A bit of an editor’s note before this post, since this is going to involve some ‘inside baseball’ for Classics and some necessary background (also, this is not going to be a ‘family friendly’ post due to the subject matter; reader discretion is advised). The following essay is one I wrote very early in July discussing some of my concerns with the editorial policy of Antigone Journal, a public-facing Classics web magazine (and probably currently the largest publication of that type). Because Antigone bills itself as an ‘open forum for the Classics’ and regularly responds to complaints about it in social media with invitations to write those complaints at Antigone, I figured I would do so and submitted the essay to them. They sat on the essay for two months, before rejecting it with a set of reader comments which convinced me both that the readers were hardly impartial and also that Antigone was in fact uninterested in publishing any real critique of its policies, despite their stated commitments.
My original plan had been to publish the essay myself, seeing as I had an online platform of similar scale, but by the time they had managed to read this 1,500 word essay, the moment of interest had passed; one wonders if that was the intent (of course it may well not have been). In any case, the moment has, predictably come again with one of Antigone‘s board members choosing to publish a smoke-screen of essay which somehow equates opposition to professors having inappropriate relationships with students with wanting to ‘destroy the field of Classics.’
So here is the original essay, its core text printed without alterations from the form submitted to Antigone and rejected by their ‘open forum.’ I have, however, added a number of footnotes to address some of the editor commentary I received from Antigone‘s less-than-impartial readers and to correct two fairly minor errors of dates; I have marked these errors with footnotes but do note, “two months” should be “fourteen months” and “2017” should be “prior to 2018.” Since the original essay did contain a few footnotes, I have edited these to include ‘Original Footnote’ so you may easily see which is which. The full reader comments are also included in the form of a .docx at the end, so that no one may accuse me of having been disingenuous. As I’ve said, my own impression of the reader comments was that it was unlikely that Antigone would ever find an essay on this topic suitable for publication; that would be their choice (if they feel differently, they can contact me and I’ll gladly give them permission to repost), but it is what leads to my publication here.
(Post publication edit: this post has drawn an unusually high number of brand new anonymous commenters with fake or burner emails attached to their comments. I do not know why (and it may well just be a lot of longtime lurkers looking to weigh in). I have been holding those comments in moderation regardless of their content. As anyone can see below, I have no problem with comments that are sharply critical of my take here, but I do worry about letting ‘fake’ commenters through, since once approved subsequent comments will not come up for moderation automatically.)
With that preamble out of the way, let’s answer the question…
What’s the Problem with Antigone?
It is no new thing to observe that the field of Classics is in need of more effective outreach and that a true public-facing platform for both professional classicists and classical enthusiasts to share and expand their love for Greek and Roman antiquity has long been needed. Yet despite Antigone seeming to speak to this need directly as an open forum for Classics, it seems that less than two full years on Antigone has earned as much if not more ire than praise from classicists and many junior scholars now regard the publication as essentially ‘out of bounds,’ despite the promise of its concept.1
The concept of a public-facing open forum for Classics is not the problem. Rather the problem is that in prioritizing famous writers whose names might bring clicks regardless of the worth of their ideas or the standard of conduct they have set as scholars, Antigone has ensured that many more early career classicists with new, valuable things to say of great interest to the public cannot do so here. In a remarkably short time, Antigone has, by refusal to prune, let the overgrown thorns of their garden block many of its gates, for those who lack the clout or tenure to risk it. It has created a self-closing forum to the great disservice of both potential writers and more importantly potential readers.2
Of course, such a claim demands a bill of goods be presented, and so one must.
In May of 2021, Antigone republished to some considerable controversy “Why A New Edition of the Golden Ass?” by Peter Singer, which had originally appeared in Literary Review. Singer is not a classicist, but an ethicist, though it was perhaps more important for the publication of his article that he is a famous ethicist. To say that his views of ethics are controversial is to put the matter mildly. Singer has argued, for instance, that it may be ethical to rape a mentally disabled person so long as they were sufficiently mentally disabled so as to be unaware they were being wronged and that disabled infants should be killed and “replaced” with “normal” ones.3 Responding to critiques that he was a eugenicist, Singer published (with co-authors) an article in the Monash Bioethics Review entitled, “Can ‘eugenics’ be defended?” in the same month as his essay appeared at Antigone in which he (et al.) concluded that eugenics “isn’t a unified category that we can simply judge as morally good or bad.”4
If Singer were merely a controversial philosopher who nevertheless had strong classical bona fides and something interesting to say, one might have still argued for its inclusion. But Singer is no classicist and confesses in the article to only recently becoming aware of Apuleius. Singer needed Ellen Finkelpearl to translate the work for him; why he and not she writes in an ‘open forum for Classics,’ I cannot say.5
But if the project were a worthy one, it would deserve attention. Yet Singer did not propose to present the unvarnished Apuleius to a new audience hungry for Classics. “Ten wrestlers cannot strip a naked man,”6 but Singer’s effort did strip Apuleius. Singer’s abridgement removes roughly half of the text, stripping the Milesian tale of its Milesian digressions and of the original book divisions, before clothing its twice-naked form in an entirely new epilogue out of whole-cloth in which the protagonist Lucius does not become a priest of Isis. Instead, more palatable to Singer, Lucius starts a donkey sanctuary and declares his deep empathy for animals, a sentiment hardly evinced by him in the Latin original.
Unsurprisingly Singer’s approach and the volume that resulted attracted significant criticism from classicists, both online and in a scathing review by Shadi Bartsch in the American Journal of Philology.7 Though Antigone was evidently aware of the reaction by classicists, the journal’s “Semestral Survey” dismissed them out of hand as ad hominem attacks on the author or as “personally malicious.” Yet despite the controversy, no article refuting Singer’s approach ever appeared at Antigone. Perhaps none was submitted, though given the editorial tone in the semestral survey one would be forgiven for assuming no such critique was desired, in which case I hope to have remedied that deep deficiency. Yet the lack of such a rebuttal in this open forum for Classics would seem to speak to the limitation of the editorial approach as one could seemingly hear about the severe limitations of Singer’s dabbling everywhere except the venue where the book had been promoted.8
Then in April of 2022, Antigone published “Why Compare Greek and Latin” by Joshua T. Katz, who is described, even as I write this,9 as the “Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor Classics at Princeton University.” Except that of course Joshua T. Katz is not either of those anymore things, having been fired from Princeton in May of the same year for egregious breaches both of university policy and professional ethics. The Antigone article, published two months [ed.: fourteen] after The Daily Princetonian reported on Katz’ misconduct is unchanged months after his dismissal.10 It gives no indication that the author might be anything other than an eminent classicist in good standing, one who “spends his time thinking” about “the disintegration of the academy,” rather than an embarrassing and disgraced figure who represents the disintegration of the academy.11 It is an impression which could be corrected by a mere editor’s note, yet has not been.
Katz continues to claim that Princeton’s action was in response to his political views, but the underlying uncontested facts are sufficient to run afoul of any professional ethics worthy of the name. Katz was accused of initiating inappropriate romantic relationships with at least three of his undergraduate students, a point he does not contest.12 Katz’ wife, Solveig Gold, who met Katz as an undergraduate in 2017 [ed. prior to 2018] when he was 48,13 has written that she finds it hard to take seriously the “claim that a 21-year-old woman cannot possibly consent to a relationship with her professor.”14 Yet surely15 as classicists who study societies like Greece and Rome where power and sex could be so brutally intertwined, we ought to be alive to the notion that huge imbalances in power and status might well make a relationship deeply fraught if not outright unprofessional.16
In any case it is for these difficult issues that we have university codes of conduct and standards of professional ethics. They include that professors ought not take romantic or sexual advantage of their students, university rules and ethics that Katz admits he violated, describing his contact as “wrong” and that he “violated the University’s rules.” If such ethics are to mean anything for a profession, if they are to serve any function in protecting students it must be because they carry real professional and reputational sanction. In presenting and continuing to present Katz as a scholar in good standing, Antigone actively erodes those standards. Once again, despite Antigone’s open forum, there has been no hint of controversy in its digital pages, a deficiency I hope I have remedied.
It may well be argued that these are just two such instances, but equally that is two such instances in as many years since the founding of the journal. Any precarious or early career classicist who reacted with delight, as I did, about the news of a new public-facing Classics publication must now consider it with trepidation: not merely what names will appear next to theirs already but what new names might be added in the future. We may wish that we lived in a world where authors were judged independent of the publications their names appear in, but we do not.
Yet the great promise of an online open forum for the Classics is the opportunity for less well-known students of the ancient world to present their work and interests. Well known classicists and famous Classics enthusiasts of course should be applauded for lending their voices here and elsewhere but they do not lack for opportunities. And therein lies the damage. In the name of running articles by two men who have no problem presenting their views to the public in any number of widely read fora, Antigone has compromised their ability to provide a place for the interested public to discover the work of less well-known scholars. The result is an editorial policy that does a disservice both to its field and to its readers.
An open forum for Classics is still desperately needed for a discipline that finds itself increasingly under siege in its institutional homes. Reintroducing the public to the real Greeks and Romans and their fascinating literature and culture is still an essential task. The problem is that Antigone has let a reckless editorial policy obstruct those goals and so reduced its value to Classics itself.
As noted above, I have attached below the submitted and commented upon text of the article with Antigone rejected. Since then no other critique of either of these articles has, to my knowledge, yet appeared in Antigone’s pages. I do think this speaks to problems with Antigone’s ‘open forum’ and general demand that critics debate their choices in Antigone’s pages. If ‘come, debate us!’ is to be the publication’s response to critique, the door for that debate must be open wide indeed.
More recently, Solveig Gold, who sits on the board of editors, responded to an article by Professor Nadya Williams in Inside Higher Ed calling for a greater emphasis on virtue and character and citing Joshua Katz among others as examples where sanction by the field was the appropriate response to inappropriate conduct. Gold’s article seems to reflect an awareness, denied by the ‘readers’ above that Katz represents a tainted figure in Classics (which is usually what happens when someone is fired in disgrace for sexual misconduct).
More broadly, Gold equates Williams and her critique with classicists who’d “like the traditional field of classics to die,” an absurd critique from anyone even vaguely familiar with Williams’ work and quite public views. Indeed, Williams’ core argument is that these sanctions “represent a character judgment that should unite the left and the right.” I agree and I do not think the idea that professors should not engage in romantic relationships with their students (particularly those expressly forbidden by their institutions, but I believe that all such relationships should be impermissible) is a particularly partisan issue. Given that part of my critique of Antigone is that they are insufficiently clear about their relationship with the professor whose reputation they are attempting to launder, I suppose I should note that I consider Nadya a valued colleague.
It was Gold’s decision to end her essay presenting Antigone has a ‘reason for optimism’ in pushing back against the ‘woke classicists’ (including the conservative Evangelical Christian she was replying to) who want professors not to canoodle with their students that led me to resurface the essay above. I intend it to be my last word on the question, as I find jousting with the Antigone editorial board tiring and pointless. Let me say, for as little as it matters, that I bear no censure nor ill-will to anyone who publishes through Antigone, but I do think that if the journal wishes to truly fulfill its purpose as an ‘open forum for Classics’ rather than merely ‘Eidolon but with inverted politics’ it will need to make some changes.17
I remain of the belief that Classics needs better public outreach, but a magazine that courts controversy, serves to launder the reputations of disgraced academics who happen to be connected to its board, whose members then hides behind culture war nonsense to obfuscate that fact, that sort of magazine isn’t able to fill that need. Maybe Antigone can change to become the outreach venue Classics does need, but it needs more than a little soul-searching to get there.
And now I’ve said my bit and so we shouldn’t need to revisit this topic in the future.
- The readers declared this “an alarming claim” which required evidence, an odd claim given that they acknowledge the controversial nature of their publication in their own semestral survey and were well aware of the Twitter debate. Indeed, Antigone‘s social media is quick to show up to critiques and the fact that the author of sententiae antiquae, one of the largest voices for classics on the internet, feels the need to refer to Antigone in code so as to avoid their obnoxious social media response when critiquing them, because they will respond (and they did, by the by). And of course as a junior scholar myself who knows many other junior classicists (and a few senior ones), I’m also here speaking to conversations in confidence from colleagues – particularly on the job market – who feared that both writing for or critiquing Antigone could both be damaging to their career prospects (as well as, to be frank, conversations with more senior classicists who made it fairly clear that they would consider working with Antigone as a black mark on a CV; I disagree with this attitude, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of it). I am not sure how this fairly obvious point could have been further demonstrated to the satisfaction of Antigone‘s readers, short of asking a great many junior scholars to go on record about something they would be unwise to say out loud in any event. I find Antigone‘s pose of pretending they are not in controversy tiresome.
- At this point one of the readers responded, “We have seen no problem in gaining readers” [emphasis mine] and this is as good a point as any to note that I found the first person plural there surprising; it appears later in reader comments about “Antigone‘s position with respect to all our contributors is that we do not” [emphasis mine again]. I have published in both academic journals which use double-blind peer review and major media publications where editing is done by staff editors; in the former case the readers (and the writer) are anonymous and also notionally informed but neutral, disinterested parties; in the latter case the editor has the final say but communicates directly with the writer. I had assumed when informed the essay would be sent to ‘readers’ that we were using the former method, where – given that the article is a critique of the editorial policy – it would be obviously inappropriate for the anonymous readers to in fact be members of the editorial board, evidently fully aware of who the author of the piece was. I have never published anywhere where the identity of the editor(s) is concealed from the contributor as it was here (all communications I received signed off as ‘Antigone’ and were via a collective email); I have no idea which editors saw my essay (including the one named in the essay). This would not necessarily be an insurmountable problem in Antigone‘s approach if the editorial board assumed a policy of public silence on contributions, but as noted they do not.
- ORIGINAL FOOTNOTE: This second argument discussed at length in H. Kushe and P. Singer, Should the baby live? The problem of handicapped infants (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).
- ORIGINAL FOOTNOTE: W. Veit, J. Anomaly, N. Agar, P. Singer, D.S. Fleischman and F. Minerva, “Can ‘eugenics’ be defended?’ Monash Bioethics Review 39 (2021): 60-67.
- The readers at Antigone contend on this point that “Singer did not write for us,” presumably in that he originally wrote for Literary Review, but this strikes me as fairly meaningless hair-splitting, as they reprinted the review. They also claimed at the time that “we have been in discussion with Finkelpearl.” To date (December, 2022) no piece by Finkelpearl has appeared at Antigone. More broadly if Antigone does actively solicit contributions by specific authors or on specific topics, one wonders why they have thus far failed to print or reprint any responses to their two most controversial articles; there is no lack of such responses online.
- ORIGINAL FOOTNOTE: Apul. Met. 1.15, nundum nec a decem palaestritis despoliari posse.
- S. Bartsch, “The Metamorphosis of an Ass,” AJP 143:1 (2022): 169-179.
- At present, Antigone has in fact memory-holed this article, which rather implies that they were not so unaware of the poor reputation it created than they suggest. As I write this, Singer’s article has been reclassified as ‘uncategorized’ with no other tags, ensuring that it will only appear for readers who know to look for it. It is the only article that is simply ‘uncategorized’ without inclusion into any other discovery category. I cannot imagine why.
- ORIGINAL FOOTNOTE: In July of 2022. UPDATED FOOTNOTE: It is December, 2022 and they have not updated the byline.
- The readers respond to these ‘two months’ with “We count fourteen,” though that seems rather worse, since it means the entire editing process must have taken place under the cloud of impending professional sanction. In any event, they are correct on this point, it was fourteen, may the correction be noted. My confusion was caused by the issue having flared back into existence early in 2022. For what it is worth, I think Princeton is in the wrong here, but not for firing Joshua Katz; Princeton was wrong to wait so long to fire Joshua Katz. In much of this article I try to be fairly clinical with my phrasing but imagine for a moment just how quickly you would be fired if you had inappropriate relationship – the context here clearly means inappropriate sexual relationship – with a person under your power as part of your job. Princeton’s sin was likely hoping they could retain a prestigious professor by waiting for the whole thing to blow over, while continuing to expose students to a potential sexual predator; that sin is grievous but it does not exonerate Katz.
