Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

A Woman’s Room Online September 10, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — phrynefisher @ 7:02 pm

An interesting artistic representation of how online harassment impacts women:

Amy has created an exhibit called A Woman’s Room Online: a free-standing 8×10 foot room that is being installed in the L.A. Center for Inquiry office. It will look superficially much like any office in which a woman might work, with the usual accoutrements.


But each object will be covered with messages these women have received on Twitter, Facebook, and email. Real messages, actual things sent to them that are the vilest, most hateful examples of the worst humanity has to offer.

I’ve received a variety of gross and abusive messages and feedback for expressing my opinions online. Much of this was explicitly gendered. Much of it was anonymous, but not all. I use a pseudonym here so I don’t have to expect more of the same tomorrow.

So the concept behind this artwork is quite compelling to me: it captures something of the ways in which I’ve experienced this kind of abuse as inescapably permeating my environment, both at work and elsewhere. It helps to make vivid what it feels like to be told I should just ignore it or “brush it off”, or that it’s not a big deal.

Also relevant in this connection:

Women take online harassment more seriously not because we are hysterics, but because we reasonably have to. There is no gender equivalence in terms of the denigrating, hostile and sometimes exceedingly dangerous environmental effect that misogyny has, online or off.


Call For Abstracts:
 Dominating Speech

Filed under: CFP — phrynefisher @ 6:13 pm

Conference at UConn, November 21-23

Keynotes: Jason Stanley (Yale)
 Ishani Maitra (Michigan) Richard Wilson (UConn)

The Injustice League in the Philosophy Department at the University of Connecticut seeks abstracts on topics related to the conference theme. Suggested topics include: hate speech, slurs, propaganda, slut-shaming, bragging, and gossip.

We seek philosophical work from a variety of subfields, including: ethics, political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of language, epistemology (e.g. epistemic injustice), feminist philosophy, philosophy of law, and philosophy of race.
Please send abstracts of 750 – 1000 words, prepared for blind-review, to our graduate student project assistant, alycia.laguardia@uconn.edu by September 22th, 2014. Please put “DS Submission” in the subject line of the email. Decisions will be made shortly thereafter.

If you have any questions pertaining to the conference, please email: Suzy.Killmister@uconn.edu

Papers resulting from the conference will be strongly considered for publication in a special volume of Social Theory and Practice focused on the conference theme, guest edited by Hallie Liberto.


Who Really Has Academic Freedom? September 9, 2014

Filed under: academia,free speech,Uncategorized — phrynefisher @ 9:49 pm

The concept of free speech is an abstraction worth defending, certainly. But what does free speech mean when nearly everyone who has actually gained any kind of a degree understands fully that the freedom to academic expression is contingent upon any number of factors, including race, class origins, gender, and ethnicity, to name just a few? …

Perspective from Yasmin Nair.



‘The Oxford Lynch Mob’

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:57 pm

At his blog, Jeff Ketland has posted the names of individuals at Oxford he claims constitute ‘a lynch mob’ against him. The people he identifies are mostly grad students. Ketland claims all the people he identifies were part of a malicious smear campaign which:

harassed a family, including even a 4-year old child, out of their home; and then the smear campaigners authored a harassing letter repeated false allegations while making offensive extra-judicial demands and got it signed by 135 people.

 In memory of this outburst of vigilante harassment in Oxford, the Oxford lynch mob members are listed here, denoted LM1, LM2, etc.


The people identified are in fact simply the signatories of this open letter which expressed concern about the university’s handling of the situation. Whether or not some of these individuals also harassed Ketland, it’s definitely not the case that they all did. (I know some of them personally, and that’s simply not the kind of behavior they would engage in.) And it’s definitely not the case that the letter itself constitutes harassment or a ‘smear campaign’.

Ketland’s post seems to constitute a worrying form of retaliation.


‘Is feminist philosophy too. . .?': Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:42 pm

Is feminist philosophy too unrigorous? 

Another common complaint is that feminist philosophy – whatever its shared assumptions or agenda – is simply not suitably rigorous. I suspect that a lot of people who make this criticism haven’t read enough feminist philosophy. Does some of it lack rigor? Sure. Is some of it really messy and unclear? Absolutely. But that’s true of every part of philosophy. The very best of feminist philosophy, though, is a model of clarity and systematic thinking. But perhaps the claim isn’t that all feminist philosophy isn’t rigorous. Maybe, instead, the thought is that feminist philosophy is in general less rigorous than non-feminist work, especially work in ‘the core’.

