Scattered Seeds

One of the key ideas in my new book The Philosophical Parent is that we see children as self-like because they "come from us"—in one of several senses.  I can't state this as any kind of a universal truth, but it tends to be true, and I think it's with good reason that we see children this way.  We're not delusional.  However, I do have to acknowledge some factors that either intensify the perception of children as self-like or decrease that perception.  I talk about sexism, poverty, high infant mortality rates, and so on.

One factor I didn't write about much is the attitude of sperm donors, egg donors, and surrogate children to offspring who did come from them, but with the understanding that someone else would be the parent.  That understanding is no doubt one of the factors that can decrease the perception of children as self-like.  Another factor that didn't cross my mind is the sheer number of offspring a person has. This issue comes up particularly in conjunction with sperm donation.  I didn't realize it until I recently heard Jacqueline Mroz on the radio talking about her new book Scattered Seeds, but sperm donors can have incredible numbers of children.  She talks about men making donations three times a week for years, and each donation being split into 10 or 20 portions.  The result is that some sperm donors have as many as 200 offspring!

Is there anything troubling about a sperm donor having 200 children?  In early chapters of the book Mroz focusses on Wendy Kramer, mother of a donor-conceived child, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, and a critic of the sperm bank industry.  Kids very often want to know about their biological father or even meet him. They see their origin as central to who they are.  Most sperm donors are open to being found and having a relationship of some sort with their offspring, but the worry is that the man's willingness is likely to be reduced, when he has not 2 or 10 or even 20 children, but 200.  You just couldn't experience meeting your offspring as anything terribly profound if you went through it 200 times.  Thus, some donor conceived offspring are doomed to feeling like a mass-produced product, in relation to their biological fathers.  Kramer favors federal regulation, record-keeping, and limits on the number of children a donor can produce.

Whenever Kramer is the focus, Mroz seems rather worried about the sperm bank industry and seems sympathetic to restrictions.  But in the last chapters of the book, the angst goes away.  She focuses on the offspring of Todd, an Apple Executive with 200 offspring.  He treasures all his offspring, inviting them for lavish get-togethers, giving them gifts and traveling with them, but restricting himself to a rich uncle sort of role, not crossing the line into playing an inappropriate father role. It's all good, from the kids' perspective too.  They don't see the father-child relationship or the sibling relationship being diluted or cheapened; they don't feel like mass-produced commodities. They feel like a clan, as opposed to a family.  Though they are actually half-siblings with the other 199 offspring of Todd, they regard each other like most of us regard cousins. As long as we're willing to expand our conception of family and kin, no harm done.

I'm not sure why she ends this way, as if this case were more representative, rather than ending with some of the more painful stories in the book--stories about donor fathers who want more of a relationship than their offspring desire, stories about kids who write Father's Day cards that they put in a box year after year, stories about marriages that fall apart, because donor fathers get more involved with their offspring than their wives can tolerate. If there were a limit of 10 children per donor, just as many parents would get to experience parenthood and just as many children would get to enjoy existing.  Wouldn't some of the problems with donor conception be alleviated?  Why not support more regulation?

Overall, this is a really interesting book, but I wish it had better "back material." It has no bibliography, so it's not easy to look up the books and articles Mroz references. It also has no index, so you can't look up, for example, all the references to Wendy Kramer or to other people who are discussed in multiple chapters.  It has endnotes, but instead of citing sources in the usual way, so people can consult them, Mroz always uses urls, some of them many lines long. (Where urls are appropriate, why not use a url shortener?)  Also, there are also a few errors here and there--doesn't she mean to say that George Washington was infertile, not impotent?  In one place the word should be "motility", not "modality".  But now I'm being picky!


Disussion Guide

A guide to The Philosophical Parent suitable for reading groups is here:  Illustrated Discussion Guide.  One of the illustrations, which were created by Becky Groves, is below.


Slaves and Grandmothers

The cover story in this month's Atlantic, "My Family's Slave," raises so many interesting questions.  Over time, Lola becomes very much like a family member, but not quite, as the family doesn't bother to meet her basic needs.  The story made me wonder how we would react if Lola actually were the author's grandmother.  Would her endless labor to support the family be more acceptable and admirable, or would we just think she was a grandma-slave? What difference do family relations make?


A Failure to Engage?

I thought the conflagration about Rebecca Tuvel's transgenderism-transracialism article was dying down--with academic norms prevailing.  The editor of Hypatia, Sally Scholz, expressed firm, unwavering support for Tuvel.  The associate editors who apologized for the article were very clearly shown to be not in a position to represent the journal.  Tuvel's colleagues expressed support for her.  Colleagues and friends rallied to her side in respected publications.  The right and the good were prevailing, I thought.

But no, the not right and the not good are back in town, in the form of this article by one of those who wrote the original letter calling on Hypatia to retract Tuvel's article. Shannon Winnubst wants to "reclaim a narrative spinning increasingly out of control." The right narrative, on her account, is one about how Tuvel's essay got published, despite its "arrogant disregard" for the relevant fields of philosophy.  Hypatia failed Tuvel, she says, by letting "subpar scholarship" be published in a "flagship journal."  It also failed the field of feminist philosophy. The community of scholars tried to help the benighted scholar at conferences, but to no avail.  Her article got published, despite not engaging in the right way with "critical race theory and trans studies."  And then, people began to be harmed, according to the associate editors at Hypatia, who apologized for "the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused."


Transgenderism and Transracialism

Another day, another controversy in the philosophy world.  The latest is about "In Defense of Transracialism," an article by Rebecca Tuvel, which was published in the feminist-journal Hypatia. A petition complaining about the article, signed by over 800 academics, enumerates a bunch of alleged problems with the article. The journal (or "a majority of associate editors") has apologized for publishing the article, though hasn't retracted it.

My take on the whole thing is that Tuvel's article is seen as dangerous not really because of her minor faux pas, where language is concerned, and also not really because she doesn't engage with the "right" literature, but due to "fear of modus tollens syndrome."


Laura Kipnis's Controversial Book

I thought I'd write a few posts about Laura Kipnis's controversial book Unwanted Advances:  Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.  I listened to the audio version of the book, so can't go back and check passages.  This will have to be a bit impressionistic.

Half the book is about several Title IX investigations that happen to involve philosophers. The other half is a general response to the way sexual behavior is currently constrained on college campuses, due to Title IX and campus policies.  Today I'm going to write a bit about this second, general response.

Kipnis thinks Title IX intrudes too much on the messy business of sex and romance both between students and between students and faculty.  She has a lot to say about how student-faculty relationships can lead to student-faculty marriages, and about how students are not simply exploited by powerful professors, but can be attracted to them. In fact, they can find their power and status attractive. Why is that always so terribly bad?


