Important Concerns and Issues



A Brief Overview

1. The Essay

A number of philosophers have now been blacklisted in the philosophy profession. This practice raises extremely important moral issues of which there has been very little discussion at all.  Professor Edward Erwin of the University of Miami, however, published a very thoughtful essay on this topic, "The New McCarthyism: Blacklisting in Academia," in the magazine Quillette, which I have now posted here as well.

2. The Magazine Quillette

For those not familiar with Quillette, here is a brief description from the website:

What is Quillette?

Quillette is a platform for free thought. We respect ideas, even dangerous ones. We also believe that free expression and the free exchange of ideas help human societies flourish and progress. Quillette aims to provide a platform for this exchange.

Who are we?

Claire Lehmann – Editor in Chief, Sydney |
Jamie Palmer – Senior Editor, London |
Jonathan Kay – Canadian Editor, Toronto |
Toby Young – Associate Editor, London |
Paulina Neuding — European Editor, Stockholm |

3. References to Professor Erwin's Essay on Philosophy Blogs?

Given the importance of the ethical questions raised by the practice of blacklisting, and given that Professor Erwin mentions a number of instances within our profession, one would have hoped that the result would have been a significant amount of serious discussion by philosophers online.  What is the situation?

A recent Internet search turned up only one website where anyone refers to Professor Erwin's essay –  and that was Leiter Reports – A Philosophy Blog, where Professor Brian Leiter refers to Professor Erwin's Essay (Erwin on the "blacklisting" of sexual harassers, suspected and otherwise -, and says,

"Philosopher Ed Erwin (Miami) further explores the topic I touched upon a couple of weeks ago in connection with his posting about the issue.  I agree with the general principle:  someone sanctioned for sexual harassment may still be qualified to teach, and certainly to publish and contribute to scholarship."

The link to Leiter's earlier discussion "The lawsuit against U of Miami and Colin McGinn growing out of the sexual misconduct allegations of 2012," is

 and there Professor Leiter says,

"I do want to highlight a point Professor Erwin makes:

"Before the case was brought, McGinn, like Peter Ludlow, was blacklisted from academic philosophy. He was denied a one year Visiting Position at East Carolina University; he has been asked to withdraw his contribution to an anthology on Shakespeare and Philosophy because other authors threatened to pull theirs (Peter Ludlow has suffered the same fate), and more recently, he has had a contract for a Shakespeare book cancelled specifically because of the allegations in the case; he has had speaking engagements cancelled, and, although he has applied to several other academic positions, he has failed to make the short list for any of them.

"I want to note my agreement with Professor Erwin that this kind of treatment is unacceptable; as I wrote in a CHE column awhile back:
Liberals who no doubt believe that convicted felons 'deserve a second chance' sometimes sound like they think that accused or university-convicted sexual harassers should never be heard from again. But how could that be right?

"Punishments should be proportional to the offense; that is a widely accepted principle of punitive justice. No one thinks that a sexual harasser should be castrated or hung. One also hopes no one thinks a sexual harasser should be prohibited from earning a living ever again. (Even convicted murderers, released from prison, are allowed to work.)"

Professor Leiter is much to be commended for providing a link to Professor Erwin’s Quillette essay, and even more for expressing the views that he did on the blacklisting issue, for while I suspect that many would agree with Professor Leiter and Professor Erwin on this matter, the atmosphere in our profession at the moment is such that it takes real courage for those who are not, unlike me, very happily retired, to express such views.

4. Other Philosophy Blogs?  The Rest, Apparently, is Silence

As I mentioned, Internet searches do not turn up any other references to Professor Erwin's essay on blacklisting. It may be, of course, that there are other references that weren't picked up by my searches. I did, however, check out one well-known blog, namely Professor Justin Weinberg's Daily Nous, to see if here has been any discussion of Ed Erwin's essay there.

My reason for looking specifically at Weinberg's Daily Nous was as follows. When I posted Professor Erwin's earlier essay on the lawsuit at the University of Miami connected with the Colin McGinn case, and checked some time later to see what discussion it had given rise to, I was confronted with the same outcome: an almost complete absence of any references to Ed Erwin's earlier essay, except on the aforementioned Leiter Reports - A Philosophy Blog. This led me to go to Daily Nous, and do a search, which turned up nothing concerning Professor Erwin’s essay. As a result, I wrote to Professor Weinberg as follows, in July, 2018:

"I was curious as to how much coverage there has been of Ed Erwin’s letter on the outcome of the lawsuit against him, Colin McGinn, and the University of Miami, and which I posted on my website ( about 10 days ago. The Daily Nous was among the sites that I searched, and while the search turned up a piece in October, 2015, about the lawsuit, and then one a year later announcing that the lawsuit had been settled, there seems to be nothing yet on Ed Erwin’s letter. Since the only reference to the posting of Ed’s letter at the moment appears to be on Brian Leiter’s blog, perhaps you’re not aware of the letter? In any case, I thought that I’d drop you a quick line to ask if you’ll let people know of the posting, and also whether at some point you’ll be commenting on Ed’s letter.  If you do comment, I’ll certainly post a link to your comments on my website."

