X Close

Can paedophilia ever be a thought experiment? Philosophy professors are no longer safe

'Novels can do it much better.' (Screen Archives/Getty Images)

'Novels can do it much better.' (Screen Archives/Getty Images)


September 22, 2023   6 mins

Imagine that a philosophy professor is invited onto a podcast. The hosts ask him to describe a thought experiment he finds interesting or provoking. He decides to pick a scenario in which an adult male has sex with a “willing” 12-year-old girl, before saying that the man in his example would not necessarily be at fault. It would, he says, depend on whatever accompanying harm was caused to the child, but there are some situations in which the sexual activity would be harmless. Would the professor’s proffering of such a thought experiment be morally wrong?

It seems a lot of people think so — for of course this particular case isn’t just hypothetical. In January last year, Professor Stephen Kershnar was invited on to the podcast Brain In A Vat to discuss the topic of “Sexual Taboos”. After his choice of thought experiment was excerpted and tweeted out by Libs of TikTok, things escalated quickly. Conservative websites pounced. A student at Kershnar’s university, SUNY Fredonia, started a petition demanding he be fired. The university president directed police to search Kershnar’s computer, took him out of teaching on the grounds of student protection, and put him under investigation. Though he kept his paycheck, he has since been barred from teaching. According to the New York Times this week, he is now suing his employer.

In truth, Kershnar hardly offered a thought experiment at all. Compared with the most elaborate of philosophers’ constructions — see Judith Jarvis Thomson’s baroque image, offered in defence of abortion, of waking up to find yourself non-consensually hooked up to an unconscious violinist, physically dependent on your circulatory system to recover from a poisoning — it was barely more than a sketch. But failure to meet the normal standards of thought experiments is not what people objected to here.

One typical insinuation of Kershnar’s critics seemed to be that, by offering such an argument, he must have been indulging in a case of special pleading. The assumption was that, by his choice of example, and, indeed, by the book he wrote beforehand partly defending the same sort of  conclusions, he inadvertently betrayed his own paedophilic sexual predilections, thereby removing any claim to intellectual authority. (He strongly denies this.)

But other explanations are also available, embedded within the peculiar culture of academic philosophy. There is, for instance, an established tradition within applied ethics of coming up with counterintuitive conclusions. After all, there’s no fun or kudos in saying the same thing as everyone else. One approach is to demonstrate to readers that, given ethical principles or values to which they are already committed, surprising and perhaps even shocking consequences seem to follow. Some dispassionate types just find this sort of thing cool and edgy, independent of the emotional impact generated for others. Kershnar himself seems to be a big fan of the tactic. His published work includes moral defences of torture, slavery, violent sexual fantasies, anti-immigration policies, faking orgasms, only dating Asians, and discounting women’s applications for jobs in philosophy departments.

Occasionally in philosophy, some famous ethicist or other is criticised for failing to live up to his own favoured principles in private life. In this particular case, you rather hope Kershnar doesn’t try too hard. Looking at the evidence available, though, it seems mostly likely that he’s just a professional contrarian. In the legal case against his university, his lawyers quote a student as saying of the professor “it was almost impossible to tell what he actually believed and what he didn’t”. I forced myself to read one of his background articles about paedophilia, and found the relentless tone-deaf logic-chopping almost unbearable in the context of the prurient subject matter. Still, for all I know, the interest is entirely academic. Philosophers are, after all, quite strange.

As the not-particularly-popular saying goes: “one person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens”. That is: when faced with an apparently intolerable conclusion stemming from an apparently sound argument, you can either accept the conclusion, or work harder to find out what was wrong with your premises in the first place. Some thinkers fight much harder than Kershnar to reject the disturbing conclusions that seem to follow from relatively unexceptionable premises. Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit, for instance, devoted an enormous amount of energy trying to avoid what he called “The Repugnant Conclusion” in population ethics. This says, roughly, that the existence of a very large population with very low average happiness per person is preferable to that of a small population with very high average happiness. In the end though, by his own admission, Parfit couldn’t dislodge it — thereby handing a gold-plated excuse to leaders of large countries with failing economies to increase the birth-rate.

Others just go with the rational flow, coming to fully endorse value judgements that nearly everyone else rejects. For instance, as is well-known, Peter Singer holds that in certain circumstances, killing disabled babies would be preferable to killing animals. Elizabeth Barnes thinks there would be “nothing intrinsically wrong” with “a mechanism that allows non-disabled people to become disabled if they wish”. Julian Savulescu and others argue that there are “equity-based reasons” to use drugs to keep “non-binary adults” in a permanent pre-pubertal state, so that the development of secondary sex characteristics is permanently prevented. Whatever the ultimate success or failure of these arguments, there is probably not a single grotesque behaviour in history that couldn’t be justified by some philosopher somewhere, playing around with a highly unlikely-but-still-possible scenario in which the behaviour is present, but where “harm” is magically subtracted and “consent” or “benefit” added.

The most basic use of a thought experiment in ethics presents us with a particular hypothetical case and asks us what our “pre-theoretical intuitions” tell us about it — which might sound pleasingly technical to the uninitiated, but could just as well be reframed as asking what feelings you are now getting in your water. Confronted with this scenario, it asks: do you feel such-and-such would be right / wrong / good / bad / fair / unfair? Whatever you say in response to the imaginary version, it’s assumed you would also say the same towards the equivalent real one.

Then, depending on the case, something more complex might be attempted: for instance, an analogy might be made with some other more mundane and everyday case, to suggest your intuitions should be the same there too. This is effectively what Thomson’s violinist experiment does. If your intuitions tell you that it would not be wrong to detach yourself from an unwanted violinist in the circumstances she outlines, even if this resulted in the violinist’s death, then — since the situations are supposed to be relevantly similar — you ultimately should conclude the same in the case of an unwanted foetus. (Thomson has a further explanation of what the common factor allegedly is.)

Yet if I were suddenly plunged, for real, into a situation involving an unconscious violinist being plumbed into my or someone else’s circulatory system, I’d be in a very different sort of world from this one — quite possibly, a world directed by David Cronenberg. Who knows what other weird stuff would be going on there? And who knows how I’d react to it, if so? The question arises of why I should take my responses to this crazy tale to be indicative of anything at all.

Kershnar’s thought experiment is different because it describes a scenario that nearly everyone would intuitively reject as wrong. Still, when you look at his published background reasoning about the supposed permissibility of hypothetical instances of “adult-child sex”, it also involves appealing to intuitions about totally anachronistic scenarios. For instance, he discusses a situation where there exist children who are “precocious and fully grasp the different dimensions of sex like some precocious children can grasp the different dimensions of music and mathematics” (and moreover where, presumably. we could somehow reliably test for this understanding). The relevance to the actual world, where children are not actually precocious in this way and sex is nothing relevantly like mathematics or music, is totally obscure.

In any case, real-life events — unlike thought experiments — aren’t just stripped-down stories, pruned of distracting ephemera to get to the bits the philosopher really wants you to notice. They come thicketed with endless detail to be noticed even years afterwards. And with moral reactions, it’s the details that matter. Not just details about who did what to whom; but also why, and how much did it hurt, and who did it help, and what did all parties think was going on, and what exculpatory factors existed beforehand, and what happened afterwards; and how did all these factors interact in this particular case? Novels can do this stuff much better. Lolita can tell you what is wrong with paedophilia much more powerfully than any dry fictional construct from a bloodless academic.

None of this is to suggest that Kershnar should have been punished as he was. Distasteful as his general approach is, arguing for the permissibility of doing something is not the same thing as doing that thing yourself. In a society that values freedom of thought, we have to fight hard to maintain this distinction, or else the whole enterprise of arguing about ethics collapses completely. Still, perhaps ironically, what happened to Kershnar’s podcast once the internet got hold of a small part of it tells us something instructive about the problem with ethical thought experiments in general. A snapshot was taken of a multifaceted situation; any relevant or complicating context or background was removed; and it was flung like red meat towards readers for a satisfyingly outraged moral reaction. If we want to understand complex real-world ethical issues, we should probably try to avoid this sort of thing.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
Docstockk

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

194 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

Excellent article. This struck me:

In the legal case against his university, his lawyers quote a student as saying of the professor “it was almost impossible to tell what he actually believed and what he didn’t”. 