- The readers note that “this is likely to fall foul of UK libel laws.” I am no lawyer, but I have my doubts that declaring that a professor dismissed for cause over issues related to sexual misconduct was dismissed for cause over issues related to sexual misconduct which he admitted to would in fact fall foul of libel laws. Fortunately I and my website are located in the United States, where pointing out that a professor who was dismissed for cause over issues related to sexual misconduct was, in fact, dismissed for cause over issues related to sexual misconduct is perfectly legal. At the same time, I feel the need to note that the reader here is evidently concerned that the spouse of a board member at Antigone, a writer for the journal presumably invested in its role as an ‘open forum’ would sue the journal over libel instead of using his connections to have the essay quashed; one may doubt the plausibility of this concern.
- The readers declare, “We are assured that he does contest this and acknowledges one inappropriate relationship.” Which is to say that yes, he admits to at least one obvious fireable offense and a grievous breach of professional ethics, but denies the other two. First, surely the benefit of the doubt has already been lost when the first accusation turned out to be true? My readers may forgive me, but if someone is accused of three murders and admits to only one of them, they may no longer object to being called a murderer even if they contest the other two.
- The readers inform me this date is incorrect and given that Solveig Gold is on the editorial board of Antigone, I must assume they are correct. That said, this date cannot be very wrong, given that Gold has already written they were ‘courting’ by 2018 (she also notes she graduated in 2017, which is I think the date I confused) unless they met substantially earlier when Gold was still an undergraduate.
- The readers write, “This reads as making the malicious claim that Katz and Gold were in a relationship when she was a student.” I am, in fact, quoting Solveig Gold, in her own words. As far as I know, while Gold and Katz “exchanged emails at 4 a.m. when [she] was a student,” (Gold’s words again), Gold does not describe the relationship as romantic until after she graduated, thus my description of them having ‘met’ (not ‘dated’ or ‘courted’) prior to 2018. If quoting Gold’s own words amounts to a ‘malicious claim’ in the view of Antigone‘s readers, I think that makes my point better than I ever could.
- One of the readers here writes, “Use of “surely” is alarming. Solveig Gold is on our editorial board and we set very high store by how she views her relationship with her husband.” I found this defensive comment striking, both in its frank admission of a conflict of interests on the part of the reader, but also at the apparent assumption that I am casting aspersions at Gold’s marriage; I am casting aspersions at professors dating their students and as far as I am aware both Katz and Gold strenuously deny this was ever the character of their relationship.
- I found the reader’s comments on this point perplexing, verging on shocking. One commented that “Evidence will need to be adduced that the marriage of these two figures is ‘fraught’ and/or ‘”‘unprofessional.'” Note that ‘marriage’ here is their word, not mine; I feel I’ve been clear that the problems here are situations in which a person with power of another is also pursuing that person romantically. It should not take much thought to imagine why a student, romantically pursued by their professor – who controls their grades and can open or close doors for them in academia – might feel their ability to consent limited by that power relationship. Another reader commented, “What makes an intertwinement brutal? And is there a claim that ‘power and sex’ are nor, or should not, be linked?” So let me be blunt: what makes the ancient intertwining of sex and power brutal is that Greeks and Romans seem often to have raped their slaves and war captives, something that any classicist worth the name should know about their subjects. I may now leave the reader to answer the reader’s second question that perhaps that brutality is bad. Finally, one of the readers also writes about my description of this as “unprofessional” that “Without knowing who the author is, it is hard to see who could feel well enough placed to make this claim.” I am truly confused by this point, which seems to imply there is some special position required in order to consider that relationships which violate the black-letter policy of a university are unprofessional. I would think the proverbial ‘man on the street’ would be able to ascertain as much about professor-student relationships, if asked. But for what it is worth, the Society of Classical Studies – the largest organization of classicists on the continent where Katz worked – has a statement on professional ethics and it reads, “No one in a supervisory position should engage in sexual relationships with students. This applies to all instructors at all levels.” So that seems pretty clear to me as drawing a line which Katz admits to having crossed at least once. That the readers seem to have quibbled so much with this point in particular is frankly distressing to me.
- And to be clear, I see no problem with a Classics that spans political differences (indeed, I think that is necessary for the survival of the field). I have my own critiques of Eidolon but there is little use in discussing them as they closed up shop years ago. My own preference would be for a public-facing journal of this sort to function more clearly as ‘neutral ground,’ united by Classics but I think as I have shown above, despite their protestations, Antigone is by no means ‘neutral’ in this sense.
220 thoughts on “Miscellanea: What’s the Problem With Antigone?”
Never read anything from Antigone. Not that it was high on my interest list, but now I don’t think I’ll bother with them at all.
Still, I do remember a previous comment from our good host about The Golden Ass, and that is something I’d like to read when I get the chance. Unfortunately, my Latin is restricted to a few phrases I picked up in law school. Is there any translation that you’d recommend?
As a layperson (outside the proverbial baseball) it’s still interesting to hear about stuff like this, especially with the excellent introductory background you provide for those of us who aren’t familiar with the people and organizations involved.
“We may wish that we lived in a world where authors were judged independent of the publications their names appear in, but we do not.”
You describe the blogosphere, which you ought to be familiar with by now.
Unfortunately that tends to mean judged by the limited selection of its denizens, who tend to be unrepresentative.
Per https://www.thefp.com/p/what-princeton-did-to-my-husband Solveig Gold met Joshua Katz in April 2012, when she hadn’t yet applied to Princeton and therefore was presumably still in high school.
So she wasn’t an undergraduate yet when they met. She claims (same article) that their relationship became romantic after she was no longer his student, but was doing her MPhil.
Seeing a seemingly professional “open forum” for Classisists respond to eugenicists, sex offenders, and criticism of its policies with an attitude homousian in kind to an alt-right YouTuber rant (though thankfully not to the same degree) is rather distressing. Not surprising—the alt-right adopts that attitude because it “wins” online arguments—but distressing.
“Yet despite the controversy, no article refuting Singer’s approach ever appeared at Antigone. Perhaps none was submitted, though given the editorial tone in the semestral survey one would be forgiven for assuming no such critique was desired, in which case I hope to have remedied that deep deficiency.”
This is something I was mulling over about mainstream journalism the other day after a controversial article was followed by radio silence from the journalist and publication. Journalists justify their presence on Twitter by claiming it allows them to better engage with readers but too often fail to engage when readers have criticism — the point at which that engagement is most needed! It’s far too tempting in any form of publication to reap the benefits of courting controversy and then just duck and cover until the controversy blows over.
I confess, the whole Katz discussion that takes up so much of your column seems like a complete sideshow to “Antigone: Good or Bad?” question. Being dismissed from his position for position for sexual misconduct doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the likely quality of his essay. He wasn’t dismissed for academic reasons after all. Yeah, I guess it would be better if the magazine acknowledged he had been fired and why, but really why should any readers care that much? If Antigone wanted to publish a piece from someone actually in prison for rape I wouldn’t see the problem with that either.
Likewise, Peter Singer lacks field expertise and produced a superficial and inaccurate rendering of Apuleius seems like a more salient critique than his having expressed ideas most of us would find repugnant in his own field.
My impression is also that it would be hard to have a field of philosophical ethics that preemptively rules out repugnant conclusions that arise out of different ethical priors. But I know pretty much nothing about the field, so I can’t make any confident assertions about it.
I was about to say that. Rejecting Singer’s ideas about rape and infanticide doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be published.
(Btw Singer also thinks people have an obligation to donate all their surplus earnings to people in need and thinks veganism is an ethical obligation. All these ideas logically follow from his brand of utilitarianism and I would say just mentioning the repugnant ones isn’t doing him justice. Even though I very much reject his ethics.)
One pertinent point is that while Singer may have every right to express ideas as part of his work on ethics and philosophy, including ideas the average person would consider repugnant…
It is reasonable, in this context, to note not only that Singer is not a qualified classicist, but also that Singer is controversial and that this controversy seems likely to play a major role in his work being published in this venue.
If Antigone published an essay by some bubbleheaded YouTuber who had no realistic capacity to comment seriously or intelligently on the classics, but who happened to have thirty million followers, we could justly criticize Antigone. They would be wrong to use such tricks to pursue fame for themselves as a platform. Because by doing that, they make Antigone a less reputable publication for serious scholars. The fact that your work appears in Antigone means less because of the bozos you’re publishing alongside, and may even undermine your credibility (“what, you couldn’t get published anywhere else!?”)
While Peter Singer is at least an acknowledged elder scholar in some field of human study, his work should not be promoted by Antigone when there is reason to have controversy about its quality.
Another problem here is also that his flawed translation seems to stem directly from his opinions: He’s making the text fit his worldview in a fairly straightforward way, so the reason why he is doing a bad job is (at least partially) *because* of his views.
As someone who’s taught a few ethics classes (though it’s not my primary field), I think that any attempt to rigorously apply a set of ethical rules, whether deontological or consequentialist, will inevitably lead to some conclusions that common-sense morality strongly disagrees with. To this, there are two possible responses:
1. Conclude that morality is too complex and nuanced to be reduced to a set of ethical rules. (Most virtue ethicists lean this way)
2. Conclude that common-sense morality is hypocritical and often unreflective, and that we shouldn’t put too much store in what most people think about moral topics.
On the face of it, any two distinct ethical systems must come to different conclusions, at least occasionally. Otherwise they would not be distinct ethical systems. We should expect different systems to reach conclusions at least occasionally repugnant to each other.
Any set of ethical rules, deontological or consequentialist, will inevitably lead to some conclusions that any other set of ethical rules, deontological or consequentialist, strongly disagrees with.
In that way, common-sense morality is like any other system, except that the people talking about it might feel like they believe it.
It seems to me that if you do ignore common sense morality, you have no reason to prefer a moral system that is opposed to lying, over a system that is opposed to telling the truth, or that prefers the greatest good of the greatest number, over a system that prefers greatest harm of the greatest number.
Alternatively, you can take some feature of common sense morality, and become a monomaniac about it, sacrificing every other feature.
Common-sense morality at least has the advantage that if you have several principles, and one of them contradicts the others, you tend not to sacrifice every other principle to that one principle.
Of course, if you apply formal logic to several occasionally-contradictory principles, you can derive any conclusion you like, and that way madness lies.
I largely agree, except that I’m not sure that common-sense morality is just another moral system. How should we judge a theory other than seeing what happens in practice when it’s applied, in specific cases? That’s the ground truth.
There’s a question of whether there’s any moral theory that we would trust when it gives counterintuitive results. If a spreadsheet calculation counterintuitively says that A is more ethical than B, why should we “shut up and calculate,” trusting the computer over our own judgement?
It seems unlikely that there is any moral system that’s so well-tested that we should trust a “repugnant conclusion.”
One reason people desire such things (for example, in sentencing guidelines) is in an attempt to treat many cases consistently. It’s unclear how important consistency is compared to other ethical considerations.
But another reason is that trusting your own judgement can fail spectacularly. This is the reason there are universities have ethical rules, after all.
We’ve recently seen some spectacular failures of ethics (for example, the FTX collapse) which suggest that traditional ethical rules against cheating in specific ways that lead to well-known failures are more important than highly abstract, philosophical moral reasoning.
Your views certainly mirror my own experiences after taking a fair number of ethics classes. I quickly found it near-impossible to fit my human experience into a logical framework without the logic of that
framework breaking down if you prod it in the right way. It was, to me at least, illuminating to explore the limits of where common-sense morality takes us and it did a lot to expand my horizons with questions I didn’t know I could ask.
I concur. I would definitely read an article by Dr. Hannibal Lecter if it was interesting and I wouldn’t think less about the journal because of it.
What would kill my interest? Mediocre work done by spotless characters.
Overall, this is the first article on Acoup I didn’t like. A lot of interpersonal bile, perhaps justified, but still tiresome. This kind of interpersonal feuds is the curse of the modern Internet and Acoup used to be free of it. Hopefully it will return to this standard.
I personally love Dr. Devereaux’s articles on fantasy and historical societies. His takes on anything modern or even approaching political are…well, they seem to have more justification behind them but they do tend to reek more of being “just” an opinion rather than a historian’s qualified take. I do hope he goes back to examining the logistics behind fantasy shows and such, and spends less time on politics or saying so-and-so was morally repugnant. Last I checked he was not a qualified ethicist the way he is a qualified historian.
I don’t know how tightly you’re definiting ‘modern’. His articles on WWI trench warfare were fascinating, and revealed my understanding had been deeply flawed. I also appreciated the Athenian data he brought to the Capitol Insurrection. However I agree that this piece has a lot more heat than light.
I think there’s a valid discussion about how we treat academics when a whistleblower calls them out for a pressured sexual relationship. That our response should recognise how hard it is for the whistleblower, and that ‘publish the offender as if nothing had happened’ probably isn’t the right answer, but I’m getting that from his previous article on being a grad student. That argument wasn’t successfully made here. I’m sure it hasn’t helped Bret’s perspective that Antigone’s response similarly misses the point.
I am not an American so the hubbub about the Capitol insurrection mostly flew past me, as I do not care either way. I enjoyed his discussion of Athens and such and do not comparisons to modern society when it is immediately relevant. And, of course his expertise in military history qualifies him to talk about WWI and what happened there. However, as for the Capitol, the extreme exhoratations and obviously biased personal opinions that he was writing with (also in Ukraine articles) make him seem less like someone who’s educating in an entertaining manner and more like an exceptionally well-read op-ed writer. I’m not sure anyone should like to be compared to people who write op-eds.
Of course his specialty is by his own admission the classical Mediterranean world, which you can kind of see from how he gets things about everywhere else wrong once in a while (the one that immediately comes to mind is thinking of horse archers as exceptional and specifically steppe nomad, when it seems to have been the gold standard of military aristocracy from Baghdad to Tokyo for much of the classical and medieval period), but he certainly does have plenty of insights to offer as long as he sticks to things he knows about or can read about in depth. I’m not trying to discredit him, because he does his self-appointed job admirably and presents otherwise heavy content in an easy to digest and quite entertaining manner for the most part.
Whenever he starts writing about things that he has very strong personal opinions about, though, it gets rather distracting, whether or not you actually agree with his position – I don’t think anyone actually disagrees with the notion that the Unsullied slave army was fairly disturbing on an ethical level, but I don’t come here to read about what is and isn’t morally acceptable, and forgive me for saying that Dr. Devereaux is not as good at making his personal opinions entertaining as he is at making history or worldbuilding or logistics or historical personalities entertaining. It’s a fault that’s easily ignored if there’s content worth ignoring it for, but I’m not so sure there is any here, which is basically all I’m saying.
tl;dr Bret’s great at writing analyses, less great at writing opinion pieces on the Current State of Society and Academia. Less of the latter, more of the former, please.
There are two underlying problems here regarding Katz’s essay are.
First, the point that Katz’s essay was apparently published referencing Katz’s titles with Princeton, as though he still held those titles. This is a basic error of fact, and an important one. Many people will attribute greater authority to the claims of a person who holds a chair at Princeton. If I can claim that credibility in a public forum and be sure my readers won’t find out I was removed from that chair for cause, then that gives me an undeserved advantage. Or, in this case, gives Katz an undeserved advantage.
Second, there is a broader issue of how student-professor sexual relationships are handled. Professors have a credible ability to end a student’s ambitions of having a career in academia more or less at will. Unless the consequences to a professor for getting into such a relationship are commensurate with the harm that might be faced by the student, there is very little incentive for an unscrupulous professor to avoid such relationships. If a professor who gets caught canoodling with a student and this does not destroy their career, then that makes it much easier and safer for professors to seek such relationships and potentially groom or coerce students into them.
When some journal that cares more about denouncing “wokeness” than it does about professional ethics decides to publish pieces by someone who has grossly violated professional ethics, it causes a problem for the profession as a whole. Other people take note of this. They may view publication with “anti-woke” publishers as a sort of golden parachute for those who commit very real, very grave, and importantly non-political offenses. Because it isn’t or shouldn’t be a matter of politics that it is unethical for professors to have sex with students.
For both these reasons, it was not good that Antigone made this attempt to “launder” Katz’s reputation by publishing him as though he were a member of the profession in good standing.
