Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Batman post

I want to follow up STBJ's post with a couple quick points of my own. I continue to be disappointed in Leiter's stance concerning the publius outing. I recognize that Leiter has reason to be sensitive, since he seems to be a lightning rod for vicious, personal, anonymous criticism.*

Leiter continues to defend Whelan's outing of publius, on the grounds that publius had attacked Whelan several times. But it seems to me that whether the attacks were fair and whether the perpetrator can be held accountable for them, are far more important than whether the attacks were perpetrated under a pseudonym. And I think it's clear that publius's attack on Whelan was fair, and that publius himself can be held accountable in spite of the pseudonym. And what seems to be falling through the cracks in this discussion is that publius's attack on Whelan was not publius's. Publius quotes and provides links to two other critical posts, one from Volokh and one from The Anonymous Liberal. It was Volokh who criticized Whelan's point, and The Anonymous Liberal who called Whelan a hack; publius merely acknowledged that Volokh and A.L. were right. So, why out publius, and not The Anonymous Liberal? (Volokh, of course, blogs under his own name.)

In comments here, Jamie rightly points out that anonymity and pseudonymity often cloak abuse, and Leiter complains that such abuse is so common that it contravenes any proposed norm in favor of cloaked speech. I don't see it. I think we can maintain a nuanced view according to which there is no protection for cloaked speech that is also abusive, while simultaneously recognizing the right to privacy and autonomy for non-abusive anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers.

--Mr. Zero

*Part of that is, I think, his own doing. He does not tend to take criticism well, even when it isn't especially vicious. I suspect this, in conjunction with his position as editor of the PGR, makes him an attractive and amusing target for bullies. When I was a kid, I got some good advice about how to deal with bullies: don't be a fun target for bullies. If you're not fun to pick on, bullies won't pick on you.

44 comments:

Matthew Pianalto said...

One concern I have is that this talk of "protection" is a non-starter unless there are real protections for pseudonymous bloggers who have really compelling (safety) reasons for doing so in the more or less Hobbesian state of nature that is the blogosphere.

If there's a "right to privacy" that attaches to pseudonymous blogging, what's the penalty for violating that right? Poo-pooing on outers isn't going to get us very far. (Maybe I'm wrong about this?) And so I stick with my practical claim that whatever the "ethics" of blogging might be, anyone who chooses to blog pseudonymously had better watch his or her back: it's dangerous out there...What else can one do? (Would Publius win a lawsuit against Whelan?)

Popkin said...

"whether the attacks were fair and whether the perpetrator can be held accountable for them, are far more important than whether the attacks were perpetrated under a pseudonym. And I think it's clear that publius's attack on Whelan was fair, and that publius himself can be held accountable in spite of the pseudonym."

I don't really have set views about this whole issue, but I have some reservations about this claim. If you're suggesting that it would okay to out someone if their attacks on you were unfair, well you're going to have to leave it up to individuals to decide for themselves whether the attacks they are subjected to are fair, and obviously people will have a tendency to find such attacks unfair. It also seems clear that someone using a pseudonym can't be held responsible to the same extent that they could be otherwise (e.g. what they say on-line can't have any influence on their personal or professional life).

I wonder if there isn't an issue about the disparity betwen Whelan and Publius. Since Whelan is using his real name and Publius wasn't, then as a result of their on-line argument Whelan is vulnerable to consequences that Publius isn't. In general, one might think that there's something fundamentally unfair about attacking someone by name while using a pseudonym (by using a pseudonym you're ensuring that the playing field isn't level). Just a thought. And of course this wouldn't apply to arguments between people who are both using pseudonyms.

diomedea exulans said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mr. Zero said...

Dear diomedea exulans,

I deleted your comment. It's part of our comment-acceptance policy to reject comments that mention specific people, so I shouldn't have approved it. Your welcome to resubmit a nicer version if you like.

diomedea exulans said...

I apologize for that. I was in a cynical mode and let that get the best of me. Correction accepted and appreciated, especially in light of the fact that my comment was most likely false.

However, I stand behind the general idea that anonymity and pseudonymity aare an important protection in the social world as well as the political.

This kind of protection always bothers those who feel they have power to dish out retribution, and even with anonymity there is often retribution when it is possible (such as "unmasking").

While I do agree that some folks get out of line with their protected criticism (as I did a moment ago), it seems that putting up with some of it (and policing and removing others) is worth the trouble it causes us. As we have also just witnessed, there are some controls for it.