Proper Indignation

There's a passage from Aristotle that's been coming to my mind constantly since the election.  It's about the virtue of proper indignation.
For the properly indignant person feels pain when someone does well undeservedly; the envious person exceeds him by feeling pain when anyone does well, while the spiteful person is so deficient in feeling pain that he actually enjoys other people's misfortunes. (Nicomachean ethics, Book II ch. 7)
Proper indignation?  Yes.  How could Trump be rewarded with the presidency--the highest conceivable honor--after being a racist birther, after a lifetime of being a con-artist and an exploiter of women, after bullying all of his opponents, after demonstrating total absence of relevant knowledge and showing himself unfit for the office in every way, after lying incessantly and in fact showing total disregard for the difference between truth and falsehood, after losing every debate, after inciting violence and bigotry, after using dirty tactics against Hillary and all of his other opponents, after not revealing his tax returns, after Trump University, after .... This is the ultimate in doing well undeservedly, and we're going to be witnesses to this injustice every day for the next four years.


Top Ten Horrors

I'll go with the New York Times' estimate that there's only a 16% chance of Trump winning tomorrow, but it still fills me with horror.  16% of a really bad prospect is a really bad prospect.  I've been thinking about why this horrifies me so much--what are the worst things about a Trump future?  My top 10 list:

  1. A completely unfit, unqualified con-man wins instead of a clearly qualified and competent woman. Two messages: knowledge and skill don't matter ... men have a huge advantage over women.
  2. The man who promoted birtherism for five years is rewarded for it.  Message: racism and outrageous outright deception are perfectly acceptable.
  3. 20 million people lose their health insurance and everyone else loses all the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, because Trump and other Republicans say "repeal and replace" but actually have no replacement.
  4. Deportations of immigrants, no path to citizenship, an end of welcoming desperate refugees into this country.
  5. Supreme Court turns more conservative for many decades, with resulting threats to reproductive rights and marriage equality.
  6. Unstable, brash, ill-informed commander-in-chief, sure to make the world a much more dangerous place.
  7. International climate change agreement abandoned, posing serious risks to generations to come.
  8. An exploitative, demeaning attitude toward women and girls becomes normalized by the fact that the world's most honored leader exemplifies it.
  9. The repulsive way Trump ran his campaign--non-stop lying, name-calling, threatening to imprison his opponent, abusing the media, total lack of civility--all of that now the norm.
  10. Miscellaneous nightmares:  Michelle's garden mowed down, the White House sprayed gold, Trump vampyric wife and children haunt Washington......
OK, enough.  I'M WITH HER!


Is it selfish to procreate instead of adopt?

Adam Ferner asks this question in a video publicizing the procreation forum in the new issue of The Philosophers' Magazine (which I guest-edited)--it's a question that is addressed by many of the authors that contributed to the forum (Gerald Harrison & Julia Tanner, Sarah Conly, Bernard Prusak, Tina Rulli, Elizabeth Bricker, Rivka Weinberg).

I won't try to summarize the debate in the forum--you should subscribe to the magazine so you can read it!-- but can't resist responding to Adam's question.  For another response, have a look at the various points Denise Cummins makes here.  As an adoptive mother and cognitive psychologist, she has a lot of relevant expertise and experience.

Adam's response is Yes--procreating is selfish, because (roughly) adopting benefits an existing child in need of parents, whereas procreating brings a brand new child into existence, a child who would not have been in need of rescue if they'd remained non-existent. And on the other hand, adopting provides just as much of the most important kinds of satisfaction for parents.  So far procreating just sounds irrational.  It starts to seem selfish if you add that people choose procreation (despite the superiority of adoption) out of some sort of selfish preoccupation with their "lineage".


The Minority Body

About 10 years ago I took a trip to Hawaii with my husband and kids and stepped on a sea urchin as I clambered out of a kayak onto a rock. The pain was excruciating and I spent the next several days not enjoying the gorgeous sights of the Big Island, but soaking my foot in salt and vinegar and googling "sea urchin."  The strange thing is that pretty soon afterwards, I didn't regret what had happened, but accepted it as part of what made this trip especially intense, vivid, and memorable.

When bad things happen, why don't we regret them?  I heard an interesting talk on this question at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress a few weeks ago--the speaker was Camil Golub, a philosophy PhD candidate at NYU. He skillfully canvassed a multitude of possible explanations, and settled on the idea that these kinds of bad-but-not-regretted events become a part of our biographical identity.  This isn't supposed to be a metaphysical concept--the idea isn't that I became a whole new person when I stepped on the sea urchin. Rather, in some looser sense, bad things can alter who we are, so that we can't distance ourselves from them without distancing ourselves from ourselves.  So we say we're glad these things happened, or at least don't regret that they happened.  This doesn't stop them from being bad things.  I highly advise all people to avoid stepping on sea urchins--it's excruciating and the resulting problems will absorb your attention for weeks to come.  However, if you do step on one, it's quite possible you won't regret it. That's a strange combination of assertions, but the biographical identity account makes pretty good sense of why a reasonable person might have that set of attitudes.

I found myself thinking about the sea urchin story and unregretted bad things while reading Elizabeth Barnes's new book about disabilities, The Minority Body. Barnes claims that disabilities (physical ones--she doesn't talk about mental disabilities) are mere differences, as opposed to being bad differences or good differences.  According to her, being blind, deaf, paraplegic, and so on, are akin to being gay or being male. It's value-neutral whether you're gay or straight, value-neutral whether you're male or female, she says, and it's likewise value-neutral whether you're blind or sighted, deaf or hearing, paraplegic or walking.  Golub said nothing about disabilities in his talk, but I'm inclined to think perhaps he gives us the tools to think about this more coherently.  Being blind is a bad thing some people might not regret, like my vastly more minor encounter with the sea urchin.  Reason: bad things sometimes become woven into our biographical identity. You can't wish they had been otherwise without wishing yourself away.

Barnes says no to that assessment.  Being blind is a mere difference on her view, not a bad difference. One of the main arguments she makes is that the mere difference view accords with the testimony of disabled people themselves.  She thinks we'd be doing these people a "testimonial injustice" if we insisted disabilities really are bad, even when they say otherwise.  Take, for example, this recent letter to the editor of The New York Times. 

Erin Hawley says she wouldn't want her disability taken away, despite "the pain, the anxiety and breathing problems."  Barnes calls these "local bads" and doesn't think they go to the heart of the matter.  She wants to respect testimony like Hawley's and classify disability itself as a mere difference.  But what is Hawley saying?  Her testimony is compatible with construing her disability as an unregretted bad. In fact, even her language is quite reminiscent of "biographical identity" talk.  "What I've experienced in life is a story worth telling, and road worth following, despite how society tries to tell us otherwise."

