Feminist Philosophers

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White philosophers and racism October 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 10:27 pm

Bharath Vallabha has written another really interesting post – ‘It’s Not Just Implicit Bias’ – about philosophy, inclusiveness, and philosophy’s race problem. In the post, he focuses on the narrowness of the philosophy’s ‘cannon’ as it’s traditionally presented in English-speaking contexts:

In most philosophy classes the religious traditions of the Middle East and Asia are in the periphery as the other to philosophy – the impulses to conformism and irrationality which are to overcome by the self-reflection and rationality of philosophy. But regarding philosophy Africa is treated as the other to the other, as being the birthplace of human beings but not of anything intellectually and spiritually amazing such that it is worth our while to keep it alive now and in the same conversation as what the Greeks did. That Africa as a space of philosophy is so far below the Greeks that to even speak of African or African-American philosophy is to speak of how blacks came to identify with and think through their situation of modernity with reference to the philosophy started by the Greeks.

Is this a white washed story of the history of philosophy, analogous to the story told in the seventh grade American history books? You bet it is. Just as the latter is being served to black kids in middle school, the former is being served to blacks in colleges.

But in drawing attention to this (really important!) issue, I worry that Vallabha is overly charitable to academic philosophers, and in doing so may be downplaying part of philosophy’s race problem. Let me be clear: I think he’s completely, absolutely right that the narrowness of philosophy’s ‘cannon’ is a big problem. My worry is with this part of his post:

Why are there so few black academic philosophers?
There are three flat-footed options:
1) Academic philosophers are racist.
2) The ideas in academic philosophy are racist.
3) The structures of academic philosophy are racist.
None of these are right. (1) is just false. If anything, most white academic philosophers have enormous white guilt.

If what it takes for someone to be racist is for that person to explicitly endorse (some sufficient number of) racist claims, then it’s probably right that at least most academic philosophers aren’t racist. Although even explicit racism in this sense is probably more common than we like to admit. (I can’t be the only person in philosophy who’s had the experience of almost falling off my chair in a seminar after the visiting speaker says something explicitly, mind-bogglingly racist.)

But I think there’s a middle ground between the kind of racism that involves explicit endorsement of racist ideology and implicit biases. We can have racist thoughts and reactions which we immediately disavow upon reflection, and which we attempt to distance ourselves from and correct for, but which nevertheless aren’t as subtle as implicit biases.

In this latter, weaker sense, I really do think we white philosophers can be pretty racist. For that matter, I think that in this latter sense white people can all, quite easily, be racist. Part of the white guilt Vallabha says is endemic among philosophers is no doubt a consequence of our own not-so-implicit racial biases and our attempts to correct them. We can and do feel bad about this kind of racism, for sure. That doesn’t make it less true that we’re racist. (Or maybe this is just an area in which, as Nathaniel Coleman has urged, there’s not much point in talking about who is and isn’t racist. There’s just white supremacy – and we’re all a part of that, whether we endorse it or not.)

In much the same way, it’s easy to be sexist, classist – all sorts of ‘ists’. That needn’t – and often doesn’t – involve endorsing these attitudes, and and in many cases I’m sure we specifically try to counteract them. But they’re there, and they’re not entirely implicit. Take the example of class. It’s often easier to be impressed by someone who dresses, speaks, and in general presents themselves as though they were sprouted in a cabbage patch somewhere on the grounds of Yale than it is to be impressed by someone who speaks, acts, and in general presents themselves as someone who grew up in rural Alabama. No doubt some of this is implicit, but it isn’t all implicit – this is something we know about ourselves. We also know, at least in many cases, that this is wrong and unjust. And we try hard to correct it. But it’s still something that’s really easy to do. 

Now, maybe what matters here, when we’re considering philosophy’s race problem (and it’s diversity problems more generally), isn’t whether philosophers are racist (classist, sexist, -ist), but whether they’re unusually racist – whether they’re more racist than white academics in history, English, etc. But I’m not sure that’s true. The question might be less whether philosophers are unusually racist, and more whether the norms of philosophy let racism have particularly pernicious effects.

In philosophy, we care a lot about reputation. And we like to see ‘brilliance’ and ‘flare’. We want to hire ‘rising stars’. We assume we’re all very rational and not at all racist. And so on. That’s the kind of environment that can make the effects of implicit bias worse, of course. But it’s also the kind of environment that can make the effects of not-so-implicit bias worse. So while I absolutely agree that the narrowness of the cannon is part of philosophy’s race problem, I’m less convinced that racism among philosophers isn’t a big part as well.