To be clear, by ‘rigorous’ I don’t mean formal. Sometimes I think people use the term ‘rigorous’ such that work which incorporates more technical jargon and formalism is automatically more rigorous. If that’s what you mean by ‘rigorous’, then sure – feminist philosophy is less rigorous than, say, the bulk of philosophy of language or philosophical logic. But then, so is the vast majority of non-feminist philosophy. And I don’t think being rigorous matters to philosophical quality, if that’s what you mean by ‘rigorous’. By ‘rigorous’ I mean clear and carefully argued. Work that’s formal can lack philosophical rigor (in this sense), and work that’s philosophically rigorous can lack any trace of formalism.

So is feminist philosophy less rigorous (in this sense) than a lot of mainstream philosophy, especially ‘the core’? The truth is that I don’t know, and I don’t think my judgements on the matter are likely to be that reliable. (I don’t think yours are either.) If feminist philosophy were in fact somewhat less rigorous, though, it wouldn’t tell us anything very useful about the merits of feminist philosophy as an area of philosophical enquiry. There are perfectly good reasons why feminist philosophy might be somewhat less rigorous than other areas which don’t bear at all on whether feminist philosophy is ‘good philosophy’. But there are also perfectly good reasons to be suspicious of our comparative judgements in these cases.

For one thing, feminist philosophy (at least as it’s currently practiced in English-speaking philosophy) is a relatively new discipline. It wouldn’t be surprising, given this, if a lot of the work in feminist philosophy was slightly more exploratory in nature than work in fields that have had much longer to define the terms and parameters of their debates. Part of what we’re doing right now in feminist philosophy is ground clearing, just trying to figure out the dialectical terrain. That kind of work can seem – and might be – less clear than work that’s situated within a well-defined and thoroughly explored debate. But that doesn’t make the newer discipline inferior, or the work that’s done in it less philosophically impressive. (Indeed, given the relative newness of the discipline it seems particularly impressive just how clear and rigorous some of the work in it is.)

But feminist philosophy is not only a relatively new field, it’s also a relatively marginalized field within professional philosophy. And it wouldn’t be surprising if this marginalization had bad knock-on consequences for the discipline. (Just as it’s no surprise that many of the most prominent feminist philosophers made their names – and earned their first jobs and their tenure – doing something other than feminist philosophy.) Feminist philosophy isn’t ‘core’. It isn’t widely represented in top philosophy departments. It’s hard to publish on it in top generalist journals, get invited to speak on it in cushy venues, or dialogue with a large group of interested philosophers about it. It’s certainly possible that the net effect of this situation is a drain on resources and talent from feminist philosophy – a drain that might have some negative affects the overall quality of the field. Again, I don’t want to assert that this is in fact the case. But if it was, it wouldn’t make me worry that feminist philosophy was somehow an inferior discipline. It would just make me want to address the ways in which feminist philosophy isn’t taken seriously. And I’d still think feminist philosophy as it currently stands is worthwhile and important, given how much great work there is in the field.

But I also think it’s important to realize that our judgements about rigor and clarity aren’t free of bias. The standards we employ when we say feminist philosophy ‘lacks rigor’ may not be standards we apply universally. Within particular philosophical conversations, people often say things that can sound opaque to the uninitiated. When metaphysicians talk about fundamentality and the ‘flow’ of time, or when epistemologists talk about warrant and internalism vs. externalism about knowledge, or when philosophers or perception talk about the content of experience and what it’s like in Eden, or when ethicists talk about exclusionary reasons and normative power, it can be really difficult – from the outside – to get a good sense of what’s going on. Nevertheless, metaphysics, epistemology, perception, and ethics all are doing just fine in contemporary philosophy. What I want to suggest is that judgements about what’s clear or rigorous aren’t made in a vacuum. And given what we know about gender bias, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we tend to judge a group, the majority of whom are women, talking about gender more harshly than we judge your average philosopher.

More generally, something that seems perfectly clear to participants in a debate may seem obscure – even unintelligible – to those not immersed in that debate. With a lot of debates in philosophy, though, we seem give the participants the benefit of the doubt. Sure, it may not make much sense to me. But there seems to be a good conversation going on there, and the people engaged in it all seem smart and like they know what they’re talking about. So they’re probably on to something, even if what they’re on to isn’t my thing. (You may, instead, be the kind of philosopher who thinks most philosophy outside your area is bullshit. If so, you’re an equal opportunity hater. Congratulations. . .? But you should at least grant that there isn’t a special problem with the badness of feminist philosophy, amongst all the other badness you are forced to put up with.)

With feminist philosophy, though, people seem very quick – unusually quick – to move from ‘That sounds kind of obscure to me’ to ‘Feminist philosophy isn’t clear or rigorous!’ to ‘Feminist philosophy is crap!!!!’. And that inferential slide is a bad one.

Tl:dr – Feminist philosophy might, at present, be less rigorous than other fields for reasons orthogonal to the merit of feminist philosophy as a discipline. But we also might judge feminist philosophy more harshly than we judge other fields. 