> canoodling with a student
I was once a visiting part-time lecturer. I think the term “professor” may be used in USA for what I call a lecturer; not sure.
One of my staff colleagues was well-known for getting off with students. He was pretty frank and open about it. A number of female students tried to flirt with me in the hope of getting their grades improved.
I’m not very good at flirting; I didn’t care to exploit someone, nor be exploited; and I was married with kids, and didn’t want a relationship with someone 15 years younger than me. But if I’d wanted to play, I could have had lots of girls I didn’t respect. I’m pretty sure the instiutution would never have sanctioned me.
 “Visiting”: paid by the hour of f2f lecturing. Not a member of staff. “Part-time”: I didn’t have a 40-hour week, like real staff, rather I filled-in on courses they couldn’t fill using regular staff. “Lecturer”: I prepared the syllabus, wrote the lecture notes, delivered the class, set practicals, marked them, set exams, marked them, and sat on examination boards to hear appeals. Actual lecturing was a tiny part of the job, but it was the only part I was paid for. If exploitation was occurring, it was me that was exploited.
>I’m not very good at flirting; I didn’t
>care to exploit someone, nor be
>exploited; and I was married with kids,
>and didn’t want a relationship with
>someone 15 years younger than me.
>But if I’d wanted to play, I could have
>had lots of girls I didn’t respect. I’m pretty
>sure the instiutution would never have
I’m not saying they would have, but in that hypothetical counterfactual, they should have. Sexual relationships between professors and students are a real problem for academia on several levels. There is a good reason why it’s widely regarded to be wrong by people who hold academia to high standards.
I agree and this is a critical point. People have gotten away with this for a long time, and in some circumstances it has even been nonabusive (as far as an outsider can tell), but it’s still wildly unprofessional and provides massive amounts of cover to abusive behavior.
I think it’s pretty clear that sexual relations between professors and student they supervise is grossly unethical. I’d probably extend that at least to students at the institution they teach. It gets a bit more complicated when it gets outside of that (if only for stuff like “Professor is married to someone who decides to take a class to earn some new kind of qualification”) though it’s still *at best* very fraught.
Regarding the first point, Antigone published referencing Katz’s titles because at the time that WAS a fact. According to the post
“Then in April of 2022, Antigone published..”
at which time Katz was a professor at Princeton. It’s not until
“not either of those anymore things, having been fired from Princeton in May of the same year”
Where I live, May comes after April in the same year.
So at the time of publication Katz was a professor, and Antigone were right to add those credentials.
Should Antigone have retrospectively corrected the article? No, because changes in employment, location, qualifications are never-ending for just about everyone. JRR Tolkien is no longer a Professor at Oxford, on account of being dead. Do we go back and change every book and article about the LOTR to delete any such reference?
Should they have delayed publication until the investigation was complete? Perhaps. But most western countries have a strong tradition of innocence until proven guilty, and if accusation alone is enough to stop publication, everything grinds to a halt. For example, Prof Bret Devereaux has been accused of treason. By seemingly deranged commentators here on this blog and on Twitter, so I personally don’t give them much weight, but accused none the less. Until proven, it’s a judgement call, not automatic.
Would a delay have done that much harm? Was the article so time critical that it couldn’t have waited until the accusations have been resolved? Would the delay have even caused significant reduction in incomes for Katz?
Journals should take a cautious approach. If the publication can be certain the accusations are meritless and are willing to stake their reputation on it they can go ahead. But with a case of sexual misconduct such certainty should be impossible, even Katz’s spouse can’t be sure of his innocence. No one can know the character of another that well.
When accusations turn into investigation the decision should be of the hand’s of a journal. It should cause an automatic halt to the publication until the investigation has concluded and innocence has been ascertained. Unless the journal considers the article of such importance that it needs to be published even if all the accusations have been found true.
The process is the punishment.
Declaring that people will be treated as guilty until the investigation is over encourages the making of false accusations. If you regard the punishment of true accusations as vital, you should not reward the making of false ones, which hinder that.
Concerning your second point, which you’ve used variations on in other comments, this is why other commentators use phrases such as witch-hunt. It seems to me a very old Testament, non-progressive attitude.
“commensurate with the harm that might be faced by the student” is the argument used by advocates of executing murderers, possibly with torture before execution for the more sadistic crimes. When combined with “destroy their career” I see a very Calvinist / Puritan philosophy of irredeemable sinners who must be shunned by all right thinking people.
Should Katz be punished? Yes!
But that is not in the job description of academic journal editors. Yes, we all should stand up in the face of injustice and do our part. But we also need to be tolerant and not do more than is necessary or justified. Katz lost his position as professor, which I think is reasonable punishment. That should not damn all his work, before or after, to being rejected; just as for example a job applicant with a teenage shoplifting conviction should be considered on their current merits, not the past. (For this reason I believe progressive are in favour of laws that prohibit employers in many fields from asking job applicants about convictions.)
It’s always complicated. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”
This should mostly dependent on how linked the career and crime are. There are probably numerous murderers who have continued their careers without much ill effect. But I would hope there are no murderers who continued as police, soldiers or security guards, where weapons and potential violence are part of the job description.
In the case of Katz, his misconduct was only possible because of his role as a professor. Removing him from his position was necessary minimum and it must be made sure he will never be a processor, lecturer or in any other position where he has students under his power. He has proven he can’t be trusted with that.
The question of publishing and other academic endeavours are more difficult. They wouldn’t directly enable further misconduct, but it could still have ill effect for the publication and other academics publishing on the journal. They are innocent and shouldn’t suffer from Katz’s misconduct. Is Katz doing such an irreplacable research it needs to be published no matter his behaviour? Maybe things could be different some day when human kind have reached higher enlightenment and we can separate products from their creator.
This is a ridiculous line of ethical reasoning. The reason torture is not an ethically justifiable punishment isn’t because proportional and motivating consequences are inherently bad, it’s because torture is morally reprehensible and doesn’t provide any practical benefit besides. Firing someone is not a moral wrong though. Losing employment because of a violation of reasonable terms of contract is a morally neutral proposition.
Here, proportional.consequences are necessary, because they are not in the name of revenge but of balancing dangerously imbalanced consequences. Professors often have the power to blacklist a student in their field, or at least do major career damage, even if there are proven ethics violations ascribed to the professor and they lose the ability to work in the field.
So in a scenario where the consequences for sexually propositioning or harassing a student are anything less than being ejected from the field, that creates an imbalance. The professor can threaten, implicitly or explicitly, a student with the knowledge that coming forward about the sexual misconduct will almost certainly hurt the student worse than the professor. That creates a dynamic where the professor can hold the proposition of their misconduct going public, in which they’ll retaliate against the student, as a threat against *the student*. That’s unequivocally a bad dynamic and the obvious solution is to raise the stakes of sexual misconduct revelations to a level which no professor would view as less than what they can inflict on a student.
If a professor threatened to *torture* a student to keep their silence, obviously we wouldn’t torture the professor in recompense, we’d find some other way to manage the situation. But that’s not because proportional consequences are always wrong, it’s because *torture is wrong*. This should be obvious.
I think that if you are publication in a particular field, and you publish the academic work of someone who broke the professional ethics of your field in such a public and obscene manner then you (a) make a clear statement about your own ethics and (b) actively bring your own field into disrepute.
On those grounds alone, regardless of any ethical judgements about Katz (I have those, they are not favourable) it is harmful to Antigone AND TO THE CLASSICS AS A WHOLE to publish his work. This is not about deplatforming or being punitive, it is about “what is best for an open forum and for the chosen field of academia.” It is not “Katz should be allowed to publish” its “it would be a bad idea for us to publish Katz.”
But if you deploy a categorical imperative, the conclusion “we should not publish Katz” equates to “no one should publish Katz,” which is equivalent to saying that Katz can never publish anything anywhere. So it would be better to have enough integrity to state that last conclusion openly.
I’m okay with publishing, but if you are going to do it, you have to be willing to take-and publish- good faith criticism of your decision. That choice is an inverse hecklers veto- only the first mover has free speech and the rights to speak without worrying about others feelings. Preventing responders from arguing that Katz is a predator is definitely not free speech and open debate.
And besides that, the whole Katz saga is much more complicated than simply “Katz had an obviously inappropriate affair, got caught, and got fired” – but you wouldn’t know that from reading this essay! It was wrong of Antigone to not note Katz’s status accurately at the time of publication. But Prof. Devereaux does a similar misleading-by-omission by pretending that Katz’s dismissal was obviously simple and uncontroversial.
The problem is that Katz’s dismissal should have been simple and uncontroversial and should have happened the first time.
The whole saga is very revealing about the current state of American academia–once you’re in, as long as you produce good academic work and toe the party line, unless you do something really egregious the system will cover for you. The moment you step out of line, however, the misdeeds the system regarded as minor peccadilloes will suddenly become Very Big Deals.
It reminds me a bit of corruption charges in Putin’s Russia. Are the guys being charged guilty? Almost certainly. Is the reason they’re being prosecuted because they’re out of favor with the regime? Almost certainly.
Less of this please. I find the petty, vindictive tone of this article quite disturbing.
I was quite surprised learning that having a relationship with an adult student is a punishable offense that can lead to termination of employment in the UK and presumably the US, as this is not the case in Germany. It seems quite wild do me that adult people can be forbidden (by their EMPLOYER) from having sex with whomever they chose. Obviously that should not mean that such relationsships shouldn’t be considerered unprofessional.
A adult student who is your student and whose marks, recommendations, and academic and career future you thus have a huge amount of control over? Yeah, you shouldn’t have a sexual relationship with your own adult students in that sense. It’s forbidden by universities because it casts doubt on the academic’s ability to be fair to other students in the class (if the sexual relationship is going well) or to the sexual partner (if it is going badly or breaking up). The university has a duty to be fair to its students, and if an academic is employed by the university, it’s reasonable to say ‘while you are employed by us, do not do things that affect our ability to deliver on our duty’. I’m startled that this is allowed in Germany.
As far as I am aware, if a student thought they were treated unfairly by a professor because of such a relationship, they can very much sue the professor for it. Preferential and dispreferential treatment of students is illegal after all, so it would be the professor’s responsibility to make sure the relationship doesn’t affect their academic role. German law seems to assume abuse of power (or the absence of such abuse) can be proven in court, so there is no need to set an extra boundary here.
The idea that abuse of power can be proven in court is a pretty big one to simply take as read.
How would you go about proving that a sexual relationship is the reason a professor did or didn’t find a term paper well-reasoned and researched, or which of two potential candidates for a promotion were more suited for the role? There’s probably some point at which it becomes too plain to pretend to be anything else, but making that decision according to their personal judgment is a part of being an authority figure. I don’t think there’s a society that hasn’t recognized that a warm, or at least congenial, relationship to one’s superiors is an important part of professional success.
And while this might wind up unfairly favoring, for instance, the student (I feel it would take someone either very dedicated or very callous to give a failing grade to their own better half), the more insidious point is that the junior partner has to make that decision on whether to pursue a sexual relationship knowing that their answer could easily have a professional repercussion. Of course, if they aren’t interested in the relationship, their prospective partner MIGHT not respond to rejection by taking every opportunity to punish them for it; they can find out by declining, and hey, they’re only risking their academic or professional career.
If consent cannot be freely denied or rescinded, it cannot be meaningfully given.
It’s worth noting that the standards here have changed a lot over time. In the 1970s professor-student relationships were broadly accepted at US universities, on the theory that students were adults and should be allowed to make their own choices. (This was part and parcel of a general move against the “in loco parentis” idea that had governed the relationship between the university and its students prior to that time.) There are still plenty of older professors and emeriti at many universities who are married to a former student, in relationships that started during the era when it was considered OK.
Over the ensuing decades, however, it gradually came to be seen as less acceptable and was eventually banned outright, for the reasons you state – power imbalance, potential for grade corruption, and an increasing recognition that the teacher-student relationship requires boundaries in order to work properly.
Yeah, “can you actually prove abuse of power?” is a legitimate question.
I think in the context of universities it is actually easier than in many other areas: you can much easier get one or several experts unrelated to the situation to look at the term paper or the credentials of the two candidates and give their opinion if the professor’s decision was justified (and the professor will likely have already provided their reasoning in writing). That probably won’t catch a difference between ‘fail’ and ‘barely passed’, but it should catch a difference between ‘fail’ and ‘good’.
And if a professor is “taking every opportunity to punish” a student academically for rejecting them, that professor is also risking their own academic and professional career and possibly a fine or even prison.
From what I have read, when professor-student relationships happen here, normally both parties try to avoid the professor having to grade the student. That is much easier if the relationship can be disclosed without repercussions.
I can’t say I know/have built an opinion on which approach is more effective at preventing abuse. Both have their advantages and disadvantages I suspect. (That is, if we frame it as a question of risk-management, as ‘a professor may abuse their power’, ‘the student may be afraid of negative consequences’. There are other ways to argue for professor-student-relationships being unethical.)
I don’t know anything about German higher education, but on the broader point…of course people can be banned “(by their EMPLOYER) from having sex with whomever they chose”? To take a really obvious example, is it really the case that in Germany prison guards can have sex with prisoners?
Doctors in Germany are not allowed to have sex with their patients. It is not some deep principled opposition to regulating professionals’ sex lives when it comes to their professional acquaintances, but a contingent decision not to apply that standard to university professors, that has caused this German peculiarity.
Is it really a German peculiarity? Or is the opposite position more of an Anglo-American peculiarity?
For reference, I am Dutch and our code of conduct has seperate paragraphs for employee-employee and employee-student: It says that in case of employee-employee relationships where one reports to the other or otherwise depends on the other they should have a conversation with their managers (or in case those cannot be used, e.g. if my direct manager is my gf, the next higher manager) who will then try to untangle their duties up to moving someone to a different working group or department.
In the case of student-employee, it is not allowed if it “could compromise the impartiality or objectivity of the professional relationship.” If the employee in any way assesses or influences the assessment of a student, they must report it to their manager or the dean who then must find an alternative assessor for the student such that the employee does not in any way assess the student or make decisions regarding them (eg. approve/deny elective packages in the exam committee) and the manager shall treat this in a confidential manner.
So the relationship is not forbidden, but having the power dynamic in the relationship is. If a relationship happens, the people in the relationship will be seperated so there can be no power dynamic.
So, that sounds much more lax / less restrictive than the code of conduct at most US universities I’m familiar with, at least within the last two decades.
Same here. Do you remember this incident, where Walmart set up shop in germany and then forbid its employees from having sexual relationships?
But thats the united states of SAUDI – America, I guess.
I have to say, as someone who reads this blog a lot and should presumably be sympathetic to your arguments, I finished the essay feeling rather uncharitable to it. The majority of the essay seems to be complaining about minor issues, which could be summed up as the magazine publishing two articles by people you don’t approve of. The first, Singer, you attack by spending an entire paragraph disagreeing with his (irrelevant) ethical system and only then follow up with him publishing a strange author-insert translation of an ancient story. The second, Katz, you attack by mentioning his firing and relationships. Neither of your disagreements about them seem to be about the articles they published in Antigone, and I don’t see why I should particularly care about their ethics systems or relationships if the articles they write are apparently good enough that you can’t find space in this essay to attack their actual subjects. Forgive if me if I have missed this, but you also did not establish in the essay why an open-forum for Classics would necessarily mean that non-Classicists could not be published in the magazine on Classics-related subjects (like defending a new translation), or that precedence should be given to junior classicists. Additionally, it is not clear to me that two articles by people you disapprove of are of such a magnitude that early-career classicists and others will find their opportunity to publish in Antigone significantly negatively impacted. In summary, as someone who reads your blog but does not read Antigone, I do not find myself convinced.
Note, though, that this post links to two critiques of the Singer article; presumably Prof. Devereaux saw no need to rehash what they had already said.
So Antigone published an article that attracted numerous responses in other periodicals. That strikes me as a good thing for those looking to promote public engagement, though of course devotees of democratic centralism will say that the party line should be established by a central committee and then disseminated to the cadres without debate or further criticism. That does seem to be the prevailing academic view these days.
If a journal wishes to promote public engagement in a way consistent with ethical publishing, it must be willing to publish both controversial articles and fact-based criticism of those controversial articles, or it must resist the urge to publish attention-grabbing controversies at all.
