve heard about in which nothing has happened to the faculty member. It’s certainly surprising.”

      • MattT

        Unfortunately, I have no problem believing that he is aware of all sorts of cases where people did worse things and got away with them. Of course, the correct response is to be mad that they got away with it, not to be mad that someone else suffered consequences that they obviously deserve.

        • Cody

          Your department gets a higher ranking if you master the art of covering up sexual harassment.

          Does he publish his formula online? One of those damn letters is surely based on the ever important harassment-hiding-index.

      • Aaron Baker

        I realize Brian Leiter is persona non amata here, but I don’t actually think he’s trying to minimize the serious of McGinn’s behavior–it’s a straight observation that worse has been done with no punishment at all for the offender.

        Admission of personal interest here: I’ve had numerous friendly email exchanges with Leiter, and I like him personally.

        • Aaron Baker

          “seriousness” i should have written.

        • ChrisTS

          I think you are correct about this. Brian has done a fair amount against the entrenched sexism in philosophy.

          • Johannes

            As much as I enjoyed the bit Lee Rudolph quoted above, I was referencing the bit on page 4 of the CHE article I linked, where Leiter is quoted thus: “‘If he [McGinn] is leaving, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Department dropped out of the top 40,’ Mr. Leiter said. ‘He was their star-power attraction.'”

            As I only know of Leiter from his conflicts with Paul Campos, I have no real opinion as to him outside that sphere; his surfacing in the article, and his references to the metrics just struck me as serendipitously amusing.

            • Johannes

              Whoops. Johannes is my commenting handle here; Anglocat is my blogging handle.

            • ChrisTS

              Oh, I think Brian has made himself sufficiently important in the eyes of non-philosophers to always get picked for comments on spats and explosions in the philosophy world.

          • commie atheist

            More here by Leiter. Apparently, there are known unknowns, as well as unknown unknowns. What gets me is this whole idea of McGinn being “punished”, when he resigned rather than dealing with the whole process (because Shalala had it in for him, or something). If he was in the right, why not pursue an exoneration?

            • ChrisTS

              That’s pretty much the money question, isn’t it. I assume this is why he published his list of reasons for not standing up for himself in any formal process (as distinguished from his blog spin).

    • Mike Schilling

      Fucking PhilCS. Why can’t we have a playoff, like all the other humanities departments?

      • Jordan
      • ChrisTS

        They have playoffs? Dammit. And I have just been asking for more bookshelves.

  • Brautigan

    What, no “Meaning of Disgust” jokes yet. WTF is wrong with you people? I’m late for a meeting, or I would do it. Please get to work on this, ASAP.

    • herr doktor bimler

      Mentioned by Snuff Curry upstream.

  • R. Porrofatto

    To be fair, the professor claims that “hand job” in the sense he used it really means “manicure.” Although I am puzzled at the response when I made such a request at my local nail salon. It must mean something entirely different in Korean.

    • It adds an extra special dimension of ridiculousness (aside from the puerile nature of the joke and the fact that his prior manifesto condemned the use of “hand job”) that the pun doesn’t really work as the primary focus of “hand job” is the “doing” hand where as the primary focus of “manicure” is the “done” hand (indeed, in “hand job”, there’s only the doing hand). Pedicures are equally done by hands, but it would make no sense at all to pretend that one could refer to a “pedicure” as a “hand job”.

      (This is all aside from the sheer wrongness.)

      • njorl

        The Doing Hand does; and, having done,
        Moves on, nor all your Piety nor Wit
        Shall lure it back to cancel half a Drop,
        Nor all your Soda Water wash out a Stain of it.

    • ChrisTS

      Oh, thanks for the laugh. (Although it alarmed the cats on my desk.)

    • Pseudonym

      I’m still not comfortable going in there and asking for a facial.

      • ChrisTS

        Never, ever search for ‘facial’ on the webs. Unless, of course, that is what you want to see.

    • MH

      It’s also worth noting that he very carefully avoids saying that the whole ‘hand job’ thing was (or was one of) the objectionable things in the emails. He just talks in a general sense about how overhearing someone make that (completely inexplicable) joke might interpret it as what the evidence against him is supposed to be. But he never says that that was actually the ‘misunderstanding’ in question – and the fact that what we know about the allegations involved a series of emails, and not a remark heard by someone else out of context makes it even less likely that he’s actually giving out details about what happened. What was actually in those emails could easily have been both far worse and far more explicit.