But if we do away with it completely we are in danger of a kind of social oligarchical fascism (I can't think of a better or more socially acceptable term at the moment - sorry) where everyone in a position of weakness needs to walk on eggshells around those in power out of fear of retribution.

This is, as I understand, what tenure is supposed to prevent.

Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I just don't believe that philosophers are magnanimous enough to really allow a "level playing field" with all critics, despite our hyper-rational facade. This might be more clear if you consider criticizing an individual who ends up being on a search committee. We are human, and despite our best efforts to not allow these things to affect our judgments, they often do. These protections are precisely the tools the weak use in order to level that playing field a bit.

Anonymous said...

I agree with diomedia exulans that power disparity and fear of retribution are the usual motives for using a pseudonym or blogging anonymously. Those in power dislike the tactic simply because it nullifies a tool that they wield regularly and prefer to have at their disposal: I am x [someone who is more powerful than you] and you are y [someone who is less powerful than me], therefore I will punish you for your effort to speak truth to power. Philosophers are not immune to wielding power arbitrarily (and punishing those who do not fall in line with their edicts). Unmasking an anonymous or pseudonymous blogger who speaks truth to power is just another way of restoring the status quo ante: a world in which power disparities and fear of retribution chill free speech and criticism.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous 3:14 almost completely with one reservation (and question). If I understand it correctly, publius (unlike the other guy who got outed), has power. So publius did not choose a pseudonym from fear of retribution like losing tenure, etc. I thought one of publius' chief reasons for staying pseudononymous was for pedagogical purposes. What do you guys think about that--is pedagogy a good reason to mask your online views? I'm actually tempted to think yes, but I'd like to hear some other opinions.

Anonymous said...

I think I just confused publius and hilzoy. Scratch that. But I'm still interested in whether pedagogy is a good reason for hilzoy to use a pseudonym.

Anonymous said...

Testing. First time posting on a blog. Ever. Ph.D. graduate, and without revealing too much, I came from the department from hell. Where can I vent about such a thing and get advice to help the others who are still enslaved?

Anonymous said...

9:16, would you please reveal your identity? This is your department chair blogging. I suspect that you are [name], but before I block your scholarship renewal and force you to drop from the program, I'd like to get confirmation on your identity. You can also confirm your identity to me off-line and then I'll "out" you the next time I catch you criticizing your saintly department from heaven.

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd say this, but I think Leiter's right on. Anonymity and psuedonymity are fine, but so is calling someone out who's hidden behind either of them.

Mr. Zero said...

anon 1:25,

You don't think it depends on what they're hiding from?

Popkin said...

Can we at least agree that levelling personal attacks while using a pseudonym is unseemly? I don't think there's anything wrong with criticizing someone's arguments while using a pseudonym (after all, the person whose arguments you criticize is in a position to respond to your reasoning). But to attack someone personally in such a way that might affect their reputation just seems unfair to me, given that you're immune to similar attacks. (None of that touches on when exactly it might be acceptable to out someone as Whelan did, though).

I'm also not sure I buy the repeated claims that more good than harm comes from anonymous posting. Surely no one has compared the amount of useful posting to the amount of vile useless posting that goes on on-line.

Mr. Zero said...

Can we at least agree that levelling personal attacks while using a pseudonym is unseemly?

I agree with that.

Surely no one has compared the amount of useful posting to the amount of vile useless posting that goes on on-line.

I don't think you totally meant that literally, but I don't know if it's just the amounts. I mean, 4chan alone could tip the scales. You'd have to find a way to figure in quality, and I totally have no suggestions. But I think this blog is a net positive (if I say so myself), and I think it would be pretty unwise for me to be doing this under my own name. And I think Obsidian Wings is one of the best blogs going.

Anonymous said...

We could compare having a pseudonym to having tenure. Both protect intellectual freedom, or the expression of ideas without fear of reprisal.

Many of the comments on here seem to imply that there is something prima facie wrong with being able to have an opinion without taking the "responsibility" of potential consequences.

But we all acknowledge, in the case of tenure, that people having the ability to express their ideas without fear of reprisal, is a social good that warrants putting aside the particularities of individual fairnesses or unfairnesses.

