Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Empathy: pro and con August 28, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 7:35 pm

The Boston Review has a wonderful discussion about empathy. There is an extended article by Paul Bloom, a highly regarded prof in psychology at Yale, which argues that empathy as normally concieved is no friend to moral action. There are comments from a panel of people that includes very familiar philosophical names, such as Peter Singer and Jesse Prinz.

Bloom’s main claim is that emotional empathy is very partial and biased; what is needed for morality is a much more intellectually based compassion. Commenters make a number of often fascinating points. Leonardo Christov Moore and Marco Iacoboni take issue with the emotion-intellect distinction that appears to be operating at a number of points. Jesse Prinz stresses the moral importance of anger. Peter Singer links Bloom’s claim to an international movement. And there are a number of other great comments.

I haven’t read many of the comments on Bloom, but I am struck by the absence so far of something we sometimes mentioned on this blog. And that’s the effects of the lack of [emotion-based]empathy. Could empathy be necessary for an ability to identify those to whom we owe moral respect, for example? In thinking about Eric Schliiesser’s recent observations about responses to problems in our profession, I wonder if an incapacity for empathy, or a deliberate refusal to engage it is at the foundation. See, for example, this. WTF?

Some more details:

Bloom’s central claim:

… I am not against morality, compassion, kindness, love, being a good neighbor, doing the right thing, and making the world a better place. My claim is actually the opposite: if you want to be good and do good, empathy is a poor guide.

A distinction he takes to be very important:

It refers to the process of experiencing the world as others do, or at least as you think they do. To empathize with someone is to put yourself in her shoes, to feel her pain. Some researchers also use the term to encompass the more coldblooded process of assessing what other people are thinking, their motivations, their plans, what they believe. This is sometimes called “cognitive,” as opposed to “emotional,” empathy. I will follow this convention here, but we should keep in mind that the two are distinct—they emerge from different brain processes; you can have a lot of one and a little of the other—and that most of the discussion of the moral implications of empathy focuses on its emotional side.

The central (and very Humean) problem he sees with empathy:

. I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data. As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Laboratory studies find that we really do care more about the one than about the mass, so long as we have personal information about the one.


Anne Donchin, 1930-2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — KateNorlock @ 1:43 pm

We note with regret the death of Anne Donchin, Professor Emerita of Philosophy (Indiana University) and co-editor, with Laura Purdy, of Embodying Bioethics: Recent Feminist Advances (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).  Diana Tietjens Meyers writes, “She was a co-founder, co-coordinator and newsletter contributor of the International Network on Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (FAB), and she was a regular participant in FEAST conferences. Prior to her death she was working on a book entitled Procreation, Power and Personal Autonomy: Feminist Reflections. A memorial service is scheduled for September 2 at Grace Episcopal Church in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.” 

Anne Donchin earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1970 and her M.A. from Rice University in 1965. Her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1954 is preceded by her Ph.B from the University of Chicago in 1953. Her entry on Indiana University’s “Women Creating Excellence” webpage states that she “shaped the early development of the Women’s Studies program at IUPUI.  Within a year of her arrival to campus in 1982, Donchin became active in Women’s Studies and took on the role of program coordinator.  The position title was later renamed director.  Donchin helped guide the program through its early years of development and later served two additional years as director in the early 1990s.”  

It is customary to acknowledge one’s connection with a philosopher’s work when memorializing them here at FP.  I smile at the memory that I gave up trying to write about relational autonomy in health care when I read Anne Donchin’s article, “Understanding Autonomy Relationally: Toward a Reconfiguration of Bioethical Principles” (Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 26:4), because she articulated better than I could the “need to preserve both a generalized and a concrete standpoint.”  I leave you with her conclusion, one following her rejection of the ethics of caring as appropriate in unequal power relations, but which seems to me to be caring and attentive in the best of ways:

But by beginning moral inquiry from the initial position of individuals as situated social beings rather than presocial abstract individuals, the moral significance of concrete relationships will not be left behind in the move toward a generalized perspective. What is important for the practice of medicine is that moral inquiry be initiated from the concrete standpoint of the one needing attention rather than the standpoint of a generalized other and that we recognize differences between self and other at the outset.