      • ChrisTS

        Yes, the whole analogy thing is junk. But, then, many of us thought he had stopped being a decent thinker ages ago.

  • owlbear1

    These to me are admirable values that I try to bring into my own life. I am particularly fond of provocative irony, which has got me into trouble on more than one occasion (especially in irony-deficient America). I am often amazed that people fail to see the irony in this or that utterance of mine.

    Ahh the “I am a noble and brave Contrary Warrior!” line of bullshit.

    Onanism comes in many forms, Doctor McGinn

    • Aaron Baker

      Ah, it’s the fault of “irony-deficient America.” Here’s a limey I won’t miss seeing the last of.

      • ChrisTS

        It’s irony-deficient America (or, at least the U.S. part), and disappointing grad students, and evil administrators, and … well, really just everyone who does not stand with* McGinn.

        *Slightly behind him and gazing on adoringly, of course.

  • Ronan

    Shouldn’t that be “for those aspiring to joining mainstream society, I would like to note the following exhaustive list of circumstances under which it is appropriate to inform anyone you are not in a relationship with* that you have been jerking off while thinking of them..”
    Don’t see how the student/teacher relationship is either here nor there

    *obvious context dependant

    • Warren Terra

      The student/teacher (and in this case also worker/supervisor or perhaps worker/employer) relationship matters because it takes the behavior out of the realm of Unacceptable and into the realm of Actionable. I can’t imagine a reputation for the Unacceptable would benefit the career of an aspiring academic, but even so a record of the Actionable would undoubtedly prove even more detrimental.

  • Malaclypse

    Would it be okay to “occasionally… pull up an academic post in class as a lecture launcher”, when most of the blog in question is either scantily clad young women, or proof that the poster does not understand what Marxism is, or rambling references to demonology, or approving links to White Supremacist McCain? Asking for a friend.

    • witless chum

      I would advise your friend to watch Harry and the Hendersons followed by The Ten Commandments, then many things will become clear to him. Okay, he can thrown in something starring Shannon Tweed in the middle, I’m not a monster, after all.

      • NonyNony

        I would advise your friend to watch Harry and the Hendersons

        oh I see what you did there…

        • sharculese

          It took me a minute, but lol.

        • Malaclypse

          I’m still confused.

          • Hogan

            Sasquatch. Followed by Israel.

          • Bill Murray

            isn’t Harry a Sasquatch or a close relative thereof?

            • Martin Heidegger

              Ah, thanks.

              • Malaclypse


                • ChrisTS

                  If it makes you feel better, I still don’t get it.

                • Pseudonym
  • Spokane Moderate

    For those aspiring to teaching careers, I would like to note the following exhaustive list of circumstances under which it is appropriate to inform a student that you have been jerking off while thinking of them:

    I can’t be the only person who immediately thought this was going to be about The Donalde.

  • joe from Lowell

    Such brave defiance of bourgeois norms – especially the way he do so secretly, so that only the person over whom he held power would know.

  • Jordan

    Two more links that people who aren’t already following this may not have seen.

    There is another, more specific … “defense” by McGinn of this actions here which is truly mind-blowingly awful, particularly towards the end.

    Which, at the least, gave us this parody, to the extent that the previous was undistinguishable from (self) parody.

    • brad

      The parody twitter is even better.
      Pardon, the parody hand job is more hand job.

      • Jordan

        yeah, that too, definitely.

  • Steve LaBonne

    From reading essays of McGinn’s in places like NYRB, I have always had the impression (from the way he likes to pontificate about biology without having the slightest idea what he’s talking about) that he is a pompous idiot. I guess now we have confirmation.

    • calling all toasters

      The term is of art is “philosopher.”

      • firefall

        toasted :)

  • McGinn facepalm moment of the day.

    See it’s unreasonable suspicion of sexual harassment and thus fear of being accused of sexual harassment which prevents men from non-harassingly mentoring women in philosophy which thus reduces the number of women in philosophy.

    This strikes McGinn “as a better explanation of the dearth of female philosophers than many [he has] heard.”


    • Scott Lemieux

      Oh, fer Chrissakes.