As a former academic philosopher, I considered it a virtue for the students not to know my position on a philosophical debate in my teaching. This was partly because I did not want them to feed me back my views in their assessed work, hoping that this would gain them high marks. This, I will admit, is only sometimes possible, of course. My marking criteria were built around their ability to argue for a position rather than the position they were defending.
That was a long time ago, though, before the academy changed. ‘Gross moral turpitude” was the only thing that would see you out of a job back then. There is now an environment where being a philosopher places you squarely in the targets of the thought police, as KS knows all too well.
I think Kershnar has been unwise here for these reasons, as KS concludes.
A combination of missing my days of philosophical debate, instinctively siding with the underdog, and caring little about what others think of me, leads me into contrarianism at times too. When I can see viable arguments for an unfashionable view I’m not afraid to defend it, but there are limits and no-go areas.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Yup, he would have done better to stick to the incest scenario Haidt refers to in ‘The Righteous Mind’ – whcih covers the same moral issues without getting into the paedo minefield.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Agreed. Even bestiality would have been safer.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Good comment. It does beg the question though – who decides what the “limits and no-go areas” are? They surely change over time.
Just one simple example: Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry XIII, was married aged 12 in 1455. She became influential in his eventual accession to the throne, and lived a long and eventful life. The early marriage would be entirely wrong by today’s standards, but at the time, it just wasn’t.
So, who decides, using what criteria?

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve Murray
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I am not advocating for anything other than common sense and self-preservation here.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I don’t doubt it, but what interests me is how contemporary mores are determined; not by an accumulation of individual advocacies, surely?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Common sense is certainly not common anymore.

Andrew D
Andrew D
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I believe marriage at 12 was permitted under canon law until 1917. It was then raised to (and I think remains) 14 for girls and 16 for boys.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrew D
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

HENRY XIII?
We only had eight of them!

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Rob N
Rob N
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Henry XIII? Suspect you mean Henry VII.

Also do you know when that marriage was first consummated?

0 0
0 0
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

She was the mother of Henry VII. She gave birth aged 13 and was possibly severely injured during the difficult birth; she was unable to have further children. As well as the emotional immaturity of 12 year old girls, the risks of childbirth are considerable before they are physically mature. A society that imposes limits on young teenage girls having sex surely has their best interests at heart.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Thus in your view Nik even thought -experiment can quite properly equate to thoughtcrime. 1984 at last!

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
9 months ago

This guy sounds like a dope. He compared being disgusted by fat people having sex to being disgusted by adults having sex with children.The former is a matter of taste, the latter a matter of morality (as in: being disgusted by the rape of children).
I have no opinion on whether or not he should be fired – probably not – but I wouldn’t let him babysit my kids.

Kayla Marx
Kayla Marx
9 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Or current age is such a strange mixture of depressing, nihilistic libertinism and depressing, constricting, and humorless puritanism.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Kayla Marx

Both equally infantile. How did we become such children?

R S Foster
R S Foster
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I’m not sure most of us did. But somehow, whilst we were busy living life to the best of our ability in all it’s messy complexity…we allowed the most po-faced and rigidly self-righteous inhabitants of the Sixth Form Common Room take over the Public Square. The thing we need to focus on is taking it back..!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

When children began running the show. Cowardly parents have coddled their children to the point where they have no control. The kids go to college and also take control when they demand the speaker or professor be canceled or fired, and they get their way. Then they get a job at a publishing house and demand that an author’s book be censored or cancelled. The tantrums continue, because everyone seems to be terrified of them.

Walter Schimeck
Walter Schimeck
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

A preliminary answer to your question is: Because advertising works. It is true of very small children that they cannot and do not distinguish between wants and needs, and we consider ourselves successfully socialized when we are able to make that distinction. But when we are subjected daily to ads that deliberately set out to erase that distinction, using methods that become ever more effective, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many people can’t distinguish wants from needs anymore.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Kayla Marx

Very incisive comment.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
9 months ago
Reply to  Kayla Marx

Yes. Kershnar’s hypothetical presents the question of the modern age; whether everything is permitted. There is every reason in the world to pose the hypothetical exactly the way he posed it, for doing so forces us not to turn away from this question. He would hold our noses in it, which, by the way, doesn’t mean he has a happy answer for us.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Kayla Marx

So true! What a miserable chapter in the human story!

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Yes, but I think a ‘dope’ is a very tame description of him. What does it say of a person to even entertain the idea in the first place, let alone think children of 12 are sexually precious to begin with. A bit like someone openly lamented on the morals of murder etc. For most, a deeply horrifying thought – thankfully.
I’m with you – wouldn’t let him babysit my kids either. I’d watch him like a hawk.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

Think you’re just proving the point of why Kathleen Stock’s article is needed. Shrug.
And it’s precocious, not precious.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dumetrius
LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

oops, thanks.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

“What does it say of a person to even entertain the idea in the first place”. You cannot be, or ever have been, a philosopher if you think this. And one wonders if you’ve actually read the whole article; for KS gives numerous examples of how thought experiments work in academic philosophy. Broadly there are very few limits as to what can be posited within a thought experiment. Having said that, I share her scepticism about the use of thought experiments, and did when I was engaged in the subject – they can lead to conclusions having no real relevance to the actual world. A good philosopher can just about conjure some thought experiment to demonstrate the truth of anything at all.

Nancy Kmaxim
Nancy Kmaxim
9 months ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

Possibly that’s why such “experiments” seem more like facile manipulation to the uninitiated. If the input is artificially simplified surely the conclusion is as well.

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

You have a point. No, I have never been a philosopher but have indulged in watching from the sidelines on many occasions. And your right, yes she does.
they can lead to conclusions having no real relevance to the actual world. A good philosopher can just about conjure some thought experiment to demonstrate the truth of anything at all.”
Herein lies the crux of all things is it not?
Perhaps it points to the subject matter lying just a little to close to the bone for most people – even in a class of philosophy. I do not condone him being cancelled, but it raises eyebrows and suspicion perhaps. It is the most taboo of all. And to what point? To prove what? Elevation of the self? Provocation? Provocateur?
I also like a good playful, with good intention ‘stoush’, it can prove very enlightening.
Perhaps intention is key here, for which we cannot fully know.
Besides the moral outrage, it should raise the eyebrows of any grounded person regardless of context. A red flag.
Attached to the ‘mind of morals’ is a very real body with visceral responses for very good reasons in the real world. To completely dismiss those too would be a fools errand.
Perhaps there is also a responsibility in the domain of knowledge (of which holds current societal power), to run a full arc to such hypothesis.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

It’s a gamble on his part. None of us would know who he is had he not taken it. It’s a way of striking a figure. Distinguishing one’s self.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

We already have child sexual slavery where the child does not have a choice. Sexual slavery has now increased to 60 million in the world and growing. Most of these are children (boys and girls) and most end up in the US as it happens. The movie Cry for Freedom shows a true story concerning this industry. With that background I am disgusted to even imagine having the thought experiment described.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

I haven’t read him, but might he not have been making the point that we often do confuse matters of taste with matters of morality (that is we take our disgust to be a reliable guide to what is wrong or right). People used to object to homosexuality by expressing disgust at the acts performed.

Or put another way – if our moral positions are not based on reason – what are they based on?

These are legitimate questions for philosophers to ask. And the response, if we don’t like the conclusions is: think better.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I still take the view that sodomy is disgusting, regardless of what you call it.

Rob N
Rob N
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Lots of people still think homosexual sex is disgusting. For all sorts of reasons. And why shouldn’t they.

The most society can reasonably hope for is that those disgusted people can also tolerate permitting consenting adults to perform such disgusting acts in private.

There is no tolerance if you do not find the act unpleasant just as freedom of speech is only required when you find the expressed views disgusting.

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Homosexuality is not the same as child sexual abuse and pedophilia. The two should not be confused or equated. Apples with onions.
There is no amount of reasoning one could come up with that would give reasoning to sex with children.
You are talking Adult sexual desire – power – vs children. The power differential is astonishingly large. Are you perhaps suggesting then that a childs capacity to reason equals that of a full grown adult ?
That would be an act of self-deceit.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

Prof Kershnar picked the wrong scenario. Let’s tweak it a bit. The adult, let’s call him “M” is the founder of a faith group and let’s make his victim 9 years old and let’s call her Aisha, oops I mean “A”. Is the University going to object to this scenario and shut down SUNY Fredonia’s society that studies M and claims M led an exemplary life? (No.) Would they suspend Prof. Kershnar for using the scenario? (Yes.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

Bravo!

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18

Then there is Issac, son of Abraham, marrying Rebecca at age 3 (or up to 10).

“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does” Corinthians.

And finally Mary is estimated to have been between 12 and 16 when she gave birth to Jesus – although of course there was no sex.

Foreigners, eh?

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Dominic, An old canard to quote the OT out of context as though it applied to today! No living theologian would use this Numbers passage as general moral advice! In that era only, God used the Israel nation as a sword of divine judgment against Canaanite nations, when humans were even more bestial than they are today. Why is it in the Bible? This horrendous period remains to us as a warning in the common era as a metaphor for cleansing one’s life of sin. The Canaanites stand as a metaphor for sin, and Israel as a metaphor for a person’s soul .This is what St. Paul teaches in the NT. I might add that militant Islam has failed to observe this distinction.
A second point is that a husband’s body belongs to the wife, just as much as a wife’s body belongs to her husband.
Does that help?

