An accomplished philosopher invented a pseudonym. Why?

Amélie Rorty

In 1980, Leila Tov-Ruach published a book chapter in which she thanked the editor of the book, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, “for the hospitality that made the writing of this paper possible.”

Normally, such an acknowledgement wouldn’t raise eyebrows. But, the trouble is, Tov-Ruach and Rorty are the same person:  Leila Tov-Ruach is a pseudonym for Rorty, an accomplished philosopher. The University of California Press (UC Press) officially outed Rorty as Leila Tov-Ruach when it issued corrections for two chapters she published decades ago under the pseudonym (1, 2).

The corrections explain the author of the chapters is Rorty, who also edited the two books in which the chapters appear. Although Rorty didn’t note in the original versions of the books that she is Tov-Ruach, she has not tried to hide her pseudonym either.  She has acknowledged she is Tov-Ruach in her CV, and at least some philosophers know about the pseudonym (1, 2).

Why would a philosopher—who has an impressive publishing record that spans 50 years and, at 85 years old, is still a lecturer at Harvard—choose to write under a fake name?

People use pseudonyms in publishing for a variety of reasons. A fake name can protect a whistleblower’s true identity, or allow researchers to run a sting on a journal to expose the flaws of academic publishing. Occasionally, as in the case of Bruce Le Catt, an author may use a fake name as an inside joke.

We don’t know Rorty’s motivations; we tried calling and emailing Rorty on several occasions but did not hear back. In this instance, Rorty—who was married to the prominent (now deceased) philosopher Richard Rorty did more than publish under a pseudonym. She was also the editor of the two books in question—Explaining Emotions, published in 1980, and Perspectives on Self-Deception, published in 1988. Both books include a chapter under her real name.

Rorty and Tov-Ruach also have separate biographical entries on the “Contributors” pages in each book. In Explaining Emotions, for example:

1) Leila Tov-Ruach is an Israeli psychiatrist, who writes on lectures on philosophic psychology

2) Amélie Rorty is a professor of philosophy at Livingston College, Rutgers University

The name Leila Tov-Ruach has several possible meanings. The name is similar to the Hebrew expression “Laila Tov,” which means “good night.” Ruach can translate to spirit, soul, breath or wind.

Here’s the erratum, published on October 3, for the chapter “Jealousy, Attention and Loss,” published in Explaining Emotions:

It has been brought to the attention of UC Press that the following chapter in Explaining Emotions is published under a pseudonym:

Leila Tov-Ruach, “Jealousy, Attention, and Loss,” pp. 465-488.

UC Press would like to clarify that “Leila Tov-Ruach” is a pseudonym used by the editor of the volume, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty.

The erratum for the other chapter—“Freud on unconscious affects, mourning, and the erotic mind” published in Perspectives on Self-Deception—is almost identical.

Quick action

The corrections were prompted by Michael Dougherty, chair of the philosophy department at Ohio Dominican University, in Columbus. Dougherty, who is writing a book on research integrity in philosophy, has been tracking down authorship violations in the field, including the use of undisclosed pseudonyms.

Dougherty first came across a reference to Rorty’s pseudonym in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, published in 2005:

In collections she edits herself, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty sometimes includes essays of her own signed by ‘Leila Tov-Ruach’.

On September 27, Dougherty contacted the publisher to request errata for the two UC Press volumes; less than a week later, the errata appeared.  

Dougherty also pointed out:

Under the guise of “Tov-Ruach,” Rorty commends her own work and speaks about herself in the third person.

He added:

It’s odd to have a dialogue with yourself under two names in the published literature. I have no idea why she is doing this. Dr. Rorty is a distinguished philosopher, and the use of pseudonyms can impede a genuine history of philosophy.

We contacted the publisher as well as her co-editor on the 1988 book, Perspectives on Self-Deception, Brian P. McLaughlin, to ask if they knew about the pseudonym when the book was published. We will update the post if we hear back.

Update, 1400 UTC time, 10/24/17: A commenter notes that Rorty has used another pseudonym, Zhang LoShan, in a book she edited in 1998. In the book, “Philosophers on Education,” Rorty explains why she chose to write under the fictional person. After teaching in China in 1981, Rorty wanted to write an essay on Plato, “assuming the persona of a Chinese scholar:”

… I tried to see Plato’s views on education through the experience and preoccupations of such a figure. It is an experiment I strongly recommend to all serious scholars

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10 thoughts on “An accomplished philosopher invented a pseudonym. Why?”

  1. Behold the Dominican prof in his Inspector Javert-style search for the narcissism of small differences … does he understand that the Federalist Papers were, well, published under pseydonyms aka pen names aka nom des plumes?