This business of respecting testimony is tricky.  Whose testimony counts?  Almost all of the testimony Barnes cites comes from disability activists, and surely that would be the group most likely to see their disability in a positive light. I also wonder about the point in time when testimony is revealing, as testimony can change. In the initial stages of going blind or becoming paraplegic, a person can find the changes excruciating (as Barnes certainly admits, calling these "transition costs"). A few years ago I met a very young person who had suddenly and permanently became paraplegic--clearly a very, very hard thing for them to face.  I'm pretty sure they weren't just distressed by the transition, but by the prospect of no longer walking, ever, and having other health problems.  This person would have testified, at that time, that their disability was an extremely bad difference. It could be that later on they developed a more positive attitude, but I see no reason to regard the later positivity as superseding the earlier profound disappointment. I don't see that only one of these attitudes reveals The Truth about disabilities.

In fact, I think Barnes herself doesn't even entirely respect the testimony that she focusses on, and this is an odd flaw she never addresses. The testimony she focusses on doesn't just support the mere difference view, it supports the good difference view. And in fact she paraphrases it that way, again and again, yet never acknowledges this particular gap between testimonial evidence and theory.  This is particularly apparent in sections of the book where Barnes is trying to explain why disabilities are mere differences, while cancer (or my sea urchin accident) is a bad difference, even though there are people who are glad they had cancer (e.g. Lance Armstrong says this in It's Not About the Bike). Disabilities aren't like cancer because, she says, people value disabilities.  She notes this over and over again--
[Joe (some imaginary cancer survivor)] doesn't value having cancer, even if he values some of cancer's long-term effects on his life. Linton and Dostoevsky, in contrast, ostensibly value being disabled. (p. 111)
LaSpina strongly rejects the idea of a 'cure' for her disability. She is proud of her disability, and describes it as a positive experience. (p. 116)
Disabled people aren't simply claiming to value 'who they are' as people. They are claiming to value disability. Valuing disability is the crux of the entire disability pride movement--with all its parades and its festivals. (p. 122)
Disabled people don't merely say that they value disability. They go on disability pride marches. They create disability-centric art, dance, and literature. They actively celebrate disability in myriad ways. (p. 141)
Barnes complains that this testimony is ignored by people who regard disabilities as bad differences--she urges "taking their word for it" (a chapter title). But taking this testimony at face value, you wouldn't just elevate disabilities from being bad differences to being mere differences, you'd elevate them to being good differences.  That's what people are saying here--they value disabilities, as opposed to seeing them as neutral.  Barnes seems to think she needs to go along with this, to solve the cancer puzzle, but in fact doesn't go along with it.  She thinks it's not positively good to be paraplegic or blind or deaf, it's value-neutral.

A philosophical theory about disabilities can't just take what people say and repeat it. If that was a sound methodology, what we'd surely have to say is that for some people disabilities are bad, for some neutral, and for some good.  A theory is inevitably going to sift and interpret and take into account considerations that go beyond what's on the minds of disabled people themselves. But that being the case, I think the bad differences view is just as much in the running as the mere differences view; both are at odds with what some people say to express disability pride.

In fact, I do think the bad differences view is the right view, but also think the concept of biographical identity supplements it helpfully.  Disabilities often become a part of "who we are" and are not later regretted, but they are still bad, and to be avoided.  Why are they bad? That's a big question I can't deal with in this blog post (I discuss it in chapter 6 of my book The Weight of Things).  But here's one thought about the issue.  Barnes points out that people with disabilities don't seem to self-report lower levels of well-being, in studies of happiness and life-satisfaction.  She also complains about entrenched ableism, prejudice, and failure to accommodate.  But this is odd--why such high well-being, if there's so much prejudice and failure to accommodate?

One possibility is that all the prejudice and failure to accommodate must harm people, so that the studies of well-being are unreliable.  But then perhaps they also don't tell us whether or not disabilities lower well-being.

A second possibility is that people with disabilities really do have high levels of well-being, and prejudice and failure to accommodate are still bad for some reason unrelated to the impact on well-being.  But then it's possible to say the same thing about disabilities. They could be bad, despite not lowering well-being. (But why?  Of course that's a difficult but good question.)

A third possibility is that people with disabilities have high levels of well-being, and this shows prejudice and failure to accommodate are value-neutral.  Surely that's absurd. Likewise, we wouldn't be forced to say disabilities are value-neutral, even if it were true that they don't reduce well-being.


Killer Immigrants

Damon Winter/The New York Times
There was so much about Donald Trump's speech last night that was dangerous and disturbing, but a little piece of it was also philosophically interesting.  I hasten to add: not in a good way!

Trump's case against illegal immigration partly turns on the fact that sometimes illegal immigrants commit crimes.  He furiously shouted every bit of the speech, but especially ranted about a "border-crosser" who murdered a young woman named Sara Root in Nebraska--someone who had just graduated from college with a 4.0 GPA (he said).  Of course this is very, very awful, but does it create a strong case against illegal immigration?

For some reason, it's tempting to think so, but the logic here is fraught with problems. One issue is whether illegal immigrants commit more crimes than people here legally. Apparently, they don't--in fact, they commit fewer crimes, as David Brooks has pointed out.  I suppose you could say the lower rate doesn't matter, that any crimes committed by illegal immigrants should be held against allowing them to stay or making it harder for them to enter the US.  But there's another issue here.

If the bad deeds of illegal immigrants are a reason to keep them out, then how could you avoid thinking the good deeds of illegal immigrants are a reason to let them in?  A couple of good deed stories were in the news recently--the valedictorians at two high schools turned out to be illegal immigrants.  Even more impressively, if you google "illegal immigrant saves life" you come up with plenty of examples.

A curious inconsistency is that when conservatives talk about abortion, they sometimes have just the opposite focus.  Abortion might have eliminated the best among us.  I hear this sort of thing from students sometimes.  What if an abortion had eliminated Martin Luther King or Steve Jobs or even that genius, Donald Trump?  Tougher immigration laws, on the other hand, would eliminate the worst among us!

No. If you're going think about the crimes committed by illegal immigrants, you really do have to think about their good deeds as well.  You might not think the bad deeds are exactly cancelled out by the good deeds (does one saving-of-a-life cancel out one murder?) but it makes no sense at all to only focus on the bad deeds.


Two Headed Boy

There are so many terrible and ludicrous things going on in the world, it's difficult to focus on anything else...but I will try. Two-Headed Boy: it's a Neutral Milk Hotel song that I'm a little bit obsessed with at the moment. I'll come back to that--or rather, I'll come back to a two-headed girl.