If a publication wishes to avoid criticism of the content it publishes, then it is responsible for vetting that content in a neutral manner that shows familiarity with basic facts and standards of the profession (e.g. its editors and readers should not be asking “but what is sexual misconduct really lol” as though they do not know what the standards of the profession are).
In this case, Antigone might well be criticized for wanting to draw attention by publishing controversial (but underqualified) scholars such as Singer, then trying to suppress criticism of his work. And for trying to burnish its credibility by pointing to revoked credentials belonging to scholars fired from their positions for cause, and then importantly refusing to publish criticism or commentary on this.
There are many, many reasons to have a problem with this beyond some notional “democratic centralism” attributed to a fictional “party.”
Holding professors and journals to the ethical standards of used car salesmen or even lower standards is not a good way to fight back against “wokeness;” it is a good way to engineer the slow continued downfall of the field of history.
“ it must be willing to publish both controversial articles and fact-based criticism of those controversial articles, or it must resist the urge to publish attention-grabbing controversies at all.”
But this article is hardly fact based criticism! Or at least, it is facts-light criticism. It is a fact that Singer is an ethicist not a classicist, and his readings of the classics are therefore going to be more open to criticism than most (but maybe Prof. Devereux should lead with that, instead of the ethical conclusions that he disagrees with). It is a fact that Katz was officially dismissed for issues related to an affair with a student (although Prof. Devereux eliding that said affair was over a decade old, Katz had already served a suspension for it, and that the reinvestigation and firing only occurred after Katz created a lot of enemies by publishing a controversial criticism of left wing politics on campus is a bit misleading).
But everything beyond that is essentially opinion, boiling down to “Singer has bad opinions, Katz is a bad man, giving a platform to bad men is bad”. The “publishing controversial opinions from famous people will crowd out young voices” thesis of the essay therefore feels like a non sequitur and a fig leaf for the real problem: Singer and Katz have political opinions that Prof. Devereux disagrees with. This is uncharitable on my part, but then so is dismissing Singer as a eugenicist and Katz as a sex offender (both are quite a bit more complicated than that).
If the real problem is “Antigone systematically allowing famous voices to crowd out new ones, and not publishing enough criticism of famous voices”, surely the Professor could find one example to criticize that isn’t infamous for their anti-left politics?
You are gliding past two important points here.
First, the article is not, first and foremost, a detailed criticism of Singer- but that is because Antigone has repeatedly refused to publish such criticisms, and the article is criticising that fact about the publication. You cannot invalidate an article saying “you don’t publish articles saying X” by saying “so why doesn’t your article say X, then?” The entire point is that other articles have done so, and been ignored. You are conflating “an article that says X” with “articles that talk about articles that say X.”
Second, the root criticism involving Katz is that his status as a Princeton professor (which comes with prestige) is being falsely asserted. The man has been fired for what his university deemed to be good cause. If Antigone wishes to assert that Katz has the weight and status of “well, Princeton employs him,” then that is false. If Antigone wants to assert that Katz should have been kept on the job, they should be willing to publish to that effect rather than passive-aggressively acting as though Katz were a professor at a university that does not employ him.
To see this as “I am attacking Antigone because I disagree with their politics,” one must effectively ignore the actual arguments being advanced.
Hear hear. This was disappointing.
While I also think that Dr. Deveraux could have had a more consistent and visible throughline, I think this reply mostly missed the throughline that was indeed there.
That throughline is that any playform, “Open Forum” or not, has a character (in the sense of what traits or affect people attribute to it), and that character is shaped by not only (1) ‘who they choose to platform’ but also (2) ‘how they respond to criticism of their editorial policy’ and (3) ‘does their *actual* editorial policy live up to their *claimed* editorial policy’
Deveraux devotes a lot of word count to (1), but ultimately, the thesis of this piece, as laid out fairly early and reiterated at the end, is about (3).
Antigone’s problems, as mentioned in this article, include that
-1- They claim to be an “Open Forum” for classics, but pretty blatant act to quash criticism, and hide the misdoings, of both their platform and of senior classicists (the people with clout and fame in the field). They claim to welcome criticism but refuse to publish it, and openly attack anyone who criticizes them on social media.
-2- They either don’t care to do their due dilligence in fact-and-quality-checking when publishing non-classicist … or were aware of Singer’s support for bunk eugenics but choose to publish his very questionable work on a classics topic despite said work not-even-being-of-moderate-quality-let-alone-good (at least according to Brett – I lack expertise on The Golden Ass) because it suited their political agenda.
Criticizing Antigone for this looks entirely valid to me.
The central criticism wasn’t that they published something by Katz; it’s that they did so while falsely claiming that he still held the position he had already been fired for, and then went beyond publishing him to actively defending his character and actions in both the reader comments and in later public statements.
The answers to your questions are already in the OP, but to summarize for those struggling with reading comprehension:
1) Rules against misconduct don’t do anything unless they come with consequences for breaking them. Publishing Katz undermines other institutions’ efforts to deter similar misconduct from other academics. (Ironically, publishing someone “actually in prison” would arguably be *less* harmful, since that person has already been punished to such a degree that no further disincentives are necessary.)
2) Given that Antigone bills itself as a forum for open debate and such, you’d expect them to have a rigorous defense of their decision to platform Katz that engages in good faith with those who disagree, but this essay makes it clear that they do not.
3) Given that sexual abuse via unequal social relationships was endemic to ancient Greek and Roman society, it’s unlikely that Katz or anyone else can produce quality scholarship on those societies while actively recreating similar harms. The whole point of studying societies of the past is to learn things that will enable us to improve the present, which we can hardly do if the Katzes of the world are allowed to treat the university like their own personal agoge.
In regards to your point (3):
Dr. Devereaux does not directly state that a person who is actively recreating sexual abuse through unequal social relationships cannot produce quality scholarship on ancient societies.
What he does state is that classicists, who are presumably knowledgeable about those ancient societies, should presumably know that this type of sexual abuse existed.
Classicists (among many other kinds of people) should be aware that this type of abuse can happen. They should not need to ask questions such as “What makes an intertwinement brutal? And is there a claim that ‘power and sex’ are nor, or should not, be linked?” or “it is hard to see who could feel well enough placed to make this claim [that professors sleeping with their students is unethical].”
Given what the Antigone readers apparently said in their comments on the essay, it casts into doubt whether they have a full understanding of the issues involved in sexual misconduct cases, or for that matter relationships between men and women, and between slave-owners and slaves, in the ancient world. That’s a fairly big thing to not understand.
Oops, this was meant as a reply to Matthew, above. Please imagine it there.
1) No-one else is responsible for enforcing Princeton’s policies. The penalty was the firing. I was not aware that a single university deciding to fire someone was a dictate to the rest of society that they should never read anything from that person again. Nor do I like the idea of outsourcing what I am allowed to read to nameless bureaucrats in some university HR/legal department, especially since they are not exactly known for always getting it correct, and err on the side of not getting sued rather than the truth.
2) Agreed. The essay would have been much more palatable had it focused on this more and less on Singer’s ethics or Katz’s being fired.
3) I doubt this very much. Every historian brings their own personal and political biases to their work, that does not mean they cannot do good work, or that having done this work they should therefore be blacklisted rather than their work considered on its merits. I also do not agree that the “purpose” of history is to improve our future, I think this is something some (generally left-wing) historians believe but that history (and Classics) exists more because people want to know where they came from. Any lessons to be drawn from history are very general. I believe Dr Devereaux himself has a blog article on this.
1) I think that’s actually the point. Is it Antigone’s position that Katz was unjustly fired, or does it agree with Princeton? It’s not 100% obligated to take a position on this question, but it does appear to me that it’s taking a silent position that it was an injustice, but is unwilling to actually defend that position, or even admit it’s taking a position.
3) I agree with your disagreement. Bad people can do good scholarship, alas.
More broadly though, I think a lot depends on what you’re expecting from the piece. If you’re expecting basically an opinion piece attempting to have a debate about what Antigone should be and how it should be run, I think it’s a pretty good one. If you’re expecting a piece actively investigating the individual alleged issues with Antigone, then it disappoints.
Bad people can do good scholarship, but in this case the criticism is not mainly directed against Katz. It is directed at the people who chose to publish his work.
First, they were describing him as “a professor at Princeton” even as-and-after Princeton was removing him for sexual misconduct. Describing a man as an authority in a field by citing a position he has disqualified himself from presents problems separate from whether the person is morally “good” or “bad.” If I claim that my bridge design has been “inspected by a safety engineer” and it turns out that my safety engineer got fired from that job, there is a large asterisk by the claim that they are a safety engineer.
Second, as others have noted, in this case the refusal of Antigone to acknowledge the controversy surrounding this man clashes with their intent to be an open venue for discussion. If it is not allowable to bring up criticisms of Katz within Antigone because the Antigone staff have judged his work to be “good scholarship,” then there is no open forum here, just an arbitrary list of what Antigone staff think is good scholarship, on criteria that they are actively trying to keep opaque when someone questions them.
We agree on your second point, though I’m confused by your making it here as it seems entirely in line with my comment?
On the 1st point, perhaps I’m confused, my understanding of sequence was:
1) First investigation and some punishment of Katz, but he keeps his position
2) Katz publishes piece in Antigone, which correctly (at the time) identifies him by his position, and doesn’t mention the punishment
3) Second investigation and termination of Katz.
I’d be inclined to add an editor’s note at the point when I became aware of that, but it’s clearly not as bad as describing him as holding the position in pieces published after termination. If they’ve done that and I misunderstood, then that’s simply dishonest. But I do want to return to the actual comment I was responding to, given your response to Sarachim above, I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about? It seems you also reject their assertion that Katz, due to his sexual misconduct is incapable of good scholarship in this area?
I’d also dispute the safety engineer metaphor you give. It would depend on the cause of the termination. If the engineer was fired for incompetence, then yes, it would definitely give pause. If they were fired for sexual misconduct, but there’s no real dispute that their engineering was fine, I don’t think it would.
Or, to put it differently, is it really your position that every time an engineer is fired for sexual misconduct, all of their engineering work is inherently tainted and needs to be reviewed/removed? That strikes me as a pretty unworkable standard (which would also radically disincentivize employers to investigate/terminate employees for misconduct of any kind except the purely incompetence based).
Again, none of that means they could/should be referred to as a safety engineer for work done after they were fired.
If I may adjust your timeline slightly:
1) First investigation and some punishment of Katz, but he keeps his position
2) Second set of allegations emerges, second investigation begins; this stage involves some very public discussion in the Daily Princetonian.
3) Katz publishes piece in Antigone, etc.
4) Katz is fired shortly thereafter when investigation (2) completes.
I think it matters here that by the time the Antigone piece was published, the second investigation was already underway, we already knew that Katz had admitted to an improper relationship with at least one student (it had been reported on when the second investigation ran).
Appreciated. And that does make it significantly worse, though still not as bad as asserting he holds a position he didn’t hold at the time of publication.
According to Bret’s timeline, the firing happened after the article was published, so at the time of publication, the titles were accurate. What, then, is the problem? The journal said Katz was a Princeton professor, because he was a Princeton professor at the time the article was published. Maybe he would be fired later, but journal editors cannot see the future.
An online journal is in a particularly good position to add editors’ notes to content if, for instance, one of their authors is fired for cause.
What seems to be under question here is not simply that the journal published an article by Katz, but that they did not move in a timely manner to amend the article to note that Katz was no longer a member of the Princeton faculty.
I am not trained in the humanities, but in STEM, and this argument comes from STEM. Yes, it is possible for bad people to do good scholarship, but the scholarship of a certain type of bad person cannot be trusted. Namely, liars. If a person is willing to make false promises about keeping the code of honor of their institution or professional society, they are a liar. In the Katz case, it seems likely he is continuing to lie about the number of victims he made too.
Now, once someone is is shown to have such a loose relationship with the truth, the question must be asked: what else are they willing to lie about? In STEM, this would mean, for example, that the material and methods section of their papers cannot be trusted, and that every image would have to be checked for manipulation, making the papers useless. I am not entirely sure what would be the equivalent in the Classics, but I would imagine that a liar could not be trusted to indicate where he uses a controversial translation, or how many letters he reconstructed in an epigraphy.
This means that no work from that person could be ethically published without someone looking over their shoulder the entire time, or redoing the entire work. Why make that effort when there are plenty of research of a similar level available by generally honest scholars, who do not need to be babysat?
So all professional work by adulterers is suspect, and they should never be published, cited, quoted, or employed? Men or women who, in front of God and these witnesses, promised fidelity until death, and broke that promise, can’t be trusted with anything? Ross Perot used to say that to his executives, long ago: “If your wife can’t trust you, how can I?” but I didn’t think it was still a rule.
Well, the people Katz seems to be lying to overlap with his reviewers – all are members of the academic community. It is completely reasonable for his fellow academics to disbelieve him because they feel they have been lied to, just as the ex-wife in your example would be.
In addition, no contrition and lack of openness are good predictors of repeat misconduct, including slightly different forms of misconduct.
I would like to modify Perot’s rule a bit, to allow for contrition and improvement, but there is a kernel of truth in there, especially applicable to people who repeat implausible denials even after they have been forced to admit to some of their wrongdoings.
This article seems kind of silly of me. Are two articles being published by people who either have thought or done something bad really even a problem at all?
It seems like a strange thing to get hung up on for the field. If work done by people who do things or believe things similar to what is discussed here ought to be rejected, then surely that implies that the Classics should be thrown out as a whole since so few ancient authors would meet such standards.
I haven’t read much of Antigone. From this it seems they make rather poor decisions, especially when responding to criticism.
One detail I was curious about, especially when there has recently been some discussion on this point, is who you would count as a ‘true’ classicist. Because the dear Spencer was still an undergraduate when writing that blog post, could you count as one without having any degrees? (No offense meant to Spencer in particular; besides having now graduated she is a learned & very scholarly person in general)
I saw the title and broke out my textbook of Greek Plays, and my notes from university when the local drama club did an adaptation of the play in a more contemporary setting, ready to read and contrast.
I did not get to do that. Never heard of this online resource before now, and I suppose that their support of *Singer* means that the well has been poisoned with regards to their stature. C’est la Vie.
I, too, was expecting to read about the problems with the literary Antigone (not having heard of the journal). 🙂
Like many, perhaps most, of the commenters, I disagree strenuously with Prof. Devereaux and am disappointed to find him an apparent supporter of deplatforming. Singer is a very well-known ethicist and philosopher, maybe the best-known in the country: when people of that stature make a foray into another field, it is typically thought to be of general interest and precisely the sort of thing that a publication dedicated to expanding public engagement with the field might justifiably cover. I’m unable to discern the relevance of his other publications on ethics. Are we to infer that political (using the word broadly) views with which Prof. Devereaux disagrees disqualify their holder from scholarly activity?
I was also not aware that being fired from one’s job for misconduct amounts to a permanent ban from public life. That’s a very hypocritical claim from someone who not only voted for, but gave his own publication over to a full-throated encomium for, an acknowledged plagiarist.
Yeah this was a strange post.
I would have far less of a problem with Antigone platforming Singer if they had also platformed any of the fairly substantial critiques of his new ‘edition’ of Apuleius.
Core to the critique here is that I do not think that the open forum is truly open, which is part of why I spend so much time addressing the reader’s comments. It is instead just Eidolon-but-with-inverted-politics.
That may also tell you what I thought the shortcoming of Eidolon were.
Yeah, long time reader, but this post made me feel a bit embarrassed for the author, and undermines my confidence in past and future work here. It just isn’t will thought through.
What Devereaux actually wrote indicates that his problem is not with Singer’s controversial views in philosophy, but with his lack of knowledge of classics, which indicates that Antigone republished his article mainly to bring attention to themselves:
If Singer’s controversial views are not the problem, why are they in the article? If you are defending Prof. Devereaux’s position by saying that he is a poor writer who doesn’t organize his thoughts coherently, I’m not sure you’re doing him a favor.
And sure, Antigone published Singer in order to get attention. That’s how publications generally operate, especially publications whose stated raison d’etre is to increase public engagement.
The acknowledged plagiarist is Joe Biden. You could look it up, including his being disciplined for academic misconduct.