Why can't we say the same thing about the right to remain pseudynomous? The obligation not to unmask someone needn't be understood in terms of obligations to a particular individual, rather it is an obligation we have in virtue of living in a free society.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

This is anon who just compared pseudonymity with having tenure.

In response to myself :),one might think that the right to express oneself without fear of reprisal must be earned and vetted as it is in the case of the tenured professor.

But I wonder if this is the right way to think about who should get such a right.

Anonymous said...

The better way would be to shame the powerful for their reprisals against the weak. But that almost never works. The powerful have no shame. Take Ward Churchill for example..guy wrote some terrible things, upset a lot of people, had the supposed protection of tenure and CU Boulder president and a faculty review committee were able to revoke his tenure for problems with his scholarship. No amount of shaming works (see previous thread concerning the silence of many CU Boulder faculty, including members of the philosophy department). Tenure is no protection against powerful vindictive administrators or the silent majority of faculty who are by their inaction complicit in the tenure revocations of their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Sorrt to be late here...trying to catch up: How exactly was the identity of the anon blogger discovered? Did someone obtain IP records from the host server, or did the blog's author also own the site? Even with an IP address, you could ascertain a general location, even a building, but without help from the institution's IT dept, how could you positively match up an IP address with a faculty office?

Now, if the anon. blogger entered his real email address in order to post, well, then he's a fool, if he truly wanted to stay anonymous. However, it would still seem to be a breach of contract to ask for one's email address under assurances of non-disclosure, only to later reveal that person's identity. Could be legal recourse.

Popkin said...

As I read this over again, the last thing Mr. Zero says sounds right to me: "I think we can maintain a nuanced view according to which there is no protection for cloaked speech that is also abusive, while simultaneously recognizing the right to privacy and autonomy for non-abusive anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers."

Generally speaking, there's nothing inherently wrong with not using your real name on-line (I almost never do). But, I take it that the real issue raised by the incident in question is when is it okay to out someone as Whelan did. Mr. Zero says there should be "no protection for cloaked speech that is also abusive" and I agree. More specifically, I would add that there should be no protection for someone who levels personal attacks (using the target's real name) while using a pseudonym (because, as I said before, it's fundamentally unfair).

So, I think I would tentatively endorse the view that if someone is attacking you personally while using a pseudonym then you'd be within your rights by outing them (and the person levelling those personal attacks certainly has no business complaining). Whether that would justify Whelan's actions is another question. But I think we should grant that Leiter might have a point (and by the way, I don't think it matters whether Publius was levelling his own personal attacks or simply repeating those levelled by others).

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

I want to make a quick point that I thought about adding in my original post, but ultimately left out. And that point is as much as we want to talk about the responsibilities of pseudonymous bloggers and blogging, we often neglect that even those blogging under their real names have responsibilities too.

So, following up on some points Popkin has made, I think leveling personal attacks, whether using a pseudonym or using one's real name, is unseemly full-stop. Too often there is a lack of engagement on substantive points in the blogosphere because points get lost in needless name-calling, willfully uncharitable readings, or death-match style philosophical aggression.

Why these sorts of actions are permissible and beyond reproach just because someone uses their real name and not a pseudonym is beyond me...

diomedea exulans said...

There's a lot of posting here with which I agree, but I have one confusion.

I'm not sure that I'm clear on the ethical difference between a personal attack and (I suppose) a professional attack.

I do understand the difference between a fair and legitimate "attack" based on evidence and reasoning and which is germane to the question at hand, and those which are not.

I take it by "personal attacks" we have so far meant something like "cheap shots" which are intended to function as or like ad hominem arguments. These are bad.

I think there certainly is room for attacking an individual's character when there is evidence and reasoning involved and the issue is somehow germane to the discussion.

I think there is room for this whether identities are hidden or not.

We are, at the moment, discussing the appropriateness of certain actions one might take, and it seems like we are doing so in a moral mode. Let's say I have been convinced by arguments that action X is wrong. In this case, would it be unseemly to carry through the rather obvious inference and announce that a particular perpetrator of X is immoral (or bad, or a certain kind of terrible person, etc.), provided that there aren't serious questions about the evidence for the perpetrator's Xing? Does revealing my identity change the legitimacy with which I may make these claims? It seems that it shouldn't, but I'm not an ethicist (for a general lack of aptitude).

If I'm right about this, then maybe I'm just seconding STBJD's view that it is the nature of the attack itself that makes it inappropriate rather than the hidden identity of the assailant.

