March 1, 2024

Academics call for freedom for fearless discussion of gender issues

Signatories include Peter Singer

Twelve leading philosophers, including bioethicist Peter Singer, have published an open letter calling for academic freedom when discussing topics of sex and gender. The letter makes recommendations on how academic discussions should be carried out in light of differing political and intellectual views on sex, gender, and transgender.

The letter specifically calls for a rejection of de-platforming and censuring of philosophical arguments in the academic domain, including political views that argue for sex-based rights. It also urges that discussions on sex and gender be carried out in a collegial and mutually respectful manner and affirm the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to live free of harassment.

The authors condemn accusations of hatred and transphobia directed at philosophers. Nevertheless, concerns have been raised regarding the potential for academic discussions on transgenderism to contribute to further discrimination and bigotry towards transgender individuals. This prompts the question: What are the ethics of and limitations of discussions on sex and gender?   

… none of the arguments recently made by our colleagues can reasonably be regarded as incitement or hate speech. Policy makers and citizens are currently confronting such metaphysical questions about sex and gender as What is a man? What is a lesbian? What makes someone female? Society at large is deliberating over the resolution of conflicting interests in contexts as varied as competitive sport, changing rooms, workplaces and prisons. These discussions are of great importance, and philosophers can make an essential contribution to them, in part through academic debate. Philosophers who engage in this debate should wish for it to be pursued through rational dialogue, and should refuse to accept narrow constraints on the range of views receiving serious consideration.

Academic freedom, like freedom of thought more broadly, should be restricted only with the greatest caution, if ever. While the respect due to all people — regardless of sex, gender, race, class, religion, professional status and so on — should never be compromised, we believe that contemporary disputes over sex and gender force no hard choice between these commitments.

BioEdge recently published findings on the ethics of transgender treatments, lack of evidence available for long-term effects of treatments such as puberty blockers and the concern of some doctors about a “quick fix” approach to transgender medicine.

Nic Zumaran writes from Sydney.

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