What is the State of Blacks in Philosophy in the US?

Filed under: bias,minorities in philosophy,race — jennysaul @ 5:21 am

A very important study.

This research note is meant to introduce into philosophical discussion the preliminary results of an empirical study on the state of blacks in philosophy, which is a joint effort of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Black Philosophers (APA CSBP) and the Society of Young Black Philosophers (SYBP). The study is intended to settle factual issues in furtherance of contributing to dialogues surrounding at least two philosophical questions: What, if anything, is the philosophical value of demographic diversity in professional philosophy? And what is philosophy? The empirical goals of the study are (1) to identify and enumerate U.S. blacks in philosophy, (2) to determine the distribution of blacks in philosophy across career stages, (3) to determine correlates to the success of blacks in philosophy at different career stages, and (4) to compare and contrast results internally and externally to explain any career stage gaps and determine any other disparities.


“Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Group” on FB August 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — KateNorlock @ 8:57 pm

From Rebecca Kukla and Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, who invite those interested to contact them [rkukla at gmail dot kahm, or conceptualtruth at gmail dot kahm -- or via a FaceBook message]:

We have just founded the Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Group on FaceBook. We would love to
get the word out about it, and find potential members. We think it’s exciting that we’ve reached a moment where such a group can exist! Here is our mission statement:

This is a private (“secret”) group for the exploration of political, personal, disciplinary, and theoretical issues surrounding ethical non-monogamy. We welcome those who identify as professional philosophers (or philosophers-in-training) and who are sustaining, building, or attempting to build ethical non-monogamous relationships.

By ethical non-monogamy, we mean participation in romantic and/or sexual unions that are consensual, critically and consciously constructed, and do not fit into the traditional exclusive dyadic form.

This is a discussion group, not a dating group. It is not, under any circumstances, to be used for hook-up attempts. It is also not, at this time, for allies, nor is it for those who are skeptical of whether ethical non-monogamy is possible or those who are merely interested in talking about it.

Joining the group constitutes your consent to keep its membership and discussions completely confidential. Violating the privacy and confidentiality of any member of the group will result in immediate expulsion.


Please note: We will not be imposing any particular standards for who counts as a philosopher, and self-identification is fine.


Teenage sex August 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Monkey @ 6:34 pm

The sad state of teenage sex – young women being coerced into painful anal sex by young men. Read more here.

Thanks for your thoughts, and sorry not to provide more commentary on the article when I posted it up – I’m extremely pushed for time at the moment, thought that folks might find it interesting, so threw it up quickly when I had a spare ten seconds. By way of providing more context/discussion, here are some quick notes in response to some of the thoughts below (and again, there isn’t time to formulate all of what I might want to about this right now, so bear with me):

1) As C. K. Egbert notes, this is being read in the context of other studies/reports about sexual attitudes and behaviour amongst teens. Also, more anecdotal reports from friends who work with young people in various capacities, and my first year students reflecting on their experiences. These all point to a pretty toxic sexual environment, which prevails in at least some sectors of the teen population, where the dominant norms involve coercion of young women, lack of regard for consent, pressure on young men to prove their manliness in the eyes of their peers by getting enough sex, a lack of regard for women’s sexual pleasure, and so on.

2) I don’t care whether teen sex culture today is better or worse than previous generations. I care about the fact that certain aspects of it are pretty toxic. So this post wasn’t intended to bemoan the state of kids today compared to a previous rosy state of affairs.

3) What’s interesting (and worrying) to me, is that the toxic norms exist in a culture where many folks think that equality for women has been achieved and there is nothing more for feminism to do (at least, this is an attitude I encounter often when teaching an intro to feminism course).