The Biden aside is bait I should ignore, but because I’m weak, I’m instead going to point out that there’s a difference between an elected official and a scholar and that elections are inherently competitions between a very limited set of people, rather than an absurdly massive field of qualified people.
Biden’s history should weigh against him heavily if he applied for a teaching/research position…but that’s not what’s being discussed. Rather than comparing him to any other scholar, he’s being weighed against Donald Trump…which is not a hard bar to clear.
C’mon, stop the hypocrisy. Biden had a professorship at Penn. Do you think I’m so stupid I don’t know that?
Did Bret endorse him for that? My assumption was he endorsed him for president (though I don’t actually recall that, though I do recall several disendorsements of Trump).
Did Bret endorse him for that? My assumption was he endorsed him for president (though I don’t actually recall that, though I do recall several disendorsements of Trump).
So what, integrity is important for professors, but not for politicians?
> That’s a very hypocritical claim from someone who not only voted for, but gave his own publication over to a full-throated encomium for, an acknowledged plagiarist.
This is a cheap shot. Support for (I presume you mean) Biden is given not in a vacuum but in the context of an election where, if one wishes to impact the outcome, there are effectively two choices.
If Dr. Devereaux is to be charged with hypocrisy for supporting a plagiarist, you’ve got him coming and going, as the other candidate violated any number of Dr. Devereaux’s stated principles. In that case the only way he could avoid being a hypocrite would be not to support either candidate, or to essentially withdraw from the political question of the day. Which, itself, would probably open him up to yet other charges of hypocrisy…
Many people have not expressed support for either side.
That is one of the shortcomings of current democratic systems. When there are bunch of bad candidates I don’t want to give my vote to the least bad. I want to vote against the worst one.
This could reduce the divisiveness of politics. It would not be enough to court the support of one group, you would also need to make sure the other groups don’t overtly dislike you.
“In the name of running articles by two men who have no problem presenting their views to the public in any number of widely read fora, Antigone has compromised their ability to provide a place for the interested public to discover the work of less well-known scholars. ”
I’m puzzled. I don’t see how these two men can both:
a) Have such terrible reputations that merely publishing an article by them can render it impossible for junior researchers to risk having their own article published in the same journal.
b) Be so in-demand that they can easily publish in many journals.
It seems to me that characteristics a) and b) should not be able to describe the same person, or two such persons.
The problem with Singer’s work isn’t that his bad reputation poisons the reputation of others who publish in the same journal. The problem is that he did bad work specifically in the context of The Golden Ass. And that the journal refuses to publish anything admitting that he did bad work.
The problem, then, is that Antigone gets a reputation as “that so-called journal you can publish any old garbage in, as long as it’s spicy or the reviewers like it or you have a famous reputation.” Which makes it awkward at best to explain that your work was published in Antigone and not a platform with higher standards.
Thus, in Singer’s case, (a) and (b) are not true at the same time. The problem is not “ew, you published in some place that published Singer?” so (a) is not on the menu.
In Katz’s case, it is (b) that is called into question. Will reputable journals treat Katz as an in-demand source whose work deserves to be published? Will they treat him with the prestige of “is a professor at Princeton” after he has done something that he knew would be a violation of Princeton’s ethics guidelines and those of his own professional society?
“The problem with Singer’s work isn’t that his bad reputation poisons the reputation of others who publish in the same journal. The problem is that he did bad work specifically in the context of The Golden Ass. ”
Then it is curious that this post spent as much or more time talking about unpalatable conclusions of Singers moral philosophy than about his work on the Golden Ass.
The linked online review of Singers article, from Spencer McDaniel, also says, near the start and end: “Antigone’s publication and promotion of Singer’s article immediately sparked backlash over the fact that Singer has spent the past three and a half decades publicly advocating that infants who have observable physical disabilities at birth should be killed….Many classicists, myself included, feel that Antigone should not have published Singer’s article about Apuleius because, even though the article itself did not discuss infanticide, he is not the sort of person that they should be platforming…. You don’t need to give this man who supports literally murdering infants your money”
I neither know nor care if this is an accurate depiction of Singer, or his reputation, but it clearly has nothing to do with his work on The Golden Ass.
When attacks on an article keep attacking the author for unrelated issues, it’s hard to believe the contents of the article are really the problem. Certainly, they are not the only problem.
(McDaniels article: https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2021/06/02/peter-singers-extraordinarily-bad-take-on-apuleius/ )
>Then it is curious that this post spent
>as much or more time talking about
>unpalatable conclusions of Singers
>moral philosophy than about his work
>on the Golden Ass.
This post did not do that.
The overall segment of the original essay which discusses Singer at all is 508 words long.
I counted. The part-paragraph discussing “unpalatable conclusions of Singers moral philosophy,” which runs “To say that his views of ethics… morally good or bad is 116 words long.
The paragraph discussing his classical credentials or lack thereof (“If Singer were… I cannot say“) is 69 words long; there is further discussion of his lack of credentials elsewhere.
The paragraph discussing specifically the criticism of Singer’s treatment of The Golden Ass (“But if the project were a worthy one, it would deserve attention… hardly evinced by him in the Latin original.“) is, by the word count app I used, also 116 words long.
For this essay’s purposes, it is enough to note the broad nature of the criticisms against Singer’s work on The Golden Ass, and then to point out that Antigone appears unwilling to publish or acknowledge these criticisms, despite being happy to publish and acknowledge Singer’s work itself.
As a matter of arithmetic, the description of Singer’s unpalatable conclusions is no longer than the description in flaws of his work in The Golden Ass. And the description of flaws in his work is considerably bolstered and amplified by other passages that do directly address the question of Singer’s credentials, how he came to be published in Antigone, and why his work is treated by Antigone as above reproach when classicists present criticisms.
If you say “then it is strange that the essay spent more time criticizing Singer for something unrelated than it did criticizing Singer’s treatment of The Golden Ass,” then I can only assume you didn’t choose to run the relevant passages through a word count app. Dr. Devereaux spent at least as many words detailing the problems with Singer’s treatment of The Golden Ass as he did on Singer’s philosophy. And he spent considerably more words discussing Singer’s credentials, and why the problems with the treatment of The Golden Ass became problems on a larger scale involving Antigone. Meanwhile, he spent no additional words on Singer’s philosophy.
I think it more likely that you simply noticed the remarks on Singer’s philosophy more, while mentally gliding past some of the remarks about Singer’s work on The Golden Ass and its implications for Antigone.
I am curious as to why that is, but feel it would be unreasonable to speculate without asking for your input.
I said that I thought this post spent “as much or more time” discussing an implication of Singers ethical theory, as it did on Singers article about the Golden Ass. You tell me it spent exactly 116 words on both of them; I don’t think that is a very great disagreement.
But you originally told me that this post was about Singers bad scholarship in that article, and had nothing to do with Singers wider work or reputation.
So why do you think that it spent as many words denouncing his ethical theory as it did on his article? Why were those 116 words about his ethical theory there, if not to imply they were a reason for not publishing his article about another subject altogether?
I will only add that much of the weight of the argument on Singer’s work is carried by the simple expedient of a link to it being reviewed very harshly in AJP (as well as Spencer McDaniel’s strong response). To my own eyes, Antigone ought to have responded to the controversy by soliciting McDaniel’s essay for publication in Antigone (they do publish junior scholars) and a republished rebuttal to a republished article seems fitting. Alas, it was not to be.
But in any case, I am sincere when I say that “If Singer were merely a controversial philosopher who nevertheless had strong classical bona fides and something interesting to say, one might have still argued for its inclusion,” it matters a great deal that the volume in question is generally without merit.
Spencer McDaniels has a good point that “just because a work is obscure to you, doesn’t mean it’s low quality” (and in fact it says a lot about Singer’s mind that he doesn’t seem to get that; this isn’t the first time he’s said something like that), but her going after Singer for having unfashionable views (which she seems to not even have characterized accurately, if the commenters are right) is infuriating.
Besides Simon’s point, I don’t think it is actually impossible for (a) and (b) to describe the same person (though I’ll note you’re overstating (a) pretty dramatically, no one said impossible, indeed, Bret was attempting it)? I’m hardly an expert in publication, but I don’t imagine it would be hard for Kim Kardashian (for example) to write up an opinion piece or two and get them published in plenty of places (not all, but plenty). But at the same time, yes, that would make it harder for scholars who publish in the same places to be taken seriously.
Quite right. And indeed, nearly every publication that wouldn’t publish an opinion piece by, say, Johnny Depp would be refusing on precisely the grounds at issue here. Namely, that Depp lacks the credentials and reputation for serious knowledge of the relevant field of study. And, indeed, lacks credentials and reputation for being a serious intellect in any field of study, with the possible exception of acting itself, where his talent is widely acknowledged. And thus, were Depp to publish an article in [Publication X], it would tend to harm [Publication X’s] reputation for seriousness.
To borrow from the ethos/logos/pathos subdivision of rhetoric, publishing articles by Johnny Depp or Kim Kardashian is a good way to ensure that your publication does not have very much ethos except with the fans of those particular individuals.
“I don’t think it is actually impossible for (a) and (b) to describe the same person (though I’ll note you’re overstating (a) pretty dramatically, no one said impossible, indeed, Bret was attempting it”
I can rephrase it if you like:
I don’t see how these two men can both:
a) Have such terrible reputations that merely publishing an article by them can render it dangerous for junior researchers to risk having their own article published in the same journal.
b) Be so in-demand that they can easily publish in many journals.
So, this assumes two things which I don’t think are true:
1) that the audience that determines hiring is the same as the audience that determines publication.
2) that people can’t be so tainted (or even not tainted, merely lightweight) that being associated, even peripherally with them is bad for your reputation, while also remaining individually famous/publishable.
2 especially seems to be simply false. See e.g. Donald Trump, Kanye West, or any number of other celebrities or politicians. They might well be publishable (because the publisher wants the attention/money/subscriptions they believe will flow from publishing this famous person) but still taint the reputation of the publication in the eyes of academic hiring committees.
There’s a reason vanity presses (or commercial presses) and academic presses are different. If the Oxford University Press chose to publish Trump’s (or Biden’s) autobiography, yes, that would do damage to the reputation of future scholars who chose to publish there.
> I don’t see how these two men can both:
> a) Have such terrible reputations that merely publishing an article by
> them can render it dangerous for junior researchers to risk having
> their own article published in the same journal.
> b) Be so in-demand that they can easily publish in many journals.”
Well, the answer that comes to mind is that views on people may not be equally distributed among the people responsible for the future academic careers of junior researchers. Someone could have a broad appeal with a wide (general?) audience (thus making publishing something by them appealing, to bank on their reputation) and, simultaneously, be _persona non grata_ among the people who make hiring decisions when it comes time to decide if a junior researcher gets tenure or not. I see no contradiction in this. We can debate exactly how much personal bias enters into hiring decisions, but I’m willing to bet good money that in the real world the answer is “not zero.”
ECD, Daniel Berke, these arguments seem fairly convincing. And depressing.
They might be summarized as saying that the audience junior classics researchers must appeal to – people who make hiring decision within their discipline – are so different to the audience journals in general appeal to – people with an interest in their subject – that severe punishment might be expected from the first for the loosest association with a comment perfectly acceptable to the second audience.
Imagine a Math Department that held it against someone that he published a moral theory they disagreed with. It would be hard to believe they were as interested as they should be in Math. Now imagine they held it against someone that he published an article in the same journal as someone who had elsewhere published a moral theory they disagreed with. It would be hard to believe they were altogether right in the head.
But it is worse for a Classic Department to do so. It’s field of study is meant to be people in the past, who undoubtedly held moral beliefs different from those of the stereotypical American academic. And I am finding it very difficult to believe anyone within the discipline would dare think about or describe why those subjects of study might have had those opinions. Anything remotely convincing would seem like a defence of those opinions, after all.
I don’t think it’s great, but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as you’re implying. Now, academia can be really snobby on a bunch of stuff as well as weird on public interaction more broadly? I get the impression that writing exactly the same opinion piece for a respectable newspaper might be viewed differently whether you’re looking for a job (why are you wasting time on that rather than the important research which is why we’ll hire you, or not) or are a senior scholar (it’s noble of you to share your expertise with the public).
But at the same time, the reputation of places you publish absolutely does (and to some extent should) effect the reputation of the pieces you publish and yourself. It is, in fact, more impressive to get something in the flagship publication of your field than it is to get it in a pay-to-publish publication. And that reputation is set by a bunch of stuff. To give a mass market analogy, someone who publishes in the Daily Mail and someone who publishes in the Daily Worker are going to be viewed very differently, without even getting started on someone who writes on the Daily Stormer.
Now, it’s certainly possible to take this too far, or use it inappropriately. I think a lot of the career side of this gets magnified by the insane job market for academics. If there weren’t 500 applications for every job posting, then a lot of the broader rule of thumb stuff (dump everyone who hasn’t done X, published in Y, attended Z) would be less prevalent.
I don’t think it’s great, but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as you’re implying.
Perhaps not, but it is that bad according to the article we are commenting on. To quote it:
“Any precarious or early career classicist who reacted with delight, as I did, about the news of a new public-facing Classics publication must now consider it with trepidation: not merely what names will appear next to theirs already but what new names might be added in the future… In the name of running articles by two men who have no problem presenting their views to the public in any number of widely read fora, Antigone has compromised their ability to provide a place for the interested public to discover the work of less well-known scholars. “
Two points here, one in disagreement and one in agreement.
First, the disagreement. If I understand correctly, Princeton investigated Katz twice–once before, and once after he made his remarks regarding wokeness, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that said investigations had different outcomes. The twerp got fired less for “having an inappropriate relationship with a student” and more for “having an inappropriate relationship with a student while saying controversial things in public.” I will guarantee you that if he’d kept his mouth shut on current political issues he’d still be teaching at Princeton, so in that sense, his firing was politically motivated. (Point of clarification: he should have been fired the first time, because, at best, an instructor getting with their student shows extraordinarily poor judgment.)
Second, the agreement. I think our host’s contention is that Antigone seems to want to have its cake and eat it too, by deliberately courting controversy under the guise of “encouraging free and open debate” while promoting low-quality scholarship because it happens to come from someone famous (Singer) and bringing in people who can’t be trusted to think critically (Katz), and then being Very Offended when someone questions them. I…can’t say that I disagree.
I actually agree with this.
Thank you genuinely for this balanced and fair comment.
On the first point, I am actually in a form of agreement. In my view Katz should have been fired the first time around and I think Princeton showed poor judgement in waiting until the story blew up on them a second time to take a permanent response. I think it’s perfectly plausible that politics played a role there. In my own view, professors that violate professional ethics and university policy like that should be fired regardless of political orientation.
Though if as a rule they aren’t (if- I don’t know Princeton’s actual history on the subject) then selective enforcement against one turbulent professor wouldn’t advance any larger cause of justice or good behavior, since there’d be no reason for students or other faculty to assume there’d be consequences for faculty who toe the line.
If only a minority with unrelated reasons for institutional ire get punished, then it would be reasonable to see the official reason as a pretext even if it’s something that should be punishable in a properly functioning institution. (Compare an official in a thoroughly corrupt state who gets cashiered for bribery after becoming non grata with the regime, or Louis Renault suddenly remembering the laws against gambling.)
I, for one, am glad that this was posted. Even if I were to quibble with some specific points in the essay or some specific item of reasoning, I think it’s important that “open forums” not be able to quietly deep-six criticism of their practices, especially when those practices cause problems for the very people the “open forum” is purporting to help.
I tend to agree. In fact, I’d say that the biggest weakness of the piece is that in trying to be something Antigone might publish, it somewhat writes around the key critiques, which is what I think is causing some of the confusion regarding the message/intent of the piece.
With your comment I very much agree. Bret makes very cogent criticisms of the publication Antigone’s editorial policies, but they are embedded in an otherwise somewhat muddled presentation
Unlike (apparently) several other readers, I found this article generally persuasive. You have persuaded me to be more skeptical and less favorable to Antigone as a more biased and less trustworthy publication than it appears to be, even though in politics I am rather more sympathetic to their views than yours.
