Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

The rational high ground September 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:46 pm

“What I am not going to do is capitulate to a cyber mob that is exercised about issues that are irrelevant.” – Brian Leiter [my emphasis]

Brian Leiter has a tendency to describe his critics in the language of irrationality. He suggests that this current fracas is a ‘smear campaign’ put together by a ‘cyber mob’, for example. Mobs don’t think very carefully or very critically. Mobs have worked themselves up into a frenzy of groupthink and are not easily influenced by reason. (Though in this instance, the ‘mob’ of people signing on to a boycott of a Leiter-run PGR includes, inter alia, Elizabeth Anderson, Crispin Wright, Van McGee, Charles Mills, Ruth Chang, Bill Brewer, Beatrice Longuenesse and Gil Harman. That’s a fairly philosophically diverse – and a damn philosophically impressive – mob, as mobs go.)

Leiter often paints his own conduct as rational discourse beset on all sides by mob mentality and ‘tone policing’. (What’s a tough-talking New Yorker to do in these woefully PC times?) It must be difficult when so many of the people you have to work with are so irrational:

Screenshot 2014-09-28 18.40.10

But, of course, it isn’t that simple.

To begin with, it’s not that Leiter has a problem with internet campaigns – even those run by philosophers! – in general. He didn’t seem to think there was any mob mentality in the recent proposed boycott of the University of Illinois, nor did he attribute the petitions and boycotts related to the Synthese special issue to this kind of irrational groupthink, nor did he think it was a cyber mob mentality that warranted a poll to gauge whether Linda Alcoff should resign as president of the Eastern APA. So it can’t be that he simply thinks internet-based campaigns are, as a rule, a bad idea. Nor can it be that he always thinks any kind of corrective comment about ‘tone’ is inappropriate:

Screenshot 2014-09-28 18.44.31

Screenshot 2014-09-29 07.47.29

Perhaps, in this instance, it is the nature of the perceived insults in question. Leiter has suggested that philosophers are overreacting to the messages he sent to Carrie Jenkins and Noelle McAfee. These emails were, if perhaps intemperate, prompted by attacks from these individuals that could not be ignored. Jenkins, Leiter claims, said on her blog that he was ‘unprofessional’, which he says in his email to her may count as defamation per se; McAfee said on her blog that he was not a philosopher. Let’s leave aside the issue of what Jenkins said, and consider the cases as Leiter presents them. One thing that’s striking here is that Leiter himself calls people unprofessional. And he also seems to insinuate that other academics with PhDs in Philosophy are not in fact philosophers. Given that, it doesn’t seem plausible that Leiter can perceive the insults (he thinks were) leveled at him to be so beyond the pale that the philosophical community is simply being irrational in its unwillingness to see that his response is merited.

So what’s going on? Why is it that this particular group of people boycotting the PGR – a group which is striking in its philosophical diversity – constitute a ‘cyber mob’ engaged in a ‘smear campaign’? I don’t know. I don’t know the reasons for Leiter’s attributions of mob mentality, and I don’t want to speculate. I’ll just register it’s very unclear to me why this particular boycott – which is very elegantly and not particularly mobbishly defended in this post at Daily Nous – is apparently so infused with irrationality.


CFP: Duquesne University Women in Philosophy Conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sam B @ 9:25 am

Duquesne University Women in Philosophy Conference
March 21, 2015
Duquesne University

Violence and Embodiment
Keynote Speaker: Ann Murphy, University of New Mexico

Duquesne Women in Philosophy (D-WiP) invite philosophical papers that explore the relationship between violence and embodiment.  Given the enduring presence of violence in contemporary society as well as its lasting historical consequences, it is important to ask the question: How does violence shape both human existence and the meaning we associate with our experiences?  This conference will explore the connection between violence and embodiment, considering both past understandings and possible future directions for examining these issues.  We invite submissions that engage both contemporary philosophical discourse as well as those philosophical discourses that are primarily informed by perspectives grounded in the history of philosophy (or some combination of the two).  Please send full paper submissions to dwipcontact@gmail.com by December 1, 2014.  Each presentation will be allotted approximately 20 minutes.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