5 Men + 0 Women

Filed under: gendered conference campaign — philodaria @ 6:06 am

Equals an all-male list of invited speakers for a philosophy of math conference. 

(For more information about the GCC, see here.)


Guidelines for respectful discussion September 8, 2014

Filed under: academia — jennysaul @ 3:09 pm

David Chalmers has put together a wonderful list of guidelines for respectful philosophical discussion. It’s focussed on in-person discussion, e.g. in seminars. But a lot of it carries over very well to the internet– and, I think, would vastly improve the blogosphere if widely followed. For example…

Don’t present objections as flat dismissals (leave open the possibility that there’s a response).

If you find yourself thinking that the project is worthless, think twice before asking your question.

Object to theses, don’t object to people.

I would add, thinking especially but not exclusively of the internet:

Don’t be dismissive of entire sub disciplines or approaches.

Do not insult people or approaches.

Be mindful of power imbalances, including informal ones.


Poverty, Agency and Human Rights – a book with lots of women

Filed under: poverty,publishing,women in philosophy — axiothea @ 3:07 pm

People teaching a course on human rights or global justice may like to look at this new edited volume, Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights by Diana Tietjens Meyers  which not only has a very good gender balance, but also discusses plenty of issues in feminist philosophy.




‘Is feminist philosophy too. . .?': Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:29 pm

Is feminist philosophy too political? (Or: Is feminist philosophy motivated by a political agenda?) 

Probably the most common line of criticism I’ve heard of feminist philosophy is that it is too political or somehow motivated by an underlying political agenda (see, for example, the long discussion at Daily Nous). The thought, I take it, is something like this. Feminist philosophers are all motivated by a set of shared background assumptions, as well as a shared political agenda. This creates an environment in which disagreement or failure to toe the party line is not tolerated. And that’s not an environment that’s going to produce good, critical philosophy. Philosophy that’s motivated by a political agenda – and which demands affirmation of various political tenants – isn’t likely to be good philosophy.

Does feminist philosophy tolerate disagreement? Of course it does. There’s a huge variety of opinion within feminist philosophy, as anyone familiar with the literature knows. And there have been many influential arguments within feminist philosophy that have been influential largely because they criticize commonly held beliefs or assumptions within feminist philosophy.

What’s perhaps true is that all or almost all feminist philosophers share a few key assumptions – that there is sexism or gender-based oppression, that there ought not to be sexism or gender-based oppression, that men and women (or, more carefully, those people currently gendered as men and as women) ought to be equal, and that it’s important to pay attention to (often overlooked) issues of gender when doing philosophy. But such agreement is hardly surprising, and seems more an artifact of how we use the terms ‘feminist philosopher’ and ‘feminist philosophy’. If, for example, you think gender doesn’t matter in the epistemology of testimony, you probably don’t talk about gender very much in your discussion of the epistemology of testimony. You don’t get called a feminist philosopher. Miranda Fricker disagrees with you – she thinks gender (and class, race, etc) matter a lot to the epistemology of testimony. She gets called a feminist philosopher. If you think Fricker is dead wrong about this, and you publish a reply to her, your reply probably won’t be described as feminist philosophy, even though it engages with feminist philosophy. Feminist philosophers can and will be interested in what you have to say. But we reserve the appellation ‘feminist philosopher/philosophy’ for work that shares a few very basic assumptions about gender. You wouldn’t walk into a bachelor-only party and think “Wow, everyone here isn’t married! There must be some weird sort of groupthink going on!” Likewise, you shouldn’t walk into a feminist philosophy conference and think “Wow, everyone here thinks gender is an important philosophical topic and that sexism exists! There must be some weird kind of groupthink going on!”

Is there something weird about the fact that feminist philosophers spend a lot of time talking to people who share their basic assumptions, hold conferences where everyone shares those assumptions, etc? If there is a problem with that, it’s a problem for philosophy in general, rather than feminist philosophy in particular. Philosophers spend a lot of time talking to philosophers who share certain basic assumptions. We have conferences/volumes/forums where everyone or almost everyone is a metaphysical realist, or at least thinks metaphysics isn’t pointless. We have conferences/volumes/forums where everyone or almost everyone agrees that old-school British philosophy of language is silly and behind the times. We have conferences/volumes/forums where everyone agrees that knowledge is possible, or that we’re at least picking out some meaningful concept with our use of the term ‘freewill’, or that philosophy of physics can make a useful contribution to our understanding of physics. That’s just how that goes.

But people often accuse feminist philosophers – and feminist philosophy – of being unwilling to engage with those that don’t share their basic set of assumptions. This just seems patently false. Feminist philosophers engage all the time with non-feminist work. The trouble is that, unfortunately, this engagement is often ignored by everyone but those already doing feminist philosophy. And I don’t doubt that feminist philosophers would engage with non-feminist work even more were those doing non-feminist work more eager to pay attention to what’s going on in feminist philosophy.

