The Magazine

The Professor’s Tale

What is it like to be a man in philosophy?

Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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This is a story about campus sexual harassment, involving a female graduate student in philosophy and a prominent male philosophy professor at an Ivy League university. Except that the alleged events didn’t take place on a campus or anywhere near one. Nor did the alleged events meet any legal definition of harassment, since the professor in question wasn’t the student’s professor, or her dean or her employer, and she was pursuing her doctoral degree at a completely different institution. But there sure was plenty of sex: in hotel rooms, her apartment, and other venues.

Jason Seiler

Jason Seiler

And there was also plenty of ill feeling after she discovered that the professor, who, she said, specialized in “moral philosophy” and “global justice”—and whom she called “my global justice hero” in an unsigned online article—turned out to be perhaps somewhat less than “moral.” It emerged that he allegedly had quite a few other girlfriends with whom he rendezvoused in other hotel rooms in cities around the world. Those amorous adventures could be said to be “global,” all right, although perhaps not “justice” as many people—and especially the aggrieved author of the online article—commonly understand it.

The article, which appeared on April 26 in the online magazine Thought Catalog, was titled “I Had An Affair With My Hero, A Philosopher Who’s Famous For Being ‘Moral.’ ” The author, who wrote as Anonymous, did not identify either the alleged two-timing professor or his institution, but a two-second Google of “Ivy League global justice” immediately yields a likely name. The piece circulated widely, in part because it makes for entertaining reading. Here are some excerpts:

When I met him at a conference I didn’t think he’d remember me, so I was surprised when he sent me an email, prompting a regular exchange between us. He told me he’ll be coming to visit the city where I lived and invited me to his hotel. We talked for hours about philosophy and shared personal anecdotes. .  .  . Towards the end of his visit, he gave me a rose, took me to a concert, and dinner. I took it as a sign, and, when we returned to his hotel, I declared I was staying. When I asked him if he had protection, he replied that he hasn’t had sex for many years, and that I shouldn’t worry about it.

That was an easy sell!

The second time he visited City X, he opened the door to his hotel room naked.

The things that go on in hotel rooms!

The third time he was visiting City X, we decided he would stay in my apartment. While we were lying on my couch, I expressed astonishment about being with him, my global justice hero, and told him about how I worried that someone as amazing as him would already have someone in his life. He admitted he’s been with the same woman for several decades, before I was even born. I was shocked by this revelation. How could he extol honesty, whilst omitting this crucially relevant information? I was in tears. He held me in his arms and told me that he’s fallen in love with me. He assured me that his relationship with his partner has now become a platonic sibling-type, that she would be happy for him that he can have “love and romance” in his life. 

Uh-huh. Anonymous must have had her earbuds plugged into Nirvana when her mother warned her that a man will say anything to a woman to get her into bed.

She reported that she began to get suspicious when the professor declined to leave his partner in order to be with her—or even, in fact, to tell his partner that she existed. Then she found out about the “22-year-old virgin” who’d been his former secret mistress, plus the “PhD student in India, who wears a sexy negligee,” and the “other young female scholars that he hosts in his apartment.” Anonymous concluded sadly: “He will continue giving his lectures about justice around the world, pretending not to eat meat for moral reasons, inviting young women to his hotel room for philosophical discussions, and I’m just among the other young women scorned by the moral philosopher, who devotes his life to justice.”

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