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon Tavanyar

I know – I also believe that extremely few muslims think it ok to marry a nine year old, and that we shouldn’t use M’s example as instructive in anything other than, ‘what people (including European Christians) did in those days’. Look at the comment I was responding to.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Hi Dominic, Nobody says that Isaac led an exemplary life.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago

Forgive me if I got it wrong, but it seemed as though you were making a dig at Islam, viz paedophilia (many ‘Christians’ have tried that gotcha on this site). I agree with MM about the lack of reformation, am not as Islam apologist, just don’t like bad faith arguments, haha.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

No. I was NOT having a dig at Islam. I was providing a thought experiment which was intended to suggest that the university ddecision makers are hypocritical and that the basis of their decision is not the core facts of the scenario.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago

OK – reading some of your other comments I can see that I shoudl have given the benefit of the doubt. There are quite a few hardcore traditionalists commenting here…

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

We’ve had a reformation. They haven’t.

michael harris
michael harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

Salafism (reminiscent of Calvinism) may turn out to be Islam’s reformation. And wasn’t Luther an out and out anti Semite?

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Yes. But today, Christians wouldn’t condone people behaving in a lot of ways that the OT describes.
Muslims condemn their prophet’s behaviour on pain of death.
That’s the difference.

Crítica Brasileira
Crítica Brasileira
8 months ago

Your comment is better because a 12-year-old woman is an adult teenager, not a child. Child is before puberty. Pedophilia is before puberty.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago

I genuinely don’t see the problem.

Am I better being too binary and unsophisticated by saying “words are not action”?

To discuss ethical dilemmas (even distasteful ones) is okay. It only becomes a problem if they are applied and enacted surely?!

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago

As an analogy, would you consider the same of say a ‘thought idea’ of considering that Hitler and and thee mass killing of sop many millions may be entertained in some circumstances? Sorry, but its another thing considered repugnant by many.
I don’t think so.

Last edited 9 months ago by LeeKC C
David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

Or – we have a Time Machine – should we go back and kill baby Hitler.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

If it’s a discussion why not?!
We are talking. We are not condoning the action. Or enacting it. Surely to prevent atrocities we have to understand them. To understand them we need to discuss them.
Am I wrong?
Maybe.
We allow people to stand up and freely promote communism. And that particular movement has killed more people than facism.
I think we might be straying off topic btw.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

Of course he would consider it similarly ok – as he said, words are not action. Also, what kind of serious study avoids things and subject that are merely repugnant to behold (as opposed to repugnant to do, like vivisection) ? Reminds me of the viral meme:
1300s: I’m dying of the Black Plague
1800s I’m 9 and I work in a factory
1900s I’m off to war
2000s I am offended and oppressed

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

Repugnant is IMO the trigger, even babies experience repugnance and that I believe is where we access our moral values. When it comes to fantasizing about sex with a female child of 12yrs, and being a female myself with the necessary body parts to consider how this might be experience, I can state without doubt that it is an act of violence against the child (albeit a violence many, many girls are made legally to endure today in many countries.) Nevertheles, it’s an act of violence.
Is it paedophilia for a grown man to consdier this thought of sex with a 12yr old? I’d say that should he feel the need to openly discuss it, to even think it’s worth debating he has already transgressed a moral point.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago

If an issue is unspeakable how are we to understand it and most importantly prevent it from happening?!

I find the idea that topics are beyond discussion and understanding terrifying.

Abhorrent acts, need to be understood.

That is not condoning it.

Crítica Brasileira
Crítica Brasileira
8 months ago

A 12-year-old woman is an adult teenager, not a child. Child is before puberty. Pedophilia is before puberty.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

My concern is the shifting of the Overton Window that these thought experiments facilitate.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

Well covered in a film starring James Stewart. Can’t remember the title. And, of course, Crime and Punishment.

Gareth Rees
Gareth Rees
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Perhaps you’re thinking of the original & probably superior Kubrick version of Lolita that starred James Mason as opposed to the later but also good version illustrated in the picture which is taken from the cover of Lolita starring Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert? Personally, I struggle watching Peter Sellers play Quilty because of the characters he went on to play in his future films.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Gareth Rees

No – it’s a film in which some students put into operation some roughly Nietzschean ideas, and I think kill another student. I’ll have to have a search.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Gareth Rees

Rope – Hitchcock

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

The movie is “Rope”, based on the murder committed by Leopoldo and Loeb. Stewart’s reaction to the murder he himself inspired his two students, played by John Dall and Farley Granger, to commit was sheer horror – something today’s academics only experience when they don’t get tenure.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I shall look into it

Dylan B
Dylan B
9 months ago

Really?!
To discuss topics that are distasteful is to try and understand them. To interrogate what is wrong or right?!
In certain parts of the world child brides are not uncommon.
In my personal opinion it is wrong obviously. In the same way I think arranged marriage is wrong. But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t discuss the topics.
We seem to have equated speech and words as action. They are not. And we should remember that is the case.

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago
Reply to  Dylan B

Those allowed to air views on topics which impact innocent children, who cannot defend themselves and seek the guidance of adults for their safety and protection, should not be heard. There is never an intellectual debate, it’s seems to me that the progressive liberals are happy to discuss anything, and now we have places like Canada who are mutilating innocent children through their gender ideology, and actually operating on them with little regard to their future impact and the misery and damage it will have. You can state what you like about being able to discuss it. But I will always condemn those who even allow these people to speak out about this subject, because if we allow this sickness to seep into society, this will inevitably impact the most vulnerable. Other cultures allow these things? So what, other countries also practice genocide shall we debate the pros and cons of this or do the right thing and condemn it immediately. Anyone that doesn’t condemn these people and their disgusting views especially when it comes to children, shows they are open to it, shows you are weak and have no moral conviction. And I don’t care who doesn’t like this, those who don’t are likely to be in agreement with the paedophiles. And I would happily look anyone in the eye on here and tell them that to their face, cowards hide behind intellectualism so do predators.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

You sound like you might be projecting. Get help!

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

You sound like you accepting of the views. Probably another weak lefty who will happily discuss this subject about paedophilia and believe you are superior, you sound weak and pathetic. Keyboard warrior. I’m happy to meet to discuss face to face.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago

BUT. “..in the begining was the word.” AND SO. Now the word is spoken it becomes real.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
9 months ago

I do agree. I am no philosopher, just a nasty old ex soldier. We used to make jokes about ‘schoolies’, especially on exercise, and some were very close to the knuckle. However, when someone was found with kiddy porn he threw himself dowstairs; twice. Allegedly. Jokes are one thing but, in reality, we had sisters and daughters, and that reality put his actuality beyond the pale.
You do not want to know what the holes in Polo mints are for.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Not sure how I feel about this. The subject matter is repulsive and something I don’t think should ever be debated, even at the most abstract level, but people shouldn’t be punished for thought crimes. It’s always a slippery slope. It takes courage to even broach the subject so I’m not surprised KS is the one to do it.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

I haven’t read him, but I’m quite shocked that anyone should think he should be cancelled for entertaining uncomfortable ideas in thought alone. Or suspect that his thought must be reflected in action. Are evolutionary psychologists to be suspected of rape (or rape apology) if they study that subject, or of being psychopaths if they entertain the idea that psychopathy might confer evolutionary advantages.?

Isn’t that the essence of wokery and political correctness? The conclusions are set. The job of academics is only to support them.

Don’t like his conclusions? Make better arguments.

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

You answered your own question. Yes, philosophy has not grown humanity, as morality has weakened so has society, today we are on the edge of total societal breakdown. You shouldn’t open up discussions about children, because they cannot defend themselves and we know how many paedophiles sit in education, and social services and public health. You should all be in prison. And the public will take care of the rest of you with you sick ideology

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

As I’ve said in other comments, apparently deleted, you seem to be projecting, and it’s deeply disturbing.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
9 months ago

You are a fool. A bigoted fool and you need to watch who you are calling a paedophile. That, by my count, is the second time. I suggest you go to the Daily Star. It seems more your intellectual level.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Thanks for your contributions to this discussion, David. I’m with you all the way.

Harry Phillips
Harry Phillips
9 months ago

Philosophical questions aside, attitudes towards age of consent have shifted across time and cultures, and the thinking behind such attitudes is worthy of consideration.

Regarding restrictions on thought, I have never read or been curious enough to read “Lolita”, but I would be highly reluctant to borrow it from a library or even search for it in an online library catalogue. You never know in which unforseen ways that could come back to bite you on the arse.