•       violence and coexistence/community, sociality, culture
•       violence and/in colonialism
•       violence and the constitution of the self
•       trauma and self-identity
•       built space and the natural environment, ecophenomenology, labor, globalization
•       shame, fear, empathy and violence
•       agency, power, control
•       vulnerability, intimacy, and violence
•       violence and the politics of expression
•       sexuality and violence
•       violence, bodies, and post-humanism
•       techniques, technologies, and structures of violence
•       violence and inequality (race, class, gender, LGBTQ, dis/ability, etc.)
•       the body, pleasure, and violence


Coarse Realities September 28, 2014

Filed under: Dear Professor Manners,Uncategorized — Prof Manners @ 12:21 am

The early Chinese philosopher Xunzi remarks on the power of social environments to influence the attitudes we broadly hold toward others and toward ourselves. He importantly acknowledges that these influences often transpire below conscious awareness, our experiences working on us without our knowledge. He evocatively characterizes social atmospheres in terms of what one “rubs up against,” the tactile metaphor suggesting that our environments, when flourishing, can register like silk on skin, such that our interactions are smooth and pleasing, fostering companionship and fellow feeling. In the alternative, they can, like sandpaper, abrade, wearing away at us incrementally and rendering it tempting to become misanthropic, to eschew participation with others in favor of the protections afforded by solitude, or, worse, to become coarse ourselves, accommodating our environment by mirroring it in our own manner.


Our profession, I often think, favors sandpaper. It can create climates in which being in the company of others, whether in person or online, erodes confidence that others can be well-meaning, can cooperate toward shared ends, or that we are worth more than whatever fleeting measures of status we manage to secure. And I think the effects of this steal upon us slowly. The skin gradually toughens and one can begin to assume and replicate the feel of what one encounters.


In my own experience this was brought home when I was in graduate school and found myself at a bar with non-philosopher friends debating a philosophical issue. I cannot remember now what the issue was, but what stuck with me was how my most pugilistic friend reveled in my participation in this conversation, the way in which I “slayed” someone who disagreed with me. He noted approvingly that graduate school had turned me into “someone who brings a gun to a knife fight.” I was dismayed by this and remain so, and have since tried (with uneven success) to avoid this.


I have not been in the profession all that long, yet it does seem to me that the sandpaper has grown coarser as time has passed. Yes, I know that philosophers have throughout history found creative ways to insult their opponents. Likewise, I understand the hazards in administratively legislated civility (and, to be clear, my concern is with socially shared professional norms rather than enforced codes). But I cannot quite reconcile myself to thinking that philosophers calling each other names, employing scorn in place of argumentation, and, yes, even using vulgar language is the best we can do. I know we often alibi such modes by vaunting our “plain-speaking” ways and our freedom from the taboos and strictures that govern those less critical of staid polite convention. But polite speech can well be plain too, and efforts to claim we are socially subversive in our rudeness fall rather flat when you consider how tragicomically un-subversive the profession’s demographic profile is. Indeed, it sometimes feels as being polite is the most radical thing a philosopher can do.


A clarification September 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:00 pm

I wanted to highlight a comment that Kate Norlock makes in a previous post:

I think the main reason this is all depressing to me is that at times like these, complexities in individuals are ignored for the sake of other ends. The ends are endorsed by admirable people. I hope they achieve good things. But I don’t want to forget that the conduct being argued against does not constitute the whole person.

I think Kate is absolutely right about this. So let me be completely clear: what I have been trying to do in these posts is draw attention to problematic patterns of behavior, and the negative effects those patterns can have. I make absolutely no claims about intentions, and – more importantly – about character. I’m not saying Brian Leiter is a bad person. People are really complicated, and no one deserves to have their character judged based on the small glimpse of it we see in an online persona.


