When NOT to talk about implicit bias

Folks here know that I (like many of our bloggers) am very interested in implicit bias. But I get really angry when I seeing it invoked where it’s really not what we should be talking about.  Like the Terence Crutcher murder.

In the wake of yet another killing of an unarmed black person by a police officer, we are once again hearing about the importance of fighting implicit bias. Now, I am completely on board with the thought that it’s important to fight implicit bias: I just published two co-edited volumes on it. It’s important, and it explains a lot. But it does not explain this murder, and it is the wrong place to look for a solution to the problem of police shootings of unarmed black people.

Read the rest.

CFA: Harms and Wrongs in Epistemic Practice


Call for Abstracts


The Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Conference 2017:
Harms and Wrongs in Epistemic Practice


The University of Sheffield

3rd–4th of July 2017


We are pleased to invite abstracts for papers to be considered for presentation at a conference on Harms and Wrongs in Epistemic Practice, to be held on July 3rd and 4th 2017 at the University of Sheffield. Invited speakers are:


  • Alison Bailey (Illinois State University)
  • Heather Battaly (California State University, Fullerton)
  • Havi Carel (University of Bristol) and Ian James Kidd (University of Nottingham)
  • Quassim Cassam (Warwick University)
  • Miranda Fricker (CUNY Graduate Center / University of Sheffield)


How we engage in epistemic practice, including our methods of knowledge acquisition and transmission, the personal traits that help or hinder these activities, and the social institutions that facilitate or impede them, is of central importance to our lives as individuals and as participants in social and political activities. In the past decade, sustained philosophical attention has turned to the various ways in which this practice can and does go awry, and the epistemic, moral, and political harms and wrongs that follow. The aim of this conference is to draw attention to the full range of these harms and wrongs. We hope to bring together a range of theorists working on a diverse variety of relevant topics in order to spark new insights and forge new interconnections.


Proceedings of the conference will be published as a special issue of the journal Philosophy. Accordingly, we are conducting a two-stage review process to ensure papers presented are of publishable quality. At this point we invite submissions of a 750 word extended abstract. Based on the abstracts we will then invite a shortlist of applicants to submit a full paper, from which we will make the final selection for the conference. See below for more information about this process. We encourage submissions from philosophers at all levels of career progression who are working on any issues relevant to the remit of the conference, broadly construed. Topics might include, but are by no means limited to:


  • Epistemic vice and vices
  • The effects of social positioning on one’s epistemic life
  • Epistemologies of ignorance (particularly from a non-US perspective)
  • The problems of persistent disagreement
  • Feminist epistemology, critical race epistemology, and other critical epistemologies
  • Non-ideal aspects of trust and testimony
  • The role of social structures in perpetrating or sustaining epistemic harmsand wrongs
  • Topics in applied epistemology (medical, political, educational, etc.)



We will be using a two-stage reviewing process. Please read the following instructions carefully. All submitted files must be in .DOC, .DOCX, .PDF, .RTF, or .TXT format.


Dates at a Glance

1st of December 2016: abstracts due

15th of December 2016: notification of acceptance to the shortlist

31st of March 2017: full papers due

15th of April 2017: notification of acceptance to the conference


Stage 1: Abstracts

At this time, we are pleased to invite submissions of extended abstracts of approximately 750 words, of papers suitable for a 30 minute presentation. Please prepare your abstract for blind review (i.e. remove all content that may identify you as the author(s)) and send it to hwep2017@sheffield.ac.uk by the 1st of December 2016. Submissions must be accompanied by a cover sheet, attached as a separate file, providing the title of the proposed paper and the author(s)’s:

  • Name
  • Personal pronouns
  • Email address
  • Institutional affiliation
  • Appointment title
  • Demographic information the author(s) wish to declare

There is a limit of one submission per author (including co-authored submissions). Based on the abstracts we will then invite a shortlist of applicants to submit a full paper. Applicants selected for the shortlist will be notified no later than the 15th of December 2016.


Stage 2: Papers

Authors whose abstracts have been selected for the shortlist will be invited to submit a full-length paper of 6,000–8,000 words on that topicThe paper must be prepared for blind review and sent to hwep2017@sheffield.ac.uk no later than the 31st of March 2016. Authors whose papers have been accepted for presentation at the conference will be notified no later than the 15th of April 2016.


Accessibility and Diversity

Submissions are open to all, but at least 20% of open-call spaces on the programme will be awarded to postgraduates and researchers without a permanent position. If you fall into one of those categories, we invite you to include that information on your cover sheet.