4) Quite right, I didn’t mean to suggest that anal sex is always painful or that there is something inherently wrong with anal sex. The worry was instead that some of the young men surveyed thought that it might be painful for their partners but didn’t care. However, I find myself a bit confused now. I can’t help feeling that there is some significance to the fact that the sex being coerced is anal, but I’m not quite sure I can articulate it. Do I think it’s worse than being coerced into, e.g., vaginal or oral sex? No – because any sort of coerced sex is wrong. Is it because I think there is something wrong with anal sex? No. I *think* what’s bothering me is that whilst penis-in-vagina sex can certainly be painful if the penis-wielding person isn’t sufficiently sensitive to the vagina-wielding person, for anal sex to be pain-free (and pleasurable) the person doing the penetrating has to be more sensitive to the person being penetrated. In other words, it seems to me that to be pain-free, it requires more equality of interaction than penis-in-vagina sex, so it seems significant that it’s – according to studies like this – taking place in a context where there is a lack of equality of interaction. Does that make any sense? Thoughts?


Philosop-Her on Gender and Journals

Filed under: Affirmative Action,gender,Journals,publishing — phrynefisher @ 6:05 pm

Philosop-Her has opened up another discussion on an important topic: whether quotas could help address gender balance in philosophy journal publishing. (The aim of the post is to start a conversation, rather than to argue for a view about this issue.)

In response to a comment that notes a familiar kind of worry about whether such actions may serve to reinforce prejudice, Meena writes (also in the comments):

Many people argue against affirmative action in the workplace for the reasons that you mention – namely, that it may be stigmatizing. In the end, I’m not sure if this is really the case. Research shows that once people are surrounded by people of colour, for example, and start working with them they start to perceive people of colour differently and more positively. I wonder if something similar wouldn’t apply to the case of seeing more articles by women in top tier journals. Once they are there, we may view the authors and their work more positively.


Another CU-Boulder investigation

Filed under: academia,sexual harassment,women in academia,women in philosophy — philodaria @ 4:58 am

The story is at DailyCamera. 

(H/T Daily Nous)


Why I signed the Salaita pledge August 25, 2014

Filed under: academia,free speech — jennysaul @ 8:35 pm

I signed the Salaita pledge last week. I thought I’d say a bit about why. Quite a few of the people I’ve seen discussing the petition online at least appear to hold the view that anything an academic says on the internet– or at least any expression of a view– should be protected by academic freedom and not subject to administrative oversight or disciplinary action. I think this view is wrong. Academics can say things online– even via the expression of views– which are instances hate speech, bullying or harassment. They can also say things which serve as evidence of serious professional wrongdoing. When an academic says something which is hate speech, bullying, harassment, or evidence of serious professional wrongdoing, universities very much should get involved and should consider and possibly take disciplinary action. I also in fact place a rather high value on civility, as readers of this blog are aware.

Despite all of this, I signed the pledge. One very important reason is that I don’t think what Salaita has done is an instance of bullying, harassment or hate speech. Bonnie Honig lays out the reasons for thinking it is not any of these better than I possibly could. I am, however, aware that others take a different view. Nonetheless– even if these others are right– it is wrong to take such an extreme action on this basis, without proper consideration and due process.

As to civility, much maligned at the moment on the left– I still value it enormously and strive to promote it on this blog and elsewhere. But its lack is clearly not a firing offence– or in fact an offence of any kind unless it rises to the severity of one of the categories already discussed.

And so– despite thinking civility is an important academic virtue, and despite thinking that what an academic says online is a legitimate matter for concern, I signed that pledge.


Women are interested in lots of things

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 7:11 pm

Two caveats. First of all, I’d like to say that I love the Daily Nous, and I’m really grateful for it. Secondly, I’d like to say that the point of this post isn’t to beat up on Justin for posting something I disagree with. Rather, it’s to try to explain why I – and I expect many others – found a particular post problematic.