The CHE interviews Brian Leiter

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:27 pm

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on this week’s events involving Brian Leiter, which includes an interview conducted with him on Thursday. Some excerpts:

Despite those steps, Mr. Leiter remained dismissive of the recent wave of criticism of him, which he attributed partly to feminist philosophers irritated by his defense of the due-process rights of scholars accused of sexual harassment, and partly to philosophers who periodically rebel against The Philosophical Gourmet because their own departments rank poorly.

. . .

Mr. Leiter attributed some of the criticism of him to a “cultural gap” that he said had developed in his argumentative field as younger philosophers had become heavily involved in social media and engaged in what he called “tone policing,” denouncing online comments they see as offensive or uncivil.

Mr. Leiter said that he had not made a decision about his continued involvement with the rankings report and that he had yet to hear a compelling argument for his stepping down. “What I am not going to do,” he said, “is capitulate to a cyber mob that is exercised about issues that are irrelevant.”


Just to be clear, this feminist is not ‘irritated’ with Brian Leiter because of anything about due process. This feminist finds bullying unacceptable, and is concerned about ways in which Brian Leiter’s role in the PGR has the potential to make his repeated acts of what I take to be bullying particularly harmful.

That’s not tone policing. I don’t object to Leiter’s tone per se. I object to the way he repeatedly says personally insulting and even threatening (in the sense of threatening legal action) things to people who are much less professionally established than he is. So yes, that amounts to ‘denouncing online [or in some cases, emailed] comments [I] see as offensive’. But that doesn’t mean it’s tone policing. That just means that I speak up when I find something offensive or unacceptable.

I can’t speak for others, and I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I’m willing to bet that this characterization of those who are critical of Leiter is in general as inaccurate as it is in particular inaccurate of me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go grab my torch and pitchfork. . .


Here is some more context September 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:25 pm

[Moving to the front - see update]

It has been claimed, in a post I am not going to link to, that Carrie Jenkins wrote this blog post in order to ‘attack’ Brian Leiter. Brian Leiter says that ‘apparently our profession is so degraded that if one philosopher declares in public that she will not treat Brian Leiter “as a normal member of the profession,” that’s OK, and I’m supposed to say nothing.’ (He did not say nothing, of course. He sent her this email.)

Here is how Prof. Jenkins opens the post:

Yesterday was my first day as Full Professor at UBC, so it seemed like as good a time as any to reflect on a few points about how I want to conduct my professional life.
I think of the following as pledges concerning my future behaviour qua professional philosopher. I’m making them public in the hope (and expectation!) of being held accountable to them.* This isn’t a complete list of my aspirations in this domain, of course; just a few basic things to start out with.
When I look at these statements, formulated quite generally as they are, they sound so basic that it feels important for me to note that there have been occasions where I haven’t behaved according to them (and this was received as entirely normal).

Brian Leiter is nowhere mentioned in this post. Nowhere. This post was about her own conduct and her own intentions.

[UPDATE: There's discussion in the comments of whether Carrie's post was in fact about Brian Leiter, whether or not it constitutes an attack. A main point of Carrie's pledge was to reflect on problematic behaviors that are endemic across our discipline, and to comment on how harmful they are precisely because of how common and taken for granted they are. Given that, it's hard to see how her pledge could be about Leiter in particular, or about any other individual in particular. The pledge makes sense only insofar as its about a problematic pattern of general behavior in our discipline, given that what Carrie is pledging is to resist that pattern and be an active bystander when she witnesses it.]


Sometimes an apology doesn’t help

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:24 pm

[UPDATE: Just to be clear, I posted this in full consultation with Carrie Jenkins and with her approval. I would never have dreamed of posting it otherwise.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: Brian Leiter is now claiming publicly on his blog that Carrie 'threatened' him and that his tweet to her was in response to a tweet she sent to him (which is demonstrably false - she tweeted at Tim Crane and never once made any reference to Brian Leiter.) This makes the discussion below even more salient.]