    • brad

      Look, if you think catholic schoolgirl uniforms and toilet cams aren’t legitimate pedagogical tools in allowing those men capable of it to mold women into geniuses then you just hate women and don’t want them to succeed in philosophy.

      • Warren Terra

        This bit from another of McGinn’s autodefenestrating posts was also precious:

        a colleague has remarked to me that NN’s philosophical abilities went from “good” to “superb” following the several months during which I was attempting to make her into a “genius”

    • ChrisTS

      Holy smokes. He really cannot quit, can he?

  • rea

    Well, it’s philosophy, after all. If Socrates hadn’t been so eager to get inside his students’ chitons, where would Western Civilization be today? And now, here’s another philosopher in trouble for impiety and corrupting the youth . . .

    • brad

      Except Socrates was noted for not buggering boys, at least according to Plato. He just wanted in their heads.
      I know I’m overreacting to a joke, but I had to.

      • firefall


        • ChrisTS

          Nah, Alcibiades messed up precisely because Socrates wouldn’t take him under his cloak.

          • njorl

            I think you’ve been giving too much credence to Socrates’ defenders.

    • sharculese

      Well, at least in this case The Youth seems to have better character than that.

    • Pseudonym

      Unfortunately I don’t think anyone kept copies of Socrates’ emails to his students.

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  • Joey Maloney

    Huh. When I saw the headline Professor Fired Just for Asking a Female Student to Suck His Dick I thought this story had reached Gawker, but no: a different douchenozzle.

    • Warren Terra

      “Slippery Rock University”? How in god’s name does something like that happen? This place could be the undiscovered Harvard of a new age, peopled with unparalleled paragons of pedagogy, and that name still makes it sound like a bad joke.

      • Hogan

        He could be chair of the top-ranked sports management department in the country, for all we know.

        • Joey Maloney

          Let’s ask that Leiter fellow; I bet he’ll know.

      • Pseudonym

        Is it that much worse than naming a university after a place where cattle cross a river?

        • Warren Terra

          You mean Haverford, or some other school?

          I’d say the answer is “yes”. According to a very brief glance at its Wikipedia page some hours ago, SRU is a hundred years old and is named after its location. I’m sure it does great work, and all that; I don’t actually want to insult anyone. But its name is – I’m sorry to say – ludicrous, in a way it likely wouldn’t be if “Slippery Rock” were first translated into Latin or some such.

        • herr doktor bimler

          Probably that place where there is a bridge over the Cam.

  • Aaron B.

    I am glad to know my loathing of Colin McGinn for his philosophical positions can easily carry over into his personal life.

  • Aaron Baker

    A different Aaron B. here:

    I don’t ordinarily want people fired for sexual misbehavior (sex makes fools of the best of us), except for the most extreme examples; but . . .

    given McGinn’s unrepentant stance here, combined with the fact that, say, an attorney who did this with a client would be 1) shitcanned; AND 2) suspended from the practice of law for at least six months,

    firing is sounding better and better.

    • CJColucci

      I’ve represented academics for over 20 years, and have seen a lot of weird shit. It is possible — barely — that facts not now available to us would mitigate what looks like firing-worthy assholery and harassment on McGinn’s part, and make, say a one- or two-year suspension more appropriate. But if, and I say again, if, such facts exist, the formal investigation that McGinn has foregone in favor of resignation would have been the place to bring them out. He didn’t want to do that, though, so I have no interest in speculating about what he might have been able to say in mitigation.

      • Aaron Baker

        I WAS speaking hypothetically about firing, even if I didn’t make that clear. Had he fully admitted to wrongdoing, delivered a genuine apology to his victim, agreed to appropriate counseling, agreed to NO contact with female students until he showed some evidence that the counseling had succeeded, and was given a firm guarantee he’d be fired if this ever happened again–I wouldn’t have objected to a suspension.

        But of course none of that has happened. So he seems eminently fireable after the fact.

        • BigHank53

          If you told an employee that they would be apologizing, attending counseling, etc, and their response was to start blaming everything on the victim instead of realizing how much trouble they were in, you’d fire their ass on the spot.

          • Aaron Baker

            That’s pretty much what I was getting at.

