Being a New Yorker

Brian Leiter and the Philosophy Gourmet Report are having what one might call a Dawkins moment.

Brian Leiter may be a law professor, a philosopher, and the editor of an influential report that ranks universities’ philosophy departments. But when it comes to dealing with people he regards as being out of line, a different feature comes to the fore: “I’m a New Yorker.”

Over the past year, for example, the Manhattan native has told one fellow philosopher that she is “a disgrace” who works for “a shit department,” has threatened to sue another he dismissed on Twitter as a “sanctimonious arse,” and has suggested on one of his three blogs that still another professor should leave the profession “and perhaps find a field where nonsense is permitted.”

This year more than 270 philosophers have signed a statement in which they refuse to complete the surveys or otherwise to assist Mr. Leiter in assembling his rankings as long as they remain under his control.

The statement specifically protests Mr. Leiter’s treatment of Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, a professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia who was the target of his “sanctimonious arse” tweet. It argues that Mr. Leiter’s “derogatory and intimidating remarks” to Ms. Jenkins have damaged her health and her ability to work, partly due to the power he wields as editor of the report.

Hmm. Have any Irish bloggers come forward to say maybe she’s doing it for publicity?

Mr. Leiter remained dismissive of the recent wave of criticism of him, which he attributed partly to feminist philosophers irritated by his defense of the due-process rights of scholars accused of sexual harassment, and partly to philosophers who periodically rebel against The Philosophical Gourmet because their own departments rank poorly.

Oh good, another front in the War With Feminists.

Mr. Leiter attributed some of the criticism of him to a “cultural gap” that he said had developed in his argumentative field as younger philosophers had become heavily involved in social media and engaged in what he called “tone policing,” denouncing online comments they see as offensive or uncivil.

How about derogatory? Any discussion of that?

Some emails he sent have been made public and they’re…not very collegial.


  1. Ariel says

    A question, mainly to the American readers (but not only).

    Quite a while ago I read a heated discussion of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in philosophy departments. (Finding the link would take a while; I can do it if needed but in the meantime I will rely on memory. It was probably somewhere on the APPS blog but I’m not completely sure.) Anyway, some prominent philosophers participated in this conversation. And here is the thing: what struck me was that even the (American) *defenders of some of the accused*, were prone to admit that American philosophy departments are particularly bad in this respect.

    I found it strange because I’m not aware of anything analogous in my country. I’ve never heard of philosophy departments in my part of the world (Eastern Europe) being more ridden with sexism and harassment than other places. I assume also that if it was a popular view here, I would have heard of it. But the fact (alright, at least I remember it as a fact) that the American participants never questioned it, gave me a pause. Is this really so in the US? If yes, why? What’s the reason?

    I’m quite curious. Explanations which rely on some distinctive traits of philosophy as a discipline would be generalizable to other countries, right? And if it’s just a local phenomenon, restricted to the US, such explanations can’t really work. But maybe it’s not local – maybe in some places the phenomenon just remains undiscovered? That’s also a possibility.

    Hmm, that was plenty of words to express that I don’t know what to think. I apologize also for being slightly off topic: I’m in the course of reading about Brian Leiter.

  2. says

    Note that Jenkins is also an out atheist. I had asked her for an interview a year or two ago, as part of my atheist women in philosophy series, and she tentatively agreed but never followed up, and I worry it may have been because of all this (which I hadn’t known about at the time; except the general field-wide problem). If she was dealing with this, and seeing what’s going on in our movement (and the mistreatment of women in philosophy was one of the things I was going to ask about), I can perfectly well understand why she might want nothing to do with us. It makes me really sad.

    To the commenter above, one of the links you may be looking for is the MIT organization that runs the blog Women in Philosophy. They’ve been at the forefront of combating and exposing sexism in their field.

  3. guest says

    I’m an engineer, and happened to run into a senior male academic philosopher at a conference of interest to both of us. We somehow got to talking about the underrepresentation of women in engineering, and he mentioned that academic philosophy was actually even worse in this regard, and academics are trying to develop ways to address it. It sounds like a ‘Harris-style’ issue in that although this guy didn’t get it I wouldn’t be surprised if the bullying and condescending nature of a lot of what is accepted as academic discourse in this discipline (granted men take this stance with each other, not exclusively with women) can drive out women who either don’t appreciate it or don’t put up with that kind of behaviour–and I have to say if my conversation with this particular person was any indication of how people behaved in his department I’d have found another discipline toot sweet.


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