Under-representation of non-native English speakers in philosophy

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 4:07 pm

Gabriele Contessa has written a series of thought-provoking posts on this important, yet underdiscussed topic. Most recently, he has proposed a Languaged Philosophers’ Campaign.

Okay, I know—‘Languaged’ is not a word in English, but so what? :-) I think we should start a campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of many (supposedly international) conferences and edited volumes. The campaign is, of course, modelled on the (very effective and much needed!) Gendered Conference Campaign promoted by the Feminist Philosophers blog. And, like that campaign, this campaign is not about blame; nor is it about identifying the causes of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in analytic philosophy. It only aims at raising awareness of this systematic phenomenon (especially among philosophers who are native English speakers who seem to be mostly oblivious to it). Analytic philosophy aspires to be universal in its scope and yet it is surprisingly provincial and insular when it comes to including people whose native languages are not English. As I have argued elsewhere, I think that this phenomenon hurts not only EFL philosophers, but analytic philosophy in general. I hope that the LCC will start raising awareness about this issue.


Mike Rea on Christianity and norms in philosophy

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 3:04 pm

There’s a really interesting post by Helen de Cruz up at Philosophers’ Cocoon in which she quotes from a forthcoming paper by Mike Rea. In the paper, Rea remarks that:

One of the most important job skills of an analytic philosopher is strongly correlated with whatever skill is involved in successfully rationalizing bad behavior, deceiving oneself, putting a positive spin on bad circumstances, and so on. Also, there are certain modes of behavior—ways of being ambitious, or arrogant, or disrespectful to others, for example—that seem much easier to fall into in professions (like philosophy) where reputation, and having oneʼs own reputation elevated over the reputations of people with whom one works, is often correlated with promotions, job security, pay raises, and the like.

. . .

To this extent, I find that being a philosopher (or being an academic generally) poses certain obstacles, or challenges, to my own moral and spiritual development as a Christian. Accordingly, I see a variety of ways in which being a Christian can, or should, enable one to achieve a degree of critical distance from certain kinds of widespread but dysfunctional norms and values in the profession. This is, of course, not to say that being a Christian is the only way of achieving such distance; but it is, or should be, a way of doing so.

I’d be really interested in whether our readers have similar experiences – whether with religious belief, personal commitments and relationships, or other social identities.


How to Support a Survivor October 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 6:43 pm

May this set an example of how to support a survivor for graduate students — and faculty — in other departments. And may the courage and moral compass of these students be a source of inspiration for the discipline at large:


(Comments closed here so that the conversation occurs in one location — with h/t and gratitude to Justin Weinberg of Daily Nous for doing the hard work of moderating.)


Petition to support calls for justice at Ayotzinapa

Filed under: Uncategorized — theano @ 1:01 pm

A petition looking for international support in the quest for transparency and justice in the investigation of the disappearance of 43 college students in Mexico. Please consider signing:


ayotzinapa petition



Throwing Like A Girl October 20, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 2:04 am

From Imgur. H/T TrollXChromosomes subreddit.


How do our attitudes get their objects? Added Explanatory Remarks October 19, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 10:09 pm

I think there is a question we can ask about attitudes.  It may be that we can’t answer it without looking at the semantics of general terms, but I’m going to hope we can get some where without doing that.  Right now I’m typing on my iphone; I’ll say more about this hope when I can get to a computer.

To raise the question, let’s consider allergies.  Suppose I say, “I am allergic to anything with gluten in it”.  What makes it true that my allergy has this vast number of objects?  How does my allergy match the reference of the terms?  Well, presumably there is something about me that causes a reaction to gluten.

Can a similar question be raised about statements of bias and bigotry?  Suppose I am very biased against people living in Texas (where I in fact live).  So imagine I say “I hate Texans, all 20 million of them”.  Is there a question/problem about my attitude reaching the 700 or so miles over to El Paso?

It’s false to say the allergic person is not allergic to gluten in El Paso.  Does something make it similarly true that I’m bigoted about the people in El Paso?  If so, what is it?

let me add that there is a problem taking referential semantics into psychology, so my question may not be as light as it might seem.  And what I am wondering is whether our attitudes get their objects through the social groups of which we are members.  Can there be a solitary bigot?  Suppose someone says “I hate hamsters”.  Every single one?

This post is really a call for comments, biblio suggestions, etc. The considerations advanced should find their way into a paper I am revising on individual versus institutional racism. It’s due Nov 1! Though I don’t think that all racism is institutional, I am wondering whether racism should ever be thought of as a private affliction, as it were. One way it might be more toward the social side is that it takes a social setting to make one’s hatred of hamsters extend to all hamsters. For example, if one is a member of a very anti-hamster club that takes action against hamsters, writes hamster hating editorials, etc.