From this perspective, it does make such attacks appear cowardly and cruel, and it would be nice for the public opinion of the assailant's character to suffer appropriately from these actions.

It simply does not follow that we should never engage in anonymous criticism of a "personal" nature, or that anybody who does so must reveal themselves. It does suggest, however, that unmasking might be an appropriate reprisal for inappropriate personal attacks, but I'm not sure about that (nor about who gets to draw the lines, etc.).

But then again, maybe I completely misunderstand the significance of "personal"?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:32 said: I would add that there should be no protection for someone who levels personal attacks (using the target's real name) while using a pseudonym (because, as I said before, it's fundamentally unfair).

So...why should a conflict between the two be resolved by outing the anon blogger rather than the other way around, e.g., give a silly nickname to the person using her real name? That is, why should the real-name user's choice to use her real name trump the other's choice of using a pseudonym? Both involve the same choices: Is it morally suprerior to choose to use one's real name? If not, then what's unfair about the situation (again, a result of two persons making their own free choices)?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:25 said: How exactly was the identity of the anon blogger discovered?

Exactly! You have to jump through high legal hurdles to extract this info from ISPs, blogging sites (notably Google), etc. So unless the "anon" blogger registered her real email address (not smart), this is a difficult thing to discover. Right? Or am I missing something?

Mr. Zero said...

How exactly was the identity of the anon blogger discovered?

I was sort of hoping that people would look it up. Publius was not a commenter on Whelan's blog, and Whelan did not discover publius's identity via email blunder or IP lookup. Someone who knew publius's real name told Whelan what it was, and Whelan published it.

Popkin said...

STBJD, I think you're right that "too often there is a lack of engagement on substantive points in the blogosphere because points get lost in needless name-calling, willfully uncharitable readings, or death-match style philosophical aggression." But I don't think it follows that targeting someone's character is always inappropriate.

Anon 8:20: I don't know if it's "morally superior to choose to use one's real name"; all I'm saying is that if there's someone who blogs using their real name then someone who uses a pseudonym shouldn't attack that individual personally. That is, I don't think it would be reasonable for the anonymous individual to say "if X didn't want their reputation tarnished by anonymous posters then X shouldn't have used his real name."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Zero. The mystery gets, um, more mysterious.

Anonymous said...

Popkin said: I don't think it would be reasonable for the anonymous individual to say "if X didn't want their reputation tarnished by anonymous posters then X shouldn't have used his real name."


Your phrasing implies that X can reasonably *want* his reputation tarnished by non-anon posters, right? Otherwise, "by anonymous posters" is a red herring and can be left out of the claim.

Now then, if the issue is really about having X's reputation tarnished, then it seems reasonable to suggest that X should not post under his real name, which both holds the opportunity of glory and also the risk of being personally attacked. If X can't take the criticism or it's not obvious that X, and not his critic, is correct, then X chose poorly in blogging under his real name. (That's exactly what the cover of anonymity is for.)

If, on the other hand, the issue is not with tarnishing X's reputation but by having it done by anon bloggers, versus real-name bloggers, then it *does* become an issue of whether real-name bloggers are morally superior. So far, no one has explained why a real-name blogger ought not be attacked by an anon blogger.

Popkin said...

Anon 8:51, I've suggested that an anon blogger ought not to personally attack a real-name blogger because there's a basic unfairness. I don't think the question of whether it's "morally superior" to use your real name or remain anonymous is relevant here. I think people have every right to make that decision for themselves. But, if you've chosen to remain anonymous I think it's unfair of you to personally attack someone who has chosen to use their real name.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Popkin, but *why* is it unfair? If not because one is morally superior, then what? That's the explanation that's been missing in this discussion.

Mr. Zero said...

anon 9:04,

Did you ever hear the expression "drag [one's] name through the mud"? You can't do that to someone if you don't know her name. You can if you do, though.

Popkin said...

Uh, Anon 9:04, I've explained at least twice above why I think it's unfair. It concerns the disparity between the two parties: if you use a pseudonym and personally attack someone using their real name then you're subjecting that individual to harm that you're not vulnerable to . . . It's like a large person beating up someone half his/her size, or a professional boxer beating up someone who doesn't know how to fight, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

Right, Popkin and Mr. Zero, but you forget that the real-name blogger willingly and freely steps into the virtual ring against unidentified combatants, some of whom will be names and others not. So this is a risk they've at least implicitly consented to; therefore, there shouldn't be issues in fairness or disparity of power.

