The problem with aggressive philosophy?

A post here a short while ago looked at the relatively low number of women in philosophy and considered a recent discussion of some of the causes. One focused on is the aggressive style too frequently employed in philosophy. A lot of women do not like it. Unfortunately, that can make it seem as though we are just too gentle and timid for the men’s playing field, which does not seem true.

In looking at  absracts and articles by Maria Lugones yesterday, I was reminded of another and much more important downside. I wonder if it isn’t this that makes us more disinclined to find the sport of philosophy rewarding when it is indeed played like a competitive sport. 

A significant bit is underlined below.  One could argue that a huge part of the problem with aggressive philosophy is not that it scares women, but that it subverts its supposed purpose; namely,  communal and constructive philosophy. Flashes of philosophical insight – suddenly getting what else is at stake, for example – may indeed be just that, flashes. But it takes time to figure out the best articulation of an insight, and its value. Complexity and uncertainly need to be admitted, unless one is just going to quickly crank through the surrounding logical implications of a first articulation. Other things being equal, the best discussions would open up alternatives, not close them down. 

To the extent that Lugones is describing the kind of setting that allows for exploration of insight and meaning, it is not the one that reigns in most philosophical settings. Or so one could argue.


Title   Multiculturalismo radical y feminismos de mujeres de color  
Author   Lugones, María  
Source   Revista Internacional de Filosofia Politica, vol. 25, pp. 61-75, July 2005  
ISSN   1132-9432  
Descriptors   Feminism; Multiculturalism; Political Philosophy; Resistance; Women Of Color  
Abstract   At the very logical core of the movement towards radical multiculturalism and women of color feminisms is a shift from a logic of oppression to a logic of resistance. Radical, structural or polycentric multiculturalism is a radical response to the Eurocentrism that has accompanied the history of Western colonialism. The passionate desire to communicate across nondominant differences that establishes a cross-cultural relationship, in an egalitarian and unprecedented way, between histories that we know are interrelated is fostered by cognitive attitudes that valorize open-ended understanding, complexity, and uncertainty. This multiculturalist position prepares us to bridge the barriers among marginalized resistant knowledges.

4 thoughts on “The problem with aggressive philosophy?

  1. I have probably a whole essay’s worth of response on this topic! Having worked in Canada, the US, Australia and given talks in the UK, I find it’s hard to make generalizations about philosophical style. Behavior that would be considered very rude in one country is what’s expected in the other. In particular, British philosophers sometimes seem pretty quiet and deferential or alternatively can deliver ruthless, devastating criticisms in the kindest and quietest of ways. Loudness that’s broken up with laughter feels very different than angry loudness. Some of the loud people are actually quite collaborative and not at all combative. In short, there’s a whole host of traits and it can be hard to disentangle them and say which of them are common and which present an obstacle to women’s participation in philosophy.

  2. Even those who take an aggressive approach do not have all their bases covered. They tend to be geared towards fighting little skirmishes or battles, rather than wars. They tire very easily, for they have underestimated the effort it takes to adopt a truly aggressive approach.

  3. Jennifer, I’m having trouble taking the skirmishes vs. wars distinction to academic philosophy. I think there’s a sense in which much of philosophy has gotten caught up in small topics, but I think that where larger ones were the norm, the battles could be just as fierce.

    Frog, I’m a bit surprised by “loudness” as a particularly interesting variable, but perhaps because American voices are often very loud compared to others???

    I also hope I didn’t get committed to saying there’s one style and it is everywhere, because you are right – that’s wrong.

    I think you’re reminding me, though, that there are lots of dimensions here. We might distinguish between an adversarial method (from Janice Moulton’s article) and an aggressive style. The method might be something like focusing on what’s wrong with another philosopher’s thought and aggressive might be about about how much one tries to initiate the objections, refuse to concede unless one is completely refuted, etc. I suppose other variations might be concerned with how something like angry it is, and also about how far one goes in actually displaying another’s errors. Another might be whether one allows the other space for replying adequately, or recognizes promising returns.

    When I first moved from England to a visiting posiition at an Ivy League university, I remember thinking that in the UK place one could stop when everyone was clear you had defeated the presented ideas, but at least where I was in the US people seems to want t lop off bits of the person and display them.

    Doubtless there are other dimensions. But it may be that there’s a core feature that comes out in comparison with other disciplines. In the science talks I go to, people will raise problems; for example, someone might point out that something seems unclear or even inconsistent, another might claim to have contrary results and there can be in principle objections. But the objections are not part of the goal of a discussion unless there really are bad features, for the goal is to enhance everyone’s understanding of a scientific issue.

    So perhaps there’s a philosophical method – we look for the errors – which isn’t universal, etc, but which is very negative and can easily go with the aggression?? And in fact is combined too often with various forms of agression.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t like it. I need space to think and it doesn’t seem to provide that.

  4. I don’t think much can be gained by a style that is excessively “aggressive” to the point that it targets the thinker in an ad hominem attack.

    What seems to be missing from this approach is the realisation that philosophical thinking is a daring, investigative method.

    So, if I pause at a certain point in my investigation, or even admit that I do not know something that is related to my overall analysis, just yet, it would be very premature to attack me. I may pause and rest before proceeding to develop and formulate my views, but that is a sign of my determination to view my investigations as a long term project. It is very far from being a sign of weakness or uncertainty, and those who take it as such have another think coming.

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