Feminist Philosophers

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Some thoughts on epistemic responsibility February 15, 2014

[Trigger warning for discussion of assault]

Throughout my time as a philosopher, I’ve heard quite a bit of talk regarding ‘epistemic responsibility’ when it comes to discrimination, harassment, and assault. I’ve heard it much more frequently over the last few weeks, and so I feel compelled to say a few words about it. As it happens, I think I have a very different view of the nature of epistemic justification and the conditions under which agents can be said to have it than those who bring up epistemic responsibility in these sorts of conversations, but I want to address a slightly different question: What does moral responsibility require of us when allegations of discrimination, harassment, or assault are made? To be clear, what follows is not an endorsement of a presumption of guilt—rather, it’s an endorsement of action, sympathy, and compassion in the absence of certainty. It seems to me that too often appeals to ‘epistemic responsibility’ justify inaction, undermine progress, and enable serious wrongs.

When discrimination, inequity, and violence are carried out by intentional agents and effectively enabled by the communities in which they occur, withholding all judgment for the sake of epistemic responsibility and withholding all action on account of epistemic reasons will very often quite rightly lead to feelings of further alienation in the victim. If, for example, upon becoming familiar with a report of sexual assault, racial discrimination, or a violent hate-crime, you are not passionately moved, that unaffected reaction cannot help but communicate that there is real sense in which you either do not understand the plight before you, or you do not care. In some circumstances (note: I do mean some), this can be more harmful to a victim than the original offense. A certain amount of stupidity and evil in the world are to be expected. What is generally not expected is for good people to stand witness to severe injury and fail to be demonstrably aggrieved by it (note, here, the aptness of ‘injury’ need not entail that the content of any particular allegation is certainly true, or even true). The unexpected nature of this response often makes the hurt which follows more difficult to deal with. It can communicate indifference, it can normalize suffering, and it can steal away hope.

I do not deny that epistemic responsibility is a great good; but when our epistemic practices prevent us from responding to injury altogether, we are in the neighborhood of vice rather than virtue.

I have experienced attempted rape. Surely I would feel differently had my attacker been successful, but for me, what was most traumatizing was not the assault but rather what happened next. It was in a public park. I was able to get away. I ran to a man reading on a bench and told him what happened. He saw I was being followed. He offered to sit with me until it looked like it would be safe to walk home. But that was all he did (and I do mean that was all: he did not offer to take me to the police, to call any one, etc., and it didn’t occur to me to ask for those things). I sat with him for two hours on that bench in silence. In retrospect, I’m sure he just didn’t know what to do and didn’t know what to say—but in those two hours, and in some months that followed, I felt like what happened must not really matter because it didn’t seem to matter much to him. I thought that I was being silly for feeling angry, violated, and scared. In those later moments where I didn’t doubt myself, I doubted the world at large—the capacity of my fellow humans to do right, to be even minimally decent.

I don’t ever want to be the man on that bench to someone else, whether I think I know what happened or not.


The PGR’s un-women-friendly epistemology February 11, 2014

Lady Day:

McAfee’s punch line: “Is there a systematic bias in the PGR methodology that leads it to value more male-dominated departments? Well, yes. An unrepresentative and hand-picked advisory board plus unrepresentative and hand-picked evaluators will lead to a slanted take on the value of the work going on in the profession. You don’t have to be a stand-point epistemologist to see this.”

[Update:  I'm going to recommend that anyone who wishes to comment on the post do so at Gone Public, where it originally occurred, rather than below the reblog here. To that end (and because I'm not able to moderate comments today), I've closed comments below.]

Originally posted on gonepublic: philosophy, politics, & public life:

Julie Van Camp just updated her Spring 2004 article, “Female-Friendly Departments: A Modest Proposal for Picking Graduate Programs in Philosophy” that pointed out the under-representation of women on the advisory board of Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report . This month Van Camp expanded the  postscript with numbers showing that in the past ten years little has changed.

Postscript: November 20, 2004 [updated 2/3/2014]

The 2011 Report:
The list of the Top 51 doctoral programs is included in the 2011 Philosophical Gourmet Report. The 56 members of the  Report’s Advisory Board for 2011 included nine females (16.1%) and was based on the reports of 302 evaluators, including 46 women (15.2%).

The 2009 Report:
The 55 members of the  Report’s Advisory Board for 2009 included eight females (14.5%) and was based on the reports of 294 evaluators, including 37 women (12.6%).

The 2006-08 Report:
The 56 members of the Report’s Advisory Board for…

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Gendered Epistemology and Mind Textbooks October 8, 2013

Filed under: epistemology,gender,teaching,women in philosophy — magicalersatz @ 1:01 pm

In the comments on this post about gendered metaphysics textbooks, a reader writes:

It would be helpful to have analogous threads on epistemology and philosophy of mind anthologies as well. I decided not to use Neta and Pritchard’s Arguing about Knowledge for this very reason (1 woman out of 44), and Sosa, Kim, Fantl, and McGrath’s Epistemology: An Anthology is better but not great (9 out of 60). As for philosophy of mind, I’ve used Chalmers’ Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (2 out 63), and I haven’t had the time to investigate alternatives…

David Chalmers helpfully points toward this thread for some philosophy of mind suggestions. But does anyone have further suggestions, particularly for epistemology?