That being said, it’s probably true that if someone published a paper saying that sexism doesn’t exist, or that women are inferior to men, or etc, most feminist philosophers wouldn’t be interested in engaging with it. But I don’t see anything at all wrong with this. For starters, it sucks to have a conversation with someone who thinks you’re naturally inferior, or who denies your (to you very blatant and obvious and backed up by tons of evidence) experience of oppression. It makes you feel like shit. Philosophy shouldn’t require us to have those kinds of conversations. Some people are willing to have them, and that’s great. But there’s nothing wrong with refusing to engage in them, potential loss to ultimate philosophical progress and enlightenment notwithstanding.

Secondly, refusing to engage with those who don’t share some of your basic assumptions – simply because you don’t think such engagement is worthwhile or likely to be productive – has a long and storied tradition in philosophy. From Hume consigning metaphysics to the flames, to the logical positivists hating on pretty much everything, to David Lewis greeting paraconsistent logic with a blank stare – this is something that philosophers do. You have to start somewhere and you have to take some things as obvious. For a lot of women, especially those who do feminist philosophy, these starting points include the importance of gender and gender equality. It’s hard to see why there’s anything wrong – or at least anything philosophically unusual – with that.

What about the claim that feminist philosophy is motivated by a political agenda? I’ll admit that this is a criticism I have a hard time grasping. Sure, feminist philosophers all want gender-based oppression to end. And no doubt a lot of us think that understanding gender – and it’s relevance to various philosophical debates – may ultimately aid us in addressing gender-based oppression. But it’s not like all feminist philosophy papers end with cries of ‘Down with the patriarchy!’ A lot of work is just attempting to get theoretical traction on gender, and gender’s relevance to various areas of philosophical enquiry. Someone’s background motivation for being interested in a philosophical topic doesn’t, in general, seem to be something that’s particularly relevant to the subsequent work they do.  It’s not, after all, a question we ask of someone doing traditional metaphysics or epistemology.  Or at least, if we do ask that question, we’re satisfied with something like “because working on this topic helps us get clearer about something important”. Maybe the fact that feminist philosopher’s think gender – and getting clear on gender – is important makes feminist philosophy political in some sense. But in the same sense, tons of other philosophy (maybe all philosophy) is political as well.

Tl:dr – I can’t see any sense of ‘political’ in which feminist philosophy is political in a way that tons of other philosophy isn’t.


Some reflections on feminist philosophy

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:25 pm

A lot of people don’t like feminist philosophy. And, more strongly, a lot of people think feminist philosophy is somehow bad philosophy. There’s been a fair amount of discussion of these kinds of sentiments on the glorious internets lately, and this blog has largely ignored them – mostly because we’re busy doing our own thing, but also because there’s a worry that in addressing these kinds of criticisms of feminist philosophy we implicitly give them more weight than they deserve. But I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about them. Over a short series of posts I’m going to look at what I think are the major or most common criticisms of feminist philosophy. What I say will be entirely my own opinion – I don’t speak for the other bloggers, let alone other feminist philosophers. But I wanted to address this topic because I used to think feminist philosophy was bad too. So think of the posts that follow as the reflections of a former hater.

For myself, though, I don’t actually think any of these criticisms were ever the main reason I didn’t like feminist philosophy – even if they provided some post hoc justification. Not liking feminist philosophy was just sort of something I fell into, and stuck with because it was cool. I read some stuff in feminist philosophy early on in grad school that wasn’t my thing. The philosophical methodology that I love is the methodology of contemporary analytic philosophy, and the stuff in feminist philosophy I was directed toward was probably best described as phenomenology.* I quickly assumed the whole field was like that. Why did I assume that based on a few articles? Who knows. But it felt like I had to choose between liking feminist philosophy and liking David Lewis, and I chose David Lewis. (I feel the full absurdity of this in retrospect, given that, e.g., David Lewis and Rae Langton wrote papers together. But it didn’t seem absurd at the time.)

What’s clear is that hating feminist philosophy was easy. It was encouraged, even. Feminist philosophy was a fun thing to laugh about in the bar after a talk. And making fun of it was a good way to try to prove I could be ‘one of the boys’.

These days, my love for David Lewis and my love for feminist philosophy have found a way to happily co-exist. I share the upcoming series of posts in case they’re helpful for anyone feeling the sort of tension past-me felt.



*Just to clarify, I don’t mean to suggest there is anything wrong with phenomenology! And it’s something I’ve gained an increasing appreciation for over time. But especially in grad school, it just wasn’t the style of philosophy I felt most at home with. 




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