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  • Halloween Jack

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • Oh, wow. Just read this comment, which McGinn lets stand on his blog post. This is exactly what people have been saying elsewhere (me in particular). That given the “no smoke without fire” attitude of people in general the female student is absolutely damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. Apparently such is her power that accidentally acquiring a “lecherous” professor means that if she works for him without fighting back she is taking advantage of her own beauty and illegitimately benefitting from his romantic attention, if she reports him she is guilty of lashing out at him when he acts as a good professor should and punishes her for academic failings. She’s guilty whether she reports him or not.

    It seems to me that people here and elsewhere have been very quick to want to pin the stereotype of the lecherous professor onto McGinn, and in turn use that stereotype to pin sexual harassment onto him (there’s a different between being lecherous and harassing — the former is more of a despicable character trait, the latter an actionable criminal offense). His arrogance certainly doesn’t help his case. But this is probably what happened, from what I gathered:

    – McGinn grooms a pretty female student with the creepy genius project. There is no sexual relationship there, but clearly he uses his position to increase personal contact with an attractive female less than half his age.

    – The student is happy to play along, as she can clearly see that this will benefit her career immensely. Perhaps she does this through gritted teeth; nonetheless she does it voluntarily, and it’s not at all clear that there would have been negative consequences if she hadn’t played along.

    – Cashing in on the special relationship, the student takes a few thousand dollars for a research task, but doesn’t complete the job. Perhaps she thought that McGinn would cover for her.

    – But McGinn doesn’t. In order to get out of a sticky situation, the student says that she didn’t complete the job because of McGinn’s lecherous behaviour. This may also have helped her explain to a jealous boyfriend why she spend so much time with a male professor etc.

    – No sexual harassment was alleged, as far as I can tell.

    NB: I don’t know that this is what happened, but it seems to me that this is the most plausible explanation of the facts I know via reliable testimony.

    • Sorry, I didn’t correctly set the comment off from mine–the comment from mcginn’s starts from “its seems…” and continues to the end of the post. Every kooky thing is not my comment, but from Mcginn’s defender.

      • Yeah, I saw that. Amazingly stupid. I would infer sockpuppetry, but there’s just enough like minded folks that it probably is someone numerically distinct from McGinn.

    • commie atheist

      Reading Mcginn’s posts in order (start with 06.06.13) is very instructive. He goes from:

      – When he wrote “hand job,” he was actually talking about something innocent, like a pedicure, and someone else who saw the emails assumed it had a sexual connotation. Bonus points for the ending: “These reflections take care of certain false allegations that have been made about me recently (graduate students are not what they used to be). Lesson: reported speech is a bitch (a female dog—be careful how you paraphrase me!).”

      – …to – well, maybe there was *some* *mild* sexual content in the emails, but they were relevant to the research project we were doing. And she was fine with them at the time. She could have complained if she didn’t like it! Bonus: ” I believe that had the genius project continued it would have borne significant fruit; and indeed a colleague has remarked to me that NN’s philosophical abilities went from “good” to “superb” following the several months during which I was attempting to make her into a “genius”.”

      – Next, no I wasn’t fired, I quit; the university ain’t got nothin’ on me; she waited too long before she complained; plus she got paid for work she didn’t do.

      -Donna Shalala is an emasculating bitch; I hated my job anyway; I wanted to spend more time with my family; Miami sucks.

      – Chicks dig me!

      – I am a rebel! Fuck middle-class morality!

      – Important people think I’m being set up!

      – It’s sad that old male philosophy professors are always getting falsely accused of harassment. It’s no wonder that there are no women in philosophy!

      – I was using “genius” in the ironic sense.

      – Tennis!

      – I’ve said too much, but have I said enough?

      It’s truly a wonderful thing to behold.

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  • Michael Collins

    As with the “ticking time bomb,” I’m sure someone can contrive a scenario in which implausibility piled on top of impossibility leads to a situation in which such an invocation is a powerful and necessary teaching tool rather than a gross ethical violation.

    I think it’s not too hard. Your student is doing research on student–faculty mentoring relationships and wants to know how often faculty masturbate while thinking about their students. (S)he has close to enough interviews done, but needs a few more, and (s)he asks you to contribute, assuring you that your answer will not affect your professional relationship at all. (S)he consults the ethics committee, and they approve.

    And that’s just like Prof. McGinn’s case, I’m sure.