Part of the background comes from a problem in accounts of the semantics of statements. Murphy, in his Big Book on Concepts, claims that while referential semantics has a large role in linguistics, it has no role in psychology. His reason is that speakers do not have access to the (whole) set of, for example, hamsters that form the referent of “hamster.” Though he doesn’t say it, I think he means that the set of all hamsters has no causal role in our use of the concept of hamster, in evidence gathering, etc.

The problem Murphy seems to see is arguably a very important problem for philosophy of mind. Our accounts of the content of the propositions supposedly the objects of our propositional attitudes gives the truth conditions, when successful, of “I hate hamsters,” but they don’t have much to do with one’s use of the concept.* This is very important since most philosophers think propositional attitudes have causal roles as, e.g., reasons for belief, action and emotion. Still less, I think, do the accounts explain how I can hate all hamsters. Perhaps what I really hate are small rodents with long fur when I encounter them, or anything that looks to me like the hamsters neighbors used to have. If so, perhaps I don’t hate hamsters exactly, but rather hate hamster like objects when they feature in my experience. The extension to racial hatreds is pretty clear.

So what is the point of our saying someone is racist when we mean they have an attitude toward all members of a particular race? It could be economy of speech. Or it might be that the attitude the racist has is one of belief; there doesn’t seem to be the same problem of connection with believing the proposition “All hamsters ought to be eradicated,” for example. Or statements of racial hatred might be in the class of statements whose claims can be successfully attributed to the speaker because of their social position/circumstanes, etc. something like a social division of labor writ large.

Or maybe there’s a deep confusion here.

** Machery describes the problem in his book on concepts, as does Ramsey (??) in his book on representation reconsidered.


Genderqueer teaching resources October 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 9:43 pm

I came across this fantastic article on xoJane today (‘My Gender is any Everything Bagel’), in which a person describes their experience of being genderqueer and explains what being genderqueer means to them:

I express my gender in a variety of ways that diverge from the norm of having a gender that is solely masculine or solely feminine. I see my gender as wild mixture of masculine and feminine energies. Some people call this gender fluidity. My loving sibling aptly refers to my gender as “an everything bagel.” The term that I use to describe this part of myself is genderqueer.

The article also includes lots of great photos of the author that illustrate the kind of gender nonconformity they’re talking about.

I was particularly excited to find this article because I’ve often struggled to find good introductory-level teaching resources on gender fluidity. Many resources I’m familiar with on genderqueer identities and gender fluidity assume a facility with gender concepts that a lot of students new to academic discussion of gender just won’t have. So articles like this are great to stumble across.

Any other ideas for good, accessible, introductory-level resources on genderqueer identities and gender fluidity? Please share in the comments!


The APA Newsletter on Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies

Filed under: minorities in philosophy,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 6:32 pm

The APA Newsletter on Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies has a new issue out.   Considering it must have gone to press some time ago, it may seem amazing that the topics are so up-to-the-minute.  However, more realistically, it illustrates that urgent current topics are also long-standing ones.


Here are some of the highlights:

Carole Lee’s article has tables calculating the relative representation of different demographic groups in philosophy and religious studies majors and humanities phd’s in the U.S.  It also discusses the possibility of a gender/race/ethnicity hierarchy in philosophy (in section 2), with Asian Americans being a “model minority.”

Samantha Brennan’s article talks about micro-inequities and Asian Americans.

Molly Paxton’s article distinguishes between structural and intellectual diversity in academic and the implications of this difference for instituting change.


The Future of Life (for Men Only?)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sam B @ 5:03 pm

The Gendered Conference Campaign highlights academic conferences with all male speakers. But of course it’s not just conferences that are gendered in this way. Institutes and research centres are often all male as well.

This weekend I’m attending the Association for Political Theory conference in Madison, Wisconsin. APT has a wonderfully diverse program and it looks about 50/50 in terms of speakers and attendees. It’s also got a very instructive atmosphere and I’d recommend it to political philosophers interested in presenting their work and getting good feedback.

I went to a panel this morning on gender and war. One of the speakers was presenting on gender and robots. Turns out she’s the author of this piece, Robots Don’t Lactate. Fascinating stuff.

But in the course of her talk she mentioned the Future of Life Institute and suggested we google it. I did, of course, and surprise, surprise, it has an all male advisory board. It’s not a small board either. The 13 member board includes Alan Alda and Stephen Hawking and Morgan Freeman but no women.

Here’s its mission:

To catalyze and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges.

Odd to think of the future of life, without women, but there you go.



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