Rebecca Schuman, writing for The Slate, describes the brood of foul philosophers at UC Boulder (Colorado) whose sordid, frat-boy behavior was exposed in an investigation by the American Philosophical Association's Committee on the Status of Women. Mrs. Schuman cites official reports from the committee and University officials which describe "harassment and inappropriate sexualized professional behavior at alcohol-soaked extracurricular activities."
It's not only tragic that adult people behave this way, but also frightening to think that this is the character of those in charge of educating people at some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S.
It's also a story that stings with irony.
Yes, of course, all decent people should be disgusted by anyone who sexually harasses other people, and all the more so when those doing the harassing are, like teachers, in a position of authority over those they harass...or at least that's what we've been taught to think?!
To be a philosopher (at least a reputable, tenured philosopher at a secular university) one must question these kinds of assumptions. After all, what do we mean when we describe someone as a "decent" person? Isn't decency just an artificial concept created by white, Western, Christian, sexist, homophobic, males to impose upon others in order to maintain their cultural positions of power? And who decides what constitutes harassment? Isn't this just an accusation used as a means for the weak to manipulate the strong? And who defines what is sexually immoral anyway? Wasn't the whole idea of sexual ethics just made up by superstitious, puritanical, religious people who sought to mitigate their own ineptness and sexual frustrations by shaming others into monogamy and chastity in the name of their imaginary god?
Friedrich Nietzschze would have said yes to all these, as would have David Hume, and many others whose works are the staples of philosophy curriculum in most universities. Not only that, but prestigious and prolific philosophy professors in our own day, like Daniel Dennet and Sam Harris, believe that we are nothing but biological machines and that morality is only the product of biological and cultural conditioning.
Philosophy literally means the love of wisdom. You would think those whose whole career centers on pursuing wisdom and clear thinking would be wise enough to see that you can't turn your nose up at "traditional" concepts of morality and then become indignant when people act immorally. As Lewis says, we castrate the gelding and hope that he's fruitful.
Because of their influence and the sophistication of their thought, Nietzsche and Hume should be taught. (Because of their facile arguments Dennet and Harris should not.) However, when we study the works of philosophers who not only question thoughtless assumptions about morality and reason, but use philosophical questioning to "free" themselves from morality and reason altogether, they should be taught in reference to their depravity. It should be made clear that Nietzsche, Hume, Rousseau, Sartre, and others were intellectually brilliant but morally bad.
Education is worthless apart from a moral plumb line, and the relationship between that line and many elite educators is like that between a rebellious teenager and her parents. She goes on and on about how stupid and old fashioned they are—about how their whole objective is just to control her and keep her from having fun. But when she’s in real danger she always runs to them for help.
If this is not so, if we're ultimately too enlightened (or rebellious) to stomach the idea of a plumb line of basic decency and depravity grounded in the character of God, then we shouldn’t complain when a distinguished professor gets drunk and makes a sexual advance at a subordinate. If the Moral Law is just a product of conditioning, then the most appropriate thing to say to Peter Ludlow and those wild and crazy profs at UC Boulder is, "party on!"