Wrong about Joshua Katz, and about Socrates (letter)

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To the Editors:

“Who Cares About Character?” by Professor of Ancient History Nadya Williams is breathtaking in its tendentiousness.

In her zeal to join Princeton University’s campaign to sully the reputation of Joshua Katz, one of the most distinguished scholars the Princeton Department of Classics has ever had, she even tortures the available evidence concerning Socrates. For someone holding a doctorate in Classics, this reflects badly on her—and her teachers.

According to Professor Williams, Socrates sexually exploited the handsome but dissolute aristocrat Alcibiades. It is true that there were rumors in antiquity that there may have been a physical relationship, but only an ideologue on a mission would twist this into a conviction and damnation of the philosopher. In Alcibiades’s own words, as told in the famous Platonic dialogue, The Symposium (216c–222b), try as the young sensualist might, he could not tempt Socrates into a sexual relationship. Classicists must give due weight to available textual evidence, and in this she egregiously fails. Given her sloppy scholarship, it is not surprising that Dr. Williams dismisses the defense of Professor Katz as merely a conservative initiative.

Does she deem Pen America to be part of that vast, right-wing conspiracy? Pen America excoriates Princeton’s firing of Professor Katz and correctly identifies the real issue as Princeton’s disregard for academic freedom and freedom of speech.

It is sad to see how Nadya Williams’s ideology triumphs over the professional discipline her subject should instill. An essay titled “Who Cares About Character”  should itself pay more attention both to character and scholarly method.

–Michael B. Poliakoff
President, American Council of Trustees and Alumni

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