  • The Fool

    In a thought experiment testing a universal claim, it does not matter if one piles “implausibility upon implausibility”. If ANYTHING goes contrary to the proposed universal claim then the claim is refuted. You see, it’s the principle of the thing which is in question, not the frequency of occurrence.

    For example if someone says “there are no even prime numbers” that statement is refuted by the example of the prime number 2. The fact that there are no other counterexamples does not matter. One is enough. And in the case of the ticking time bomb, there are many more potentially plausible scenarios than 1 out of infinite. Scott’s argument is akin to saying no one can win the lottery because it is so implausible that any given person will win.

    Scott likes to bluster his way past this point but the fact is security forces like the NSA and the FBI stumble upon criminal plots all the time through various forms of surveillance. While nuclear terrorism is not a high frequency occurrence there is no reason to pretend it couldn’t happen or that it is impossible that word could get out. Given that it is possible, it makes sense for someone like Scott to test his moral intuitions on the ticking time bomb thought experiment. If it happened in real life, he might just find that all his high falutin’ carved-in-stone rules go out the window. Not that I like it. I just face reality.

    • Are you posting where you intended to post?

      BTW, your example is really terrible. Amending the claim to fix the counterexample, i.e., “There are no even prime numbers except for 2” is easy. It’s even meaningful: The way that 2 is divisible by 2 is not typical…typically it’s because the number is composite. 2 is a degenerate case.

      Counterexamples refute universals but only limit generalities.

      • Hogan

        Are you posting where you intended to post?

        “Intended” may be too strong a word. It looks more like a Pavlovian response to “ticking time bomb.”

        • Well, I guess if you are willing to go for broke with torture a bit of sexual harassment apologetics is going to be small stuff.

          • The Fool

            I missed the part where I apologized for sexual harassment. Citation please.

            • You’re ok with the pro-torture? Ok!

              Do you not intend your argument to apply to the McGinn case? If not, then why didn’t you mark it as such?

              If you didn’t mean to support McGinn’s “implausibility upon implausibility”, then I would suggest that you make that clearer with an explicit disclaimer. Otherwise, the implicature is pretty strong.

              • The Fool

                No, I’m not “pro-torture”. Not at all. I’m very liberal and marched against torturers like the Contras back in the 80’s specifically because they were torturers. If you try to pigeon hole me as being a torture advocate in any sense beyond the ticking time bomb thought experiment then you are simply being dishonest.

                My comment had nothing to do with the McGinn case and said nothing specifically about it. I was merely reacting to Scott’s ten thousandth jibe at the ticking time bomb thought experiment, which seems perfectly useful to me.

                • Well then, Hogan’s diagnosis seems correct.

                  For me, it seems odd that you would weigh in so heavily against what is surely not the central point of Scott’s post with no acknowledgement thereof. That’s why I first thought you were commenting on the wrong post and then why I thought you were pro-torture and pro-harassment.

                  That I would makes such inferences will probably weigh little with you given your expressed contempt for me, but there you are.

                  I also think you misunderstand Scott’s antipathy: the practical problem with ticking time bomb arguments is they were used in practice to justify the Bush torture regime. I trust we’re all in agreement that that misuse is entirely evil as well as intellectually unwarranted.

  • The Fool

    Hogan: I have to wonder whose response is more “Pavlovian” — mine that includes arguments or yours that does not?

  • The Fool

    Let’s think about thought experiments and plausibility for a minute. Some of the most famous and widely discussed thought experiments in philosophy imagine things like:

    1) Twin Earth where “water” is made out of different chemicals
    2) Swamp Man: a duplicate human created by quantum magic after lightning hits a stump in the swamp
    3) Zombies who are behaviorally indistinguishable from us but lack all phenomenology
    4) An “original position” where no one knows their own place in society
    5)Star Trek style teletransportation
    6) utility monsters that gain more utility out of consuption of a resource than you do

    None of these are remotely plausible. I suggest that Scott and Hogan and Bijan and their fellow travellers are missing a golden opportunity. Why you boys could wade into all of these densely argued philosophical debates that have generated gigantic literatures and clear the field with your all-purpose knock down argument in one fell swoop.

    Donald Davidson and Hilary Putnam and Derek Parfit and Robert Nozick and John Rawls would be revealed as the philosophical pikers they really are once you all have cleared up their thinking for them*. You should be able to get several publications out of this and be well on your way to tenure!

