Philosophy and the Man of Reason

This post ends with a real question.  Please do tell us about the view from your place. 

In my early days in feminist philosophy, a lot of women philosophers were talking about how Anglophone philosophy and philosophical writing was still dominated by theories and examples reflecting its monkish past.  That is, the conceptions of knowledge in general, knowledge of other minds, rationality and  decision-making all positioned their subjects as solitary, with little in the way of demands on their time, and with formal rules or formalizable procedures as the best guides to good outcomes.    

Philosopher’s fascination with the apriori encouraged some  to take such remarks as merely sociological objections to philosophical substance and, as such, close to irrelevant to their conclusions.  That view then provided them with a reason for not reading the actual arguments.  However, the feminist texts, once read, are much harder to dismiss.  Here one might cite  Jenny Lloyd’s The Man of Reason, Lorraine Code’s objection that Gettier was concerned with what is in fact a very restricted kind of knowledge, Helen Longino’s conception of science as social knowledge, and Annette Baier’s description of men’s moral philosophy as largely treating morality as like a system of traffic laws for self-assertors.  And many, many others.

Over thirty years later, the traditional conception is still robust in some quarters, but feminist thought has an unexpected ally in much in cognitive neuroscience and naturalized and  empirically informed philosophy.  While some cognitive psychologists, such as Marc Hauser, are still looking for inborn moral rules, the more dominant idea is that little in living a rational human life is accomplished by reason or rules alone.  John Doris, for example, has strong arguments against the idea that rational reflection could underlie human morality.**  And as for the demands on one’s time, real human beings evolved to make fast and accurate judgments; epistemically or methodologically downgrading or ignoring all the information carried by the reactions of instinct and the emotions, as  has been done for centuries in philosophy,  can be vastly impoverishing.  Thus Hume, who consigned the most important human mental operations to emotion and instinct, was long regarded as the arch-sceptic, until a losening of the grip of monkish intellectual virtues enabled us to see his genuinely constructive project.

Of course, one might want to, e.g., side with Kant over Hume, or Hauser over Doris and others; the point here is that the dialectic is much more open and congenial to strands in feminist thought that were once widely dismissed.

I and many other feminists can remember floating such ideas in earlier decades.  The  results were too often not pretty, though positioning the claims as naturalized philosophy could provide some protection.  However, as a close friend at a conference pointed out to me, now there are experiments and clinical findings, which  have  made a lot of difference.

Is the man of reason now just one among many on a the philosophical stage?  How does it look to you?

**As far as I know, this work is  not yet  in print.

Note:  Earlier entries on this blog have discussed aspects of the feminist challenges; see, for  example, here and here.

Philosophers Are Employable!

At least in the UK, those possessing philosophy degrees are apparently increasingly in demand.

Lucy Adams, human resources director of Serco, a services business and a consultancy firm, says: “Philosophy lies at the heart of our approach to recruiting and developing our leadership, and our leaders. We need people who have the ability to look for different approaches and take an open mind to issues. These skills are promoted by philosophical approaches.”

Fiona Czerniawska, director of the Management Consultancies Association’s think tank, says: “A philosophy degree has trained the individual’s brain and given them the ability to provide management-consulting firms with the sort of skills that they require and clients demand. These skills can include the ability to be very analytical, provide clear and innovative thinking, and question assumptions.”

It’s often suggested that the dearth of minorities (and sometimes women) in philosophy is due in part to worries about getting a job. If that’s right, then one way to increase diversity in philosophy departments may be to publicise the employability of philosophers. (Thanks for the link, CH!)