For the record, I'd tend to agree that there's something not right with anonymously making personal or otherwise unwarranted attacks on real-name authors. The difficulty is in explaining why this is so.

For instance, could an anon poster ever criticize a real-name author reasonably? If so, when does that line get crossed, i.e., what counts as an attack that should not be protected by a veil of anonymity?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand this alleged "disparity between two parties" either. Typically, the blogger using his or her real name (call this person A) is a somebody in the field, i.e., tenured or rising star. And the anonymous respondent, especially one who is highly critical, is one of us garden-variety philosophers (call this person B). So who stands to lose more in that match up? The small-time philosopher, that is, B!

There are many reasons why this would be a reasonable concern: B could later apply for a job in A's department; B could submit a paper that is reviewed by A; B's criticism could be politically incorrect but nonetheless sound, which invites vicious, ad hominem counterattacks; B may simply be a private person who still deserves to be heard (unless someone can explain why one ought to blog only under one's real name); and A could be a pompous blowhard who deserves a public thrashing. Any other reasons?

This is to say that there's likely no parity or power balance even if two interlocuters used their real names, so why pretend it's a reason to prohibit anonymous attacks?

Popkin said...

Anon 10:32: the idea that a real-name blogger has "implicitly consented" to personal attacks by anonymous bloggers is pretty implausible. Maybe he should reasonably expect such attacks, but that hardly justifies them. (Perhaps I ought to reasonably expect to have my car stolen if I park it in a certain neighbourhood, but that doesn't make it okay for someone to steal it).

Anon 1:38: I've only said attacks of a personal nature are unfair; and I didn't say they're unfair because the two parties wouldn't be completely equal in terms of their respective "power," but because the anonymous blogger is completely invulnerable to the type of attack they're levelling at the person in question.

Anonymous said...

Popkin, good point about the difference between consenting and expecting. However, note that stealing cars is an illegal or otherwise proscripted activity, whereas blogging anonymously is not, perhaps with the exception of hate speech and the usual exclusions to the First Amendment.

All things considered, I think I have to side with the other anon posters here. You previously said "It concerns the disparity between the two parties", and you did limit it to personal attacks. But that qualifications seems to be unjustified: if disparity (that is, difference in power) is the source of injustice, then it is also a fair complaint anytime an anon blogger responds to a real-name blogger.

So I think you still have some work to do: You'll need to explain why this disparity is unfair only when it involves personal attacks as opposed to other communications.

It seems that one can make the stronger argument that there's always an unfair disparity when replies are made by anon bloggers to real-name bloggers, even if they are not personal attacks. (That's why this site had tried to make all posters sign in, and many other sites still require it, right?) But I would argue that there's never an *unfair* disparity, though disparities exist.

Popkin said...

Anon 9:47, I believe I've already explained why I think personal attacks are unfair in particular. When an anonymous blogger criticizes the argument of some named individual, that individual can respond by criticizing the arguments of the anonymous blogger (so there's no problem). When an anonymous blogger levels personal attacks that threaten the named individual's reputation (in such a way that his/her professional or personal life might be impacted), that individual cannot respond by returning personal attacks that threaten the anonymous blogger's reputation.

Anonymous said...

Popkin:...and why is that unfair? Is it fair that we fight wars in which our enemies are vastly outmatched? By what principle ought fairness be thought to include the ability to retaliate in kind? If we see a vulnerability in an enemy's defenses, ought we create the same hole in ours?

You keep asserting that it's unfair, but you never properly explain WHY it is unfair. Is the answer so obvious (to you) that it needs no defense? If that's the case, I'm sorry to badger you. But at least some respondents here seem to want more than assertions but an actual defense.

If you can't give a defense and would like to reverse your position, that's fine; no dishonor in that. Just say so, since it's starting to feel like we're running in circles.

Mr. Zero said...

Dear 10:30,

I really don't get what's hard to understand. When you post something in your own name, you are linked to that posting by name. When you are criticized under your own name, you are linked by name to the criticism. When the critic uses her name, so is she. But anonymity allows the critic to shield herself from association with it, and therefore from responses to it. This seems especially vicious when the criticism is about the person, rather than the point the person was making. You make a douchy point in your own name, and your out there as the douche. You make a douchy point anonymously, and nobody knows who the douche is.