The only (and minor in relation to your thesis) point on which I think you do not address the pertinent points is in your discussion of the Katz affair: as presented by many pro-Katz people (e.g.), the argument against Princeton is not that Katz did nothing wrong, but that because of his politics, he has been punished much more harshly for his wrongdoing than a more leftist or “progressive” professor would have been.
To your later point – this may be true that Katz was punished more harshly than a left-leaning professor would be. My response is that I think the left-leaning professor who engaged in inappropriate romantic relationships with students in violation of both the ethics of the field and university policy should *also* be fired.
I am equal opportunity in my view that ‘the rules’ should still apply to people with power, influence or tenure. There are a ton of highly qualified, dedicated classicists out there yearning for a job who won’t commit this kind of misconduct. Hire them instead.
Does Katz’s misconduct have anything to do with his scholarly ability? Does his inability to keep his pants zipped mean anything he writes is suspect? Is inability-to-keep-pants-zipped contagious through the written word? Surely the articles should stand by themselves – either they are good articles or bad articles, I would have enjoyed a critique on the merits, but this kind of ad hominem attack is beneath you. Much less of this please.
Underlying the problem with this is that this concept of sexuality (usually male sexuality) is flawed. The idea that men will automatically seek sex even with inappropriate partners, and must consciously “keep it in their pants” to prevent this, such that having an inappropriate sexual relationship is merely an “indiscretion,” a failure of caution and prudence, is a bad idea.
Men, including professors, are not simply lust-machines who automatically pursue sex with everyone around them in all environments and all contexts. Some men behave that way, but many men do not, and there are good reasons to think that it is culture, not human nature, that causes men to behave that way.
The kind of professor who pursues sexual relations with their students is displaying a serious failure of self-awareness, judgment, ability to understand other people, and of abstract big-picture thinking. They are not considering what their actions say about themselves, what their actions might do to them in their future, what their actions might do to their students including the one they’re having sex with, or what their actions are doing to the overall profession by how it shapes the academic environment when professors are “in the market for” sex with their students.
If a professor is so lust-addled as to be incapable of thinking of any of those things, then that’s a problem. While that doesn’t mean they cannot produce good work in theory, it does mean that they cannot be presumed to have the full degree of self-awareness, mental discipline, and broad understanding of networks and interactions between people that are important for someone who studies history competently, as opposed to just crudely painting their own biases onto whatever subject they are talking about.
And, again, there are an extremely large number of people who would be happy to gain entry into the academic disciplines of history and the classics, but only a very limited number of positions. So it does seem unfair if such lust-addled and dysfunctional individuals should be able to keep a secure position while others who abide by high professional standards cannot.
By analogy, just because a police officer has been caught taking bribes doesn’t mean they can’t perform valid arrests. But if there are many people applying to join the police force, many of whom presumably wouldn’t take bribes, it makes little sense to continue employing the corrupt officer.
It means that when he is published, he should not be credited with the authority of academic titles he no longer holds.
According to Bret Devereaux in this very comment section, he still held those titles at the time that the article was published. His firing happened after publication.
To Humphrey_Appleby, the publication of the article should have been on hold while the investigation was ongoing. After the investigation had concluded and Katz had lost his position it could have been published without his credentials, or be withheld altogether.
You are forgetting Katz is dishonest. He agreed to employment with Princeton under certain conditions, broke his agreement and tried to hide the breach. In addition, there is evidence that he is continuing to lie about the number of victims he made.
In short, Katz seems to be a lying liar who lies on a large scale. Liars generally don’t manage to contain their lying to one aspect of their lives, and anyone dealing with a liar must examine anything they do for lies.
The academic reviewing process is not well equipped for dealing with liars, forgers and other frauds – it assumes authors are doing their best to find truth, and is geared to pointing out honest mistakes, not frauds.
His dishonesty means Katz cannot be dealt with in a normal reviewing proces – the reviewer would have to redo his entire work to check for dishonesty and prevent unethical false/fraudulent publication. In short, without diverting an unfair share of reviewing resouces to Katz, it is impossible to know whether any of his scholarship is actually good. Far better to give that journal space to one of the many other top-notch scholars who do not require such extreme measures, or even a more junior person coming in with newer, if less refined, ideas.
Now, I feel that Singer is a different case. He appears to be quite open about his very extreme opinions, and about his strange treatment of Apuleius. The flaws in his work were detectable in a normal reviewing proces. After all, a much more junior member of the academic community (Spencer) managed to find them. From an academic point of view, Singer may be less of a problem than the policies of Antigone, who published him without offering a platform to Singers opponents. If the editors simply decided to publish him to stir the pot, and then publish his opponents with the aim of hosting attention-grabbing polemics in their journal, that could become an useful addition to the field – it is pretty common in academic journals focusing on modern literature, and many have managed to do this for decades without harming academic standards. But Antigone chose to solely represent one party, and it is the party percieved to be much more powerful than people like Bret or Spencer. Not a good look for the editors…
“Does Katz’s misconduct have anything to do with his scholarly ability? ”
I calls it into question significantly his credibility at anything. Repeatably violating a clear policy and position of trust and power and apparently assuming impunity is no white lie – not saying oh yes I love that new piece of furniture you bought and seem to love – great, or yes I love ketchup on my meatloaf how did you know to a host? Why should I trust anything the man has published now? I at least would need to now follow all his foot notes and theirs after.
That’s not an intellectually defensible view, that Republicans or black people or whatever who do something wrong should be punished, even when Democrats or white people who do the same thing are not. The injustice isn’t redeemed by saying, “O, I think the other people should also be punished; it’s too bad they aren’t.” Consider Yick Wo (the Supreme Court petitioner): he really was running a laundry which violated local ordinances. But he was arrested and the white violators weren’t. The Supreme Court would have none of it. They didn’t issue a pious wish that the San Francisco sheriff enforce the law against some other people: they vacated Wo’s conviction.
Note that we are not talking about isolated injustices, which of course happen in any system administered by human beings. The fact that some individual fortuitously escaped punishment obviously can’t mean that everyone escapes. By hypothesis, we are talking about systemic bias, which is a denial of the fundamental principle of justice, namely equality. If Katz really was punished when a left-leaning professor would not have been, that injustice dwarfs whatever individual misdeeds he committed.
First, you are somewhat misrepresenting Yick Wo v. Hopkins. In that 1886 case, the Supreme Court was reviewing a situation in which San Francisco had passed a law banning laundries from operating within a wooden building without a permit, then issued such permits to all but one of the roughly 80 non-Chinese applicants, but denied permits to all but one of the roughly 200 Chinese applicants.
Thus, the nominally neutral statute was not merely being enforced slightly more harshly against Chinese laundry owners. It was effectively being enforced only against Chinese laundry owners, and was in effect not being enforced against whites or other San Francisco residents at al.
If you could provide evidence that only professors with right-wing political views ever get in trouble for having sex with a student, or that 99% of such professors get in such trouble but only 1% of other professors do, then you would have a very pertinent argument. But that would be a fairly high burden of proof.
That’s not the law. Any statistical discrepancy constitutes evidence (which of course might be refuted in some cases) of illegal discrimination. If the City had given permits to 60% of white applicants, and only 40% of Chinese applicants, and had no explanation other than the caprice of the permitting bureaucracy, their conduct would be illegal.
Your methodology seems to be generally that a single instance of misbehavior counts against your enemies, so we condemn Antigone for a caption on a single article, but that your friends in academia (Richard White, Princeton, etc.) must be demonstrated by overwhelming statistical evidence to be manifesting improper behavior, and single instances never count for anything.
The issue at play here was that the law was enforced unequally but that the permits were given out unequally. Luckily for us there are no permits for having sex with your students so it doesn’t apply.
Also it’s funny how you are accusing people of being friendly to Princeton when everyone is annoyed that they clearly don’t take policing sex pest seriously enough considering they only fired katz after the controversy. No please, fire all sex pests and abolish Princeton and all the other big private universities that protect bad actors and keep academia in their iron grip with extortionate tuition and their abuse of intellectual property.
Ethics is not a team sport.
>If Katz really was punished when a left-leaning professor would not have been, that injustice dwarfs whatever individual misdeeds he committed.
You would of course have to present some sort of persuasive evidence that this is the case, which you cannot and will not. So your objection amounts to nothing more than whataboutism and an attempt to muddy the waters to defend the reputation of a disgraced academic and sexual abuser.
I’m not that interested in Katz or his particular case. I only care about the general principle, that unequal justice is no justice, and cannot be defended by expressing a pious wish that justice had been more applied more widely. Prof. Devereaux’s position is indefensible.
The term “whataboutism” is nothing but a defense of double standards.
@ey81: What position could he hold that would be defensible?
>The term “whataboutism” is nothing
>but a defense of double standards.
No, it is a defense of refusing to be distracted by red herrings.
Because the thing called “whataboutism” is by far one of the most effective ways to ‘win’ or at least defuse any attempt to prove that someone has done something wrong… And it’s intellectually bankrupt.
The key to this gambit is to meet every accusation with a counter-accusation. Either accuse the accuser, or accuse someone else the accuser supposedly likes, or accuse someone else the accuser has never heard of but who is on “your side.”
Maybe the target of the counter-accusation is being accused of the same thing as the first person who was accused. Or maybe they’re actually being accused of something much less, but still controversial enough to serve as a distraction.
Maybe the counter-accusation is poorly founded, but it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t have to hold up for very long before the original conversation is hopelessly off topic and the original accusation is forgotten.
Argument by manipulative counter-accusation has been a well known logical fallacy wielded to great effect by debaters for thousands of years. It deserves a name.
Calling it a red herring is exactly the same sort of contemptible dishonesty.
That a person is obviously lying in his condemnation because he countenances in other people what he purports to condemn is never a red herring.
And yet, argumentation by manipulative counter-accusation remains a well-established and well-known practice.
It is particularly effective in an environment where disinformation becomes widespread. If you are Side X, opposed to Side Y, it is greatly to your advantage to spread a lot of stories pre-emptively painting your opposition as serial killers, literal baby-eating psychopaths, conspirators out to destroy civilization, that sort of thing.
By doing this over time, Side X can create a sizeable population of defenders who believe that Side Y is this evil, and who will reflexively launch what they fully believe to be totally justified counter-accusations. Typically, the counter-accusations are very concise and pithy, precisely because they are ingrained, are canned responses prepared over a long period of time.
These counter-accusations are often nebulous in nature, because they are the gestalt of a thousand allegations. Some of these allegations, perhaps many of them, will have already been proven false. But they are simply too numerous to all be proven false, especially in the mind of one who does not listen to media unsympathetic to Side X, because such media are the places the baby-eating monsters hang out in.
A thousand near-repetitions of the same thing make for one unshakable conviction of truth: that whatever bad thing anyone says Side X has done, Side Y must assuredly be doing it too, and worse besides!
We have seen this happen more than enough times in history. It is a well established gambit of those who wish to manipulate the masses. If they keep it up, Side X has a good chance of getting Socrates executed for impiety, or Dreyfus sent to Devil’s Island for another man’s treason.
You should get to work fighting the Left’s relentless claims that opposition to them makes you a Nazi or white supremacist, because it clearly falls under what you describe.
Indeed, some reputations are well worth defending against such accusations, when said accusations are false.
But suffice to say that “whataboutism,” the gambit of replying to nearly every statement that seems like it might be bad for Side Z with accusations against Side Anti-Z, in hopes of deflecting the conversation and putting the Anti-Z-ers on the defensive is alive and well in the world.
The only thing one can really do is try to avoid getting too badly distracted, especially by the vaguest and most easily thrown accusations such as “you people always do that.”
What’s wrong with trying to avoid hypocrisy?
It’s a perfectly intellectually defensible position. If you think that the punishment of wrongdoing is good, then it should occur when possible. It follows then that Wo should indeed have been convicted, and his remedy be that the white laundry owners also be arrested.
This isn’t the place, but if you want to know why you (and Bret) are wrong, read this article (Westen, The Empty Idea of Equality, Harvard Law Review (1982). https://www.jstor.org/stable/1340593
Allow me to add myself to those who enjoyed this essay and found it persuasive. I was not familiar with Antigone or any of the personalities involved prior to reading but it seems to me that given it was initially intended to appear in the journal itself as a supposedly welcome critique of editorial policy in the ‘open forum’, it fulfils its stated purpose and doubly highlights the hypocrisy of the editorial board both in-text and in-context. I know you don’t intend to publish on this specific topic any more Prof Devereaux but please don’t let the mixed reception in the comment section put you off similarly controversial topics in the future.
Peter Singer is the single best example of why analytic philosophy of ethics is, and always will be, bullshit.
This is not up to your usual standards. I’m not even sure what the thesis really is, because of how unfocused it feels. I have three possible interpretations:
1. Minimalist. Peter Singer doesn’t do a good job here (or at least isn’t a professional in the field) and there should be a companion piece with criticism; also they shouldn’t say Katz is a professor when he isn’t. This would seem completely reasonable, but it also wouldn’t warrant an essay.
2. Intermediate. Singer and Katz can be published as long as the publication specifically mentions that they’re bad boys. This seems somewhat pointless – the texts can stand on their own? It seems right and proper that Katz got fired and he probably shouldn’t get a new job where he interacts with students. This doesn’t have to make him persona non grata in publications. And Peter Singer is very likely the most famous and influential philosopher in the world (because of public appeal – he’s not a “philosophers’ philosopher”).
3. Maximalist. Singer and Katz should be deplatformed, for having bad views and having done bad things, respectively, and Antigone is in the wrong for not doing this. I would say this is exactly what we don’t need more of. And even when Peter Singer merely dabbles in the classics, this seems like something a public-facing publication would have an interest in?
And I’m genuinely not sure which of these three is your intention with this meandering piece (that seems to come from a pre-established hostility).
(Can’t comment on the Reader stuff – this seems highly abstruse. Also, is two month to rejection an unreasonably long period or not – I cannot tell?)
Regarding the last sentence of 2: Singer is like Stephen Jay Gould or Leszek Kolakowski or Carl Sagan, i.e., a person with strong scholarly credentials who is far from the top scholar in his field, but has made a living and a reputation by writing for the educated lay public. There’s nothing wrong with a career like that, and nothing wrong with editors publishing articles by such people. Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article about Adam Smith (being a Marxist, he didn’t think much of Smith’s economic theories); I don’t see anything wrong with publishing that even though Gould was neither an economist nor a specialist in the Scottish enlightenment.
If Gould’s article on Adam Smith greatly misrepresented Smith’s views, implicitly took credit for work on Smith’s views done by a real economist who was assisting Gould, and then edited big extra chunks of material in that are foreign to Smith’s views, then Gould should be politely told that despite his reputation in other fields of study, he needs to go back and study harder if he wants to publish something on Adam Smith.
Or, at a bare minimum, any publication with a pretense of having standards must also publish criticism of Gould’s article, rather than trying to deep-six that criticism while basking in the attention they get from having published an article by Gould.
This was the point I was trying to make – Singer would be (fairly) far from the most important living philosopher to the pros (this ranking has him as #39, https://thebestschools.org/magazine/most-influential-living-philosophers/, although all such rankings are of course highly questionable), but as an influencer to the public, he’s a huge deal. This alone makes him interesting to a non-technical journal.
Agreed. In general I’m a big fan of the blog, but it feels like the author is trying to pull off a motte and bailey here, where he implies 2, and 3, but is able to draw back to point 1 for defence whenever anyone criticises them.
Actually, the motte is even smaller than JohanL indicates, since, as the commenters have pointed out, Katz was indeed a Princeton professor at the time the article was published. So the minimalist position has to be that Antigone should have–I don’t know–deleted the article, maybe putting up something on the Bering Sea in its place? Changed the tense in the description of author? Appended a footnote that the description had become inaccurate? I am not aware of a norm requiring the latter: certainly the New York Times doesn’t publish corrections of articles that were accurate when written if the facts later change. (Walter Duranty’s articles are still online.) In any case, it’s a pretty small complaint.
I wish that those of us who oppose the current political milieu at universities would collectively pick better leaders than Joshua Katz.