    That Martin Luther and Percy Bysshe Shelley published under pseudonyms?

    That publishing under pseudonyms has been, well, a regular practice among writers and authors for various reasons … ? Agatha Christie, Benjamin Franklin, C.S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, the list is endless and several are available via google search.

    Leave her alone for crissakes.

    1. The OP makes no direct criticism. It asks a plausible question. Nor does it claim Rorty invented pseudonyms.

      Nor are other uses of pseudonyms relevant here. *Academic* publishing is a game with strict rules. If Jorge Luis Borges plays games with pseudonyms and references to non-existent works, that’s one thing — part of the fun of reading him is working out the tangles of jokes.

      There are two obvious criticisms of pseudonyms in this context.

      (1) Academic *authorship* matters. It’s a way people make sense of a field. Muddying your own authorship does nobody any favors. So Retraction Watch has just done future readers of Tov-Ruach a favor.

      (2) Reception by other academics *really* matters — in a way, it’s the only thing that matters, and pretending to be someone else to comment favorably on your own work is not really good behavior.

      That said this does sound like an elaborate prank rather than anything to get upset about.

  2. Given the lack of apparent intent to deceive, and the closeness of the subject matter (so no need for a pseudonym to distance oneself from unrelated work) this really smacks of a in-joke. It’d be interesting to know why.

  3. Prof. Rorty’s most important pseudonym, Zhang LoShan, appears to have escaped detection by the Inspector. Zhang LoShan appears in the collection *Philosophers on Education,* pp. 32-50 and includes on p. 46 a fairly detailed explanation of the decision to use a pseudonym.

  4. Early in my career I wrote a paper exploring the relationship between affect and ideas in Freud’s early writings. I met Professor Rorty, and asked her if she would be willing to read and comment on my paper. She said she would be glad to, and I gave her a copy. She did not comment on it.

    A few years later, an article was published by an Israeli psychiatrist Tov-Ruach, and I was amazed that it seemed to have some indebtedness to my paper. At the very end, there was a “compare” citation to my paper with respect to one point. That solitary citation and enigmatic “compare” seemed odd in the face of other similarities. I did not know how an Israeli psychiatrist could have got hold of my paper, but obviously she had it.

    I had no suspicion of any identity between Rorty and Tov-Ruach. I had presented a version of the paper in several venues, and I think I had given it to several people, so any one of these, I thought, might have (inappropriately) circulated it. But to Israel, so far away, and to a psychiatrist, did seem mysterious.

    I felt very badly, but had many things going on in my life, and also, I think, have been a bit naive and trusting, so time past and I didn’t do anything.

    Then I was shocked to find out that Tov-Ruach was actually Rorty. I can’t recall exactly how I found out, but I believe it may have been some kind of acknowledgement in print by Rorty herself. I felt betrayed.

    Some time later, I learned that there was going to be a reception for Rorty at Harvard. I went, and confronted Rorty with what I saw as her reliance on my paper. She did not deny it. She laughed, and asked why was it that I was unwilling to share my work with her? I was so astounded that I just moved away and left, quite shaken. Her response was totally unexpected. As I left, she called to me, and smiling–grinning almost–she said she would be happy if I sent her any further papers I wrote.

    I felt I had learned a hard lesson.

    Now, so many years later, her publishers have apparently learned about her identity deception. I’m surprised, because I think it has been known for some time before this.

    I am a psychologist who has had an interest in the intersection between psychology and philosophy, especially in the realm of emotion, especially in the early years of my career. I presented in a few places, including a meeting of the Eastern Philosophical Association.

    This is now many many years later. Her publisher’s recent action, apparently because of research by someone on academic integrity, has led me, after a lot of painful soul-searching, to feel I should say something. This has been really hard to do. I was struck by how positive people seem to feel that the identity deception must have been innocent. Didn’t it at least strike people as rather bizarre? If she felt that what she was doing was OK, why this convoluted route? I have wondered if choosing a psychiatrist’s identity and the brief, obscure citation of my paper might be a sign of some feeling of guilt. I hope so, but obviously do not know.. When I spoke to Rorty at Harvard, she appeared to feel justified.

    As I said, it felt like a sad learning experience for me.

    1. I still can’t really fathom why you’ve felt betrayed. If you’ve felt betrayed, put yourself two seconds in the shoes of a mental patient that has uncovered falsifications in his psych records. I feel your ego problem is a very minor one in comparison.

  5. The use of pseudonyms can be mightily useful in philosophy. I don’t consider that unethical. The all time master of pseudonyms was Kierkegaard, and I’m glad he did use pseudonyms to a wild extent…

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