This is scary: you believe you are acting honorably & wisely,

but you are not.

For readers of this blog, this worry may signal a familiar theme:  the extent to which unconscious biases can be completely outside the awareness of well intentioned people  while  still leading them to act.  And now there’s a good book by a leading science journalist, Shankar Vedantam, called The  Hidden Brain: How  our unconscious minds elect presidents, control markets, wage wars and save lives, which takes a good look at what we know about unconscious biases and the ills they can cause.

There’s a very common theoretical position behind the kind of mainline research he is looking at:  at almost every moment of your waking life you are in charge of a large jointed physical object – one with jiggly bits – that you have to negotiate safely through a very complex physical environment and an exceptional and fairly unique social environment.  Your world is full of information and you need to pick up tons of it, from the fact that the pavement beneath the two little platform this object is positioned on to the emotional reactions of the people you are talking to.  And if you get some of it wrong, you might be in big trouble, from a damaging fall or a lost love interest.

How do you cope?  You could not cope with all this consciously, so an enormous amount is taken care of by your extraordinary brain.  You get the results, but you do not get the input and you are most often not aware of the selection process or what in the environment is tilting that process. 

And Hume was really right:  your mind picks up the patterns in the world and anticipates their continuing. 

Just from this, you can see there’s a huge downside.  If someone doesn’t act in accord with those patterns, your reaction can be very negative in ways you find it hard to justify rationally.  Your brain is conservative, one could say, though if you are reading this, you probably are not.  Others can figure out how to manipulate the brain in ways you will almost certainly not notice.  In fact, it becomes not so surprising that you feel sure you are doing the honorable and wise thing, while you are not.

Malcolm Gladwell talked a bit about the unconscious mind in Blink, but the present book is much more focus on the area and at least some of the ways in which the brain is guiding decisions and actions you would not approve of if you really got what’s going  on. 

It may not be a book for academics in the relevant field unless you enjoy quick gossipy reads that includes stuff about an academic couple in trouble (all my idea of fun, I have to say).  But for all of us who are not engaged in the experimental background, it’s got a lot to think about. 

In addition, there’s a very valuable discussion of it on Salon, brought to our attention by Mr. Jender.  It gives you a bit of a sense of the book and, even more importantly, it raises the MORAL ISSUES!  Given that most of us are more inclined toward racist and sexist actions than we think, how should  we judge our moral responsibility for such actions?  And how about those of others?  It’s pretty awful to think that society’s attitudes result in poor health care for minorities (or overweight people), but the attitudes are ours, for goodness’ sake, even if we do not want to own them.

(Thanks to Jender, Mr Jender, and AB who also sent us this link.)

So have a think and let us know what you think about moral responsibility and things like that…

Are you writing a doctoral thesis on Irigaray?

If  so,  this looks like a wonderful opportunity for you:

Invitation to the Seminar of Luce Irigaray 14 – 19 June 2010

 Since 2003, Luce Irigaray has held an annual seminar for researchers doing their PhD on her work. The seminar offers the opportunity to receive personal teaching from Luce Irigaray and to exchange ideas, methods and experiences with other participants. The seminar was hosted by the University of Nottingham during the first three years (see Luce Irigaray: Teaching edited by Luce Irigaray with Mary Green, and published by Continuum, London & New York, 2008), by the University of Liverpool the fourth year, by Queen Mary, University of London the fifth year and by the Goodenough College of London the sixth year. In 2010, it will be hosted by Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, in Ireland.

The framework of the seminar is this: a group of fifteen researchers doing their PhD on the work of Luce Irigaray stay one week on the university campus. The schedule includes: a presentation by each researcher of the aspect of their PhD which most focuses on the work of Irigaray, the discussion of this presentation by the group, comments from Luce Irigaray herself and her answers to questions raised by each participant. Also included are sessions devoted to the explanation of key-words or key-thoughts chosen by the participants. Personal meetings with Luce Irigaray are organised on the last day. The participants pay for their travel, but receive hospitality from the university. The seminar is conducted in English.

The participants in the seminar come from different regions of the world; they belong to different cultures, traditions and fields of research – Philosophy, Gender Studies, Religious Studies, Literature, Arts, Critical and Cultural Studies, etc. The themes of their research include, for example: the treatment of personal or cultural traumatic experience; the resources that various arts can offer for dwelling in oneself and with the other(s); the maternal order and feminine genealogy; the interpretation and embodiment of the divine today; the contribution of sexuate difference to personal and social development; new perspectives in philosophy etc. In each of these fields, diverse domains, approaches and methods are represented. To date, participants have come from Australia, Vietnam, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Latvia, Spain, Italy, Ireland and from different regions and universities of the U.S.A. and of the U.K. Beyond the multicultural teaching which results from such a gathering, the participants learn to live together and to share in difference during the time devoted to the work, and also during meals, walks, personal meetings etc. The atmosphere of the seminar is intense but friendly and joyful, and its outcome highly successful for both the research and the life of each participant.

