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Aug 03 2013

Philosopher behaving badly

The sordid story of Colin McGinn, the sexist philosopher at the University of Miami who was compelled to leave his tenured post, is a rich source of academic pretension. The guy is a master at making up pseudo-intellectual excuses for repulsive creepiness.

Both Mr. McGinn and the student declined to provide any e-mails or other documents related to the case. But Amie Thomasson, a professor of philosophy at Miami, said the student, shortly after filing her complaint in September 2012, had shown her a stack of e-mails from Mr. McGinn. They included the message mentioning sex over the summer, along with a number of other sexually explicit messages, Ms. Thomasson said.

“This was not an academic discussion of human sexuality,” Ms. Thomasson said. “It was not just jokes. It was personal.”

Mr. McGinn said that “the ‘3 times’ e-mail,” as he referred to it, was not an actual proposal. “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.”

I gotta remember that “conversational implicature” line for when I’m caught plotting and conspiring. I suppose it beats just claiming academic authority as proof I can’t be a bad guy.

43 comments

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  1. 1
    Ace of Sevens

    You don’t get it: He wasn’t harassing her because he wanted to have sex with her. He was ahrassign her to keep her in her place. I think you owe someone an apology.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    Hah! I was posting about exactly that pretentious dreck at the same time you were.

  3. 3
    chigau (違う)

    Hive-mind!!!

  4. 4
    Ryan Cunningham

    “the crude term for masturbation”

    I have to question the definite article here.

  5. 5
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    I have to question the definite article here.

    Ha! Sad but true. I’ve seen enough Beavis & Butthead in my day to list about 30 of them…

  6. 6
    Rich Woods

    31.

    What? You want specifics?

  7. 7
    Inaji

    “logical implication and conversational implicature.”

    Oh FFS. Someone needs to take his thesaurus away.

  8. 8
    Sili

    Pshaw!

    Philistines!

    If it wasn’t for you prudes, philosososophy would be fulllll of geniusseseses of the female variety.

  9. 9
    chigau (違う)

    Caine
    Maybe we can sic John Morales on him.

  10. 10
    shazaadibrahim

    “the crude term for masturbation”

    Maybe he was just explaining the field of philosophy?

  11. 11
    TheBlackCat

    I think shazaadibrahim just won this thread.

  12. 12
    sigurd jorsalfar

    @7 One must not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker. Harumph

  13. 13
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    @7 One must not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker. Harumph

    Pure mental wanking is not thought well here as a scientific blog is about evidence, not wankery opinion. What is the evidence presented that we should take the opinion seriously, or reject it out of hand per Christopher Hitchens, et al.; “that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”?

  14. 14
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Harumph note…

  15. 15
    sigurd jorsalfar

    @13 I was just quoting one of McGinn’s blog posts. He was defending himself against allegations of abusively crude sexual puns by claiming they were, coming from his mouth, exceedingly witty and erudite double entendres that keep intelligent people like him and his victims (if only they were intelligent, alas) in stitches. He actually said ‘one must not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker’ meaning himself.

    The phrase seemed to me to sum up McGinn’s pomposity and I can’t help but recall it every time his name comes up.

  16. 16
    Inaji

    Sigurd:

    One must not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker. Harumph

    Of course not, of course not. Especially when the sophistication is simple sophistry wrapped in a crunchy coat of thesauruspeak. :coughs importantly:

  17. 17
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Especially when the sophistication is simple sophistry wrapped in a crunchy coat of thesauruspeak. :coughs importantly:

    Applauds an overly polite response….

  18. 18
    chigau (違う)

    I need to learn to cough importantly.
    As opposed to the normal morning phlegm-clearing.

  19. 19
    butchpansy

    I had to look up “conversational implicature.” Sarcasm; he means sarcasm. What a pedantic asshole, among other things. I’m a newly minted philosopher, myself. McGinn smells up the profession.

  20. 20
    Inaji

    butchpansy:

    Sarcasm; he means sarcasm.

    Really? Wow. Hmmm, ‘conversational implicature meter.’

  21. 21
    anteprepro

    I had to look up “conversational implicature.” Sarcasm; he means sarcasm.

    So his excuse is very pompous and overwrought way of saying “I was just joking!”. I don’t know whether that is brilliant meta-comedy, or among the stupidest things I have ever seen.

  22. 22
    ck

    I don’t know whether that is brilliant meta-comedy, or among the stupidest things I have ever seen.

    It may be both, but I don’t think the former was intentional on his part.

  23. 23
    Ihavenoidea

    Is he claiming he has academic authority to conduct himself this way?

  24. 24
    Lyn M: ADM MinTruthiness

    @ chigau (残念ですね) #9

    Maybe we can sic John Morales on him.

    If the portentious duderpseudomensch is still in Miami, I think the law against cruel and unusual punishment would stop that.
    Which is a pity. It would be funny.

