Board of the APA issues statement on Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation of Philosophers

In recent weeks, the philosophical community has seen several instances of philosophers being targeted for harassment, and even threatened with violence, through social media and email in response to expression of their philosophical views. The most hostile and threatening communications have come from members of the general public and have displayed open contempt for the philosopher’s social identity. Some of the harassment and bullying has come from members of our profession, raising concerns similar to those that originally inspired a petition for an APA Code of Conduct.

Recognizing the effect of these kinds of incidents on both the individuals directly involved and the profession more broadly, the APA board of officers has issued the following statement.

Board Statement on Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation of Philosophers

The APA strongly supports the reasoned discussion of complex and controversial social issues, whether in the context of scholarly journals or in more public forums. Incidents of harassment, bullying, and intimidation are a reminder of the social, personal, and professional risks of doing this work—risks that are intensified when the philosopher occupies a minority social identity, untenured position, or other vulnerable status.

In February 2016, in a statement responding to a case of a philosopher being harassed and threatened for expression of philosophical views, we wrote the following:

Philosophers are gadflies, at least some of the time, and we must support those who take intellectual, ethical, and social risks in their work, including their public presentations. Bullying and harassment that target a person’s race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or other status are especially abhorrent. We unequivocally condemn such behavior and stand in solidarity with our members who are subjected to this deplorable and discriminatory abuse.…

The APA condemns the activities of those who seek to silence philosophers through bullying, abusive speech, intimidation, or threats of violence. We also call upon our membership to speak out against such attacks, whether from within the academy or from the public sphere.

Today, we reaffirm these statements and our steadfast commitment to academic freedom and respectful scholarly engagement.

7 thoughts on “Board of the APA issues statement on Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation of Philosophers

  1. This is a statement with no facts and no way to discover the facts. It is paranoid and promotes paranoia.

    • I’m afraid I don’t understand what it is you’re reacting to. Have I missed something? This is a Statement that aims to address incidences such as these wherever, and whenever, they occur. As most things, it is incited by occurrences which most are privy to. Hence, contrarily, I would suggest that it does more to explicitly support the victims of abuse and clearly and publicly express moral values APA defends, and is willing to take a stance on.

  2. I thank the APA for this statement. Certainly public (and private?) intellectuals have been targets of harassment since the Trial of Socrates (and before: remember the Sophists, who Plato wants to ostracize?…), and the past few centuries have seen attacks on intellectual freedom by totalitarian governments reach epidemic proportions. And with the recent international trends toward reactionary government, epitomized by the Trump administration, the danger of further attacks against intellectual freedom has disturbingly increased. That said, however, I would like to add that I wish the authors of this blog would add a post substantiating the unspecified allegations of harassment contained herein, not because I believe they are untrue, but because I think allegations of this sort should always be substantiated, and because I think the public has the right to be informed of these situations by a responsible public media, so that we can respond to them as individuals, as our social conscience prompts us to do.

    Further, I would like to add, too, that I think the problem of bullying, harassment, and intimidation in the American public school system, from elementary school to grad school, is not coincidental, but is systemic, and is not actually disapproved of by many (not all!) professors, teachers, and students, but is encouraged both as a disciplinary method to instill conformity in the great masses of students, and as a means of promoting competition for scholarships, grades, positions, and the special favors of professors, teachers, and advisors. Speaking from personal experience, I experienced bullying, harassment, and intimidation from the first day I entered preschool (when I was shut up in a bathroom stall…), through elementary school (when I was made to stand in halls …), junior high school (when I was humiliated in front of whole classrooms of students…), high school (when I was ostracized despite graduating in the top ten percentile…), college (when I was told several times: you don’t need to come to this class…) and grad school (when I was put through what I would qualify as psychological warfare or non-consensual human subjects research as bad or worse than any bullying…). Not to mention my on-the-job experience at my first tenure track position, where I lost my job precisely for speaking out about that discriminatory treatment. And the worst bullying and harassment did not come from the students, but from the teachers, who made comments like: “I can’t teach something like that…” when kicking me out of a woodshop class or a typing class, for no reason other than sheer bigotry and prejudice, since I was actually a shy, withdrawn, and quiet (borderline autistic?) student who was never a disciplinary problem. And not once did another teacher or counselor ever come to my defense or help me with these problems, since, as far as I can tell, they all approved of the treatment I received, whether for professional (disciplinary?) or personal (sadistic?) reasons obscure to me.

    I would also like to add that I really do not believe discrimination by race, class, gender, or sexual orientation is any worse than discrimination against individuals. Because bullying and discrimination always hurt individuals, and someone who experiences discrimination as part of a group at least has the help of the group in dealing with it, but an individual has to deal with it by themself, without support from the groups who are doing the bullying and harassment. From my comments, you might think I was black, or gay, or female, or something. But I am a white heterosexual male, and I think I can say I experienced bullying and harassment as painful as most, and I would have to add that I think every designated group of people is equally capable of discriminating against those who are not part of their designated in-group, which means that approaching bullying and discrimination as if it were simply a matter of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation not only doesn’t solve the problem, but, in many cases, makes it worse.

    On a more humorous note, I’d like to add that the local school-district here launched the usual anti-bullying campaign a few years ago with a TV commercial featuring a young female student, who pleaded with the public in what I’d guess was a sincere voice: “If you see somebody being bullied, stand up to them!” I don’t think she got the joke. But the message I got came through loud and clear: It’s always better to be on the side of the bullies, and not the bullied. So if you see somebody being bullied, bull right in…

  3. It’s good and timely for you to stand against bullying, but in so doing you are fundamentally mischaracterising the nature of the bully and bullying behavior- what sloppy thinking leading to confusion in your ‘statement’ ! It seems no philosophical analysis of bullying presaged this statement on bullying emenating FROM the Philosophical Association ! You must do much better: your statement represents a huge missed opportunity, which probably adds more to the problem it pretends to counteract.

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