An important shift in academic philosophy? Updated

[See update at the end.]

At a time in which many feminist philosopers are very worried that the percentage of women in philosophy is at best static, the New York Times tells us, “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined.”  And that means many more philosophy majors.

Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts.

The impact on the demographics of the profession appear potentially extremely important:

Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817, up from 765), according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, now have twice as many philosophy majors as they did in the 1990s.

“WHAT!?!” a philosophy professor might be tempted to ask. But as the first quote might indicate, what we may be seeing is at least as much a shift in philosophy as in the students:

Barry Loewer, the department chairman, said that Rutgers started building its philosophy program in the late 1980s, when the field was branching into new research areas like cognitive science and becoming more interdisciplinary. He said that many students have double-majored in philosophy and, say, psychology or economics, in recent years, and go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, investment bankers and even commodities traders.

As the approach has changed, philosophy has attracted students with little interest in contemplating the classical texts, or what is known as armchair philosophy. … Other students said that studying philosophy, with its emphasis on the big questions and alternative points of view, provided good training for looking at larger societal questions, like globalization and technology.

“All of these things make the world a smaller place and force us to look beyond the bubble we grow up in,” said Christine Bullman, 20, a junior, who said art majors and others routinely took philosophy classes. “I think philosophy is a good base to look at a lot of issues.”

Do notice that what is going on here is not some simple matter of “If you give them applied, trendy philosophy, then they’ll take the courses.”  Cognitive Science at Rutgers is hardly that.

And in yet another case, feminist philosophy has been an important and unacknowledge pioneer.

[Update:  O, bother!  Questions about reality intrude again.  See the acute Noumena’s comments.  Can you contribute to our understanding?]

A Pregnant Man

thomas_beatie.jpg The story of a man (an FTM trans man) having a baby has got a lot of press.  Rachel McKinney was right, though to write and urge us to get feminist philosophers talking about it, as it really is great food for thought– and for messing with all those traditional sex and gender binaries. McKinney writes at her blog

I like the situation discussed in the Advocate article because it can be interpreted as evidence that reproductive capacity as a sufficient condition for sex distinction is not uncontroversially true.

And it can also serve to make one really wonder whether it’s a sex distinction or a gender distinction at issue.  Or how each of these should be drawn.  (Think of definitions of ‘woman’ as a gender term that include as sufficient the experience of being pregnant; but also of those that focus on self-identification; or those that invoke how one is perceived by others.  Think of definitions of ‘female’ as a sex term that focus on reproductive organs; now think of those that include secondary sexual characteristics like facial hair.)  And, as I realised when I went to click on categories, about the categories of maternity and paternity. (This father will in all likehood give birth in a maternity ward.) This is one of those cases one can keep going back and forth with, realising the inadequacies of our current categories. Its also a really lovely tale of a couple managing to have their much-wanted child despite both infertility problems and the additional problems of truly vile discrimination that they encountered. Though the latter is pretty depressing to read about.