Justin responded to my letter, saying "Regarding the material regarding the specifics of the McGinn case and settlement, I would want to get more than just Erwin’s side of the story (given that he is a friend of McGinn’s) before posting about this, and this is just something I don’t have time to go into right now. (And for all I know, other parties may not be able to even say, because of the confidentiality agreement, whether Erwin’s account is mistaken or disputed in any way.)"

As Justin's response contained no answer to one of my questions, and was not entirely clear on another matter, I wrote back to Justin as follows:

"In any case, there were a couple of things that I wasn’t entirely clear about. When I first read your letter, I thought that when you said 'I would want to get more than just Erwin's side of the story (given that he is a friend of McGinn's) before posting about this', you were just saying that you yourself would not be posting your own thoughts about Ed's letter at this point, but then it occurred to me that what you might be saying was instead that you wouldn't be posting comments by anyone on Ed's letter at this point. So is the latter the case?

"Secondly, in my letter I said: 'I thought that I'd drop you a quick line to ask if you'll let people know of the posting'. I didn’t see a clear answer to that question, but I wondered whether your thinking is that it would be bad for people even to read Ed's letter until people have 'more than just Erwin’s side of the story', and, therefore, that you would not even be informing your readers of the posting of Ed's letter on my university website."

Justin never replied to this letter.

This experience led me to go to the Daily Nous and do searches on "Erwin" and "blacklisting". Those searches not only turned up no reference to Professor Erwin's essay on the topic of blacklisting in academia, they turned up nothing at all concerning blacklisting in the profession.

I later learned the Ed Erwin had sent his paper on blacklisting to Justin Weinberg, who replied to Ed, saying, "Yes, I decided to not publish it because I do believe it lacks merit." Justin then attempted to support this judgment, but at no point did he offer any reason for thinking that blacklisting is not a problem that needs to be addressed by our profession, nor for thinking that the blacklisting, for example, of Colin McGinn, or of Peter Ludlow, are morally justified actions.  But given the result of the failed lawsuit in Colin McGinn's case – a failure that Justin has deliberately refused to inform readers of his Daily Nous blog about – it does not seem at all plausible that the blacklisting of Colin McGinn is morally justified, while as regards Peter Ludlow, that case is discussed at length by Laura Kipnis in her book Unwanted Advances (p. 44-90), and here, too, it seems very improbable that the blacklisting is justified.

Justin might argue that the relevant issues do get discussed on the Daily Nous blog, and that the two essays by Ed Erwin and the discussion by Laura Kipnis in her book are unsound, and thus would only muddy the waters. It seems to me, on the contrary, that the writings of Ed Erwin and Laura Kipnis are very scholarly and well argued, but even if I am wrong about that, why not inform the readers of the Daily Nous about the existence of such discussions, and allow readers to arrive at their own judgments? In addition, it is false that the relevant issues are discussed there. As regards the Colin McGinn matter, there is no discussion of the outcome of the lawsuit, and of the significance of that outcome, while as regards blacklisting in the philosophy profession, a search on Daily Nous using the term "blacklisting" drew a complete blank on 2/18/2020.

Finally, it is perhaps worth noting that others have expressed a view of Ed Erwin's piece on blacklisting that is rather different from Justin's view that it "lacks merit":

"An excellent piece" –– Tom Nagel

"An excellent article" –– Ned Block

The paper has "evident merit" –– The New Yorker

" . . . what a persuasive case he makes . . . so true that blacklisting is not a 'venial sin'." –– George Stephanopoulos

"An excellent article" –– Steven Pinker

The conclusion seems inescapable. Given pieces on important matters that defend views that Justin Weinberg deems to be ideologically unsound, not only does Justin not allow any discussion of those issues, he also refuses even to inform his readers about the existence of relevant pieces, and to provide links to those writings – even when asked to do so – fearing, it would seem, that that might well lead to unwelcome discussions in which some readers would either express or wind up embracing those unsound viewsJustin's policy, then, seems to be to not even post any references to such writings.

This is a sad commentary on the way that Justin views his readers, and on the depths to which our profession has fallen.