Helen Pluckrose

The trial of Peter Boghossian

When James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and I spent a year writing nonsense academic papers on topics such as ‘dog-park rape culture’ and ‘fat bodybuilding’ and submitting them to journals known for producing a similar standard of ‘scholarship,’ one question came up repeatedly: ‘What are they going to do to Peter?’ James and I were relatively safe because neither of us work in a university. We anticipated smear pieces and online abuse which is unpleasant, but ultimately survivable. Peter though, was much more vulnerable. Portland State University (PSU), where he works, is notorious for its Social Justice culture, its student protests and its Antifa presence. The surrounding city frequently features political protests and clashes between far-right and far-left groups that the mayor and local police have struggled to control. Portland is so infamous for its ideological eccentricities and extremes that it has inspired a hit comedy show, Portlandia. In the middle of this ideological volcano is professor Peter Boghossian, the philosopher who made his name with street epistemology, a Socratic method of engaging people with unsubstantiated beliefs. Street epistemology makes no assertions but encourages people to question their convictions and consider what evidence they have for them and whether their reasoning is sound. In keeping with this, Peter has regularly invited people with whom he strongly disagrees to have conversations with him and has advocated for the inclusion of even the ugliest ideas into the arena for debate. In today’s political climate, this has, of course, been perceived as both wicked and dangerous. Even before we revealed our year-long exposure of academic grievance studies, Peter experienced an alarming amount of hostility on campus. He found abusive notes stuck to his office door, spurious complaints were repeatedly made about him and his photograph was defaced with profanity and Nazi swastikas. In person, he has been shouted at, followed, threatened and spat upon and consequently requires bodyguards at events he attends.

Why, then, some might ask, did Peter take part in this probe? If he was already subject to so much hostility, abuse and threats, why would he intensify this by challenging Social Justice scholarship? The simple answer? Because it matters.

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