Lately I've been trying to think about aging, and one aspect of the topic is personal identity.  Do we remain the same individuals even as we radically change in old age?   Accounts of personal identity can find it either easy or difficult to say we do.  Sometimes a view has to "just say no" and in other cases it takes a lot of fancy foot work to be able to say yes.  In the fancy foot work category is the new account of personal identity in Marya Schechtman's book Staying Alive.

The general idea of the book is that A and B are the same person just in case A and B have the same "person life." A person life is the kind of life that we live--a life that involves things like wearing clothes, having names instead of numbers, having interests and friendships, and so on.  If Bert, at 90, is living the same person life as Bertie at 10, then they are the same person.  In fact, Bert could even be the same person as a newborn or even a fetus.  The critical concept is "same life," which is supposed to illuminate when we're looking at one person, though possibly at two times, or we're looking at two.

Living the same life is not precisely analyzed in the book, but Schechtman is clear that it does not require going on with the same body.  If my cerebrum were transplanted into a whole new body, my life could continue, she says, and I would remain in existence. It's the ongoing person life that makes me me.

Now the plot thickens.  Fetuses and newborns don't really do much to live a person life, and sometimes very old people don't do much either. This is one of the places where Schechtman's book is most provocative.  She says, in effect, that it can take a village to make a person.  A very old person with dementia and other disabilities may only continue living a person life thanks to family members and support staff.  The elements that make a life distinctively human may have no meaning to the individual--they may be provided entirely by others. That dependence doesn't make a person life stop.  Even a person in a persistent vegetative state can continue not just an organismic life, but their person life, thanks to the support of others.

Likewise, she thinks, at the other end of life.  A newborn doesn't live a person life except thanks to his parents and other helpers.  The power of others is so great, says Schechtman, that they can even give a fetus a person life--by naming the baby, thinking about his future, etc.  If you've already readied the nursery, bought clothing, and started to think of her as being at the start of a person life, then your child's life has started.


I find the person life view at least intriguing, with respect to old age, but manifestly problematic with respect to the beginning of life.  One thing Schechtman doesn't say much about is cultural and personal variability when it comes to fetal and newborn life.  This is dealt with in fascinating detail by David Lancy, in The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings.  As the title hints, there is amazing variability, across cultures, and even within cultures, in the way fetuses and newborns are treated.  In some cultures, they tend to be given person lives from the beginning of pregnancy, and in others the onset of a person life is delayed, so that the start of life is years after birth.  That strikes me as problematic for Schechtman, since I can't get myself to believe that persons start existing at different times depending on things so variable and extrinsic to them.

And then there are other problems. Take a person whose person life only starts some months after conception, because of the way the parents and surrounding culture think about when life begins. At four months gestation, perhaps, the parents see the child on an ultrasound and learn its sex. Perhaps because of the image, and because the risk of miscarriage is now low, and because of the sex information, they're now ready to give the child a name. They also start creating the child's nursery and talk about her to family and friends.  They even start dreaming about her future, accepting gifts like a little baseball bat or doctor kit.  Now a person life has begun, according to Schechtman.  Where there was a fetus, there is now a person, and they are non-identical. Some of Eric Olson's worries about fetuses (in his book The Human Animal) arise here.  Does the fetal pre-person just go out of existence, being replaced by the person?  Weird idea!  If, on the contrary, the fetus continues to exist, but starts "constituting" a person, there's a puzzle about whether the pivotal property--living a person life, on Schechtman's view--is possessed by both the fetus and the person or just the person. Both answers are unpalatable.


OK, let's get on with the two headed boy (or actually, girl).  Here's a case that seems problematic for Schechtman--a case where it seems clear that two persons exist, but on her view just one person exists, because there's just one person life.  The case comes from a This American Life Episode called "Switched at Birth."  In 1951 Mary Kay Miller gave birth to a baby under general anesthesia.  Another woman, Kay McDonald, gave birth in the same room shortly afterwards, and the babies were mistakenly switched.  When she got home, Mary Kay wondered whether she had the right baby, because the baby she brought home was two pounds heavier than at birth. However, her husband didn't want to pursue the issue, so she put it out of her mind. They raised the baby they took home and the McDonalds raised the baby they took home.  They had no idea there was any problem.

Now take the "two headed babies": MarthaSue, the baby who started off in one mother's uterus plus the baby who went home with her; and SueMartha, the baby who started off in the other mother's uterus plus the baby who went home with her. Intuitively, MarthaSue and SueMartha are are just concatenations--there is no one person made out of two organisms, in the way the names suggests.  But on the person life view, it seems to me there might be.  We can easily imagine each set of parents endowing the fetus with a life, long before birth.  Considering that at this point it's the parents doing the endowing, the person life that starts with a fetus seems to continue in the body of the baby who comes home--a different organism.  That's the upshot of putting person-creating power in the hands of parents, instead of seeing it as residing in organisms themselves.  It becomes all important what they think about their child's lifespan, and these parents thought of the life that started before birth as continuing in the body of the child they brought home.

My gut feeling:  personal identity is not as social and extrinsic as that.  On the other hand, it does seem interesting and important how "the village" helps personhood along, both at the beginning of life and at the end.  There's something to that idea.


Bernie and the Rich

I'm not at all convinced by Bernie Sanders' analysis in today's NYT op-ed.. "Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children." Are these workers really preoccupied with the rich getting richer, or do they feel threatened by immigrants? Those are not at all equivalent.

In his next paragraph, we get more about the rich and the "unimaginable luxury" they enjoy--supposedly that's fueling support for both Leave and Trump. But wait--Trump is the embodiment of absurd wealth and unimaginable luxury. He's Mr. Luxury himself! There's no way his supporters are driven by resentment of the rich. Resenting poor Mexican immigrants is (duh) not the same as resenting the rich!

And then there's all the stuff about how globalization is increasing inequality and poverty. Is it really? The bottom billion used to be defined as those living on less than a dollar a day, but now they're the people living on $1.25 per day. On lots of economic parameters, things are getting better around the world, and as I understand it, this is partly due to globalization. Bernie says "the global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world" but prosperity is going up around the world, and even if it's fairly stagnant in the US, it's already extremely high, comparatively speaking--in fact just about the highest in the world!

Some paragraphs of this op-ed truly just sound just like Trump. "Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour." Should we really go back to a time when the poorest people in the world were even poorer? Setting aside the moral problems with that trajectory, how's that going to give us foreign markets for our goods? How's that going to make the world more peaceful and cooperative?


