In some circles, there have been rumours going around for a while that Thomas Pogge, the hugely influential global justice philosopher, has been having sexual affairs with several students, and has been engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other female students. Earlier this week, the academic community seems to have lost its faith in the formal institutions being able to adequately deal with the complaints by the accusers, and more than 160 (mainly philosophy) professors have signed an Open Letter “to express [their] opposition to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education” and condemning Pogge’s “harmful actions against women”. (Anyone not knowing enough about the Pogge case can find the relevant background information via the links in the Open Letter). In the meantime several hundreds have added their signature to the Open Letter, and many others have been invited to do so.
There are many academic philosophers who hold the view that as a scholar Pogge has made important contributions to the literatures on theories of justice, and global justice in particular. And for decades Pogge has generously supported scholars, without regard of institutional affiliation or their fame or seniority – often opening opportunities that helped these people pursue their careers. Many of these collaborators or mentees of Pogge (including young women) never had unpleasant encounters with him, and in fact have regarded him as a highly valued colleague. So naturally they feel this is all very painful and tragic – an unfolding of events that is harming not just the victims, but everyone. Pogge’s reputation is deeply damaged, but also the reputation of the fields to which he has been a major contributor has been damaged, and perhaps even the activist causes he has been trying to advance.
The letter has been circulating widely, and many individuals have been invited to sign. It will increasingly be difficult for people to not have heard about the Open Letter at all. This has led many to ask themselves: should we sign this letter?
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