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Kathleen StockRoyIntPhilosophy / YouTube

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January 12, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The British philosopher Kathleen Stock was recently awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her work in education. She is a “gender critical feminist,” meaning that she is skeptical about some of the claims and proposals of the transgender lobby from a feminist perspective.

Specifically, she wants to preserve at least some women-only spaces, and recently opposed changes to the U.K. Gender Recognition Act which would have removed the need for medical diagnosis or treatment, or prolonged legal process, for people to change the sex recorded on their birth certificates. These legal changes were, in fact, shelved: The government acknowledged the force of objections.

Stock is a philosophy academic, and a group of academic philosophers have protested her honor in an open letter. I am reminded of a famous pamphlet written by the Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, “Mr. Truman’s Degree,” in which she objected to President Truman being given an honorary degree by Oxford University in 1956, because of his decision to drop nuclear bombs onto Japanese civilians.

Anscombe argued that the bombing of civilians is never justifiable. The philosophers critical of Stock, however, do not present any philosophical arguments about transgender matters. They have ganged up simply to denounce her. The claims being made in the letter are not about the truth or falsity of her (or anyone’s) position on sex and gender, but are about the harm they say she has done, and about how their own letter does not infringe her academic freedom.

Both questions are relevant, and even philosophical in nature, but there is something very odd about a group of philosophers gathering to condemn a fellow philosopher for holding certain views without regard for the cogency of the views themselves. Surely, that must come into it. Surely, if Stock is correct, then any possible harmful fall-out from publicizing these opinions should be managed in some way other than by publicly shaming her? It is almost as if these critics are not confident about the force of their arguments, but hope to win the point by weight of numbers, joined with the fashionable nature of their own position.

What is this claim that her views are harmful? The petitioners say that her “discourse” served “to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo.”

I imagine that what they mean by “life-saving medical treatments” is the claim that young people who are delayed in their “transition” may commit suicide: an inflammatory claim which, as I have discussed before on LifeSite, has been removed from the website of the National Health Service. It is not at all clear why anything Stock has written might encourage harassment. Her maintenance of the “patriarchal status quo” is an interesting item on the charge sheet; I’d be interested to know how a feminist does this, but like the other accusations there is no explanation or justification. They are all just bald assertions.

Equally sketchy is the argument the petitioners use regarding academic freedom. They write:

We do not say Stock should not be permitted to say the things she does. We believe in the principles of academic freedom, and note that objecting to someone being lauded or honored for their speech simply does not conflict with those principles. Academic freedom comes with responsibility; we should not use that freedom to harm people, particularly the more vulnerable members of our community. Conflating concern about the harms of Stock’s work with threats to academic freedom obfuscates important issues.

One question this raises is: What exactly is this open letter intended to achieve? If they have decided that it would look bad to call for Stock to be sacked, what are they asking for? On the face of it, nothing: The letter is a pure act of virtue-signaling, in which signatories assert that they “stand against” her actions and “denounce transphobia in all its forms.”

For all that, this is clearly an attempt to humiliate Stock, and to make her the kind of person respectable institutions want to have no dealings with — as has happened to so many people who have dared to question the dogmas of wokery.

It is an attack on academic freedom in another way as well. They say Stock should be condemned for supporting a law which slows “transitioning” down because this is harmful. The recent Bell judgement in the U.K. indicated ways in which failing to slow down “transitioning” can be harmful: leading to lost childhoods and ruined lives. It is, from any point of view, a controversial matter: something which must be discussed. For the partisans of one side of such an issue to demand that no discussion take place because discussion is harmful is precisely an attack on the freedom necessary, not just for the academy, but for society as a whole.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.