Old Voters, Young Voters

In the last couple of days I've read about 16 and 17 year olds in the UK who think it's unfair that they weren't allowed to vote on "Brexit."  Thus, they complain, very old people are determining a future that's mostly going to be lived by young people.  Maybe 16 and 17 year olds aren't wise and informed enough to vote, but their complaint makes me wonder: would it have been more fair if the Brexit vote had involved a multiplier, so the vote of a 20 year old counted for 1/20 and the vote of an 80 year old counted for 1/80? That certainly sounds repugnant.  What, should we count the vote of a 20 year old with a terminal illness like they were 80?  On the other hand, there's something sensible about age-based multipliers. Not that I'm recommending this approach.  Surely it's odious! I'm just intrigued by the fact that it's not obvious why it's odious.  Of course, you wouldn't need age-based multipliers if old people just restrained themselves, deferring to the young who will live for many years with the outcome of Brexit.  You'd think they would do that, to some degree--that they would ask their children and grandchildren about their preferences, before voting.  But just in case they didn't do that, you could have age-based multipliers....and then, why not for all elections?  Yeah, it's horrible and obviously undesirable, but it does seem puzzling why that's so!

The Philosophical Parent

Big news!  I'll be publishing a third book some time in the next year.  The tentative title is The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions about Having and Raising Children.  The book is under contract with Oxford University Press (see table of contents at the tab above). Let's pretend the mother in this picture is actually reading Plato to herself, while her daughter enjoys gazing at the ducks. She could be the philosophical parent.


The Gun Enthusiast

The day after the San Bernardino massacre, Republicans were engaged in totally pointless business as usual--they were (believe it or not) trying to repeal Obamacare.  Democrats (and a few Republicans) tried to attach gun control amendments to a senate repeal bill, a rather desperate exercise, considering the whole bill was inevitably going to be vetoed by President Obama.  But even in that ineffectual form, gun control was rejected. The details--some nauseating, some amusing, and some mildly encouraging--are here.   

One of the amendments would have stopped people on the FBI's terrorism watch list from purchasing firearms, which opponents thought would be terribly unfair for the occasional person who winds up on the list improperly.  That's a common refrain--what about the law-abiding person whose liberty to buy and use guns gets infringed by efforts to disarm the next mass killer?  If you close loopholes, making it harder to buy guns at gun shows and online, what about the law-abiding gun enthusiast?

I suspect liberals and conservatives are as far apart as they are on gun control partly because of the way they feel about this figure--the law-abiding gun enthusiast. If you think gun possession is important, meaningful, and worthy of the highest protection, you won't want to see anyone inadvertently denied gun liberties, as a result of being mistakenly put on a terrorism watch list.  But why see it that way?  Why not see a gun owner as being like someone who wants to own a tiger or drive at 100 mph?  What makes gun ownership special?

Self-defense.  The problem with thinking gun liberties are special, based on the role of guns in self defense is...what role?  If you give a population access to guns for purposes of self-defense, a few will use them that way, but far more will wind up using the guns non-defensively--there will be accidents, suicides, domestic violence that turns deadly, and yes, murders and mass shootings.  Having a gun is crucial for sustaining a certain type of fantasy of self-defense, but not for keeping yourself and your loved ones alive.  So we really can't say gun liberties are special and deserving of the highest protection because of the role that guns play in self-defense.  (Analogy: having a tiger for self-defense. It might work occasionally, but policy-makers would be right to ask how often it works, and at what cost in tiger-caused deaths and maulings.)

The second amendment. Another allegedly special element of gun ownership, in an American context, is the second amendment to the constitution.  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  In a modern context, a "well regulated Militia" would have to have the armaments of a modern state--bombs and tanks and the like.  Nobody really takes the second amendment seriously as carving out specific liberties people ought to have in the 21st century.  We can limit people's access to bombs and tanks, stopping them from forming effective militias; so what relevance can the militia standard really have?

Hunting.  If you don't have a gun, you can't engage in recreational animal-killing.  This can't be taken seriously as a reason to specially protect gun liberties, more than other liberties we might like to have.  If it's valuable at all to be free to kill animals for fun, it can't be so profoundly valuable that gun-ownership is entitled to special protection.

Gun play. Finally, there's the liberty to spend leisure time hoarding the biggest guns available and acting out fantasies that are encouraged by endless video games and movies.  This is a reality for thousands--maybe millions--of Americans.  And I do buy that more liberty is preferable to less, even when it comes to activities I personally find repulsive.  The question is whether this sort of pastime is worthy of heightened protection, more protection than we would award to activities like driving fast and harboring tigers.  But no--how could it be?  Gun play may be wildly fun for some people, but fun is just fun. 

There is really just no good reason to protect the liberty to have guns more than we protect the liberty to drive fast or own a tiger. Gun liberties are not at all like liberties in the sphere of religion, speech, conscience, and political participation.  I would be worried about abridging those liberties for everyone on the FBI's terrorism watch list--worried on behalf of people who shouldn't be on the list and even on behalf of those who should.  But those are entirely different dimensions of life.

When we're discussing gun liberties and rights, we should remember that guns are just guns.  There's nothing sacrosanct about having and using guns. How could there be?  The gun crowd has won half the battle when they make us attach some special value to gun possession, as if it were particularly profound and vital to life. No--having guns is just one liberty among many others, abridegeable not without reason, but when necessary for public safety.


On Trigger Warnings

Everyone's talking about 'em--like Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff in The Atlantic and Kate Manne in yesterday's New York Times.  The Atlantic article is interesting and no doubt trigger warnings are overdone in some quarters, but when push comes to shove...yes, I've been issuing warnings for many years (though without using the word trendy word "trigger").  For example, when I show gruesome videos about factory farming and slaughterhouses, I let students know ahead of time they may find the images disturbing and are free to close their eyes briefly if necessary.  When I teach the topic of death, and especially suicide, in my course on the meaning of life, I go much further, based on knowing that college age students are a vulnerable population.  I advise them to seek help if the topics of the course make them feel depressed.  This is appropriate, I've found. In fact, I've had students have to drop the class because the topics do occasionally exacerbate pre-existing problems. So, content warnings? Yes.

But why, in a world full of disturbing material, should a college classroom be a more protective environment?  For this reason:  Instructors have the power to say "you're going to watch this, read this, talk about this."  Students can't walk away, once they're enrolled, without serious consequences.  Also, in a classroom, they're not just subjected to material, but asked to interact with fellow students about the material, answer questions from the instructor about the material.  So their reaction, whatever is, gets exposed.  Beyond the classroom, people can avoid material they find disturbing, and certainly don't have to reveal their reaction to the material, or enter into conversations about it with strangers, or with people who react to the material completely differently.  If we're going to demand that students wrestle with disturbing topics, it's only considerate and responsible to give them fair warning. I would even say that in extreme situations, it make sense to let students opt out--for example, a suicidal student might be given alternative readings if the death section of my syllabus is too disturbing.