We are keen on assembling a demographically diverse programme. To aid in this, if you are a member of a demographic group that is underrepresented in anglophone professional philosophy, we invite you to declare this information on your cover sheet.

The conference venue is accessible. For more information or to make an accessibility request, please contact the conference organizers.

Stipends will be available for those accepted, but we regret that we cannot guarantee to cover expenses in full (more details T.B.C. closer to the conference date).


This conference has been organized in accordance with the BPA/SWIP-UK Good Practice Scheme.



Please direct all queries to hwep2017@sheffield.ac.uk.

Organising committee: Simon Barker, Charlie Crerar, Trystan Goetze


Further information about the conference will be available at:



Responding to sexual harassment in academia: punishment or pedagogy?

Eric Schliesser has an interesting discussion posted at D&I (which we linked to earlier) of the piece in the Chronicle by Brian Leiter, regarding the ethics of how we respond to sexual harassers in academia.  I think the exchange is worth reading, but that both pieces assume the wrong framework for approaching the issue.* That is, it would be more productive to think about the appropriate role of sexual harassers going forward in academia through the lens of pedagogy rather than punishment.

Leiter’s piece begins with a discussion of Colin McGinn – particularly, the question of whether or not he should be allowed to teach again. Leiter fears that disproportional punishment in response to sexual harassment in academia is trending (e.g., firing, refusal to hire); Schliesser notes that other offenses in the academic community aren’t treated under the kind of proportionality principle Leiter is advocating for (e.g., some plagiarists are shunned from the academic community; we don’t typically give students a second chance before a plagiarized paper receives an F). But, when the administration at East Carolina University vetoed the faculty’s offer of a teaching position, was this an instance of punishment? When a commentator on a blog suggests that having been fired for sexual misconduct disqualifies one for future teaching positions, are they thereby advocating for punishment of offenders?

I don’t think so. If I learn that Jane betrayed her friend John’s trust, and on that basis I decline to form a friendship with her, my failing to become friends with Jane is not a punishment. It is a negative consequence of her conduct towards John, but not all negative consequences are punishments. I wouldn’t put Bernie Madoff in charge of my finances; I wouldn’t leave my dogs with Tony Barbara; and though I’m sure she would never need it, I wouldn’t loan my car to Lindsay Lohan. I wouldn’t be punishing Lindsay Lohan – she’s just not entitled to my car, and I wouldn’t want to take the risk.

Of course, if I don’t choose to engage in a particular kind of relationship with someone on the basis of their past conduct that doesn’t entail that they will never be able to enter into such a relationship with someone else. This contrasts with the kind of case Leiter is considering where a sexual harasser cannot find another position in academia at all. But, as Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa pointed out in a comment on facebook, neither is there some general governing body handing out teaching positions: “[T]here’s a job market. No person or organization faces the question of whether [some sexual harasser] should ever be allowed to teach again. The question faced, by each of a bunch of departments, is, should we hire [this person] to teach here?” In any given instance, that will be a complicated question to answer. (If for no other reason than that the academic job market is flooded with candidates. For any one, no matter whether they’ve engaged in misconduct or not, what are the odds there isn’t a better qualified candidate out there?)

Suppose I’m wrong about all of this, though, and that there is a punitive element to the refusal to hire a sexual harasser. Even so, I think it would be more productive to think about this issue through the lens of pedagogy rather than punishment. As Leiter writes, “[s]exual harassment of students by their professors betrays the fundamental idea of a university as a place where everyone can come to learn and master an intellectual discipline, and be evaluated on their intellectual competence, rather than their sexual desirability.” (NB: with Schliesser, I suspect much sexual misconduct is not about desirability.)

Some kinds of relationships only function properly if certain preconditions are met. Friendship must be given willingly. Being a doctor requires that one have medical knowledge. Practicing as a social worker requires licensure. Rather than asking if we ought to keep those who engage in sexual misconduct on faculty so as to not send harassers out into the world for someone else to deal with as Leiter does, or asking if refusal to hire is proportionally punitive, we ought to be asking what’s pedagogically appropriate. Certainly, we have moral responsibilities – to victims and perpetrators of sexual misconduct. But examining this through the framework of pedagogy rather than punishment has the dual benefit of not privileging our responsibilities to wrong-doers over those who are wronged and keeping our guiding aim, qua educational community, centered. Are those who betray the fundamental idea of a university fit to be employed by one? If so, why? If not, what would it take for them to become so again?

I would be opposed to my department hiring McGinn, but it’s not a question of punishment. I would be opposed to my department hiring McGinn because he doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong, and I don’t know how someone who thinks it’s appropriate to treat students in that way could be entrusted with their educations.

