Do You See the Logic?

Professor posted on his course website photograph of himself with scantily clad women. Not everyone saw how this would advance the study of philosophy.

February 24, 2012

Certain kinds of magazine covers feature prominent men with scantily clad women. Vincent F. Hendricks, a philosopher at the University of Copenhagen, discovered this week that many in his field (especially women) don't find that style appropriate for course websites.

The philosophy blogosphere debated in recent days (largely with negative conclusions) the photos that Hendricks posted of himself and some women for a logic course he is teaching at Copenhagen. He has since removed the photographs, but bloggers have posted cached versions online. One photograph may be seen at top left of this article, and others may be found here. (Hendricks also teaches at Columbia University and is editor of the sometimes-controversial journal Synthese.)

A post on the blog Feminist Philosophers said: "Wow. Just ... wow.... Now go put on your schoolgirl outfit and hand your manly logic teacher an apple. You are a sexy accessory to his awesomeness."

So many people posted responses that the site announced that they were becoming difficult to handle and discussion was closed. The intensity of the reaction in part reflects longstanding debates in philosophy about the treatment of women in the discipline.

One commenter wrote: "I think this is one of those things, where you see it … and suddenly you think the interesting question is not, why are there so few women in philosophy, but rather, why are there so many of you still here?" Another wrote: "I think we can all agree that this is shameful. Let’s not waste space talking about that. What can we do about it? How can we turn it into an opportunity to educate men and make the profession more appealing to women? People who have so far denied that there is a problem are *compelled* to say that, in at least this case, there is a huge problem. This seems like a great opportunity to educate. Let’s not waste it."

When some speculated that perhaps the professor was influenced by sexy European advertising, European scholars rejected that as an excuse. One wrote: "Yes, we in Europe have some 'sexy commercials.' But NOT for universities, NOT for education, NOT for logic."

On his website, Hendricks has posted the following note about the photographs, which no longer are found there: "Some recent pictures on my website have caused some debate. The intention was that the pictures, as a cover on a forthcoming magazine, might be used to view logic from a somewhat humorous and untraditional perspective appealing to larger audience which the magazine covers. However it had the opposite effect offending various parties in the philosophical community. I truly apologize for this and I stand completely corrected. I have removed the pictures from the website."


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