So yes, I'm for warnings.  One worry about them, though, is that they get issued with liberal bias.  We care about the gay student but not about the homophobe who's genuinely very disturbed by acceptance of gay marriage--yes indeed, there are such people, especially in Dallas, Texas.  We care about the person who's disturbed by the slaughterhouse images, but not the person who's disturbed by the message that "meat is murder."  We care about the female student who's been sexually assaulted, but not about the male student who's being charged with sexual assault without due process.  I probably need to work a little harder to be equitable when it comes to protecting student mental health, but should I protect student mental health?  Yes, I should, to the greatest extent I can, without compromising course content unduly--because of the power I have to force students to be exposed to and publicly engage with highly disturbing topics.


The Well-Being Trap

There's a pattern of thought I keep seeing. It goes like this.  You reason that X isn't really so important to pursue, because it doesn't necessarily improve our well-being.  Or you reason that Y isn't really so important to avoid, because it doesn't necessarily reduce our well-being.

Frank Bruni's column in the New York Times this past Sunday is part of his crusade against elitism in higher education.  He wants college-age kids to know they can do quite well in all sorts of colleges, so they will stop the intense obsession with getting into the very best.  I get this, up to a point, but is there really no reason to go to the best college you can get into and afford?  That's basically what he says, based on a new report on the way different schools affect a student's later well-being.  The Purdue index...
measures success not in dollars and lofty job titles but in graduates’ professed engagement in their employment and, separately, their assessments of their own well-being, as determined by their reported satisfaction with five dimensions of life: their relationships, their physical health, their community, their economic situation and their sense of purpose.
As it turns out, among all graduates, 10% describe themselves as thriving in all five areas; among students who go to the top 50 schools (as measured by US News & World Report), only 11% describe themselves as thriving in all areas.  No big difference!  So there's no good reason to go to Harvard, Stanford, or whatever you were hoping for?  That seems to be the idea.

Bruni apparently can't imagine someone reasoning that they want to go to Harvard or Stanford for the simple reason that they can learn more and develop better skills thereThe great faculty at these schools don't have anything outstanding to offer prospective students, he seems to think, unless there's a later pay-off in terms of a student's own personal well-being.  Knowledge, skill, creativity, and the like aren't goods worthy of pursuit unless they're well-being-enhancing.

My next example is going to involve disabilities, which Elizabeth Barnes regards as "mere differences" because a disability "doesn't by itself make you worse off." Like Bruni thinks the greater knowledge offered by Harvard can't be better for prospective students unless better for well-being, Barnes seems to think blindness can't be worse simpliciter, so to speak, but if bad at all, must be bad for well-being.  And she thinks it can't be shown that disabilities by themselves make people worse off, apart from society's failure to be accommodating.  We can't regard a disability as a bad difference because absence of an ability is intrinsically bad--it must be a well-being reducer to be bad.

I think Barnes and Bruni are both over-focused on well-being.  It's not incoherent to value and pursue knowledge as an ultimate end, instead of as a means to greater well-being. It's not incoherent to disvalue and avoid having a disability, because you see ability as a better thing, regardless of how a disability may (or may not) reduce well-being.  Well-being is not the measure of all things!


Ain't I a Woman?

My column for the next issue of The Philosophers' Magazine is about "Tangerine"--a new movie about transgender sex workers--and the E! reality series "I am Cait." The very day I turned in the column, I became aware of a major battle over at Freethought Blogs about whether transgender women are women.  I don't think I "get" all the details of the battle, but I take it one side says "simply yes" and the other says something like "politically yes, but ontologically I'm not sure." This is regarded by the Yes-ers as a very bad answer.

I really don't see why it's a very bad answer, though I understand the attraction of "simply yes."  I'm drawn to "simply yes" when I focus on transgender memoirs like She's Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan (she's delightful on "I am Cait" in episodes 2 and 3!) and these compelling videos by Standford psychologist Ben Barres.

The other answer gets you to the same place, practically speaking.  "Politically yes" means something like:  people are entitled to their own gender-spectrum decisions.  It's up to me whether I'm girly or not girly, not girly or androgynous, androgynous or downright butch.  I get to cross over from one spot on the spectrum to another, if I like--even going all the way from female to male--and have my decision socially respected.  When it comes to our gender identity, we have "first person authority," as Talia Mae Bettcher puts it in "Trans Identities and First Person Authority."  By this, she doesn't mean we know a fact about ourselves, introspectively, but that it's up to each person to choose a gender presentation and everyone else's duty to respect that choice.

I would add "ontologically I'm not sure" to "politically yes" because I'm not clear that a person's choices, gender-wise, create the sort of robust facts that could make it simply true that Boylan is a woman and Barres is a man.  If it were simply true, what would the truth of the matter hang on?  One option is to say Boylan has a female brain and Barres a male brain, but to the very limited extent that brains are dimorphic, they're dimorphic with respect to a little bit of reproductive machinery (see this, by Donald Pfaff), and Boylan is presumably the one with the male brain, Barres is presumably the one with the female brain.

Apart from a little bit of reproductive machinery, brains are a mixture, with males only statistically leaning toward certain traits and females to other traits (see this, by Daphna Joel).  Even if Boylan's brain leans female (does it?) I don't believe it really makes sense to say that a brain with lots of traits that are a little more common in females is a female brain; or a brain with lots of traits that are a little more common in males is a male brain. 

Another option is to say that the truth of the matter hangs on gender identity feelings.  So a male is someone with a sense of being a male; a female is someone with a sense of being a female.  This seems like at least a possibility, but there are legitimate worries. A lot of people don't spend a whole lot of time feeling like members of their gender.  We're encouraged to do so, but some resist, and some just don't.  Or maybe we do, but gender identity recedes very far into the background?  It's quite possible that there are more vivid gender identity feelings in people who find their gender complicated and difficult.

Loose analogy.  I once sat at a table of 12 Jewish women discussing whether we believed in God.  We all went around expressing one degree of skepticism or another, and then came to the last person, who had converted to Judaism.  She believed!  Her transition to Judaism had given her a rather different experience of being Jewish than the others had. In order to ensure her inclusion in the class of Jewish people, you could say having Jewish beliefs is definitive of being Jewish, but then the other 11 of us would be excluded!  I worry that defining gender membership in terms of gender identity feelings could possibly have the same effect.

Perhaps being Jewish is actually a disjunctive property--you have it based on parentage OR based on beliefs.  Could gender be similarly disjunctive--you're female based on gender identity feelings OR simple biology?  That sounds attractive, but what's going here if we take the disjunctive route? Are we really getting at realities as to who belongs to which gender category (or religious category) or have we entered the realm of ethics and politics? Is there really a class of entities that share one property-- female--based either on having a sense of being female or female biology?  Could the femaleness instantiated in these two ways be the very same property?

