The Love of Wisdom


I have nothing to add about the facts in this case of University of Miami “star” philosophy professor Colin McGinn and his alleged sexual harassment of one of his women graduate students. But as someone who—despite quite enjoying reading philosophy occasionally—has always believed that the ironies of actual situations reveal truth better than abstract reasoning does, I found the following fitting, satisfyingly just, and even a little bit funny:

The case, which was first reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, has set off voluminous chatter among philosophers on blogs and social media. The discussion has been fueled partly by Mr. McGinn’s own blog, where his use of the cryptic language of analytic philosophy in attempts to defend himself seems to have backfired.

Two open letters, posted online in mid-July and signed by more than 100 philosophers, including a majority of Mr. McGinn’s colleagues at Miami, criticized some of the posts on his blog as “retaliation” against the student.

Meanwhile, some of Mr. McGinn’s posts —  including one meditating on the difference between “suggesting” an action and “entertaining” it, and another (since removed) riffing on alternate meanings of a crude term for masturbation — have struck even some of Mr. McGinn’s onetime supporters as less philosophical than self-incriminating.

Writing always reveals more about us than we think we’re revealing, but professional thinkers and writers are often the least aware of its slipperiness because they think they’ve mastered it. The cleverest among us are quite good at fooling ourselves, probably better at it than those of us who aren’t so clever.