This "shield" effect comes in degrees--I'm less shielded than you are. But it's still there. You don't know who's writing this, after all.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero, you're making the same mistake Popkin is: you're merely explaining what goes on in the situation that you find offensive, but you haven't said *why* it is wrong.

Further, your last reply suggests that it's still unfair if the anon blogger makes a valid, non-personal attack, but perhaps less so. This seems incorrect, in that it may imply that no one should ever blog anonymously against a real-name blogger: why should the real-name blogger unilaterally create an obligation for the anon blogger to act in a certain way?

As for your last comment about a "shield", that is an apt analogy, for it is the real-name blogger that relinquishes her shield by her own free choice. You would have it that her decision binds a respondent to drop his shield as well? How is that fair?

Mr. Zero said...

your last reply suggests that it's still unfair if the anon blogger makes a valid, non-personal attack, but perhaps less so.

I don't see why. If the attack is on point, it's the point that matters. If it gets personal, it's personal.

I mean, it seems to me that there's an asymmetry in the relationship, and this asymmetry generates unfairness with respect to personal attacks but not with respect to attacks that are "on-point." It seems to me that it's more unfair to level a personal attack if you don't reveal which person it is who levels the attack. If you don't see the asymmetry, or don't see why it's unfair, I don't know what to tell you. Perhaps you could explain why you think it's fair.

Popkin said...

I've said that a personal attack by an anonymous blogger is unfair because he/she is subjecting the named blogger to harm that he/she is totally invulnerable to. That's as basic an explanation of why some practice is unfair as it's possible to give (so it doesn't make any sense to ask "but why is that unfair?"). What more do you want? What would a more basic explanation of why some practice is unfair possibly look like?

Anonymous said...

I've said that a personal attack by an anonymous blogger is unfair because he/she is subjecting the named blogger to harm that he/she is totally invulnerable to.

Finally, *this* is a reason why it might be considered unfair. But this reason still is not a very good one, since the principle behind it -- that one should not harm another in ways that one is not vulnerable to -- is suspect.

If we followed such a principle, we couldn't, say, complain about a business, because (assuming we don't own a business) that business could not also complain about ours, since we don't have one. You could not sue Donald Trump for $10M if he harmed you, because he could not do the same to you (assuming you're a poor schmuck like me).

At any rate, this is the last post I'll make about this. It seems that we (you) are not doing philosophy here but merely asserting possibly-commonsensical claims but nevertheless uncritical claims that I'm not sure stands up to analysis. Generally, Mr. Zero is more rigorous than that, and I'm not familiar with Popkin's record, so I was just hoping to keep us all honest here.

Popkin said...

Anon 9:48: by "finally" I assume you mean "yet again" because I made the exact same claim at least twice above (see June 17, 9:56 and 7:47).

By the way, my claim does not presuppose the principle "that one should not harm another in ways that one is not vulnerable to." I'm claiming that the practice in question is unfair because the anonymous blogger is invulnerable to the type of harm that he/she is subjecting the named person. The fact that some practice is unfair is a good reason to think it's wrong and that one shouldn't engage in it (though sometimes there might be considerations that justify engaging in an unfair practice).

Finally, it should be obvious that the same reasoning would not make it unacceptable for an individual who doesn't own a business to publicly complain about some business. After all, the business owner can subject you to exactly the same type of harm that you're subjecting him/her to (i.e. the business owner can attack your reputation publicly and harm you economically by suing you).

In any event, I do hope that wasn't your last post on the topic. Perhaps if I read enough of your rigorous comments I'll eventually learn to do philosophy.

in all fairness said...

Anon 9:48,

What do you mean, "finally"? This is what Popkin said June 10, 10:37 AM.

The principle isn't that it is always, under all circumstances, wrong to harm another in a way that one is not susceptible to being harmed. It's that in a context in which certain harms are otherwise acceptable, deliberate inequality in susceptibility to them can make imposition of the harm unfair. For example, in an NHL hockey game it's morally permissible to attack another player with your fists. (Anyway I am assuming it is, since nobody ever complains about it.) But if one player in the fight is the goalie, wearing heavy body armor, that's not fair. (Similarly in baseball, if the catcher gets into a fight with the batter and doesn't remove his mask.)

I can't state the complete necessary and sufficient conditions for the inequality amounting to unfairness, but it's nonetheless pretty plausible that Popkin is right.