In this post, Justin asks for recommendations of ‘philosophical topics of interest to women’. The intention behind this request is, as far as I understand it, a really good one – it’s one way of trying to grapple with the underrepresentation of the women in philosophy. And yet. And yet I find posts – and conversations – like this frustrating. Let me explain.

1. Requests that ask us to think about ‘what women like’, ‘what women want’, ‘what women are interested in’, etc. encourage the unhelpful but common assumption that women are some sort of bizarre hive mind (and perhaps unconsciously rely on/promote gender essentialist ways of thinking). Different women are very different. Different women are interested in very different things. A white working class lesbian woman will probably have different interests from a straight upper class Asian woman. That’s how that goes. 

2. Women are often socialized – and pressured – to express interest in certain kinds of things. Uncritical discussion of ‘what women like’ or ‘what women are interested in’ can often gloss over the important social factors that shape both the interests of women and the ways in which they express those interests. It also glosses over – and perhaps contributes to – the effect of things like stereotype threat and implicit bias for women’s interest in traditionally ‘male’ areas.

3. If you say something like, e,g., ‘women like ethics, but they don’t like philosophy of language’, that doesn’t send a very nice message to the actual women who are actually doing great work on philosophy of language. Those women already have enough gender-based nonsense to deal with. They don’t need to read on the internets about how they’re working on a dude subject. 

4. It’s a common misconception of those of us who think feminist philosophy deserves a more central place in the philosophical cannon that we think feminist philosophy is really important because it (unlike, e.g., metaphysics and philosophy of language) is something women care about/are interested in. I only speak for myself here, but that’s certainly not how I see it. The importance of feminist philosophy isn’t that it’s ‘something women like’. Rather, the importance of feminist philosophy is that it emphasizes the philosophical importance of gender, and highlights how so many areas of philosophy – including things like metaphysics and philosophy of language – can be affected by considerations of gender. 

Again, I say all of this in the spirit of constructive criticism, and with deeply felt gratitude for all of Justin’s hard work. 


Update: Hilde Lindeman says the following in the Daily Nous comment thread:

The question ['what philosophical topics are of interest to women?'] is a good one, and does NOT necessarily essentialize women. The fact remains that women and other marginalized social groups are woefully underrepresented in philosophy, and course content in introductory and other undergraduate courses can be part of the problem. What I think would really help is if philosophers stopped boundary-beating, and respected the work of people who are doing philosophy on topics that haven’t gotten much attention in mainstream philosophy. A lot of that work is practical: think of the departments, for instance, where bioethics gets dismissed as “not real philosophy.” Philosophy of race, feminist philosophy, philosophy of disability also easily spring to mind. If undergraduates were exposed to some of this stuff in their undergraduate courses, more of them would perhaps find something in philosophy that really speaks to them, whoever they are.


I agree with pretty much everything she says (including that the question doesn’t necessarily essentialize women), except the part where she says that the question is a good one. I think the issue of whether the question is a good one and the issue of diversity and boundary policing within philosophical topics are issues that can and should be kept apart. Philosophy has been primarily white, male, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, etc for a really long time. As a result, philosophy can really show its collective bias and groupthink. It’s perhaps easier to think that gender isn’t a philosophically central topic or that we can ask The Big Questions without considering gender when you’ve benefitted from male privilege your whole life. It’s perhaps easier to think that race isn’t a philosophically central topic or that we can ask The Big Questions without considering race when you’ve benefitted from white privilege your whole life. And so on. People who don’t share that same privilege may disagree – and may feel alienated as a result. But it’s a far cry from those concerns – concerns which collectively might push us to expand what we count as ‘real’ or ‘core’ philosophy and encourage us to examine philosophy’s collective biases – to thinking it’s a good idea to ask ‘what kind of philosophy do women like?’  


“Find me a boyfriend” notebook

Filed under: gendered products — jennysaul @ 4:42 pm

Go do your thing, Amazon reviewers. (Thanks J!)



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