Likewise “Mein Kampf”, which as a book that induced tens of millions into a murderous war is surely worth a flick through. However, my understanding is that here in Ireland a record is kept of people who buy it, which would certainly forestall any intellectual curiosity for most.

Paul T
Paul T
9 months ago
Reply to  Harry Phillips

Self-censoring is the outcome these self-actualised moral guardians are looking for.

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago
Reply to  Harry Phillips

Another paedophile on here! Age of consent is a worthy conversation. I love how all adults think this is ok, but I doubt a young child would believe this. You are disgusting and immoral. I hope I get to meet you one day. I will happy teach you about consent.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

What on earth makes you think Harry is a paedophile??!?

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
9 months ago

You sound deranged.

Harry Phillips
Harry Phillips
9 months ago

Any random history book will describe times in which it was common for children to marry. Currently multiple NGOs are attempting to eliminate the practice of child brides globally.

Name your time and place and I’ll happily teach you about the consequences of making nasty and unfounded allegations.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Harry Phillips

Go for it, Harry! He is a total tw&t!

Gareth Rees
Gareth Rees
9 months ago

You are clearly intellectually challenged. The physiological and psychological maturation of adolescents has changed with time. My children are easily two years behind where me and my siblings were at the same age, and that is just in this country. At 15 my father was shipped off from the Rhondda to the midlands where he lived in a doss house working in a munitions factory at the end of the war.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
9 months ago

So big, so brave. It is easy to bump your gums when there is little likelihood of a meeting. Keyboard warriorism (did I just invent that ‘ism’?) at its best!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Harry Phillips

l bought Lolita a few weeks ago for my (female) lodger who wants to get into literary fiction.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

It’s an interesting book. Not the voyeuristic exercise people expect. I doubt any pedophile would find it worthwhile.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

Quite so. It’s about paedophilia, but not itself paedophiliac.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I always understood it to be about obsession rather than paedophilia.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
9 months ago
Reply to  Harry Phillips

“my understanding is that here in Ireland a record is kept of people who buy it [Mein Kampf]”
How does that work? Do shops not stock it on their shelves, so that it has to be ordered, with the person ordering it having to give their name and address? Or if they do stock it, do they demand the same personal details from anyone offering to buy it for cash? I am genuinely curious. It sounds absurd.

Harry Phillips
Harry Phillips
9 months ago
Reply to  Russell Sharpe

It’s a few years ago, and it does sound absurd.

As far as I remember, buyer details were requested upon purchase. I’ll nip down to the bookshop tomorrow as see what happens.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Russell Sharpe

If the bookshops keep a record of people who buy Mein Kampf, then they should keep a record of people who buy the Communist Manifesto.

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago

“For instance, he discusses a situation where there exist children who are “precocious and fully grasp the different dimensions of sex like some precocious children can grasp the different dimensions of music and mathematics” (and moreover where, presumably. we could somehow reliably test for this understanding). The relevance to the actual world, where children are not actually precocious in this way and sex is nothing relevantly like mathematics or music, is totally obscure.”

There is one important reason why this might be wrong, and it relates to the strict chronological distinction in which the law regards a “child” as someone under sixteen, and an “adult” as someone older than that: the age of consent. The child is deemed incapable of adult consent, the adult assumed to be capable of it. What separates two such people has nothing to do with their level of personal development, is simply the question of whether that person’s sixteenth birthday is in the future or the past.

This is an extremely blunt instrument when it comes to whether or not a person is actually capable of adult sexual consent, and it ought not to be controversial to say that some fifteen year-olds are capable of this, because it is very obvious that many people over the age of sixteen do not yet possess this capacity and cannot in reality give such consent, irrespective of the fact that the law deems them capable of doing so. Don’t get me wrong: the law needs clear markers in order to operate effectively, all I’m saying is that this is a very imperfect solution that is only there because of the vexatious issues around replacing it with something better.

Russell Brand’s troubles right now are relevant here: he is said to have assaulted a sixteen year old girl with whom he had already started a consensual sexual relationship. The assault took the form of aggressive and bullying behaviour that the woman, in retrospect, feels was outside the bounds of acceptability. Now I might be wrong (we have to wait and see exactly what happens with these allegations) but this looks as if it could be an example of where a girl, legally able to give consent, was not ready at all for the realities of sex with an older man who was much further down the path of sexual exploration than she was herself.

I am not wholly defending Brand here: he was a sex and drug addict, acting on not just his addictive tendencies but upon a general pattern of outrageous behaviour that was practically part of his job description at the time (I personally think that his many enablers in the media should be in the dock alongside him if he ever has to be there himself). I am fairly sure (I’m guessing of course, we just don’t know at this stage) that the encounters took place as she describes and that it came as a shock to her. What I do say is that if she had faced the opportunity to meet Russell Brand as someone closer to Brand’s age, she would have have been in a position to judge more accurately whether she wanted any part of it or not, and the consent she would have given – or indeed withheld – would have been very different to what she was able to give as a sixteen year old girl.

Last edited 9 months ago by John Riordan
LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Great reply.

LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago

One thing that never seems to be brought up in all of these ‘academic’ discussions on this particular subject – child sexual abuse – rape actually in many cases – is the actual victims themselves. We don’t seem to hear their voices. The voice of the crowds drowns them out. I see many literary critiques of the novel Lolita, to a lot of fanfare, but we don’t see the other side very much. Only some ‘intellectual’ views heralding it as a success. Its well known that pedophiles/and or opportunists, because there are both, use this ‘excuse’ every time, “they wanted it”. It is a dim fantasy of an excuse to let them off the hook for acting the fantasy out and excusing themselves or drinking to excess to work up the courage.
Where do we draw the line?
You cannot deny the influence. It has been reported many times that in recent years the proliferation of child sexual abuse material and access to these images has skyrocketed. One could say viewing is not doing.
Again I say, where do you draw the line? Is not by the very participation of viewing creating more need? Is it not participation by default? There is an actual child, being abused – does this not also mean you are explicitly also a willing participant? You are participating in the market. You are paying to view. You in some ways are an accessory. The internet seems to be a place where you get to off-load responsibility of action, as we have seen with the social media.
Where do we draw the line?.
Mary Harrington’s article is a good one.
“We sacrifice our girls…….I would say more we sacrifice our Children.
I think why this bothers me so much is because we have come across a version of this in the past.I think it was the 70s, we had a bunch of ‘academics’ and cultural influencers and even some psychologists purporting that child sexual abuse is not harmful and even beneficial for the child. There were some who also petitioned to have the age of consent lowered or for it to be legalized. Around the same time, there were also people in France who wrote an open letter and petitioned heavily for the same thing. To legalize sex with children on same or similar premise. This was by deeply revered ‘intellectuals’. It caused a raucous but was taken seriously. Let us not lose sight of the power of words.
Unfortunately, these thinkers, intellects can hold more clout, particuarly in todays climate where academia and knowledge is power, a career even, more than in previous times. There is a power differential also. Speaking in the public realm can grows seeds in the minds of people – including the very people who do not need any more encouragement.
I say there needs to be a boundary around certain things.
I think children is one.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

Where do we draw the line? That is the question society always needs to answer but cannot. Otherwise, there is no society. The line is relative. Some would argue that there should be no lines at all. This is moral relativism at work.

William Murphy
William Murphy
9 months ago
Reply to  LeeKC C

I think that French petition in favour of child sex was created in the glorious summer of 1968, when all kinds of looney sexual liberations were proposed. Amazingly, most of the liberation seemed to favour eager young men. Like Danny Cohn-Bendit, whose views on child sex got him into terrible trouble decades later, once the sexual climate had changed and he was a ludicrous old man.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/14/green-party-germany-paedophiles-80s

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago

“Kershnar’s thought experiment is different because it describes a scenario that nearly everyone would intuitively reject as wrong.“

It is perhaps true that nearly everyone in the western world of the 21st century would intuitively reject it as wrong, but it is not necessarily true that sizeable minorities, or perhaps even majorities, in other societies would do so. For example, there is pretty strong historical evidence to suggest that Roman households were organised such that it was the right of the head of the household to use and abuse members of his household as he saw fit.

Why is that we intuitively reject it as wrong? Perhaps the answers lies in our Christian heritage, the ethical ocean in which we all still swim – whether we are believers or not. This provides the basis to view a child as an individual made in God’s own image, to be nurtured and protected whatever their social status, rather than as a chattel to be used and abused. No doubt that some in the Roman world would have been repulsed by the sexual abuse of “consenting” 12 year olds, and there are other ethical frameworks which would and have equally condemned such abusive power relations. And there many nominal Christians who have engaged in such abusive behaviours.

