Thursday, May 26, 2016

Leiter on Pogge and the Presumption of Innocence

   The problem of sexual harassment in academic philosophy is exaggerated. This isn't surprising given that there are a lot of feminists and identity politics types who are passionately obsessed with the usual passionate obsessions of those groups. They're very vocal, and operating in a strongly left-leaning environment that's structured to give them rhetorical and other tactical advantages. And they relentlessly push the various agendas that such folks push. They're passionate advocates of the hypothesis that professional philosophy is unusually--perhaps uniquely--hostile to women, and they often accept the same kinds of confused theories, persuasive definitions, and bad arguments that are popular with the PC left for advancing such positions. In fact, in true philosophical fashion, they've thought of all sorts of new confused theories, persuasive definitions, and bad arguments...
   None of that, of course, alters the fact that sexual harassment is a problem, and academia is no exception, and philosophy in particular is no exception. And it doesn't alter the fact that it's an extremely important problem--even though there's little evidence that it's worse in philosophy than anywhere else. So we've actually got two problems: a sexual harassment problem and an exaggeration-of-the-problem-of-sexual-harassment problem. So that makes it particularly difficult to get a clear picture of what the hell's going on...
   As I've said before, I've got irrefutable knowledge of one clear and unequivocal case of sexual harassment. In that case, the department in question worked hard to avert its eyes so that it didn't have to deal with it. It was never even swept under the rug because it simply wasn't acknowledged. (Despite three separate credible accusations coming to light at more-or-less the same time.) The guilty party even confessed to the most crucial fact in the case to an uninvolved graduate student while drunk. It was an open and shut case...but it was simply never opened. It was an absolutely unbelievable instance of injustice, and an absolute paradigm of the type of case that we worry about when we worry about academic sexual harassment.
   However, I've also seen clearly bogus accusations of sexual harassment, and been directly involved in one case in which a largely puerile snarkfest between feminist and non-feminist (actually: radical feminist and ordinary, liberal feminist) graduate students was dishonestly represented by the former as as "hostile environment sexual harassment." It was an intellectually and morally inexcusable accusation driven by politically-induced irrationality. It, too was a paradigm--but a paradigm of what we worry about when we worry about such policies being used illegitimately to suppress discussion and disagreement in an attempt to win battles of ideas by other means.
   So all this shit goes on in philosophy.
   And--insert my standard expression of derision for counterproductivity arguments here--among the many other reasons that the latter crap is bad: it makes it harder to fix the former problem.
   Anyway...oh yeah...Leiter on the Pogge case.
   Is there a moral analog of the presumption of innocence? Seems plausible. Maybe it's a special instance of something about the burden of proof. If we suppose there's a burden of disproof, then if you merely assert p I've got to either accept it or refute it. (Come to think of it...I'm not even sure you have to assert it...but let that pass...) But I could refute it simply asserting that I have evidence against it...but operating in accordance with the BoD rather than the BoP, you have the burden of showing that I don't have such evidence. And then you can pull the same trick against me, and so on and so on. Anyway, it doesn't make much sense to say that you should be considered guilty of anything I accuse you of...especially since you could then simply accuse me of being an inveterate liar, thus neutralizing my accusation. And so on. Of course a third alternative is the no presumption option...    Which I don't feel like thinking about right now...
   Anyway, Leiter is at least right about the following: it is insane to accept a presumption of guilt (for the limited domain of accusations of sexual harassment). And I'll add: (see all that stuff above) it is especially insane in an environment in which there is a subpopulation passionately dedicated to exaggerating the problem of sexual harassment, and committed to a theory according to which many instances of non-harassment are harassment.
   Leiter's also right, however, that in the Pogge case, there's a history of harassment and multiple credible accusations. Enough, one might reasonably claim, to overcome any presumption of innocence. (That is: presumptions are needed before the evidence is in. But some evidence is already in...) So there's no need to (roughly) alter the logic of accusations in order to get the right outcome in this case. And I'd add: part of the problem with the PC left is that they are way, way, way too eager to do that sort of thing--that is, argue that big, important, well-established principles and theories are false because they don't accord with some relatively minor specific conclusion they prefer. (That's the same kind of mistake that we find in the discussion of race, in which they enjoin us to accept arguments that presuppose the truth of full-blown nominalism (one of the most consequential (and disastrous) metaphysical theories known to humans) in order to get the desired result that races are not natural kinds.)
   So anyway that's my take off the top of my head and FWIW.
   The line currently being pushed by the vanguard of feminism, that all accusations of rape and other sexual harassment should be regarded as true, is nuts. In fact, if it weren't nuts, what they'd probably say is: all accusations of rape and other sexual harassment are true. But that's false. If it were true, then it'd make sense to regard all such accusations as true. But it doesn't, because they aren't. It especially doesn't make sense given the fact that contemporary extremist feminism has undoubtedly increased the percentage of false accusations, at least on campuses, by promulgating false definitions of rape and sexual harassment, and by advancing positions that encourage women to make false accusations.
   But none of that really matters much in the Pogge case, because the guy is a known scumbag, and there's enough evidence that we don't have to rely on mere presumptions.


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