Unethical Philosophers

2017-03-26

Reports and allegations continue to surface regarding widespread sexual misconduct by male philosophy professors, including "stars" such as John Searle and Thomas Pogge (as well as several professors here in Colorado). The sad irony and arrogant hypocrisy of professors of philosophy engaging in such despicable and deeply unethical behavior cannot be passed by in silence. We witness here in a particularly painful form the truth of Thoreau's observation that "There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers." According to Thoreau and the ancients, "to be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates" - which these piddling professors clearly fail to do.

Also disheartening is the lack of awareness, even among those who criticize this misconduct, of the true nature of what Nietzsche called the "visible philosophical life". Consider, for example, professor Louise Antony, who has been quoted as saying "The evaluation of the philosophical work - the quality of the arguments - is one thing, and the evaluation of the philosopher’s behavior is something else" and "We take our job to be giving students the tools to make good ethical decisions. But of course, a philosopher can know what the tools are, and still be bad at using them." Both statements are true as far as they go, but they do not go very far because they evade the deeper issue: these men merely profess, but do not live, the philosophies they espouse. In other words: they are not philosophers! I, for one, will cease referring to them as such.

This line of argument implies that it is difficult to determine if someone is a philosopher, or merely a sophist who professes subtle thoughts. This problem is not new, and also goes back to the ancient Greeks. One is reminded, too, of the ancient Greek notion that you cannot call a person eudaimon (successful at living as a human being) until they die, or even afterward. In the case of John Searle, perhaps he had people fooled for a long time but now at the age of 84 the truth is coming out.

Unfortunately, there's a long and sordid history of bad behavior among so-called philosophers: Heidegger was an unreconstructed Nazi, Rousseau dropped his five infant children off at the Paris Foundling Hospital, Wittgenstein caused the death of his 11-year-old student Josef Haidbauer, Foucault was an enthusiastic disciple of the Marquis de Sade, and even Ayn Rand cheated on her husband while publicly avowing that he was her "top value".

So much for the love of wisdom.

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