Perhaps though the reason why such philosophical thought experiments prompt the reaction that they do in our society is because many of us have become unmoored from our Christian ethical framework: God is dead and we have killed him, as one crazy old thought-experimenting philosopher once said; and how are we murderers to console ourselves? The nominally Christian abusers of the past would, at least, have known that what they were doing is definitely wrong. In previous centuries, Kershnar would have been readily dismissed by reference to scripture and invited to repent. Instead maybe the reason why he provokes a blind moral panic and outrage is that people are afraid to concede that they cannot become gods, that we don’t have all the answers, and perhaps there might be an unseen transcendental truth and force of goodness that they can’t control or even understand?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Amen.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago

‘The dry fictional constructs of bloodless academics’. Exactly. The only people who need philosophers are other philosophers and individuals or governments looking for a pretext for their often ugly and horrendous actions. To the rest of us, it’s all one big circle jerk.

Michael Johnston
Michael Johnston
9 months ago
Reply to  starkbreath

Apart from Kathleen Stock, of course. We definitely need her.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago

I read Professor Stock’s pieces in unHerd and admire her for standing up to the trans mob but I think this latest one illustrates what a wankfest the hermetically sealed world of academic philosophy generally is. Also, there’s a huge difference between a ‘thought experiment’ and advocacy of the sexual exploitation if children.

William Murphy
William Murphy
9 months ago

Carson Holloway had a troubling article “Dare we get real about sex” years ago in Touchstone Magazine. Sadly it is now behind a paywall, so I’m working from memory.

http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=15-03-031-f

He was discussing the startling increase in value free “academic discussion” of intergenerational intimacy (OK, is paedophilia OK?). Do nice respectable middle class American Christians, who work tirelessly for their PTA and who probably hang a nonce from the nearest tree, actually have any coherent objection to child sex?

Step by step, he shows that they probably don’t have any such objection. They have already conceded so many breaches in traditional Christian sexual morality that they have nowhere to stand. There is the last desperate defence – that children can’t meaningfully consent in such a grave matter. Who says – either that it is truly serious matter or that children can’t consent? Much of the Sexual Liberation propaganda worked on the premise that it was basically great fun. Peter Thatchell told us that nine year olds could really enjoy it – until he hastily backed off….

Carson’s very serious article was surely a thought experiment in exploring this horrible area. There are responsible and propagandist approaches and it is not always easy to tell the difference.

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
9 months ago

The very fact of his positing this particular thought experiment at this particular time seems to tap right into the current ‘trans’ debacle, which has seen Peter Tatchell’s 1997 Guardian piece resurrected for us to chew over. In it, he defends adults having sex with minors which for the MAP apparently brought “great joy”. (The 9 year old in question was not directly quoted, so it’s not clear precisely who experienced the ‘joy’).
Today there are some who think that there is a paedophilic tendency in some ‘trans’ circles, especially those that include dressing up as little girls. Is there a connection? Who knows? But there has been some suggestion that the next tactic of this ideology will be to demand the lowering (or even removal) of the age of consent. Could this be the first step in that direction?

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Jane Awdry

Today there are some who think that there is a paedophilic tendency in some ‘trans’ circles

As was thought of gay males not so many years ago.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
9 months ago

Given that all of the grotesque critical theories we’re suffering under today were cooked up and served to society by academics, I have zero qualms about Kershnar’s “punishment”. Perhaps if more of these sneering, contemptible, civilization saboteurs had to pay a price for their tenured destruction of human norms, we wouldn’t have a trail of mutilated children and racial animus in their wake.

Oh, and I laughed out loud at Stock’s stock “conservatives pounced” remark. Conservatives aren’t even allowed near academia anymore. In fact, if conservatives object to something occurring in universities, the faculty regard it as a signal honor.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago

Agree with you 100%. These people are pushing an agenda, which is increasingly taking hold of Western culture. Sabotage is the right word here.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
9 months ago

So, if a child was not a child but an adult, it would be OK for s/he to have adult sexual relationship. And people pay £30k to study this stuff?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

When Russel Brand comes to trial, we shall find out if it was OK or not.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

Some thinkers fight much harder than Kershnar to reject the disturbing conclusions that seem to follow from relatively unexceptionable premises. 

And isn’t this part of the value of people like Kershnar – that it pushes the rest of us to examine our assumptions, the incongruities in our own moral positions, and, at the very least, to work a lot harder to justify the positions we refuse to let go of.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Why would you want to examine or even let go an assumption that a 12 year old girl hasn’t the experience necessary to consent to sex with an adult male?
As Russell Brand is discovering now, even a 16 year old, reputedly consenting, girl looks back many years later and appears scarred by the experience.
Finally one has to wonder if the man is so dense he didn’t understand the context of that in today’s world .
Was he so ‘pure’ that he wasn’t simply looking to achieve some benefit from the publicity it would bring? That at least would be better than the more disturbing thought, the wondering, if in this day and age, did he have another more immediate agenda,
What he said is not a new issue. Here is the BBC regarding the 1970’s
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26352378
and more to the point, what is happening now
https://mises.org/library/2slgbtqia-and-law
‘We are coming for your children.’ – so they say.
How convenient if there was no social abhorrence thanks to a the failure 5o perhaps success at not doing so) of a philosophical thought experiment to come down firmly on the side of ensuring 12 year olds aren’t put in the position of making decisions that perhaps have such devastating and maybe irreversible consequences.
How many of the mutilated young girls who now regret their ‘transitioning’ needed more protection from the law, rather than, the other way around?
As an aside, why is it that transitioning women seem to rapidly mutilate their bodies, yet some many transitioning men don’t, and look somewhat obviously out of place when accepting all those gold medals they win in women’s sport?

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago

Good article. Modern philosophers are a funny lot (sorry Kathleen) and you can’t help but wonder if academia is a healthy venue for them.
Leaving aside hot button issues like paedophilia and other taboos, there is (as an example) endless debate about ‘the trolley problem’ where the argument about agency and the value of one life against many are discussed. It can be enlightening or depressing. especially as it is intended to make you think about usually unthinking responses.
Some of the ancient Greeks thought the aim of philosophy was to find out how to live ‘a good life’. Perhaps modern philosophy should incorporate more of this enquiry rather than seeking contrarian ideas for the sake of it?

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

His published work includes moral defences of torture, slavery, violent sexual fantasies, anti-immigration policies, faking orgasms, only dating Asians, and discounting women’s applications for jobs in philosophy departments.

He’s pretty clearly a contrarian. None of these add up to any kind of tribal political position. He’ll have a go at anyone’s ideas.

How different discussion on here might have been if he had been cancelled for his (supposed) anti-immigration views.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Echoes of Harriet Harman and Patrica Hewitt anyone?

Mint Julip
Mint Julip
9 months ago

Yes, they choked on that particular PIE.

Waffles
Waffles
9 months ago

I saw a video on TikTok that some kid had taken of a woke teacher trying to get the kids to call certain people MAPs. The kids were horrified and were shouting NO.

I Googled woke maps acronym. I too was horrified.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago

Reminds me of a debate in Moral Philopsopy 101 class at Uni – the Prof. asked whether ‘torturing children for fun’ could be seen as consistent/ acceptable under Utilitarianism precepts, if more pleasure units accrued to the torturer than displeasure to the kid. The ‘obvious’ simple answer is yes…. but this just demonstrates the ass-ery of this kind of philosophical inquiry, which catastrophically ignores that morality is a complex web, with more than one rule – I imagine Bentham and Mill would agree. Clearly there is a clash with another precept – you may not take what is not given/yours. That then leads us to another legal/moral debate over the terms, ‘take’, and ‘not yours’ – which could only be reasonable summed up in several legal tomes. The thought experiment is also problematic because it is so madly unrealistic – I understand that they are hypotheticals, inquired of purely for inquiry, nevertheless the fact that a torturer’s positive utils would not outweigh the childs utils does rather seem relevant.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

but this just demonstrates the ass-ery of this kind of philosophical inquiry

Not really. Presumably it helped you to see the limits of utilitarianism – which you are now exhibiting in your post.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

It just seemed like saying ‘a car is designed to transport you, but can it take you from London to New York….hah!’
Also, I raised the second, ‘it’s unrealistic’ challenge, and this was ruled out by the Prof and the class as not being in the spirit of the thought experiment and therefore irrelevant.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dominic A
David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

There’s a lot to go into here, but if we opt for a pick n mix approach to moral criteria – then we just need another set of criteria of when and how to choose moral theories.

