Admirable Goal, Unfortunate Side-Effect – What to Think?

A reader contacted us recently to ask for help in thinking through a quandary: what to think, how to feel about an institutional policy that has good goals/intentions, but happens, because of other factors (social, economic, etc), to be gender-imbalanced in practice. I think it’s a good thing to think about, because I think it actually comes up a lot in academia (and outside)– evening seminars that are followed by dinners are great for departmental cohesion and free exchange of ideas, for example, but surely the women in the department are going to be at least slightly less able to participate. Another example comes from the reader I mentioned:

The College is located in a region where homes are very expensive, and thus most faculty are unable to afford to buy houses.  The College wants faculty to live close to campus so as to be better able to participate in the life of the College (and let’s just assume this is a worthwhile goal, which I think it is).  But the College is also located a significant commute away from any urban centers where non-academic jobs are likely to be,  and so anyone with a partner who has a non-academic job will find it difficult to live near campus.  As a matter of fact, a much higher percentage of the women faculty are in this situation than the men faculty. The College is now exploring a housing policy that will help faculty achieve home ownership by providing them a significant financial benefit when
they buy houses, but only if they buy within a tight radius to the College.  Many of the women faculty, who are in “split commute” situations, live well outside this radius in areas where housing in equally if not more expensive.  (Expanding the radius slightly, even doubling it, won’t really make a difference.)  So this significant financial benefit will end up being non gender-neutral.

So, what do we think? What ought we think? And more to the point, I suppose: What ought we do?

‘Hook-up culture’ isn’t the problem

writes the ever-awesome Kate Harding.

From where I’m sitting, the problem that needs solving isn’t hook-up culture, but the intense pressure on girls and women to focus on getting and keeping a guy, rather than on getting and keeping whatever they want.

And along the way, she provides some excellent examples of what Langton calls ‘locutionary silencing’: girls and young women failing to say what they want, or to ask what their partners as individuals want (having read all those articles telling them what “boys/men” want). Which, by the way, also leads to some locutionary silencing of the boys/men, whose desires are assumed to be only for beer, steak and cheap sex. (Or whatever.)

CFPL Origin(s) of Design in Nature

Gordon, R., L. Stillwaggon Swan & J. Seckbach, Eds. (2011). Origin(s) of Design in Nature.
Dordrecht, Springer.

Deadline: 10 September 2010

Abstract: There is a large gap in our understanding of how organisms create themselves. There is also much to learn about how mindedness arose in some of these organisms through evolution. We are eager to identify fruitful ways of framing a discussion informed by
both science and philosophy that will shed light on the questions of design in living
systems. Specific questions include: How does the genotype produce the phenotype?
What is the role of the environment, including the physics of the universe, in this
process? How does the development process change over time, leading to the evolution
of organisms? Which natural processes or pressures led to the development of cognitive
functions in some of these organisms? We intend to take a fresh and interdisciplinary
look at the science of the origins of life, design, and mind in evolution, the source of so
much conflict and confusion impacting the public.

If you’re interested, or want to learn more, contact Liz Stillwaggon Swan,liz.swan AT

Psychological violence a crime in France

Reports here and discussion (in French) here on the new law passed in France, which identifies psychological violence as a criminal offence:

Politicians from the left and right supported the passing of a law which singles out “repeated” verbal actions intended to hurt the victim’s rights and dignity or their physical or mental health. As well as a jail sentence, offenders could be ordered to pay a fine of up to €75,000 (£66,600).

When I first heard about this (on the BBC world service news show last night) there was criticism of this law as ’empty law making’ – critics claimed that it would be hard to in fact prosecute and get convictions, and the law was likely therefore to be ineffective.

Even if so, it didn’t seem to me to be empty law making – such a law could help reinforce that such psychologically abusive forms of behaviour are unacceptable, or might help individuals subject to such abuse feel reasonable in seeking help…

I also thought there were some philosophically interesting/troubling parts to the law (as it is reported). Why the focus on what the perpetrator in fact intends, rather than on what effects could be reasonably forseen? Why ‘repeated’ verbal actions – could not a one off insult or threat be seriously damaging? Why only verbal actions – might gestures or other behaviour be psychologically abusive?

Any thoughts…?

Hey, what about WOMEN’S intuition? With Update

Another one for the Gendered Conference Campaign. Sigh. (Thanks, FEAST-L!)

Conference Announcement
Intuition, theory, and anti-theory in ethics
Edinburgh, July 3-4 2010

Registrations are now open for this conference. Our speakers are:

Talbot Brewer (University of Virginia)
John Cottingham (University of Reading)
Jonathan Dancy (University of Reading/ Texas)
Brad Hooker (University of Reading)
Edward Harcourt (Keble College, Oxford)
James Lenman (University of Sheffield)
Tim Mulgan (University of St Andrews)
Michael Ridge (University of Edinburgh) & Sean McKeever (Davidson College, NC, USA)
Tom Sorell (University of Birmingham)
Sergio Tenenbaum (University of Toronto)
Alan Thomas (University of Kent)

UPDATE: Apparently Amelie Rorty has just agreed to speak at the conference.

Tech Support Barbie


The new doll is decked out in black spangled leggings and a lime-green fitted tunic patterned with binary code, worn under a slinky waistcoat, with saddle-stitching detail. The ensemble is topped off with the requisite hot-pink accessories: glasses, watch and shoes. To emphasise her innate “techiness” she carries a pink laptop and sports a Bluetooth headset.

No word yet on where the rest of us can get lime-green fitted tunics patterned with binary code. So disappointed.

Protect Academic Free Speech

Alexander Bird writes to Philos-L:

You may be aware that Simon Singh is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association and that the consultant cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst is likewise being sued by American firm NMT Medical for publishing trial results and comments on a product they manufacture. In addition there are other cases, in other academic fields, where publishers (including Cambridge University Press) have pulped books or withdrawn publications as a result of the threat of libel, the expense of which means that it is too costly even to defend indisputably well-evidenced research. (One immediately thinks of Mill’s argument for free speech in this context and the cost both to academia and to the health of individuals of restricting critical comment.)

The threat to academic freedom and to free speech more generally is clear. The issue is all the more important when we, in the UK at least, are being pressured into ensuring that our research has economic and social impact. That such impact will be rewarded in the distribution of QR (research-related university funding) provides a clear incentive to universities to produce research that will be helpful to industry and government, and, correspondingly, to avoid research that is critical of those potential partners in ‘impact’.

Please consider signing this petition. (It’s open to non-UK folks as well.)

Inequality: Our brains don’t like it

So says a recent study.

the team found that the reward centers in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person’s head, rather than the poor person’s…
“In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money,” Camerer explains. “In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.”

I find myself wondering: if this is right, why is it that societies in fact work out the way that they do? There are clearly a huge range of factors that play out in the real world which aren’t present in the experimental setting. Does anyone out there know more about this research?