The field of academic philosophy is plagued by sexism, like most institutions in America. Now, a high profile philosophy sex scandal reveals the most dangerous part of this situation: the ability to turn a salacious sex scandal into an impenetrable philosophical argument.
Colin McGinn is a famous (by philosophy standards) philosopher based at the University of Miami. He is the author of such works as Mindfucking: A Critique of Mental Manipulation. He has a blog! Earlier this year, he announced that he would be leaving the university after one of his grad students charged him with sexual harassment.
What kind of sexual harassment? Well, he sent the female grad student texts and emails telling her, among other things, that they should have sex, and that he thought about her while masturbating. The student, who has a boyfriend, said that the texts and emails were unwanted. An uproar ensued; the school got involved; and it ended with McGinn's resignation. But he did not go quietly. Oh no. He defended himself— philosophically.
In a personal blog post (now deleted, sadly) "McGinn suggests that his e-mails were misconstrued, and that rather than committing harassment, his research on the philosophy of the hand included punning on how any task completed by hand constitutes a 'hand job.'" An ironclad defense of which Wittgenstein would be proud. And here is how McGinn explained to the New York Times an email in which he told the student that they should have sex three times over the summer:
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.”
“Remember that I am a philosopher trying to teach a budding philosopher important logical distinctions,” he said.
We can only imagine how sexy his sexts must have been.