Do we just go with utilitarianism when it suits us, but flip to moral absolutes when it doesn’t? And if we do that how do we avoid accusations of hypocrisy, inconsistency and special pleading.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

In reality the mind does what it does – and it is very complex – as the moral psychologists are finding out. I’m with Jonathan Haidt – his conclusions are that the reasoning mind (verbal, neo cortex) is a PR agent/lawyer for the ‘passions’ (intuitive/emotional ancient mind)….so philosophy is of limited use in guiding our moral position. Phil could describe a purely reasoned morality, which would probably have to include some of the very unpalatable notions raised in this essay and in the comments. In practice, we feel disgust, and this drives our reasoning and behaviour, even though Dr Spock (of Star Trek) would think it illogical. In reality, moral precepts work only as a loose guide, to be taken along with 101 other factors, and make sense by themselves; like a spark plug removed from it’s engine & electrical supply, petrol, and driveshaft.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dominic A
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

“the reasoning mind (verbal, neo cortex) is a PR agent/lawyer for the ‘passions’ (intuitive/emotional ancient mind)”
A promotion from the Humean view of reason as a slave of the passions.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Indeed. Mostly true I think, though it can be otherwise – if one is thinnking like a scientist, rather than a ‘sports fan’, lawyer, or zealot (to borrow the concepts from Tim Urban’s ‘thinking ladder’).

michael harris
michael harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

It’s Mr. Spock to you, mate!

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

Novels can do this stuff much better. Lolita can tell you what is wrong with paedophilia much more powerfully than any dry fictional construct from a bloodless academic.

This is certainly true, but many would want to ban Lolita too, and argument has raged about the book, and about the predilections of its author. And Nabokov does sail pretty close to the wind in ways that might confuse unsophisticated readers. It remains a pretty disconcerting book.

For me, it comes down to this: are we adults who want to look the world in the face in all its aspects with maturity; or are we children who want to be protected by … by whom? The church, the state, social media moguls?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Your last paragraph echoes my earlier response, and gets to the crux of this matter, philosophical debate aside.

The quality of comments flowing from KS articles are a reflection of their value.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago

Spent a couple of years in a job assessing paedophilic images and at times, even had to walk around with a very securely locked steel briefcase containing them.
Philosopher’s job is to present these types of dilemma that go near the edge of morality.
As another poster said, it’s far better if his students don’t know what he believes.
Since his subject area is involved in that very thing – challenging what is believed and making it hard for students to align with preconceived positions or the teacher’s own stance, in order to garner easy marks.
The university OTOH, is wise to -unobtrusively but assiduously- watch him.
If it seems like he has too much of a philosophical interest, they could assess him, in the way I was assessed to work with the stuff in the first place.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dumetrius
Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
9 months ago

Words have consequences, e.g. they can move the Overton Window as to what is potentially acceptable behaviour. E.g. Language has been used to move whole societies to behave genocidally. There is a spectrum of what speech is acceptable and what is not; I feel that the Professor fell on the wrong side on this occasion.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

That’s a good point. Not sure I agree though. To be honest, if we can’t refute this guys points on a topic like this without resorting to cancellation then we really are in a poor state.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

And we’d be in even worse shape if we were incapable of arguing with Nazis about the alleged benefits of their death camps.

Last edited 9 months ago by Paul Nathanson
LeeKC C
LeeKC C
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

This is what l tried to state in a previous post.

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago

I’m not sure what the full argument is around the unconscious violinist / abortion scenario, but what it would appear to lack on this reading is the set of human behaviours and incentives that lead a person to indulge the risk of it happening.

In the case of pregnancy – whether unwanted or not – the incentive is sex. Every adult human knows that pregnancy is the biological point of sex, and that sexual pleasure is the human incentive to do it. There is an obvious cause-effect relationship in which the risk of pregnancy (as those seeking pleasure would see it) is indelibly linked to sex.

Is there a similar backstory to the parasitic unconscious violinist? Perhaps it would be that music, which most humans love, could not be enjoyed without the risk of finding oneself nominated to act as host for the makers of music, whose art is so exhausting that they are in need of regular physical blood-sharing in order to keep producing music without which it would die out: then, in that case, the decision to uncouple from and kill such a parasite would indeed carry a severe moral implication that cannot simply be dismissed.

NB: this is not an argument against abortion: I am pro-choice myself. I’m just trying to adopt the philosophical principle that one should be able to construct an argument in defence of any position, irrespective of any personal bias or belief one already possesses.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
9 months ago

My feeling is that the perverts are out in force and trying (somewhat successfully) to get control over the safety mechanisms of society so that they can pursue their perversions freely. Talk of gender choice for youngsters and pseudo-philosophy on paedophilia are all part of the freedom/equality/be-kind/cancellation rhetoric they have weaponised.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

There have always been schools of philosophy exploring transgression. 100 years ago it was literary, pre-existential French philosophy with links with the Surrealists and an interest in Sade, Nietzsche and, thinking of George Bataille, other notorious historical figures like Gilles de Rais.
Flash forward 60 years and that tradition was more likely to be Queer theory but, I’m afraid, going some way beyond the concerns of feminist or post-feminist deconstruction. There, rather than remaining within the underground, some theory seemed to roll all too easily into issuing recommendations for cultural politics on such issues as intergenerational sex.
In such instances, one thinks of truisms such as that the entire pornography industry is built on the back of abused children become adult performers.

Andrew Stuart
Andrew Stuart
9 months ago

Guardrails. “In a society that values freedom of thought” isn’t a complete model of society. Society can also value enforced boundaries whose exact demarcation may be arbitrary (speed limits, age of consent etc) but work as highly visible limits. The professor is adept at balancing on building ledges, hopping and dancing there, calling the rails unnecessary for his demonstration, but for most people, who are clumsy and poor navigators, they are something to bounce off. This could be an argument to allow ‘experts’ the right to prance around out of bounds, but that hasn’t turned out so well recently, or ever.

Howard S.
Howard S.
9 months ago

Here in the States, our ruling Elite breathed a collective sigh of relief when Jeffrey Epstein, purveyor of underage flesh to these folks, left this mortal coil in a somewhat unique fashion in his prison cell in one of the most secure and surveilled prisons in our country. Not that any of them had anything to do with his demise, of course.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

“Some dispassionate types just find this sort of thing cool and edgy, independent of the emotional impact generated for others. Kershnar himself seems to be a big fan of the tactic. His published work includes moral defences … of anti-immigration policies”
What’s cool and edgy about this? It’s just common sense. We have a housing crisis, collapsing public services, and a C2DE sector engulfed in a severe cost of living crisis.

R MS
R MS
9 months ago

Perhaps the conclusion is that because such thought experiments proceed by logical extrapolation and argument by analogy maybe they are of limited assistance in testing moral reactions, because perhaps that is not how moral reactions to particular instances work in the first place.

What do the evolutionary psychologists say?

Thomas O'Carroll
Thomas O'Carroll
9 months ago

Novels can do this stuff much better, says Stock. Really? We often lose sight of the obvious and important fact that novels are fiction. They are made-up. If a writer’s research-free prejudices happen to be shared by the public, their work may well be baselessly hailed as somehow profound. Lolita is well written, but it is hardly the last word or the most realistic one on paedophilia. 

Paul T
Paul T
9 months ago

Ever since I was a child the question of “does a tree falling in a forest make a sound…” struck me as ridiculous. I am sure it gives people like Dr Stock a huge eye-roll whenever someone trots this infantile argument out, but that is the popular conception of philosophy (and so it is to those people that they are really speaking). Of course it does because in this universe where there must be air present and vibrations would therefore occur there would be a sound. A human hearing it does not grant those real world effects some kind of truth that absent a human would not exist. These childishly “philosophical” arguments are what lead philosophers to these stunningly stupid thought experiments; a deliberate bait-and-switch dressed up as “thinking”. The problem is that none of these so called thinkers ever include the “what would be the outcome of this thought experiment if somebody, a bad actor, with any particular set of background circumstances / genetics were to claim to understand this as real-life and so seek to inflict this on those with less power or understanding of their bad faith?” Philosophy stops at that point, throws its hands in the air and says “it wasn’t meant to be for real it was just a thought experiment, we cant help if the stupid and bad actors can’t differentiate between the abstract and reality”.
Where is the responsibility that should accompany this right / freedom to “think”?

Last edited 9 months ago by Paul T
Rohan Moore
Rohan Moore
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

You’re wrong about the tree, though. I don’t mean you’re wrong because of any particularly fancy philosophical talk. I mean from two robust lines of inquiry: first, it turns out, from our most reliable scientific theory — quantum mechanics — that the collapse of the wave function requires an ‘observer’. Second, because a ‘sound’ and a ‘tree’ are first and foremost social constructions. Both are entirely human-centric constructs; they’re like Java classes — meaningful only when instantiated to serve a user; absent the user, they’re a bunch of electrical charges.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  Rohan Moore

Doesn’t it come down to terms? Surely an air pressure wave still occurs as the tree thing falls (a tree is a social construct to us, but also a real thing that exists beyond our minds). If you define ‘sound’ as something heard, then no, there is no sound.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Rohan Moore

I’ve upvoted, though you could have kept it simpler.

