Just products of their time?

As we plan our fall courses, I’m sure that many of us look for new contributions to debates such as the one that recurrently comes up in Feminism & Philosophy classes: How are we to assess, if at all, the sexism of past ages and peoples?  Since my students are going to be online anyway, I’m planning to direct them to the recent discussion of Jussi Suikkanen’s entry on Pea Soup, “Blaming Past Generations.”  Among other points, he suggests thinking of blame as severing our relationships to others.  This is going to dovetail very prettily with readings on disidentification!

6 thoughts on “Just products of their time?

  1. One thing I do in the “critical reasoning” part of my baby logic class is I have students take the online IAT test and then read/discuss a piece on implicit bias. What jumps out in the title “Blaming Past Generations” for me is BLAME. In the discussions I’ve had of discrimination invariably the thing that gets everyone’s back up is the misconception that feminism is all about blaming. The IAT material, which shows women and minorities being biased against women and minorities is very nice because it opens up a way of discussing discrimination in consequentialist terms, without blaming and name-calling but in terms of how to fix it.

  2. HEB, wonderful idea!

    I’m wondering about how forceful the distinction between blame and disapproval is, especially when one is dealing with past philosophers/writers/visual artists, etc. Perhaps someone could say something about this? Otherwise, I’m going to have to think…

  3. Peter French has written about blame excellently, distinguishing what it means to be ‘to blame,’ separately from being appropriately blamed (that is, in thick social contexts). Reading him was enormously helpful to me over the years, as he was the first I encountered to sensibly say that to understand X is to blame, is compatible with saying X is not *to be blamed.* So wise.

  4. I’ve been rereading Charles Mills’ The racial contract this summer (around all of my other commitments), as I’ll be teaching it as part of my Intro to Philosophy class in the fall. One of Mills’ more important and polemical claims is that white Americans in general more-or-less deliberately ignore the legacy of racism — slavery and discrimination, when they’re discussed at all, are discussed as things that happened in the (distant) past. This, it seems to me, is something near to an example of what Suikkanen’s writing about: a condemnation of our racist past connected with (in some way or another) distancing from and dis-identifying with that past.

    But Mills criticizes this distancing. By pretending that slavery and discrimination happened long ago and far away, we ignore the effects they are continuing to have on our society today. I think he comes close to claiming that this sort of thing has an ideological effect — `since’ slavery and discrimination happened in a distant past and have nothing to do with the US today, racial inequality today `must be’ due to innate differences between races (or some other BS explanation which obviates any white obligation to redress the inequality).

    (Sorry my language and arguments are uncharacteristically sloppy — I just finished a very long day of teaching teenagers logic, and I have a bit of a cold on top of that.)

  5. Thanks, Dan Hicks, for the pointers and the recommendations. (That wicked virus going around has me feeling like a dunderhead too.)

  6. LOVED Mills’ work. It was so profound I still find it hard to swallow lessons on Kantian deontology whole. One prof accused me of an ad hominem for calling Kant an old dead white guy. I told Mr. classical logic chopper to check his definition of fact. Kant is old, dead, white and male, and that’s a fact :-P

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