Certainly the ethics and politics here is far simpler than the ontology or metaphysics. Yes, as far as social practices go, trans women are women (and trans men are men).  We're entitled to be self-determining gender-wise, and to have our self-determinations socially respected.  As to the underlying ontology or metaphysics, that's more puzzling, and sure it isn't a bad thing to be puzzled about what's truly puzzling, instead of having a settled view. 

More links:  on the metaphysics of gender, I've found this anthology useful.  There's some interesting stuff about trans identities, including the Bettcher article, in "You've Changed," edited by Laurie Shrage.  Especially interesting is the article by Christine Overall, "Sex/Gender Transitions and Life-Changing Aspirations." 


Accutane Ethics

My son has been taking Accutane for the last several months.  Boy it works well (for acne).  It also raises some first class ethical questions.  There's an extremely strict regimen for taking Accutane, because apparently if a woman takes it and conceives a child, the child will likely be born with significant but not super-serious abnormalities. For example, the child's external ears may be malformed.  As a result of this (and for other reasons), patients taking the drug have to see a doctor every 30 days. Women have to promise to use two forms of birth control while using the drug. Every time you break the seal on a pill, you see a warning about avoiding pregnancy.  The assumption behind all this is that it would be wrong or bad to conceive a child with malformed ears, when you could easily wait just 6 months (the usual course) and conceive a child with normal ears.  Of course it would be wrong or bad!

But maybe ... (Note: I truly love the Louis C.K. "Of course...but maybe" routine.  Do watch if you haven't seen it.  Start at 34:00.)   Enter: David Boonin's new book The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People, reviewed here by Molly Gardner. At least in the review, the focus is on a slightly different sort of case.  Boonin contemplates Wilma, who can either conceive now and have Pebbles, who will be blind but will have a life worth living, or take a pill for two months and have Rocks, who won't be blind.  Boonin embraces the argument that concludes it wouldn't be wrong to conceive Pebbles. Here's how it goes--

According to Garnder, Boonin's book looks at all sorts of ways of rebutting this argument and finds them all wanting.  So we should just accept the conclusion. It really wouldn't be wrong to conceive Pebbles.

There's an Accutane version of the argument, and I would rather see that be the focus for two reasons. First of all, Wilma and Pebbles are just cartoon characters--literally.  These issues have a different feel when they come up in real life.  Thousands of women are right now considering whether to heed their doctors' warnings about conceiving while taking Accutane.  It's easy to give Wilma the green light to conceive Pebbles, but surely not so easy to give a real woman the green light to conceive on Accutane.  I'm not sure we're thinking seriously about these things until we're thinking about real people's decisions.

The Accutane version is more real world-ish, and also has some parameters that may make a difference to our intuitions.  In the Accutane scenario, a drug causes the undesirable features--the malformed ears. In the Wilma scenario, a drug causes the desirable features--sight, rather than blindness.  Unconsciously, what might make someone accept (C) in the Wilma argument is the intuition that nobody has to go out of their way, taking special drugs, to have a "better" child.  It might not really be that the conclusion gains whatever plausibility it has from the argument's explicit premises.

So let's look at an Accutane scenario. Mary is thinking about ignoring all the warnings and conceiving in July while taking Accutane. If she does so, she'll have a baby we'll call "July"--a baby with malformed external ears. If she waits until she's finished taking the drug, she'll have a different baby we'll call "December," one with normal ears.  Is it wrong to conceive July?  The argument parallel to the Wilma argument would go like this:

Now that we're talking about real decisions in the real world, not cartoon characters, the conclusion looks quite a bit more amazing, even thought the abnormality in question is far more minor.  Or so it seems to me.  I would be absolutely amazed if the wisdom of our best ethics gave permission to Accutane users to ignore all the warnings and conceive while using the drug.  That would be incredible.

So what's going on here?  July is not worse off for being born--P1 seems right.  So she's not harmed by being conceived--P2 seems right.  Let's ignore P3, since even if it were false, that's not the heart of the matter, surely.  If July is not harmed by being born, then she's not wronged--that's what P4 says.  OK, that seems plausible.  That leaves P5.  If an act wrongs no individual could it still be wrong?

Yes.  Mary wrongs no individual yet she causes more suffering than necessary.  The suffering of July about her ears--surely inevitable--just didn't need to be. It would have been no worse to create December, and creating December would have eliminated that suffering.  Usually what matters is harming individuals, wronging individuals and moral categories of that sort, but it doesn't seem surprising that in the special area of procreative ethics, other principles kick in.  "Cause no more suffering than necessary" is that sort of non-individual-specific principle.  Not that this is the only principle relevant to procreative decisions--the one and only master principle--but it seems relevant if you're a woman wanting to both clear up your acne and have a child.  Refusing to wait six months to conceive is wrong because you'll thereby cause more suffering than necessary.

I bet somewhere in Boonin's book this response is discussed and disparaged--I will have to read the book and find out.  Truth be told, I'm sure I'd shift to some other explanation if I could be convinced that this one was wanting, because what I'm absolutely sure about is that Mary shouldn't conceive while taking Accutane.  That's what's so extremely evident, not the reasons why.


Swastika Cakes and Gay Weddings

It's so rare that Jon Stewart reasons badly, but I wonder about the reasoning in his Indiana piece last night.  Start at 3:45--

Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, etc., compare the baker who refuses to "do" a gay wedding with--
  • A gay printer who refuses to print signs saying "God hates fags"
  • A black baker who refuses to bake a KKK cake
  • A Jewish baker who refuses to bake a swastika cake
Stewart than faults them for thinking a gay wedding is anything like a "God hates fags" sign, a KKK cake, or a swastika cake. Making these analogies, he says, just reveals their bigotry.

But no, I take it the idea is that all these business owners are being alleged to be alike in having reasons of conscience to turn away customers.  Nobody's saying the various things turned away are exactly alike.  Huck & Co are arguing that the freedom of conscience in question shouldn't be spurned by liberals, since there are situations in which they will want to invoke it too.

This is at least worth thinking about.  When should a business owner be able to turn away customers? We wouldn't want to restrict that freedom too much and I don't think we do.  "No shirt, no shoes, no service."  If you can turn away shoeless people presumably you can turn away all sorts of people.
The law gives businesses a lot of freedom, I take it, so long as their reasons are non-discriminatory.