The point, of course, is to get students to question the naive realism which many of them will bring with them to university.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Rohan Moore

You got a choice here:

Do the words we use actually latch on to some kind of reality? If they do, then a tree falling in a forest makes a sound whether there is someone to hear it or not. If they do not, then you just have an endless fantasy universe of ‘social constructions’ with no link to anything, and the very idea of doing science (or simply asking if it is cold outside) is a waste of time.

Why should the rest of us care about your social constructions?

Last edited 9 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Social constructions here are a bit of a red herring.

If there were no creatures with a sense of hearing, there would be no sounds. There would not even be silence. Waves in the air, and sounds, are not the same thing.

You can do the same thing for sight and colour.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

As I see it, that is a game of semantics. The word ‘sound’ as *we* understand it (which of course we could redefine in any way we wanted) signifies a particular physical phenomenon, which gives rise to a particular sensory experience. Since the two generally go together, the word in practice signifies both, together. There is certainly not an established distinction in the language between ‘sound’ (sensory experience with no accompanying physical phenomenon) and ‘vibration’ (physical phenomenon with no accompanying sensory experience). If you find it useful you can certainly point out that that word ‘sound’ has two different aspects of meaning, and you can discuss which aspect is the more relevant in some given context. But a flat claim that the sensory aspect is primary and the physical aspects is irrelevant by comparison does not reflect the way that language is actually used, IMHO. It is a word game.

There could be other interpretations of what you are saying. If you mean that in a world that did not contain sentient beings there would be no use for the concept of sound, you could be right, but, IMHO, profoundly uninteresting. If you mean that, effectively, there is no such thing as ‘reality’ and we must always think in terms of concepts interrelating with other concepts in a sentient mind, I would concede that that is a philosophically consistent attitude. But since it would be 100% unable to explain any regularities in the way those concepts interacted, again I cannot see what the point would be.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Find me a green light wave!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Not hard. A light quantum with wavelength of 520-565nm is green. At least according to the ordinary meanings of English language words. If you prefer a different and specialised interpretation of the word green you are welcome, but then you need to warn your listeners first.

OK, if you are an observer moving at close to the speed of light you will see that light quantum with a different wavelength, and hence a different colour. That would make the colour observer-dependent, but then I do not really think it is the theory of relativity you are talking about.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

According to the standard definitions of the English language, any light wave with a wavelength between 500 and 565nm is green.

We have two things: language, which is defined by usage in a language group (and which we are forced to use to discuss things) and an external reality, that the language is used to refer to. The relationship between the two is indeed not straightforward, and you can certainly discuss to what extent the concepts we use have an independent existence ‘out there’. A word like ‘beauty’ (some ancient philosophers notwithstanding) is probably defined pretty much by the language users, with no clear correspondent in reality. A word like ‘tree’ (whatever Rohan Moore says) is determined by external reality – any group of aliens that came to explore the earth would find the concept of a ‘tree’ to be useful in describing what they saw. ‘Green’ is in between. Essentially it is a subdivision of the electromagnetic spectrum (like ‘microwave’ or ‘soft X-ray’), defined according to how it is perceived in our sensory system. If there were no humans there would be no experience of ‘greenness’, and alien races would have no reason to subdivide the electromagnetic spectrum in the same way. Still, an alien with a dictionary would still be able to check the light frequencies and determine whether it was true that most (or all) leaves are green.

When we talk, we are generally using the words to talk about the world. And by normal English usage, it is true that when a tree falls in the forest there is a sound, even if there is no one there to hear it. We can also talk about the ontological status of words and concepts, but that is a different discussion, and requires special conventions and signposts to make that clear. Claiming in so many words that sounds (or trees) do not exist outside the heads of people talking about them is either simply wrong, or a rather tiresome form of solipsism.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

As I see it, that is a game of semantics.

It’s not, and it’s not merely trivial. It’s an introduction to the question of whether we see reality “as it is”, or whether what we take to be reality is (in part or in whole) a product of our senses and the structure of our understanding (or language).

All the discussion on here around whether gender is a binary or not comes down to this question. Is the gender binary something real “out there” or is it part of our humanity or society (or language) to interpret things in binary terms? Is it a given for all time, or is it a way of seeing things which is socially determined.

Last edited 9 months ago by David Morley
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

That is a worthwhile question – and no, I do not think we see reality ‘as it is’. Only we are condemned to discuss it using language, and language has some meanings that reflect a current model of the world and are defined by normal usage. And by that usage it is trivially obvious that if a tree falls in the forest it *does* make a sound, because that is how the word ‘sound’ is defined in English, and it has a clear counterpart in physics. That is what ultimately it comes down to – what do you mean by ‘sound’. If you want to discuss how well our model fits the reality ‘out there’ and how we know it, an example that comes down to a semantic definition does not seem to be a good place to start.

As for the gender binary, there is a fairly clear way of seeing it. Sex is clearly binary ‘out there’, in that humans and indeed most vertebrates clearly divide in two kinds of individuals with different average properties and reproductive roles. Gender is a social role, and as such is clearly mutable and socially determined, witness the fact that there has been societies with more than two genders, or with genders not strictly linked to biological sex. And words like ‘woman’ in practice mean both at the same time, since the two go together in the normal case. The fun thing is that it seems to be the trans people who believe in a rigid gender binary. The word ‘woman’ denotes a person with a female body, who identifies as female, who is socially accepted as a woman’, and who has the right to frequent women’s loos, sports teams, and prisons. The trans logic is that because they identify as women and should be socially accepted a women, *therefore* their bodies count as female, and they have an automatic the right to compete in women’s sports etc. as if ‘woman’ was a given all-or-nothing category. A more sensible attitude would be that we can accept, socially, that some people with male bodies count as female for the purpose of social interactions, pronouns etc. Whether they should also count as female for the purpose of sports, prisons, or membership of radical feminist conclaves is a separate decision, that does not have to go the same way.

If you find the concept confusing my best example is the word ‘mother’. I would hold that gene mothers surrogate mothers, birth mothers, adoptive mothers and stepmothers are all mothers, of a kind, even though there is no single thing that they all have in common apart from being female. It is just that each of them cover different parts of the concept of mother, and which of them are accepted as a mother depends on the context of the question.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

If you had no legs you couldn’t walk. If you were bald you couldn’t comb your hair And if your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle. Christ, the pointless wankery.

michael harris
michael harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Rohan Moore

‘The collapse of the wave function requires an observer’. How delightful that Bishop Berkely is supported from this (to him) unimaginable direction and across the abyss of time.

michael harris
michael harris
9 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

I must add that Berkely got out of his assertion of the non-existence of the tree by saying that it was God who saw and heard the fall of the tree far from human perception. Berkeley, after all, was a bishop.
If God is dead we are left with ‘anything goes’ and not just in moral matters.
As an aside… our sense of smell is much attenuated; our dogs are consumed by odours. We do not, unless very selfish, demean their interests.
Another aside… God is conceived in our system (if God is at all acknowledged) as creating the universe. In Hinduism Vishnu ‘preserves’ the world; more or less the work of Berkely’s God. Vishnu has been often incarnated to fight destructive powers and demons.
As a ‘thought experiment’ what if God were sleeping and Vishnu returned? Which forces or demons might Vishnu contend against? Nietzsche is dead; too late for cancellation. Other demons who seek to undermine the fragile hold of our shared world?
Any candidates for God’s wrath, my friends?
More urgently, what framework of belief might we find to replace the function of God in Berkely’s conception? Nothing we have tried until now seems to work.

Last edited 9 months ago by michael harris
Paul T
Paul T
9 months ago
Reply to  Rohan Moore

But we are not on the quantum level so that is an academic argument which has no real application to the lived world of humans on a human scale.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago
Reply to  Rohan Moore

A ‘sound’ and a ‘tree’ are first and foremost social constructions? No, they exist (and have always existed) apart from any human ideology, to say otherwise is ludicrously narcissistic. What drivel.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

that is the popular conception of philosophy 

Sure, but that’s more a reflection of Anglo-American philistinism than a failure on the part of philosophy.

Curious though: is it just too obvious to you that it does make a sound, or that it doesn’t?

Last edited 9 months ago by David Morley
Edward Seymour
Edward Seymour
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

And, hey presto, straight away you have unleashed a discussion surrounding a thought experiment. Which is exactly what the cancelled Prof was doing.

John Riordan
John Riordan
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

“Where is the responsibility that should accompany this right / freedom to “think”?”

There is no such responsibility. The freedom in question is an innate and essential component of a free society and is not to be qualified in any way, or at least not upon the basis you have attempted here. It is people’s actions that are subject to the strictures of consequence and responsibility. You should have learned this at school when asked if you’d stick your finger in the fire just because someone else told you to. This isn’t philosophy, and philosophy isn’t answerable for the occasional failure of any particular person to refuse to act on civilised principles.