*There’s a lot more to say about all of these issues, but I just want to briefly note that with Schliesser, I also don’t think the Chronicle piece gets the cases quite right. For example, it reads:

On the other hand, there are cases like that of Sujit Choudry [sic], former dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, who was found to have violated the university’s sexual-harassment policy, though there was no finding that he acted with a sexual intent . . . A dean of a major law school should not be hugging his secretary on a regular basis, as Choudry [sic] did. Such a dean may not be a sexual harasser, but he is sufficiently insensitive to professional norms and legal rules to be unfit for administrative responsibilities, including responsibility for ensuring that others comply with legal rules regarding sexual harassment . . . But now Berkeley wants to fire him for the offense for which he lost his deanship and some salary already. He is now spending tens of thousands of dollars defending his right to remain as a professor, even though there has been no public allegation about misconduct in that role. In cases like this, vindictive hysteria appears to have replaced a proportionate response to the actual misconduct.

Choudhry was found not merely to have hugged his administrative assistant on a regular basis – rather, he admitted to (1) hugging her regularly, (2) kissing her on the cheek regularly, (3) touching her shoulders and arms, (4) holding her hands to his waist, and (5) not engaging in similar conduct with male colleagues or staff. Leiter is right that there was no finding that he acted with a sexual intent, but neither was there a finding that he did not. The investigation report notes that Choudhry’s defense was that he did not act with a sexual intent, but then goes on to explain why this is irrelevant to the question of whether or not he engaged in sexual harassment for the purposes of university policy (i.e., he engaged in intentional physical touching that was unwelcome, and only directed at women, consistently over a seven month period).

Longing For The Male Gaze

Jennifer Bartlett’s provocative opinion piece in the New York Times today considers the role of street harassment and cyber-harassment as she reflects upon the  tension between her longing to be viewed as sexually desirable and her feminist leanings.

I also do understand what it feels like to get attention from the wrong man. It’s gross. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary and tedious. And in certain cases, traumatic. But I still would much rather have a man make an inappropriate sexual comment than be referred to in the third person or have someone express surprise over the fact that I have a career. The former, unfortunately, feels “normal.” The latter makes me feel invisible and is meant for that purpose. I like it when men look at me. It feels empowering, not disempowering. Frankly, it makes me feel like I’m not being excluded.

More here.


Dialogues on Disability – Elvis Imafidon

It’s that time again! Shelley’s latest interview has been posted, and this time she talks to Elvis Imafidon about growing up with albinism in Nigeria; ontology in African traditions, and what analysing ideas of Being can tell us about issues faced by African countries today; disability and global justice; African ideas of alterity and otherness; and much more! As usual, it’s a fascinating and important read.

My guest today is Elvis Imafidon, who is currently a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Ambrose Alli University in Nigeria. Elvis has research interests in both ontology and ethics and aims to show how an understanding of these areas can enable us to deal with issues such as disability, gender bias, corruption, and biomedical issues. He is especially interested in exploring how the ontology of African traditions can be used to understand how Africans view these issues. Beyond scholarship, Elvis really enjoys cooking, is in the habit of dragging the kitchen with his wife Sandra, and has a great time with his two beautiful daughters, Evelyn and Ellen.

You can read the whole interview here.

What is proportional punishment in academia?

Wise reflections from Eric Schliesser in response to Brian Leiter’s thoughts on proportional punishment of sexual harassers:

As I have noted before (while writing about the Pogge case recall), academics actually treat harms against the profession rather severely: for example, serial plagiarists (e.g., Martin Stone) are (when caught) often banished from the profession and academic life, and given no second chances. This is also true of folk that get caught in multiple cases of serious academic misconduct (Stapel, Marc Hauser, etc.). In many cases of violations of academic integrity we de facto do not believe in second chances and we think that employment in the profession should be prevented. Many years ago, a journalist pointed out to me (with a mixture of bemusement and outrage) that academics tend to treat sins against the profession/discipline far worse than society treats a whole range of awful crimes. We convey something of this attitude to our students when we can give a student a (fairly automatic) F for (serious) cheating; many universities have some kind of procedure in which a student’s academic misconduct becomes either a permanent feature of the academic records or becomes a permanent barrier to completing the degree.* What is especially notable about these cases is that disciplines and universities often are far more severe than the law. (That’s not true of all the cases; some grant agencies have become notably harsher than universities/disciplines.)