In an update to the post I’m not linking to, Brian Leiter mentions that he sent the following email to Carrie Jenkins:

Dear Carrie: Laurie Paul and Heidi Lockwood tell me you were upset by the Twitter exchange from the other day. I am genuinely sorry for upsetting you, it was, truly, the opposite of my intention. May I please try to explain what I thought was going on?

Tim Crane and I had a series of back-and-forths on Twitter about the contested Nietzsche review, which he had commissioned for TLS. He needled me, and I needled back. I posted his comment in defense of the review on my Nietzsche blog, and he quipped that I would now call him a charlatan (I told him he was only a charlatan when it came to wine expertise in a separate tweet). You weighed in with a tweet that I took to mean, “Don’t worry, Brian calls lots of people charlatans, including me.” I thought that was funny and a friendly gesture, so I replied to say, “Well, I did once call you a sanctimonious arse, but never a charlatan, and in any case, I don’t dislike you and know there are lots of good things about you.” Unfortunately, that’s more than 140 characters.

Now as you know several months ago I did send you an intemperate e-mail, which I regret sending, but it was in response to something you had done which really upset me. I read your “pledge” back then (as did Catarina at NewApps, from whom I learned about it) as directed at me and as saying: “I am not going to treat Brian Leiter as a normal member of the profession.” I found that very offensive at the time. I should have cooled off for 24 hours, but instead I sent you an intemperate e-mail. I learned you then put it into public circulation, so I took that to be the context of the tweet exchange. Part of what I wanted to convey with the tweet exchange was only that I wasn’t annoyed about that earlier incident, and I took the fact that you tweeted what you did to mean you weren’t either.

I have spoken to Carrie at length about this email. It did not make things better for her. In fact, for quite understandable reasons, it made them worse.

After the July email Carrie received counseling during which she was advised very strongly that, in order to recover from the incident, she should under no circumstances enter into any further correspondence with Leiter. She attempted to comply by ensuring emails to her from his address were filtered so they would not appear in her inbox.

However, Leiter posted his message to her to the Facebook page of a mutual friend, making it impossible for her to avoid contact with him as she was attempting. Although she did not read it when it appeared (in her best attempt to follow her counselor’s advice), many friends saw it and discussed it with her, so she could not ignore its contents or avoid the further harms caused by them, which are described below.

In Leiter’s message, no awareness is evinced of the serious harm that has been caused to Carrie over the months since July. Hence there is no acknowledgement of responsibility for this harm and no apology for it. There is no attempt on Leiter’s part, in this message or anywhere else, to discover how she was affected by the events during and since July, or even why she was “upset” by the September tweet.

In addition to harm caused by the July email and September tweet, Carrie had been in a state of elevated anxiety in the meantime because of various of Leiter’s public comments on his blog and Twitter feed about “meaningless pledges”, how “fortunate” it is that other philosophers did not take the “kindness” pledge, how “funny” the FP post supporting her pledge post was, and so on.

The message posted to a friend’s facebook page, however, focuses on explanations of Leiter’s own perspectives and views.There is no apology for anything in the message except the fact that Carrie may have been “upset” by the September tweet.

Likewise, there are no regrets for anything expressed except for Leiter’s “intemperateness” in sending the July email. If at any point Leiter indeed regretted sending that email, he could at any point have written to Carrie to apologize and retract his remarks, to enquire as to whether any harm had been done, and to ask whether he could do anything that would help to put that harm right. None of the above has happened. (She has now checked through her previously filtered email messages to confirm this.)

Similarly, if Leiter genuinely wished to make a plausible apology for upsetting Carrie with the September tweet, he might have enquired how he might remedy the upset caused. But even the most minimal and obvious of remedies, taking down the tweet in question, is not offered or even considered in Leiter’s message. Indeed, at the time of writing (24 September) the tweet is still live and public on Leiter’s Twitter feed. It is therefore difficult for Carrie to feel that even the minimal apology offered consists in a genuine attempt to alleviate any of the damage done.