If you are interested and would like to participate in such a seminar please send, as soon as possible, a CV, a PhD abstract (1 page) and a presentation of the issues and arguments of your PhD that most focus on the work of Luce Irigaray (5-6 pages) to Luce Irigaray (by mail: 15, rue Lakanal, 75015 Paris, France). After receiving this material, Luce Irigaray will tell you if you can participate in the seminar of 2010. You will be contacted for further practical information by Marita Ryan at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick after the selection of the candidates.  

CFP: SWIP at UK Joint Session



At the 2010 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association, there will be a SWIP UK panel of papers devoted to topics in any area of interest to women in philosophy.

We solicit full papers,(2500 words) plus 250 word abstract, suitable to be delivered in no more than 20 minutes with a further 10 minutes for discussion. We encourage submissions from graduate students. (As with
all the open sessions, papers accepted for this session will not be published in the Supplementary Volume of the Aristotelian Society.)

The closing date for submissions is *1st March 2010*. We expect to confirm which papers have been accepted by the end of March.

Please make sure that your submission is suitable for anonymous reviewing and attach a separate document with your name and contact details. Email submissions are preferred; please send your full paper, with an abstract, as either .doc or .pdf attachment to Dawn Phillips, at dawn.phillips AT or send a hard copy to: Dr Dawn Phillips, Department of Philosophy, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK.

For information about SWIP UK, see
For information about the Joint Session at UCD, see

Speakers must be or become subscribing members of either the Aristotelian Society or the Mind Association, and register as a delegate for the Joint Session.

For details on how to join the Aristotelian Society, see
For the Mind association, see

Poor medical treatment is unhealthy

… and a study has now shown that this is a key reason for some of the health problems faced by those* who are “overweight”. The article discusses a huge range or problems, including:
-Attribution bias, in which doctors assume that the weight is responsible for other problems and thus misdiagnose.
-Doctors refusing to perform procedures which are more difficult due to the weight.
-Lack of equipment properly sized to deal with heavier patients.
-Shaming tactics, like a woman with a torn ligament, whose surgeon refused to operate until she “stopped eating fast food” (which she didn’t actually even eat).

*Sometimes the article is couched in general terms, other times it focuses on women.

No Surprises Today

More support for the claim that egalitarian marriages are happier, as well as more just, can be found in an article in the New York Times: “Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.” The full story is here. “Women no longer need to marry up educationally or economically, so they are more likely to pick men who support a more egalitarian relationship,” said Stephanie Coontz, director of research and education for the Council on Contemporary Families and author of “Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.” The thesis that women who earn as much as more as their partners, and thus have real exit options and can bargain for more egalitariam terms of engagement, is best articulated in my favourite book about marriage and the division of child care and housework, Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power
by Rhona Mahony.

Objectification Silences Women

In experiments with more than 200 people, researchers discovered that when a female believes her body is being sized up by a male, she’ll diminish her presence by speaking less. When a male believes a female is eyeing his physique, however, no such effect occurs. The study, published this month in the journal Psychological Science, explains that our culture has so taught women that they’re judged on appearance that they’ve come to evaluate themselves that way, ultimately self-objectifying. On the one hand, nothing in this study will much surprise feminist philosophers. On the other hand, it’s great to finally have social scientists studying the effects of objectification on women. An article on the study is here. The publication is called “Objectification Can Lead Women to Narrow Their Presence in Social Interactions” (from Psychological Science) by Tamar Saguy, Diane M. Quinn, John F. Dovidio, and Felicia Pratto.

Fight for election reform

More specifically, in this case, fight back against the recent Supreme Court campaign finance ruling. To do so, you can go here and here to sign a petition. The wording seems a big weak to me, but it’s an Obama-organised effort, and I think it’s really important to demonstrate our support for it in order not to give them another excuse to cave.

CFP Just the Arguments

From Philos-L:

Wiley-Blackwell is pleased to announce a call for proposals for Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy, edited by Michael Bruce and Steven Barbone. The completed text will be a survey and presentation of 100 of the most important arguments in Western philosophy, wherein experts will write brief encyclopedia-like entries presenting arguments in their essence, including a representative quotation, explication of the context and aim of the argument, and the argument’s logical form.

I’m writing to urge all of you to think about arguments by women philosophers that might be well-suited to this volume, and to send in proposals if so. Go here for more information– but act fast, as proposals are due 1 February. If implicit bias does its usual thing, they’ll end up with 100 arguments by men (or maybe 99 if we’re lucky). So let’s see if we can avert that!