Now, the gay printer, black baker, and Jewish baker wouldn't have discriminatory reasons to turn away the customers in question. It's not discriminatory to be offended by bigoted messages.  So their freedom to turn away these customers is secure. But would a baker have non-discriminatory reasons to "do" opposite sex weddings and not same sex weddings?  At least once gay marriage is legal in every state (in June, I hope), it doesn't sound as if any conservative bakers are going to be able to fuss about gay weddings.  No worries--the liberal bakers are still going to be able to take a stand against swastika cakes.

Oh my god, that's actually a thing!


Pet Euthanasia

Our soulful cat Snownose died on Saturday, from cancer, but with the help of euthanasia.  I've never had a cat euthanized before, though I've had many cats.  The whole month before, I had to work up the courage to do this, as did other family members.  I kept thinking about the conservative stance on euthanasia: that intentionally killing another person is always wrong.  (If this were right, I'd extend the prohibition at least to animals who are family members.) In the days leading up to calling the euthanizer--a vet who came to our house--I kept rooting for Snownose to expire on his own.  It seems like it would have been better that way.  It was unfortunate for those who love him to have to play any role in his death.

One thought that kept running through my mind, in the 24 hours just before the Dr. Westbrook came to our door, is that cancer had already taken away Snownose's future.  When he was euthanized, he had maybe a day or two left, if that. We took away only that brief time, and only to prevent suffering.  Does that even deserve to be called "killing"?  Can you really be a killer, and thus responsible for a death, when a disease is already wholly responsible for the death?  I'd be prepared to say "no" except what about this?  Evil nurse or vet sneaks in and injects the dying patient with a poison, just for kicks. Now you want to talk about "killing" again, despite the disease being wholly responsible.

And so--OK!--taking away one day of life, even out of mercy, has to be killing.  Or could a case be made that "euthanizing" is a different sort of thing from killing, because of the motives involved?  Is this one of those unusual cases in which motives matter to the kind of act performed? (And now I regret that I have not yet read Motive and Rightness, by my colleague and friend Steve Sverdlik.) In fact, the phrase "mercy killing" has gone out of fashion, and certainly vets don't use the "k" word.  They "put down" animals (at least here in Texas), or at worst euthanize them; they don't kill them.  Maybe (big maybe) the practitioners are onto something and these aren't just euphemisms.


The Marquette Situation

A word about Marquette's attempt to fire John McAdams.  One thing (among many) that bothers me is that Dean Holz's letter reveals a double standard.  In the second paragraph he charges McAdams with trying to "silence the less-powerful" but nowhere in the letter does he voice any concern at all about the undergraduate--who is the less powerful person in the instructor-student relationship.  Here are two excerpts from the transcript--

Being against gay marriage is having an opinion that's "not appropriate" and "harmful" Abbate says here.  The student can either keep his opinions to himself or drop the class. There are no two ways about it--she (the more powerful of the two) is silencing the student (the less powerful).  Despite the letter's concerns about McAdams allegedly silencing Abbate, the dean voices no concern at all about Abbate silencing the student.

Now you might say--some opinions are beyond the pale.  You do have to stop students from engaging in hate speech--which some will do, if given a chance (I know from experience).  But in the relevant context, can opposing gay marriage be put in that category? The student has enrolled at a Catholic University, and as we all know, the Catholic church opposes gay marriage. Furthermore, this is a time when gay marriage is being debated in the courts.  Several members of the Supreme Court are going to oppose it in hearings later this year.  It can't be right to lump opposition to gay marriage with forbidden, hateful speech.

So the student was quite right to be incensed.  But right to record the conversation? That's another matter.  And right to go to McAdams with his complaint? Again, another matter.  And was McAdams within his rights to blog about the affair?  Did he know he was going to bring an angry mob to her door? Did he continue stirring the pot even after she had come under attack?  All to be investigated carefully.  I haven't done enough homework to have a firm opinion.

But if you don't like the alleged silencing of a grad student by a more powerful faculty member, you shouldn't like to see a grad student silence an undergrad either.  I've read various defenses of Abbate's stance, and none of them really wash.  The next class period, she voiced her thoughts about gay marriage, explaining why the topic didn't fit into her lesson plan.  But what she says in that class (with the student now gone) doesn't change much.  She doesn't say that students against gay marriage would be welcome to speak out in the right context.

Holz says the student didn't actually drop the class because of the issue about his right to speak out.  But that doesn't alter the fact that Abbate did tell him to drop the class if he didn't like her policy on prohibiting homophobia--which (she implies) pertains to the student's desire to express opposition to gay marriage.

Another defense I've read is that there are provisions in Marquette's code of conduct designed to protect students from being exposed to hateful speech, and Abbate was merely abiding by those.  I can't believe anyone really thinks that was her actual motivation, and it would be scandalous if philosophers acquiesced in an interpretation of campus codes of conduct that would deligitimize considerable chunks of the standard content of ethics classes.

In all the discussion of this situation I've read, I've run into vast amounts of consternation about the silencing of powerless graduate students by tenured faculty, and no consternation about the silencing of powerless undergraduates.  I respect the fact that McAdams was concerned about the undergrad, though I realize his concern was mixed with right wing motives of various kinds.  McAdams doesn't stand up for feminists who feel silenced, or gay students who feel silenced, or animal rights advocates who feel silenced.  So he doesn't have a principled, universal concern about the speech rights of students.  But wait. Neither do the many supporters of Abbate.  I suspect they are on her side, against Adams and the undergrad, because she's the friend of gay rights in the trio.

We need consistent, content-neutral support for free speech, and not just for the speech we agree with.  It pleases me to see some liberals supporting McAdams, and pending my doing more homework on just how much he knew his blogging on behalf of the undergrad would incite an angry mob against Abbate, I'm inclined to be one of them.


Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses

Every week there's another appalling story about the way college campuses deal with sexual misconduct.  A Rolling Stone investigation of UVA shows that on some campuses there's not much of a response even if  a student complains of being gang raped by seven men at a frat party. Among many astonishing details in the story: there were 38 allegations of sexual assault in a recent one year period at UVA; and no student has ever been expelled for sexual misconduct there, while many have been expelled for violating UVA's revered honor code. 

On the other hand, there's this amazing story today about the other side of the sexual misconduct spectrum.  A male Swarthmore student was expelled for an allegedly non-consensual, non-penetrative sex act that occurred a day before the alleged victim initiated consensual intercourse with him (she complained about the earlier act nearly two years later).  Now Swarthmore is vacating that decision and giving the student a chance to have his case re-considered. (Understandably, he's moved on to another school.) Follow the link and read about the judicial process that led to the student's expulsion. Even if you're prepared to think an instance of sexual assault could conceivably precede consensual sex by just 24 hours, you have to agree that the accused student's case was horribly mishandled.

Anyone with college age sons and daughters (I have one of each) has to be completely appalled by both of these stories.  And everyone else with empathy and a sense of justice.