I am not denying that it is possible to treat the kinds of cases I mention in the previous paragraph as falling under some kind of proportionality principle. But (a) that’s not the natural reading of these cases and so the principle of proportionality does not apply in violations of academic integrity; and (b) if the proportionality principle is taken to apply then the severity of these punishments is strong evidence that we take violations of the integrity of the academic enterprise as extremely serious offenses. (Of course, a reformist reader may decide that the proportionality principle does apply here, and argue that the existing punishments do not fit the crimes, or that there are half-way places between utter banishment and ongoing engagement in academic work–this came up in the Hauser case.) My own favored interpretation is actually (b) — our practice reveals we tacitly take violations of the integrity of the academic enterprise as extremely serious offenses –, but what follows will only assume that one needs to argue for the principle of proportionality in the context of academic offenses and can’t take its applicability for granted….

Here I want to turn to Leiter’s important observation that the cases of sexual misconduct and worse violate the “fundamental idea of a university as a place where everyone can come to learn and master an intellectual discipline, and be evaluated on their intellectual competence, rather than their sexual desirability.” I agree with Leiter about this (although I suspect that a lot of misconduct is not a consequence of perceived sexual desirability). This particular harm is distinct from all the other harms that follow from various forms of sexual misconduct (and let me grant that these harms may well fall under some proportionality principle). Violations of this fundamental idea are very much like violations of academic integrity. These violations undermine our collective mission to teach, learn, and master an intellectual discipline. In the case of plagiarism we have long recognized this, in the cases of sexual misconduct we have been scandalously slow to acknowledge it.

Read the whole thing.

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon for Underrepresented Philosophers & Philosophy, in Honor of Kevin Gorman (Oct 8th)

On October 8th 2016, from 1:30PM PST onward, in the San Diego Central Public Library, Wikipedia will host an edit-a-thon in honor of Kevin Gorman, whose passionate work on behalf of women in philosophy we highlighted in an earlier post (see also here).  The editathon will be part of this year’s WikiConference North America.  I will be coordinating the editathon with seasoned editor, Julie Farman.

This is a call for crowd-sourcing in advance of the editathon.  What the Wikipedians most need from us: guidance about which pages are still missing, and content and references to fill those missing pages.  Kevin began compiling a list of missing notable women philosophers, and a current list-in-progress is here.  This is part of the “Women in Red” project (so-called because links to nowhere in Wikipedia are in red font.  You can also see a list of the many pages on women philosophers that Kevin had already created toward the bottom of this link.)

For starters, you can post suggestions for pages to add on Wikipedia, about underrepresented philosophers and philosophy in the comments below.  Also please feel free to email me (alexmadva@gmail.com) with comments, questions, suggestions, etc.  We will also eventually need help with content and references.  In particular, to pass Wikipedia’s “notability” guidelines, we will need reliable, verifiable references to back up what we post.

The gaps on Wikipedia remain vast, and they will not be hard to find, but here are my preliminary thoughts about concrete strategies to identify gaps:

  1. Compile a list of existing or planned pages on, e.g., the SEP and the IEP, related to, e.g., feminist philosophy, and then check to see if corresponding pages exist on Wikipedia.
  2. For every page that is already up on notable woman philosophers, see if the Wikipedia page on the subject she works on has a link to her and/or reference to her work.  There’s surely a lot of room for better cross-referencing within Wikipedia.  (The established Wikipedia editors will be especially well-poised to contribute here.)
  3. Check the existing pages on underrepresented topics and people to see if they are accurate, substantive, etc.
  4. More generally, people should just look up the topics they themselves work on (or are currently interested in or are simply curious to learn more about!) and see what’s missing, where there’s room for improvement, etc.

For those who can attend the editathon in person, you can join us for lunch at 12PM PST if you register for $10 that day, or you can come at 1:30pm with free registration.

Stacey goguen on stereotype threat

I wrote about the mind-on-line conference in an earlier post.  Let me here highlight Stacey Goguen’s paper on stereotype threat and the comments on it.

In the last part of her paper Goguen draws our attention to the effects of encountering negative stereotypes on one’s sense/conception/understanding of one’s self.  This seems to me a very valuable addition to the literature.  And Goguen makes it clear that more is to be done.  Have a look!


Philosophical Vanities

In an article posted on Aeon and approvingly described by Brian Leiter, Nicholas Tampio argues that philosophy, as the trajectory of thought emerging from Plato (and only Plato), would lose itself (and its funding) if came to embrace thinkers such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and Confucius. I can’t speak to the characterization of al-Ghazali, but the remarks about Confucius are comically unsophisticated and deploy orientalist stereotypes. I make some remarks about this here. But every time some argument of this sort is trotted out to “defend” philosophy, I get embarrassed to be in philosophy. The reasons are multiple, but let me focus on the breathtaking lack of self-awareness.


