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Stephen Kershnar

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Stephen Kershnar

Stephen Kershnar (PhD in 1991, University of Pennsylvania) is an American philosopher and attorney, who has written many books and delivered lectures making "devils advocate" defenses of widely condemned practices, including minor-adult sex. He is a distinguished teaching professor in the philosophy department at the State University of New York at Fredonia. His research interests include Applied Ethics, Philosophy of Law and Political Philosophy and he is the author of over eighty articles and book chapters and of nine books.[1][2]


In February 2022, Kershnar, having already explained his position as an ethical argument, contingent upon the material harmlessness of minor-adult sex (which - as a philosopher, he does not take a position on) attracted wide opprobrium on social media after appearing to defend minor-adult sex. The campaign of naming and shaming by Libs of TikTok - the same social media outfit that drew attention to Allyn Walker, was aided considerably by selective quoting. This followed a number of, until then, not widely circulated video interviews he gave to various internet personalities.[3][4] This controversy led to a surge in woodchipper/boulder/gun type memes on alt-right Twitter and did not appear to draw liberals or the mainstream left into the debate. The Kershnar controversy was documented widely throughout the right-wing mainstream and alternative media.[5][6] Colleagues, Dr. Carrie Fitzgerald and Dr. Laura Geraci responded:

His straightforward and factually erroneous oration on TikTok [Inline correction: his interviews were shared by the interviewers on YouTube, not Tiktok - Newgon[7]], a very visible social media platform that targets our primary student demographic, is troublesome, offensive, and dangerous, with the potential to normalize attitudes and behaviors that cause great emotional, psychological, and cognitive damage to survivors of child sexual abuse [...] his public statement invalidates the trauma experienced by survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sex with children is not just another sexual orientation or preferance. It is abuse, it is illegal, and it has lifelong impacts for survivors[8]

Kershnar was suspended from campus "pending investigation".[9] He received support from the Academic Freedom Alliance:

The Academic Freedom Alliance supports Professor Kerschnar’s right to hold and state his opinions and calls upon the university to live up to its contractual and constitutional requirements to protect Professor Kershnar’s ability to teach and research without interference. We call on the university to issue a public statement clearly reaffirming Professor Kershnar’s academic freedom.[10]

Soon after the AFA's letter, FIRE also came out in support of the embattled professor, supporting his freedom of speech[11] and further, listing signatories including Fredonia Professor Neil Feit, in favor of his right to hold unpopular opinions in-post.[12] He also found support from the right-leaning National Association of Scholars.[13] The controversy eventually died down after Kershnar's University Senate made similar statements in favor of academic freedom.[14]

In 2023, after continuing to be barred from campus, Kershnar announced a lawsuit against the University.[15] His complaint[16] contained the following paragraph:

SUNY Fredonia has never said what the alleged threats to Professor Kershnar’s safety are (and its daily crime log reflects no reported threats at all), what measures its purported “investigation” entailed, or whether the investigation ever concluded. If it is still ongoing, SUNY Fredonia’s investigation has now outlasted the Warren Commission’s investigation into the assassination of JFK, the U.S. Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic, the Iran hostage crisis, and the federal government’s investigation into the Challenger disaster.


The views on adult-child sex he discussed in 2022, which followed by backlash and his barring, Stephen Kershnar had described in his book Pedophilia and Adult–Child Sex: A Philosophical Analysis (2015)

Book review:
"Stephen Kershnar's latest book will be relevant to anyone interested in the ethics of interacting with children, the ethics of sex, and, needless to say, the ethics of sex with children. Plausibly maintaining that emotional reactions of disgust and knee-jerk appeals to intuition are not enough to ground normative judgment, Kershnar engages in a comprehensive and thorough philosophical discussion of various facets of adult-child sex. He provides plausible conceptual analyses of key concepts, usefully distinguishes between various kinds of adult-child sex (depending on the nature of the parties, the use of force, the infliction of pain, and so on), and advances thoughtful-albeit controversial-answers to the questions of whether and when adult-child sex is an instance of mental illness, wrong action, or bad character." -- Thaddeus Metz, University of Johannesburg
Publisher's description:
"This book provides a philosophical analysis of adult child sex and pedophilia. This sex intuitively strikes many people as sick, disgusting, and wrong. The problem is that it is not clear whether these judgments are justified and whether they are aesthetic or moral. By analogy, many people find it disgusting to view images of obese people having sex, but it is hard to see what is morally undesirable about such sex: here the judgment is aesthetic. This book looks at the moral status of such adult-child sex. In particular, it explores whether those who engage in adult-child sex have a disease, act wrongly, or are vicious. In addition, it looks at how the law should respond to such sex given the above analyses."

The list of his books in publication order:

  • Desert, Retribution and Torture (2001).
A defence of retributivism.
  • Justice for the Past (2004).
Kershnar argues that programs such as affirmative action and calls for slavery reparations are unjust.
  • Sex, Discrimination, and Violence: Surprising and Unpopular Results in Applied Ethics (2009).
Kershnar argues for a number of controversial views, e.g., that adult-child sex is not always wrong and that professional schools may and probably should discriminate against women.
  • Desert and Virtue: A Theory of Intrinsic Value (2009).
Kershnar demonstrates how desert relates to virtue, good deeds, moral responsibility, and personal change and growth through the life process.
  • For Torture: A Rights-based Defence (2012).
Kershnar argues that torture is justified in a number of theoretical contexts, including defence, punishment, and when the person to be tortured consents.
  • Gratitude toward Veterans: Why Americans Should Not Be Very Grateful to Veterans (2014).
Kershnar looks at whether veterans typically satisfy the conditions for gratitude and argues that they do not.
  • Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex: A Philosophical Analysis (2015).
Kershnar argues that it seems plausible that the criminalization of willing adult-child sex is justified but expresses concern about whether armchair evaluations of empirical effects are enough to warrant criminal punishment.
  • Does the Pro-Life Worldview Make Sense?: Abortion, Hell, and Violence Against Abortion Doctors (2017).
Kershnar argues that some of the principles which Christian pro-life advocates are committed to are inconsistent.
  • Total Collapse: The Case Against Responsibility and Morality (2018).
Kershnar argues that there is no morality and that people are not morally responsible for what they do. He acknowledges that the philosophical costs of denying moral responsibility and morality are enormous.
  • Desert Collapses: Why No One Deserves Anything (2021)
This book critically examines the concept of desert in moral philosophy, asserting that no one truly deserves anything.
  • Responsibility Collapses (2023)
This book challenges the common belief in moral responsibility, conventional views on free will, God, morality, and personal relationships.

See also

External links

  • Bizarrely, what appears to be the last full version of the original censored video was lost in the attack on FreeSpeechTube and was at freespeechtube.org/v/171b, should the content of the site be recovered.