Instead of making an effort to understand Carrie’s experience of what has happened, the apology focuses primarily on Leiter himself, on his perspective and interpretations, and on claims about his intent. His intent, and how events were perceived and interpreted by him, does not determine the effects of his actions.

Moreover, the explanations proffered have been disturbing to Carrie and caused her further distress. From Leiter’s message it is clear that both on the occasion of the July email and the occasion of the September tweet, Leiter assumed that she was talking about him despite having made no mention of him anywhere on either occasion, nor having been in any prior contact with him at either time.

Carrie’s July blog post is written in very general terms. Many philosophers do not always behave in the ways she describes in that post, including, as she explicitly notes in the post, herself.

Carrie’s tweet to Tim Crane was to Tim Crane, and was about how philosophers being called ‘charlatan’ is nothing unusual. Moreover, though he offered plenty of insults to her, Leiter never once called Carrie a charlatan, making it particularly odd that he interpreted Carrie’s tweet as being somehow about him.

Carrie finds it very unsettling – scary, even – that Leiter assumed she was talking about him both times. It has made her afraid to post public content to the internet in future, for fear of similar interpretation, leading to similar results.

Another disturbing element of the message is that Leiter claims that Carrie put his July email to her into “public circulation”. In fact, she shared the email privately with some friends, via email and Facebook (on a private thread), because she was in need of their help and support in understanding and processing something very frightening that had happened to her. One of her friends then violated her trust and posted the email to the comments section of a blog. Thus the email was put into public circulation without her knowledge and without her consent, in a violation of her trust and privacy at a time when she was already scared and vulnerable.

Carrie was additionally disturbed to learn that Leiter interpreted her September tweet to Tim Crane as friendly to him (Leiter), and as treating the July incident in a light-hearted manner. This suggested that what for her had been a frightening and traumatic occurrence was something Leiter considered a fitting subject for light-hearted Twitter exchanges.

She was also upset by Leiter’s suggestion in his message that he used his own tweet to convey to her that he “wasn’t annoyed” by the earlier incident. She does not think he had a reason to be “annoyed” with her in connection with her post. And as mentioned above, had he genuinely wished to to convey any such thing to her, he could have contacted her at any time since his July email. Why would Leiter attempt a reconciliation using a public forum in which he is limited to 140 characters and then spend 18 of those characters making public his earlier insult and another 9 of them tutting at her as if she were a child?

I don’t dispute that Brian Leiter attempted to apologize to Carrie. But not all apologies are created equal. And sometimes, apologies only make things worse.


A statement

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 2:29 pm

[UPDATE: The google site is currently down for 'violating terms of service'. There is an alternative, temporary site here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/421308/statement.html]


It is up to each of us individually to decide what we will volunteer to do. The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.

We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.


A statement of concern September 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 11:03 pm

From David Velleman and Sally Haslanger:

We are concerned about a pattern of emails sent by the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report to individuals whom he apparently perceives as critics. We hope that colleagues will report any steps by the author to carry out his threat that “things will get around”.


The Free Speech of Women

Filed under: Uncategorized — phrynefisher @ 6:16 pm

The Emma You Are Next site isn’t just a prank. It’s a civil rights issue, an assault on the free speech of women.

The academic world, including much of the philosophy world, has a lot to say about the importance of free speech at the moment.

The free speech of women is free speech.

The ways in which it gets denied (by both legal and illegal means) can, sometimes, look different from the ways the free speech of men gets denied.

That does not mean it is a morally comfortable combination of stances to ignore assaults on the free speech of women while defending free speech.

I am glad that philosophers care about free speech and proud that many of us defend it loudly. I think we should do the same when the free speech in question is that of women.

I think this because I think that women are people.



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