    *posthumously in some cases of course! — I saw that bit of snark coming)

    • There’s plenty of literature critiquing the use of fanciful thought experiments even on esoteric philosophical problems. But, of course, we’re not talking about an esoteric philosophical problem, but a concrete and significant situation. Descartes withdrew from daily matters to do the Meditations because they were inappropriate for daily life.

      I’ll note that none of this, even if it were sensible, refutes the problem with your original, poorly thought out screed, so I’m unclear what you think to accomplish.

      (Note that there’s nothing that inherently compels us to accept torture in the ticking time bomb scenario. We can consistently choose to maintain the categorical ban and live with the results. We can accept the ticking time bomb scenario and point out that it’s so unlikely we should use a categorical ban as our guiding principle since the chances of error are super small. We can additionally point out that beings like us are easily tempted into the sort of error that would cause us to think we were in a ticking time bomb scenario all the time, so an exact rule would be highly dangerous. etc. etc.)

      FWIW, I’ve studied all those sorts of arguments. It’s not for lack of acquaintance with such that I’m opposing your rather poor ones now.

      • The Fool

        It’s not so clear to me that there is a principled way to divide philosophical arguments neatly into “esoteric” ones that don’t matter because Bijan Parsia says so and and “concrete” ones where logic is thrown out the window and rules preferred by Bijan Parsia carry the day regardless of the consequences because he chooses them and is willing to live with them.

        • I didn’t say, at all, that they don’t matter. The division is more to illustrate that there might be contexts where more fanciful thought experiments are well suited and contexts where they are not. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to reject them altogether, though I, myself, do not do so.

          I’m not sure why you think embracing such thought experiments is a requirement of embracing logic. Your original example demonstrates exactly that while counterexamples do refute universals, that refutation doesn’t exhaust the discussion. “No prime greater than 2 is even” is, in fact, exceptionless. Thus, there are counterexamples and there are counterexamples. Some counterexamples tell against the whole principle (the generality, not just the universal) and many do not. The applicability of the mere fact of a counterexample to a particular case is not immediate. Take your example. It would be bonkers to go from “Well, 2 is a counterexample to the rule that all primes are even” to “I should be on the look out for more even primes! 17 looks suspicious!” 2 is literally the exception that proves the rule.

          Similarly, the actual remoteness of ticking time bomb scenarios from any actual scenarios is precisely what damages it as a useful (i.e., generalisable) counterexample. It’s not necessarily terrible (pace Williams) for exploring issues between utilitarianism and deontology, though, again presumably we’re most interested (when doing practical reasoning) in how they should be applied in rather different cases.

          • The Fool

            I accept, to some extent, your critique of my off the cuff “prime 2” example but there are better examples. For example there used to be a claim that “All swans are white”. But then someone found a population of black swans. So you can sit there and say, “well most of the time you wouldn’t go far wrong assuming swans are white etc etc” but the claim that all swans are white is simply wrong.

            “It’s not necessarily terrible (pace Williams) for exploring issues between utilitarianism and deontology, though, again presumably we’re most interested (when doing practical reasoning) in how they should be applied in rather different cases.”

            Exactly! Now you’re onto something, Bijan!

            And the question I’m most interested in is how does the deontological argument that torture is always wrong fare when applied in the case of the ticking time bomb scenario?

            What’s more, I am always puzzled by people who argue that the ticking time bomb scenario is totaly implausible. Really?

            Is a terrorist bombing implausible? Certainly not.

            Are there loose suitcase nukes in the world? I’m told there are. Certainly there could be in the next 100 years

            Do security forces sometimes infiltrate criminal operations or intercept their communications? Yes.

            I’m not saying it’s probable but it sure seems possible, hence plausible to me.

            As far as I can see the people who disparage the plausibility of the ticking time bomb case do so primarily because they recognize the damage it does to their fundamentalist deontological arguments and hence desire to rule it out of court so they can protect their deontological paradigm safely within it’s hard core where inconvenient arguments like the ticking time bomb are not allowed to trespass.

            • I accept, to some extent, your critique of my off the cuff “prime 2″ example but there are better examples.

              Well, I did write “BTW, your example is really terrible.” (For your purposes. It’s actually quite good to show some issues with counterexamples.) I’m not how you got from there to “all thought experiments are bogus”, but that’s water under the bridge.