Hairdresser-archaeologist February 8, 2013

Filed under: epistemology — Jender @ 8:43 pm

This is a wonderful example for those interested in interactions between knowledge-how and knowledge-that, those interested in what one can do with traditionally feminine skills, and those interested in exactly how the Vestal Virgins’ hairstyles worked. Also tells you to contact if you’d like a really unusual, historically interesting haircut (including “a mullet from hell”). (Thanks, B!)


“I never heard of, of rape and a man.” January 30, 2012

Filed under: epistemology,rape — Jender @ 4:17 pm

Joe Paterno said that, admitting that even if he’d been given more detailed reports of the rapes at Penn State, he wouldn’t have known what to do. There’s a good article here, about widespread lack of understanding of the fact that men may be victims of rape. A nice example for those working on Miranda Fricker’s hermeneutical injustice. Also just something important to remember when teaching or writing about rape. Men are silenced too, and arguably more than women– it wasn’t until this year that the US federal statistics on rape began including male victims.

(Thanks, C!)


These can’t be women– they have swords! July 22, 2011

Filed under: epistemology — Jender @ 6:49 am

Yup, that’s how archaeologists studying the Vikings used to reason. Which is how we got our image of all-male bands of marauders. Then someone thought to actually look at the bones. Turns out half of them were women. Women who were buried with their swords.

(Thanks, J-Bro!)


Striking teachers kill child July 1, 2011

Filed under: bias,epistemology,politics — Monkey @ 5:12 pm

The Daily Mail sinks to new all-time low*:

A teenage girl was crushed to death by a falling tree branch as she sat on a park bench yesterday.

The 13-year-old, named locally as Sophie Howard, was out with friends on the day her school was closed because of nationwide industrial action…

The girl went to Sawtry Community College which was shut yesterday as thousands of teachers across the country went on strike.

One angry parent wrote on Twitter afterwards: ‘she should have been safe at school, she was just sat on a bench talking with friends….it could have been my daughter.’

*That’s false, actually. Pretty much everything I see in that despicable rag has me gasping in amazement at the colossal chutzpah of the arguments presented. Unfortunately, some punters seem to fall for it, going by the comments. *Face, palm*


Concealing women May 10, 2011

Filed under: epistemology — Jender @ 9:19 am

If you got your news from Di Tzeitung, a Hasidic newspaper you’d think the Secretary of State had been kept out of the loop on killing Bin Laden.

A counterterrorism expert has also been photoshopped out. Why? Because the newspaper never publishes pictures of women, due to worries about sexual suggestiveness. (Thanks, Balk!)


A libertarian changes his mind April 19, 2011

Filed under: epistemology,politics — Jender @ 9:19 am

I found this article by David Frum fascinating. It’s about how and why he has begun to move away from his original libertarian views. I’m fascinated by this because it’s so rare to see a political type openly (and apparently genuinely) discussing how their views changed. (It’s quite common for positions to change– but usually the people in question try to pretend it didn’t happen.) For me, it’s important to read this as an optimistic reminder that– despite appearances– people’s views aren’t forever fixed: there is some hope of changing the minds of those (we take take to be) wrong. It’s also, to be honest, a salutary reminder that our political opponents are (at least sometimes) people who think, and who care, and who revise their views in light of these things. It’s far too easy to forget that at times.


The epistemology of budget cuts March 25, 2011

Filed under: epistemology,politics — Jender @ 2:49 pm

These cuts are carefully planned so as not to be noticed by the coalition’s key voters:

The Guardian gives a slice of what this will mean across the country, highlighting a cross-section of 50 services that will shrink or cease to exist from the end of this month. Most are unglamorous, obscure, unfeted projects, staffed by employees who are not very well paid, but hugely committed to what they do. All of these losses come as a result of the government’s decision to cut spending by £95bn over five years.

Their disappearance may not be noticed by anyone with a good income, in secure employment, in sound health, without caring responsibilities – anyone who does not look to the state for support with life’s problems. For the more vulnerable, the decision to close these bodies and cut these jobs will be sharply felt. They will be more acutely obvious beyond the south-east, in areas that are more dependent on government grants. Women, parents, carers, disabled people, teenagers and elderly people are likely to be the most affected.

From a Westminster perspective, they may be easy to ignore. These are not dramatic closures of maternity wards, big events that would inspire fury and noisy protest; instead the process is much smaller, more fragmented in scale, and hardest felt by people who tend not to be particularly powerful or vocal. Mostly, ministers are able to wash their hands of responsibility, dismissing these cuts as local decisions (despite the fact that they originate in central government funding reductions).

Viewed from Downing Street, they probably seem a fractured collection of regrettable but relatively insignificant services, located (conveniently) in greater concentration the further you move from Westminster. But from the service users’ perspective, their disappearance will often be catastrophic.

(Thanks, L!)



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