  25. 25
    mykroft

    Man is not a rational animal, man is a rationalizing animal.
    — Robert Heinlein

    I guess a degree in philosophy gives us better tools for rationalizing whatever the hell we want to do…

  26. 26
    Muz

    It was probably mentioned before, but McGinn was one of the guys in the documentary on the history of atheism from a few years back and he was pretty good. What’s funny is it was put together so as to show how clear and concise and readily understandable atheist thought can be compared to the tortured language of theology.
    Tortured, convoluted language has its uses though apparently.

  27. 27
    Ace of Sevens

    He’s an analytical philosopher. Sexual harassment is a problem for ethical philosophers. I don’t see anyone here call for PZ’s head because he doesn’t know how to clone sheep.

  28. 28
    microraptor

    He’s an analytical philosopher. Sexual harassment is a problem for ethical philosophers. I don’t see anyone here call for PZ’s head because he doesn’t know how to clone sheep.

    That was either the most epic bit of sarcasm or the greatest amount of commenting without having the slightest fucking clue of the issue I’ve seen in a month.

  29. 29
    Holms

    So, word your defense in the ‘sesquipedalien loquaciousness’ edition of purple prose, and hope no one knows what the fuck you are saying and backs down because they feel stupid. Gotcha.

    I’ll meet his bullshit with a golden standby of Australianisms: “get ya hand off it.”

  30. 30
    Holms

    He’s an analytical philosopher. Sexual harassment is a problem for ethical philosophers. I don’t see anyone here call for PZ’s head because he doesn’t know how to clone sheep.

    …You’re implying no one should be held accountable for sexual harassment because it is not their job to study it? Unbelievable.

  31. 31
    myeck waters

    I believe they were implying that we could recognize sarcasm.

  32. 32
    sigurd jorsalfar

    microraptor, holms, I think you’ve become entangled in Ace of Seven’s conversational implicature.

  33. 33
    myeck waters

    Oooh, you must be a philosopher!

  34. 34
    What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    Conversational implicature, in the philosophy of language, relates to Grice’s conversational maxims. Without getting too bogged down in the details (you can find those here), it’s an attempt to explain how we understand meanings that aren’t directly expressed. A classic example: if someone says, “It’s cold in here,” you might take that as a request to close the window. Or if I respond to a request for a recommendation letter with something like, “XXX was always punctual, and wore clothes to work every day,” you would probably take that as saying that I can’t recommend XXX for the job.

    Obviously conversational implicature depends a lot on context, and the context of a professor asking a student for sex (three times, no less) is, well, pretty damning for the prof.

  35. 35
    leftwingfox

    I guess his next great philosophical contribution is the application of Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox to the “I’m not touching you” argument.

  36. 36
    cubist

    I don’t see why people are getting annoyed at Ace of Sevens. McGinn’s specialty is known; he is not an ethical philosopher. And if you’re not ethical, sexual harassment is not a problem. Q.E.D., as the saying goes.

  37. 37
    Ace of Sevens

    Thanks cubist. This is like getting mad at a nuclear physicist for dropping a scale in the lab and breaking it. Gravity is an astrophysics problem and in this day of ever-increasing knowledge we can’t expect academics to know all the disciplines in their department.

  38. 38
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    You know, I would really like to see universities ban or punish dating (or sexual conduct) between students and professors. I say this as someone working in academia: all too often colleagues troll their classes looking for a sex partner or date, and it leads to preferential treatment and discipline problems in the classroom. It’s not forbidden, explicitly, and for some reason people tend to believe that because everyone is over 18, there’s really no problem with that sort of behavior.

    Only there’s this power differential wherein a professor can blackmail, abuse or otherwise take advantage of students using their need to make good grades in a class and/or graduate, but colleges seem to want to ignore that differential.

  39. 39
    Ace of Sevens

    @mouthyb: Isn’t that already generally the case, at least with undergrads? I know it is at University of Iowa, which is my alma mater.

  40. 40
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Ace of Sevens: I wish it was, but at my university, it’s considered merely a professional behavior issue: if your colleagues object, it’s a problem. And they only object if you’ve done something that has drawn the attention of the outside world.

    I participated in a lawsuit at my university about these issues. They do not give a shit.

  41. 41
    anuran

    You have to work really hard to get your tenure broken. Sounds like this asshole went above and beyond the call of douchenozzlery.

  42. 42
    richardelguru

    Not that I want to defend him (and I don’t know if he was using it that way, or if his field includes linguistics), but those who decry his use of ‘implicature’ should be aware that it is a term of art from Gricean pragmatics.
    So whatever else he was up to, pretension is not necessarily one of his crimes!

  43. 43
    David Marjanović

    Maybe we can sic John Morales on him.

    *glee*

    He actually said ‘one must not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker’ meaning himself.

    *double facepalm*

    The embarrassment! It burns!!!

    at University of Iowa, which is my alma mater

    Unfortunately, it’s The University of Iowa with capital The. I know because one of the external reviewers of my thesis is from there. (He looks like Bruce Willis.)

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