Last edited 9 months ago by John Riordan
Paul T
Paul T
9 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

If the pen is mightier than the sword then you have proven yourself wrong.

William Miller
William Miller
9 months ago

Comments are interesting

Kate Madrid
Kate Madrid
9 months ago

This is all part of that wrong turn we took at Nominalism. With no level of metaphysical realism to work with, it really is all just opinion and consensus.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  Kate Madrid

Ah – but watch out. Here comes New Realism!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

“There is, for instance, an established tradition within applied ethics of coming up with counterintuitive conclusions.”
Thus Peter Singer.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
9 months ago

Reminds me of the time Tom Chivers wrote about intimate relations with an oven-ready chicken
https://unherd.com/2021/06/why-is-bestiality-so-disgusting/

Mathilda Eklund
Mathilda Eklund
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Thanks. That was well entertaining!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
9 months ago

Exactly, Kathleen, down with this sort of thing!

John Solomon
John Solomon
9 months ago

Careful now!

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago

“it was almost impossible to tell what he actually believed and what he didn’t”.
This is the mark of a good philosopher. The best philosophers not only understand what they believe and why, but what others believe and why, and can defend either. Socrates, often credited as the father of philosophy, was famously considered the wisest because of all men, only Socrates knew that he knew nothing with certainty. Descartes famously used a thought experiment that discarded all material sensory input and attempted to reason from first principles, famously declaring ‘I think therefore I am’, as his first principle. A good philosopher doubts everything, starting with himself, and can detach his personal views and personal life from his logic and reason. Indeed he or she can detach themselves from much of material reality. Some, like myself, come to this ability quite naturally, while others must train their minds rigorously to think this way. This is how philosophers can concoct bizarre scenarios far removed from anything that actually happens or that justify seemingly repugnant conclusions. They are detaching themselves from attachments to the material and considering only logic and reason. This is why philosophers seem ‘weird’. I’ve come to understand that most people have little to no ability to detach their personal selves in this fashion. The philosopher seems ‘slightly off’ because that’s the usual human reaction when we encounter something that looks human but exhibits traits or quirks that are outside of our expectations for human social behavior. They seem ‘alien’ because they are using an ability that is ‘alien’ to most of humanity. Whether logic and reason detached from material reality has any value is, well, a question for philosophers I suppose.

Y Way
Y Way
9 months ago

All other arguments aside, I do not recall discussing sexual references or fantasies in college – not in class anyway. Nor do I recall professors going on shows to discuss such matters. Well maybe profs researching human sexuality…but no one else.

Perhaps this was better.

On the matter specifically, a CHILD cannot know what harm is being done all the time.

I regret deeply much of the sexual activities I engaged in as a young person. Sex is exciting and fun when we are young, but it can also mask deep insecurities and be used to make oneself feel more desirable. But it does not actually help raise esteem. It can make it far worse.

When we are children and youthful, we do not know much. Protecting children is important. Where we draw the line between allowing them to grow and risk the pain of failure or to protect them is debatable.

But sexual intercourse with a young person can be life altering. It affects ones sense of self worth. It provides endorphins that can feel like love or something important when it is not real.

We owe children the right to be innocent of all that. There is plenty of time to be confused by sexual encounters.

Adults, who know more, should NEVER take advantage.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago

Great piece, beautifully enunciated, thanks.

Tend to agree with your characterisation of ‘dry and bloodless’ when it comes to academic philosophers, to which one might add pointless, even though I have a very ordinary advanced degree in same.

Curious to me in general philosophy was its archaic nature, and in the Philosophy of Science, how scientific practitioners parted ways with philosophers of science many centuries ago, now light-years apart and bridgeable only by time-travel, but the latter has just carried on completely unperturbed. Rather as Shakespearian literary theory has grown and grown, but long ago ceased to even bother with the text. Academia emptied of its genius.

I suppose all this digresses, but to me there’s a sad hollowness, in the midst of which KS’s awkward play at social relevance comes across as someone with aspergers trying to interest others in an incorporeal void. And then being astonished that the message had not only been heard, but accompanied by an incomprehensibly violent response. As though the dead had reached the living and found the latter to be truly frightening.

I hope that doesn’t seem too harsh.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrew Boughton
Matt S
Matt S
9 months ago

One of the most striking aspects of our modern cancel culture is the lack of consistency about which causes appear to enrage the public and which don’t. Perhaps the people that cancelled this guys career over a thought-crime would be interested to know that within the US there are 5 states where there is no statutory minimum age for marriage leading to levels of state-sponsored child abuse that would make most of our heads spin, especially my English one. From statistics produced by “Unchained At Last” between 2000 and 2018 around 300,000 minors were legally married in the US, at least 80% of which were between an adult and a child. That the State Capitol building in Sacramento doesn’t have a permanent military attachment to hold back the baying mob just shows how lopsided some debates can be. If these “cancellers” applied their collective bile to the real causes as opposed to a post that came up on facebook we might have a more functioning society than we do.

jason mann
jason mann
9 months ago

“Minor attracted persons” (MAPS) is the new term for child rapists. Carry on

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago

A sign of mature restraint is how we react to people who really piss us off

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago

In theory one can discuss something in the abstract. In practice what we have here is the the door being cracked and then slowly wedged open. I’d predict the pedos will be ‘out’ in about ten years. A new disease will be invented: pedophobia and it will be used the same way that ‘homophobia’ and now ‘transphobia’ are used to bludgeon people into silence.

David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago

Sounds like you are projecting. If any psychology savvy police officers monitor Unherd, you should perhaps be concerned.

Marissa M
Marissa M
9 months ago

I appreciate the role of a provocateur, occasionally playing it myself, however I think in society there is a fear that if it is spoken, it must follow. Bringing up horrific counter arguments to societal taboos opens the door to those things becoming more and more acceptable.

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  Marissa M

could be…then again there is the very strong, reliable, counterintuitive finding that countries with looser morals regarding pre marital sex, abortion, porn etc have far less abuse of women…….

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
9 months ago

Nabokov was never punished for writing Lolita, and the book got quite famous.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
9 months ago

I’m afraid that ALL of these people appear to be as mad as a box of soapy frogs, obsessed with mental contortions most people find incomprehensible, morally unacceptable and of no real-world importance.

Sack the whole pack of them and spend the money on something useful.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
9 months ago

Reading additional comments, I can only conclude that philosophers manifest a hypertrophied sense of reason.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

Well, hypothetically, I’m morally drawn to the supremacy of the Aryan Race, and wonder if you’d object to my debating of the pros and cons of deporting all black people and Jews “back to where they came from”?
Just hypothetically.

Pfft.
You cannot polish a t**d.

Charles de Batz
Charles de Batz
9 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

No, I’d want to see how the justification for the supremacy of the Aryan Race was reached.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago

Easy, just compare ‘Aryan’ societies with the rest. It’s really just that simple — would you rather live in Denmark or Djibouti? Germany or Gabon? Canada or Cameroon?

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago

See Hitler, Adolph. ‘Mein Kampf’.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

“None of this is to suggest that Kershnar should have been punished as he was. Distasteful as his general approach is, arguing for the permissibility of doing something is not the same thing as doing that thing yourself.” 
This is just wrong. He is giving succor to those that want to commit the act and need very little encouragement

Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
9 months ago

The problem is that all these “philosophers” are clearly, unambiguously WRONG, and therefore they should not be teaching in our universities.

B B
B B
9 months ago

Sounds like they found some thoughts on his computer. Research I’m sure.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago

I’m a big First Amendment guy, so if this Kershnar wants to publish his vile contortions of logic, then let him. But for f**k’s sake don’t tell me that this dirtbag is not a pedophile. His ‘arguments’ are all a load of pseudo-intellectual drivel made to justify his foregone conclusion. Contrarian, my ass.

Last edited 9 months ago by starkbreath
David Morley
David Morley
9 months ago
Reply to  starkbreath

I haven’t read him (I guess now I’m going to have to), but I assume he is a contrarian who is trying to unsettle our foregone conclusions.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

How about this: prohibitions against pedophilia, rape, robbery, murder and other ugly, destructive human behaviors are proof that we’ve somewhat evolved over the centuries even if we’re a long ways from fully complying with these norms. I don’t accept the ‘contrarian’ label, people pushing these kind of discussions are just arguing in defense of their own sick depravity. I don’t advocate censorship here, I support doing away with all the weasel worded defenses of this crap and calling it out for what it is.

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago
Reply to  starkbreath

Exactly and those that agree – we know what type of people they are

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago

Pedophiles and their ivory tower enablers.