Articles in this style work on a confused logic of purportedly neutral disciplinary definition. They pose as trying to define what philosophy does, as if it is but one among many academic disciplines, and express a happy pluralism about the need for many different disciplines. If that were all they do, perhaps they’d be less obnoxious. But along the way, in describing what philosophy is, they assign it exclusive rights to a host of generally desirable and admiration-worthy qualities. See, philosophy is interested in critical thinking; it is fearless; it is unbound by unexamined commitments; it uniquely challenges the status quo; it is independent in mind; and so on, ad nauseum. In the ascription of generally desirable and admiration-worthy qualities to philosophers, as their defining feature, the philosopher who wants to thereby exclude some body of texts or assemblage of people does not sound like someone articulating reasonable disciplinary definitions. He sounds like someone denying that those he would exclude have what it takes, and this makes all his softening “not that there’s anything wrong with that” gestures toward other disciplines and people especially insulting. [I’ve written a bit on the slippage from description to honorific here.]


First, in all of these articles I can recall, the purportedly defining characteristics of philosophy beggar belief as the exclusive province of philosophers. They tend to be characteristics in evidence not only in a host of academic disciplines, but in all sorts of human endeavor. So philosophers laying sole claim to them sound wildly arrogant and, far worse, incredibly ignorant, as if they’ve never encountered other human beings with anything like an open mind or curiosity about what those other human beings do.


Second, the purportedly defining characteristics of philosophy are ones actual philosophers, both historical and contemporary, regularly fail to exhibit. E.g., in the article cited above, there are so many unexamined stereotypes of Confucianism deployed that you might take the article for satire. So claiming that philosophers excel in examining everything and being unbound by hackneyed ideas holding others in thrall is just absurd. Philosophers who claim this regularly demonstrate its falsity while claiming it.


The level of inadvertent self-satirization in this sort of exercise is plainly embarrassing. What I get from this sort of thing is that where philosophers really excel is in exercises of self-congratulation wholly unmoored from actual learning, curiosity, or reasonable intellectual humility. For people who boldly claim to corner the market on open-minded, radical curiosity that seeks to leave no stone uncovered, they look a lot like people hiding under rocks. If philosophy is ever going to be better, even at what its old guard claims it does, it really needs to see that puling self-flattery and wanton arrogant insult of others is not the same thing as “defining philosophy.”

Ageism in philosophy?

After spending years at conferences where women had to struggle to be heard, i thought that sorry situation changed considerably in 1986.  Suddenly it was recognized that women could do philosophy, or so it seemed to me.  But there was a problem.  Men acted, again from my point of view, as though women became able to do philosophy in 1986.  With few exceptions, the older women were not taken more seriouly than before.

Surely I exaggerate for the sake of a neat narrative.  Perhaps so.  But it may be worth asking ourselves if there is ageism operating in philosophy.  Equally, we could ask if this bias affects women more than men.

If ageism is active, it would do us well to start looking at it by reminding ourselves of its presence in all sorts of areas.  And so here’s a bit from HuffPo about another industry.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-an-unfair-hollywood-is-hurting-people-over-60_us_57d6d947e4b03d2d459b8746.)

You have to look wide and far to find people over 60 in the 100 top-grossing films of 2015, and when you do find them, they are demeaned by ageist language and presented inaccurately and unfairly, says new research conducted by Humana and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Among the researchers’ more disturbing findings:

1. Older people are underrepresented in film.

While 18.5 percent of the population is 60 and over, just 11 percent of film characters were that age.

2. More than half the films with older characters direct ageist comments at them.

Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 contained ageist comments; that’s more than half of the films. Characters were called things like, “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” The report does not name specific films, nor would study representatives identify in which movies those three sample quotes were from.

3. Older people are stereotyped as tech-illiterate.

Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older are depicted using technology, while 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.

4. Older people are portrayed as anti-social shut-ins.

On screen, just one third of seniors pursue interests or hobbies and 38.5 percent attend events, while in reality, they are more than twice as likely to engage socially with friends or relatives on a weekly or monthly basis.

5. Seniors are rarely shown as the masters of their own destinies.

The top five traits respondents rated as most important to aging successfully were self-reliance, awareness, honesty, resilience and safety. In film, seniors are rarely depicted as in control of their lives.

The pity, of course, is that people believe what they see on-screen.