Ultimately, the general ideological thread of that opposition requires the choice of leaders like Joshua Katz, much as other such threads require runoff and primary votes for Roy Moore even as his history with teenage girls comes to light, praise for Elon Musk even as he boldly storms aboard the command bridge of Twitter and repeatedly mashes the self-destruct button, or respect for Andrew Tate even as he gets into a social media fight with a nineteen year old girl, then gets mad when she brushes him off, mad enough to post something that gives away his location to the Romanian police, who have been after him for sex trafficking and swoop in to arrest him.
Because at some level, a significant part of the fight is about the right kind of person having a right to make an ass of themselves. Men like Katz, Moore, Musk, and Tate must be protected, in this mindset. Because if they are vulnerable, if they can be stripped of their auctoritas by the crowds of lesser-thans, by the peasants, by the brown people, by the girls whose sexual availability is treated as a casual perk of being Mr. Big… Well, then what does that imply about the entire system that grants auctoritas to such men in the first place?
Ultimately, it’s all just a replay of the smaller-scale drama where the community shrugs off a rape accusation against the high school’s star quarterback because the girl who said it was unpopular anyway. That particular quarterback probably isn’t a very nice person. Setting him up to be a future community leader isn’t likely to do the community any good. Bluntly, if he’ll rape the unpopular girl, he’s probably going to find some other way to rape the community at a future time.
But it isn’t about whether the quarterback is a good person to lead, and certainly isn’t about whether he’s the best person to lead. It’s about whether he’s the right sort of person to lead, and importantly about whether the accusations against him would favor the wrong kind of people, the people who implicitly deserve to be kicked around.
You got it entirely backwards. There might be people who reason like that, but there are also people that think the whole ordeal looks like a throwback to witch hunts.
I am convinced he end result of suh culture is not protection of the weak, but something else entirely.
If one believes that a certain type of crime doesn’t exist, or doesn’t really matter, or that claims that it has taken place are overblown, then one will certainly see any attempt to investigate that crime as a “witch hunt.”
If I live in a country that believes that, say, securities fraud isn’t real or that most accusations of securities fraud are just jealous lies told by those who resent securities brokers, presumably because of their femicommie sympathies and leanings… Well, a lot of people who want to go on committing securities fraud will try to crowd around my country and its economy. And they will become disproportionately concentrated over time.
So when we observe that a faction in a political dispute has a recurring problem with picking leaders who just do not represent the faction in a good light… Well, sometimes the reason is that they have accidentally created a safe space in which to be that kind of bad leader.
You are, right here, the very thing you claim to deplore. Witch hunts are very real. Your own side has driven men from their jobs on the grounds they used legitimate words that sound vaguely like racial slurs, among many other instances. You have created a safe space for the sort of monster who loves to make hysterical and fraudulent claims, and the sort who gets a kick out destroying lives on that basis.
And you are shoring it up with this comment.
In a nation of three hundred milllions, it is not hard to find a specific instance of a person getting in trouble at work, sometimes being fired and sometimes not, for any of a thousand very silly reasons.
This includes very silly and overblown public outcries over isolated weird hand gestures, very silly and overblown public outcries over objectionable words on someone’s clothing, very silly and overblown public outcries over employing a woman who makes public displays of affection with her female lover, very silly and overblown public outcries over employing a woman who makes public displays of affection with her male lover, very silly and overblown public outcries over isolated instances of bad customer service, and so on, and so on.
If social media uproars count as “witch hunts,” then the tools of witch hunting are in the hands of nearly everyone, and have been used and abused by nearly everyone. There are plenty of social media circles that will file a petition demanding that X Corporation fire Mr. Y for problematic statement Z, whether Z is a leftist, rightist, up-ist, or down-ist claim. The shoes are on all feet, and everyone seems to think they have reasons to kick.
Now apply that logic to what you were claiming.
No, nothing you say reflects my views.
I don’t presume to speak for you here, so I am not entirely surprised by that.
But I have become convinced over the years that it is very much not a coincidence. Certain groups have so much trouble consistently avoiding accidentally choosing as leaders various men with a long track record of sexual misconduct, million-dollar frauds, and other grave forms of misconduct. And, again, that’s not a coincidence.
It’s not that they have no alternatives. Such men are in the minority; there are plenty of honest fellows they could choose instead. So if the group can’t stop picking such people, then one should look for a reason why the group either doesn’t try, or has an exceptional risk of failing when they do try.
For groups with a political agenda, “belief in their own agenda makes it actively harder for them to screen out people with this character defect” is a fairly obvious hypothesis. One can find examples on both the right and the left.
For instance, the infamous “left-wing circular firing squad” is caused by factors that make it more difficult for leftists to set aside differences for the sake of a plan, or to unite behind a leader who does not believe exactly as they do, but close enough for them to shrug and accept.
The right has different bugbears.
That was a lot of words to say “I impute base motives to my political opponents because it allows me to dismiss their views without thinking about them.”
I spent years thinking before I came to this conclusion, and many of the ideas in question can be discussed on their merits separately.
But ultimately, if a man genuinely believes that a certain kind of person deserves to have auctoritas and sit in the top layers of the social hierarchy, and if that man’s beliefs consistently cash out as “the people who aren’t in the top layers need to know their place and stop all this nonsense about changing things…”
…Then that man is going to wind up with a disproportionate number of the kind of leader who wouldn’t be allowed to continue holding respect, dignity, and authority in a society that didn’t have institutions in place to protect such men from being accused or investigated.
Because if you create what is in practical effect a sheltered harbor where committing million-dollar fraud or coercing an intern into having sex doesn’t end your career… Well, what kind of men are going to sail their ships into your harbor?
You mean the way leftists do?
If you look for particular reasons why people who want power often abuse it, you need to explain why human nature doesn’t work in this case.
Otherwise you deserve the whataboutism you will get for your hypocrisy.
But ultimately, if a man genuinely believes that a certain kind of person deserves to have auctoritas and sit in the top layers of the social hierarchy, and if that man’s beliefs consistently cash out as “the people who aren’t in the top layers need to know their place and stop all this nonsense about changing things…”
That sort of attitude is more prevalent in the progressive wing of politics, with its appeals to unassailable “lived experience” (but only for members of certain groups, obviously).
>You mean the way leftists do?
My argument, you may recall, is that a movement which strongly believes in defending traditional patterns of distribution of authority and power against changes to the status quo becomes a safe harbor for anyone who fits the traditional patterns. This includes people who really shouldn’t have that power.
I have named certain specific individuals who are alive in the present day and currently active within our own overarching society, as examples of the pattern. Men blessed with moral, financial, or political power, who disgracefully mishandle themselves, but who are upheld by their supporters nevertheless.
When you say “the way leftists do,” I’m unsure whether you mean to compare a scattering of present-day figures chosen by skimming the past few years’ news headlines to the greatest left-wing monsters of history (the usual litany goes “Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot” and stops there)…
Or whether you had specific modern-day individuals in mind, much as I did. Note that I did not go looking for the greatest beasts of all history, myself!
Come to think of it, I’m not sure what you meant by ‘leftist,’ because I’ve heard Joe Biden called a leftist and I’m pretty sure the idea of him being such would give Karl Marx a heart attack from the sheer weight of laughter.
That you cite Karl Marx as an authority on what constitutes leftism is showing bad faith.
>That sort of attitude is more prevalent
>in the progressive wing of politics,
>with its appeals to unassailable
>“lived experience” (but only for
>members of certain groups,
I can’t think of a single living, breathing, non-straw progressive who advocates creating a ruling elite drawn from present-day disadvantaged minorities.
“Lived experience” is not, in practice, commonly used to justify a desire to make a new narrow clique into new kings and barons.
So I either I don’t quite understand what you’re getting at, or you didn’t quite understand what I’m getting at, or you are under some fairly dire misunderstandings about what a ‘progressive’ is.
In the days before women’s suffrage, some political cartoonists made pieces suggesting that the passage of women’s suffrage would result in men being subjugated by women in various ways. These cartoons seem quite spurious with a century’s hindsight, but it seems as if there were men in those days who were deeply worried that women having equal political power would destroy their lives and turn them into humiliated slaves. That the only reasonable explanation for the women’s suffrage movement was a desire to elevate “the suffragette” into a queen and destroy all existing good things in the process.
It’s very odd. Quite remarkable that people thought that way.
You can judge a tree by its fruit. That a program does not advocate what would clearly be the consequence of what it does advocate only indicates that its proponents are lying or self-deluded.
>You can judge a tree by its fruit.
>That a program does not advocate
>what would clearly be the con-
>sequence of what it does advocate
>only indicates that its proponents
>are lying or self-deluded.
As a matter of formal logic, the Biblical reference doesn’t fit the same verb tense as the proposition you advance here.
When one judges a tree by its fruit, one necessarily evaluates in the past tense. And based on one’s taste in fruit! I don’t care for pineapples, but I wouldn’t chop down all the pineapple trees to plant orange groves. But the point is, one cannot neutrally evaluate fruit that does not yet exist. One cannot pass the fruit around.
But you are talking about “what would clearly be the consequence of what it does advocate.” This implies that you are planning to predict future events, and to judge a current-day proposal based on the consequences you expect that proposal to have. Presumably, this would be on the expectation that you have greater insight into such matters than the program’s advocates (who are “lying or self-deluded.”)
So there is a contradiction here. Are you proposing to judge past ideas based on their observed current results? Or current ideas based on their predicted future results?
The line of argument may be “these current ideas are exactly like those past ideas, and therefore will have exactly the same results.” But that, in itself, would require a lot of detailed examination of the current and past sets of ideas, comparing them closely for similarities and differences.
>That you cite Karl Marx as
>an authority on what constitutes
>leftism is showing bad faith.
I’m sincerely unclear on who you think has the authority to define leftism. I believe most classical definitions accepted in political science involve something like “advocacy of revolutionary overthrow of the existing political-economic system.”
My point is not “only people Karl Marx would have called a leftist can be leftists.” Among other things, his slap-fights with the anarchists were legendary, and anarchists are definitely also leftists.
My point was that Joe Biden shows no sign of intending to overthrow the existing political-economic system, and has spent a very long lifetime working within it to personal advantage. Assigning him to the ranks of the revolutionaries would come as a huge surprise to nearly anyone who has advocated for revolution.
Joe Biden, by most political metrics, is plain and simple a centrist.
By your logic, you get to claim a crabapple will produce Macintoshes this year. Nope, I can judge in advance because your positions’ consequences are already obvious. In particular, the claim that it will be Different This Time. Claiming you are not comparable to past efforts is the second oldest trick in the leftist book.
You keep repeating your claim about leftists without answering the issue with it. After claiming that you don’t mean to be offensive.
Perhaps this says something about your choice of political milieu?
Wow, you do an amazing job demonstrating Antigone is acting as a mouthpiece of unethical behavior without actually saying Antigone is acting as a mouthpiece of unethical behavior. Apparently it goes to the top, based on the manipulation of reviews to not publish your piece.
I’ll add my voice to the choir and say that this is a good article, worthy of publishing and that I’m glad to see it. The inside baseball on things like this is fascinating on its own and it’s nice to see the ghouls who cover for people like Katz and how disingenuous they can be dragged into the public eye for once.
I feel like the people missing the point are doing so on purpose.
It’s not complicated, guys. Antigone claims to be an open forum. They will rush to the defence of controversial authors. They do not publish critiques of said controversial authors (despite there being obvious reasons publishing such authors might be damaging). It’s almost as though they are not, in fact, an open forum, but have a specific agenda in mind.
That this point could be missed in light of the editorial comments is…mind-blowing.
I think you are right that is the crux. An open forum should be open to allowing well structured and rigorous counters to articles it publishes otherwise it risks looking like and echo chamber one with editorial intent and bias..
I can’t be the only one slightly disappointed it’s not about the actual play, right? Like I was going “Ooh, did they discover it wasn’t written by Sophocles and is some late-antiquity forgery?” “Are we going to get some deep analysis of the play?”
I’m with you.
I also assumed this.
This note is to respond to the reference in the piece to UK libel laws. For information purposes, I observe that those laws are notoriously weighted against the speaker/writer and in favor of protecting the reputation of the subjects of speech/wwriting. Far more so than American law:
This is a highly condensed summary, from The Guardian:
“There are defences in law for libel. [The offending statement] could be fair comment – so long as the opinion is based on true facts, is genuinely held and not influenced by malice.”
The “and” is significant; all three points must be in favor of the speaker/writer. So if the offended party convinces the court (this used to be a jury matter, but since 2021 has been removed from civil matters in which a jury trial can be demanded of right) that the speaker/writer acted out of malice toward the offended party, libel can be found Even If the underlying facts contained in the statement are true.
Further, in English law – unlike American tort law – the loser pays the winner’s attorneys’ fees. And if you think American lawyers charge high hurly rates – you should see the hourly rates charged at the large London firms. Being sued for libel in the U.K. subjects one to both a substantial risk of losing, and facing a very large (for an individual rather than e.g. a newspaper, perhaps disastrously large) legal bill from the winner – on top of whatever you’ve been charged by the attorneys defending you.
A little warning – in defamation cases, malice has a very specific meaning, which is difficult to prove. To clarify with an example: Johnny Depp did not co-sue his ex Amber Heard, who obviously hated him and wished him to be shunned, in the Daily Fail suit he lost, partly because he would not be able to offer positive evidence she was influenced by legal malice, which is very different from hating his guts. The bar for a publication who makes direct financial profits is a bit different, and his lawyers were willing to go all in on that one, although he eventually lost to the Fail.
Frankly, I find Antigones stated fear of British defamation suits disingeneous.
Malice is hard to prove under U.S. libel law – much less so in UK law.
But I agree with you that Antigone largely raised it disingenuously.
I’ve read through all the “reader” comments offered by Antigone. Several are cogent, but most are deflections.
I would say malice is fiendishly difficult to prove in the US of A. In Britain, i’d call it moderately difficult. But as someone who looks into defamation as a bit of a hobby, I’m happy to have my general opinion confirmed.
Dear dr. Devereaux, a brief note from me as an editor of Antigone:
You continue to claim that your article was rejected for publication. It has already been pointed out this that is not true, yet you continue with the claim. (You were told this the other day when airing the false claim on Twitter, alongside your strangely inaccurate allegation that we took 6 months to respond to your piece. We of course took just over 2 months, which straddled our 5-week summer break; by contrast you did not respond to our email, and some 3.5 months later you self-publish this piece.) To demonstrate the untruth of what you say, either of us could share the email text that proves as much.
More broadly, there is a great deal in what you have asserted or suggested in this piece that we can show to be inaccurate, anecdotal, and uncharitable – something that your blog’s own percipient readers seem to have picked up on.
Inaccurate is obvious a concern, anecdotal…reputational effects are often discernable through anecdotal evidence and so long as it isn’t claimed to be data driven (which it isn’t here) is still appropriate for use with appropriate caveats, as I would expect a historian to understand? Indeed, the defense of Antigone (launched throughout the comments, in a manner which is pretty surprising for a piece like this) is likewise anecdotal.
As for uncharitable…having read the piece and the comments, in my view, it seems fairly clear that the only way to get a piece like this published in Antigone would have been to remove the parts that made it a criticism of Antigone’s behavior and the individuals involved.
But, since you’re here, I guess I would just ask, do you believe it was appropriate for Princeton to remove Dr. Katz for his admitted misbehavior. I do not ask whether you believe that was the actual motivation for their action, merely whether his admitted actions should have resulted in his termination, or not.
Then why not share that email text right now?
Calling Singer an Ethicist seems somehow inappropriate, even risible. Why his rewriting of The Golden Ass was considered suitable for publication oh a Classics site is bewildering.
I imagine his rewriting (or his commissioning of someone else’s rewriting) was considered suitable because he is well-known to many non-classicists.
He is considered an ethicist because he studies ethics. It is in the nature of ethical theories that each different one disagrees with all the others.
Every ethical theory is, according to all the others, evil.
Credit to Prof Devereaux for marshalling evidence solidly as always.
I have a suspicion that this is all a fall-out from the culture wars. There are many, myself included, whose strong prior is to disbelieve accusations of “eugenics”, because nine times out of ten they are lies and the tenth time often mistaken.
So extreme props to Devereaux for providing the necessary evidence to anyone to form their conclusions, no matter where they are on the political spectrum.