              For example there used to be a claim that “All swans are white”. But then someone found a population of black swans. So you can sit there and say, “well most of the time you wouldn’t go far wrong assuming swans are white etc etc” but the claim that all swans are white is simply wrong.

              I’m not sure who you’re arguing with. I agree, counterexamples refute universals. Counterexamples do not immediately refute generalities. I’ll add that many sentences nominally in the form of a universal are really generalities. But anyway. I don’t see what this has to do with the ticking time bomb per se. (There’s a whole other issue with certain forms of forced slipper slopes. One reason to resist most political uses of ticking time bomb arguments is that proponents rarely are arguing in good faith and take agreement on that case as a wedge. The simplest way to resist this is to dig in and say, “No torture ever.” I don’t think that’s dialectically unreasonable.)

              And the question I’m most interested in is how does the deontological argument that torture is always wrong fare when applied in the case of the ticking time bomb scenario?

              Note that it doesn’t have to be a deontological argument. It could be a rule utilitarian argument. It’s better, overall, to adopt the categorical ban.

              I’m not saying it’s probable but it sure seems possible, hence plausible to me.

              I don’t get your chain of p-words. The complaint is that the remote possibility (i.e., the improbability) is irrelevant for policy making at best, and more typically used as a way to normalize torture. That seems pretty right to me.

              I don’t see any instances of your last paragraph, myself. I certainly don’t think that’s Scott’s motivation.

      • The Fool

        Leaving the others aside for the moment, surely you’re not claiming that Rawls and Nozick were discussing merely “esoteric” matters. My impression is that they were discussing real political questions that have real applications to the real world.

        • Sure.

          But not all their discussions were on esoteric matters (Nozick, esp., a lot of his though experiments were less extreme).

          The applicability of their theories is often a challenge. (I’d be interested in citations to either in legal briefs.) To take a simple example, it’s unclear whether Nozick’s state of nature argument against distributional equality apply in a world where we don’t have a chain of just transfers going back to a just acquisition. Famously, Okin discussed how both their abstraction from gender issues causes a lot of difficulty for their theories.

          I’m not sure why you think our earlier discussion puts you on the side of these guys and me against them. Again, I’m not against some abstract though experiments (I, indeed, enjoy them), but you have to be very cognizent of their limitations.

          • The Fool

            So we have established the potential utility of thought experiments. Thank you.

            Now, pray tell, why is the ticking time bomb experiment no good but the utility monster and the original position are?

            • I didn’t say they were no good, in a general way. I don’t think any of them are any good for discussing US policy making (in any direct way).

              I agree with Scott in his analogy in this case: If you are relying on the mere possibility that someone could be writing email about their jerking off while thinking about a grad student to that grad student could be part of a principled pedagogy, well, you are screwed. Similarly, if you are relying on ticking time bomb scenarios to justify liberalising bans on torture, then you are in a bad place.

              • The Fool

                You’ve gone back to the McGinn case which has nothing to do with my arguments.

                • You’re commenting on a post about the McGinn case.

  • The Fool

    You know if the claim that torture is always wrong were just a defeasible generalization then that would be fine. Then we could use it as a rule of thumb and we could still argue the tricky cases by going back to first principles.

    But you people go well beyond that. You apply that generalization to the ticking time bomb case to argue that torture is wrong even in that case because there is this universal prohibition against it — and that universal prohibition IS their first principle. Your whole argument depends on the unchallengeable universality of the prohibition.

    And you all try to have it both ways. On the one hand its a universal principle that can never be violated no matter what the circumstances. On the other hand, its just a generalization and we can live with it when it goes wrong. Or you even perversely make a kind of consequentialist argument that the consequences will be better if we pretend consequentialism is wicked.

    • This is my last post off topic.

      I’m personally perfectly comfortable with a universal categorical ban. It has some unfortunate outcomes in some cases. Consequentialism has some, on most views, poor outcomes in some cases. I tend to go with Williams that such cases are not really good tests of moral theorizing. If I’m ever faced with such a scenario or other moral dilemma, I’ll make some choice and deal with it. I’ll be surprised if any ex ante thinking about it will help very much.

  • The Fool

    Lame, Bijan. Very lame.

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