BTW, I know it is a serious matter, and agree entirely with the assessment of Katz. However, I cracked up at the description of “canoodling with students.”
Addendum: maybe this sort of thing is why there has been a drop in academic history?
This is a surprise. Credit where credit is due; despite our differences on the History of Islam (my view is positive but that is not the relevant subject), this comment has proven fair, balanced, and truly independent.
Many thanks, and thanks for your kind words. Honesty and generosity aren’t exactly expected on web forums.
(I do recommend taking a closer look at the history of Islamic conquest. The best books compile a great deal of primary source material. Bostom’s “Legacy of Jihad” is one such)
I want to push back specifically on the characterization of Singer’s position on consent from the mentally impaired as OK to rape as long as they don’t understand it. Consent to sex from the mentally impaired is a difficult problem because they are adult humans who desire sex, but their mental impairment makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation. Saying they cannot consent at all to sex is forcing them to be celibate because we don’t want to deal with that hard problem. Scott Alexander has an article “Determining Consent” that goes into this in more detail, as well as his actual experience as a mental health professional with that issue.
To be clear, the other criticisms of him I have no objection to. I strongly disagree with Singer on many things, but I disagree more with people being misrepresented in inflammatory ways.
I came across this review in Black Gate Magazine. It seems like the sort of book you would find interesting: https://www.blackgate.com/2022/12/28/into-the-woods-emwar-on-rome-book-i-arminius-bane-of-eaglesem-by-adrian-cole/
I want to pre-emptively apologize for being so negative, but:
Have you considered that your submission was rejected because this simply isn’t a very good essay? The majority of what you wrote about Singer is, simply, irrelevant to the point you are making. His ethics are derived from priors you don’t agree with, and are irrelevant to the discussion; you *are* engaging in ad hominems by trying to reduce his reputation in the eyes of the reader. The actual problem, his dumb rewriting of a classic, is what you should be criticizing, and it gets no room here.
Katz seems like a scumbag to me, but I read your essay and don’t understand what you’re proposing. Should have been deplatformed? Would an asterisk next to his name been enough? Either of these (or more) is fine with me, but I left your essay without understanding the point. Could you have restructured the writing to make it clearer?
I am very much on your side here, in terms of the broader points you’re trying to make, but this essay does not make the points well at all, and therefore the rejection of your submission does not strike me as nefarious.
Except the editor above says the article was not rejected. Is this, to use the Cool Hand Luke quote, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” ? I suspect there’s more to it than that, so let’s wait and see.
I very much enjoy watching the people who are specifically angry at Dr. Devereaux for saying that it’s okay to look down in someone for being a eugenicist. They’re extremely amusing.
First they came for the eugenicist who thinks we should systemically kill portions of our populations for genetic crimes. And I did not speak out because I think that shit’s stupid as fuck and anyone who genuinely believes in it is automatically a moron.
Then they came for the ex-professor who can’t keep his dick in his pants. And I did not speak up because mate, just hold it in for five fucking minutes and you can jerk it off in the bathroom or hell, have sex with your wife instead of a co-ed?!
Then they came for nobody else because damn, it’s actually nice now that the idiots are gone.
It is not uncommon for people to terminate a pregnancy because the foetus has tested positive to the genotype for Downs Syndrome, Huntington’s Chorea, etc. This is eugenics. Systematically disposing of those guilty of the genetic crime you refer to above.
Do you despise also those who agree with this practice, and demand that they never be allowed to publish anything?
No, thanks, we don’t want any bridges today.
Saying that people who have badwrong thoughts in a field completely unrelated to what they’re publishing, should therefore not be allowed to publish, is akin to saying that a misogynist who discovers a cure for cancer should not be allowed to cure anyone with it.
Obviously if he discovers something that just doesn’t work then he shouldn’t be allowed to use it, but then, the crux of the matter is that his work is bad and flawed (in this case, Singer’s work on the Classics), not what he thinks of women. A bad person can do good research and it is academically dishonest, and honestly just morally repugnant and childish, to say that they should not be credited for their good work simply because you do not like them as a person. Singer’s work is bad, so he should not be published. That should have been the focus of the matter, not taking cheap potshots at something the writer is not qualified to speak of (being not a qualified ethicist) and which is irrelevant to the actual problem (which is that Singer is himself not qualified in the classics and clearly out of his depth).
‘Eidolon but with inverted politics’
It really should have occurred to me before, but Singer left the Australian Labor Party because its leadership was too centrist, was a founder member of the Green Party in the Australian State of Victoria, and supported the legalisation of abortion.
Around what point do we invert politics so that he is on the opposite side from Eidolon?
In practice in the U.S. it has been conservatives who have condemned Singer. Not that liberals and leftists love him (no doubt the average person has no idea who he is), but he has thrived within liberal institution such as Princeton and is a major on influence of effective altruism.
major influence on
I would not characterize the ‘effective altruism’ movement as being leftist, since its chief donors and proponents are generally capitalists or highly paid workers who are reliant on capitalists.
A bunch of leftists who tried to apply the underlying principles of ‘effective altruism’ would probably take the money and sock it away to fund a communist revolution, because the entire point of being a leftist is that you believe overthrowing capitalism is really important.
(Cue Simpsons joke about Zombie Lenin rising from his tomb and lurching off, groaning “Must… destroy… capitalism!”)
When I see leftists talking about subjects like this, they often say things like “It doesn’t really matter how many mosquito nets you buy for Africans as long as capitalism endures. Because the Africans will never be allowed by the international capitalist system to become rich enough to afford their own, and will still go on dying in large numbers because of their poverty; trying to treat the symptoms of the problem is much less effective than attacking the problem itself.”
There are plenty of valid criticisms of this, but suffice to say that I’ve run into this position enough times that I don’t think “effective altruism” can be called “leftist,” unless someone has the idea that anything involving being charitable or caring about what happens to strangers and foreigners is ‘leftist.’
Or in plain English, you wish to police the word English.
Unfortunately everyone else has noticed that capitalism is in fact better than your offerings, which are ghastly whenever real.
Mary and Simon_Jester (and everyone else) let’s make sure your debate – now it seems over multiple threads – remains civil and polite.
This post’s comments in particular have been a bit heated and some have drifted close to the line in terms of civility. So let’s remember that we are assuming good faith and friendly engagement in a spirit of intellectual charity with our interlocutors here.
I’m sorry if things have gotten too aggressive.
Literally my only point in the earlier post was that the effective altruism movement, as it exists, is not a ‘leftist’ movement as such. I don’t mean to upset anyone by saying that.
Then you would have refrained from repeating your claim after you knew it was a problem.
There’s more to leftism vs. rightism than capitalism vs. communism. Social liberalism, for example, is part of the left (arguably the oldest part; cf. the left-wing vs. right-wing division in the French National Assembly), and is perfectly compatible with capitalism.
My tendency to sometimes read text overly literally with an eye to rules-lawyering caused me to stumble over the phrasing of “I bear no censure nor ill-will to anyone who publishes through Antigone” — as
a) this essay clearly shows censure towards two specific people who have published through it, and b) almost reads like getting published there should wipe away any pre-existing censure or ill-will you might have borne them (or at least it would in a game :D)
I assume you meant something more like ‘I bear no censure nor ill-will to anyone for publishing through Antigone’ (leaving open the possibility you may bear them censure or ill-will for other reasons)
One unfortunate side effect of this blog having become much more popular is that any article vaguely touching on the culture wars becomes much like any other forum on the internet.
As a long-time reader, but not previously a commenter, I would like to add three ‘shortish’ points to the discussion.
1. Since this is Dr. Devereaux’s blog, I feel that he is free to post as he wishes. I agree with others that this post is more specialized than some but that is fine with me. I can always stop reading if I find a post too esoteric. (For example, since I have not been playing as many computer games as in the past, I have found some the detailed analyses of games hard going. And not always finished these.) In contrast, I did find this post and discussion interesting enough to read and comment on.
2. As a member of the faculty in a STEM field at a large state University, I can say that at my university, any sexual contact between a member of the faculty and a student is absolutely prohibited! This is considered a conflict of interest and has been a formal policy for more that 20 years. This policy includes consensual relationships between anyone instructing or supervising (professor, graduate student or coach) and the individuals being instructed or supervised. Violation of this policy can result in significant sanctions. These start with changing the situation so there will no longer a conflict. However, in severe or repeat cases, this can affect the employment of the instructor/supervisor.
3. I did find the main text of this post more flowery than most of Dr. Devereaux’s posts. I think this made it harder to follow. I assume this is because the article was written in a style that is expected for the Antigone Journal. (I know that in my own field there are traditional style expectations in journals that can make articles quite challenging for those not in the field. I try to avoid these affections in my own writing (often with limited success).) I prefer Dr. Devereaux’s usual, more direct style for the posts on this blog.
Please keep challenging us and thank you for all your efforts.
I don’t know either of these fellows you’re speaking and I doubt I’d ever read their nonsense, but I don’t think you’re presenting the best arguments. Singer’s odd and loathesome positions have little to do with if he should be published in Antigone or not. And, while I plead ignorance to some degree, I’d assume an ethicists job is to have controversial takes on ethics. What else would an ethicist do??
Katz is clearly a sleazeball. I’m more sympathetic to this take but even so, if his morals and reputation aren’t in high standing, does that mean he can’t be published? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure, I have a distinct feeling that taking this thought to its logical conclusion has uncomfortable outcomes.
Either way, I just want to say that while I agree with your critiques of their essays on the classics, I can’t say the huge chunk of the essay about their misdeeds convinced me of much of anything. I try to judge academics by their academic work. Fair, yes?
I doubt I would care to read either of the articles discussed or referred to above nor does the rest of what I saw at the website ‘Antigone’ attract. What I sense in our host’s article is a profound dismay at seeing his beloved classics, the field to which he seems to have given his life, being trivialized.
We have recently seen even senators and governors being forced to resign their offices over allegations of harassment, not even “relationships”, so I have scant sympathy for Prof. Katz. If it were a matter of one serious relationship which ended in a happy marriage, maybe, but apparently there were at least two actual sexual involvements between Prf. Katz and students whom he did not marry. He can, of course, go on writing articles for whichever journals care to publish them, but I can’t fault Princeton for not wanting him on their faculty.
Ethicist here (who dislike Singer a lot) who has work on eugenics for his thesis.
The whole of Singer’s career has shown why he’s problematic and his views on the subjet are wrong (which is what happen when an utilitarian completely dismiss the dignity of the subjects in favor of an utility-calculator-only approach).
But eugenics IS an important subject and one cannot, in the field of Applied Ethics ou Bioethics just write an article saying : “Eugenics are bad.”
Our job is to determine WHY it is bad.
We can claim that eugenics are bad when there is a central authority trying to push a kind of human being as superior to the others. That claim open the discussion about “liberal eugenics” in which parents could choose traits that they’d prefer to see in their children through genetic engineering. Than we could claim that this is bad (Habermas did), or that it’s good (Buchanan did), or that it could be harmless if it was well regulated (most ethicists stand here).
We can also claim that the problem is “negative eugenics”, meaning that eugenics is bad when the objective is to eliminate undesirable traits (which is the line that Singer crosses). But than we can defend “positive eugenics” : meaning the improvement of everybody(who consents)’s traits. You’ve ever had a vaccine? You’ve improve your immunity system, congrats, you’ve done eugenics.
The problem is that with biotechnologies these days, the line between negative and positive eugenics is getting blurred. Access to health care has also made a lot of “improvements” hard to get for the non-rich, which has made some non-problematic health improvement a problem of justice because of who is getting it.
Debates around all that is more and more necessary. But there’s a stigmatisation on the subject (for very obvious reasons) and the way you present the problem here perpetuate that.
I’ve been refuse scholarships for that reason. “Don’t talk about eugenics if it’s to say something else than : It’s bad.”
Not that I disagree with your views but the idea of making someone out to be problematic because he uses different starting points for his thesis is a tad concerning and does in fact lead to the end state that you’re decrying. Singer’s logic is mostly fine, the fact that he has extraordinary starting points is strange, but then, most ethicists come to damning conclusions from reasonable starting points and come to reasonable conclusions from absurd starting points, it’s in the nature of the field.
From a strictly numerical standpoint, eugenics is certainly correct (see: every single game of CK2, where half the gameplay is eugenics on your own dynasty; being a game, it’s emotionally distant, and the optimal thing to do is also what is widely considered monstrous). The job of the ethicist who abhors eugenics isn’t to claim that it’s bad but tell us under what rules (or, if you’re one of those anti-theorists, what values) lead inexorably to it being wrong, at which point society can judge those rules and values. I imagine that eugenics is going to happen no matter what you or I try to do to stop it since it’s advantageous for the ones who participate, but that’s neither here nor there.
Either way Bret has simply gone ahead and said it’s bad without elaboration, which doesn’t come off as making him look particularly intelligent when he’s criticising someone whose job it is to make controversial statements that are supported by logic.
Given that the results of pursuing eugenics have been universally horrifying, the burden of proof is not on the people who say “eugenics is not something we should pursue.”
Crusader Kings 2 is a game with very specific rules.
First, medieval inheritance rules- you are roleplaying as a dynasty and marrying cousins or siblings is a very effective way to keep an inheritance “in the family.”
Second, a very specific engine about how human “stats” and “traits” work that is entirely made up by Paradox Entertainment. I’m sure the Paradox designers would be among the first to admit that they weren’t actually writing a human heredity simulator that accurately reflects the realities of genetic science or nature-versus-nurture or anything else.
As such, Crusader Kings is a poor argument to cite, if one is trying to claim “eugenics is the right thing to do if not for moral squeamishness”
More generally, I don’t have to drink all of a glass of sour milk to know that it’s gone sour. It doesn’t require a new five thousand word essay to repeat a conclusion already long-established by others. No one would ever be able to get any really serious intellectual work done without that.
I don’t think there is a clear line between negative and positive eugenics. For the record, I agree that Singer that neither negative nor positive eugenics is good or bad in itself, it depends on how you implement them, and what traits you’re trying to select for.
Agree with you that this entire post was…..distinctly unimpressive.
Academic politics last week (fireside 23rd December, 2022), academic politics this week…
Note to self: when recommending this blog to other people refer to it as an ‘academic politics of history departments and history publications’ blog, with occasional cute cat pictures…
The above is comment/observation on an impression produced in me, not criticism. By the look of the comments section for this blog entry there is something going on here in American academic circles which those involved feel a need to discuss.
So I’m not particularly going to comment about the Singer issue, I don’t have a particular problem with publishing someone with controversial opinions, and if someone publishes something of questionable accuracy then sure the journal should ideally publish reviews or rebuttals but it seems they were published elsewhere.
But, on the second case…
Am I right in reading that the article writer’s wife was on the editorial board of the journal and potentially one of the readers/reviewers that judged it for inclusion? This would seem, especially given the history of the author, to be hugely relevant. Was this noted? Was there any public and verifiable effort by the journal to inform the readership and for the wife to be separated from the review process both in the article and in the case of any reviews or rebuttals that might potentially be published? It doesn’t seem there was?
I’m not familiar with how things are typically done in the classics field or the publication in question beyond this article but if people are responsible for reviewing for inclusion contributions from immediate family with no formal recusal process that pretty much throws any serious academic credibility in the trash from my point of view.
This seems to me to be a much bigger issue than the publication of an article by a controversial author or someone who was facing disciplinary action.
I am unaware what role, if any, Solveig Gold played or did not play in the publication of Joshua Katz’ article. No information on this point is available to the public as far as I know. There may have been some formal recusal process, there may not have been.
Note that the list explicitly says that these “50 Most Influential Living Philosophers” are “Arranged Alphabetically”.
Excellent set of comments. Politics is important here and I would like to add a slant. I am, amongst other things, profoundly conservative, an extreme liberal and very left wing. This is not a contradiction and some of your commentators show why, in that the business of sustaining academic integrity by rejecting the use of slanted translations and policing bad behaviour is, in essence, a conservative project, while using those mechanisms to root out abusive behaviour by powerful people is left wing. The liberal bit of this (european meaning here) is more difficult, because it means we have to be careful, but I don’t see that Brett has crossed the line into trying to suppress any opinions. So good.