And the number one 20th Century moral philosopher is…

Apparently Brian Leiter’s description of Philippa Foot as a towering figure has drawn some objections.  And, how could it not?  We’re a disagreeing lot, and furthermore, one suspects that the idea of a woman philosopher towering over one evokes some pretty uncomfortable images and associations.  From mommy to Hilary Clinton to  dominatrix.  

So Leiter’s put up a poll.  It is interesting in its own right, because it includes some continental figures, including Derrida.   It will be interesting to see if she (and Elizabeth Anscombe, who is on the list) are given the ranking they deserve.  Given how the philosophy community works, I’m not placing any bets. 

 (I do agree that it would be better if we did not go in for this sort of ranking, but it is endemic to academic and here is not where I want to stop.)

Now for the scope of Foot’s moral philosophy, let me quote Larry Solum and  Gavin Lawrence, both from Solum’s blog:


Philippa Foot, for many years associated with Somerville College, Oxford and also with the University of California Los Angeles as the Griffin Professor of Philosophy, passed away yesterday, October 3, 2010. Foot was a giant of moral philosophy. Her books include Natural Goodness, Virtues and Vices: And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy, and Moral Dilemmas: and other topics in moral philosophy. She will be remembered for many things, including the famous Trolley Problem. Her essay “Virtues and Vices” (in the anthology of the same name) was among the most important steps in the development of contemporary virtue ethics–a movement that Foot explicitly disavowed. The question, “Why be moral?,” occupied Foot for most of her long career, and her work on this topic is widely acknowledged as of fundamental importance.  [There is a lot more in his remarks.]


“Philippa Foot is among the handful of the twentieth century’s very best moral philosophers. Her achievement consists not so much of truths presented as of her distinctive voice in philosophy. In this way, she is like Moore or Rawls, or most pertinently Wittgenstein. To read her is immediately to struggle with the real stuff of the subject, to the highest standards; the subject is not the same for one again.Her work divides into several, diversely overlapping, strands: the major themes of ethics, such as its objectivity and its rationality; middle range issues, such as freedom of the will, virtues and vices, the critique of utilitarianism, and moral dilemmas; more specific ethical distinctions and problems, such as the doctrine of double effect

philosophy at Howard University: under threat & addition 2

This would be tragic, and a sad comment on what philosophy stands for among the administrators at universities.  Those guys (n.b.) go to conferences and discussion groups and come up with plans of action together.  Given recent events, it seems languages and philosophy are targeted.

Howard University–Philosophy Department risking elimination.  Request for letters to the university President.

Dr. Sidney Ribeau, president of Howard University, is recommending that Howard University’s Philosophy Department be eliminated.  Would you be kind enough to help support those of us who see this as a strategic mistake in the struggle for Black equality.  In showing support would you write a letter to Dr. Ribeau giving your opinions on the historic centrality of the Philosophy Department at Howard University and the reasons why you believe it should be continued.  This will we a tough fight and Dr. Ribeau will make this decision final December 1, 2010. Please write to:

                               Dr. Sidney Ribeau, President
                               Howard University
                               2400 6th Street NW
                               Washington, DC 20059

In solidarity,

Richard A. Jones
Howard University
Department of Philosophy

thanks to swip-l


2.  Check out this special site:
1.  Wondering how likely it is that many people would snail mail a letter to Howard, I went to their site and found a whole bouquet of telephone numbers and email addresses; see below.  And since so many of us have educational addresses, email can add to the credibility.  I think the next step is for us to compose some letters, so people can just copy a letter and email it.  How about seeing some letters showing up in the comments? 

University Officers

**President Sidney A. Ribeau, Ph.D.

**Provost and Chief Academic Officer James H. Wyche, Ph.D.

Executive Vice President and
Chief Operating Officer
Troy A. Stovall

Senior Vice President
Strategic Planning, Operations & External Affairs & Chief Technology Officer
Hassan Minor, Ph.D.

**Senior Vice President &
Secretary of the Board of Trustees
Artis Hampshire-Cowan, J.D.
More Contacts…

Senior Vice President and
Chief Financial Officer – Treasurer
Robert Tarola
More Contacts…

Senior Vice President and
Executive Dean for Health Sciences
Eve J. Higginbotham, M.D.

General Counsel Norma Leftwich, J.D.

Interim Vice President for
Development and Alumni Relations
Nesta Bernard
More Contacts…

Vice President of Research & ComplianceFlorence Bonner, Ph.D.

<!–Vice President for
Human Capital Management
Elizabeth Stroud
More Contacts…

–>**Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara L.J. Griffin, Ph.D.
Johnson Administration Building, Suite 201

New Blog: What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?

I’ve got a new blog, that I’ve put together for the Women in Philosophy Task Force. Here’s what I say about it:

This blog is devoted to short observations (generally fewer than 300 words) sent in by readers, about life as a woman in philosophy. Some of these will undoubtedly be tales of the sexism, conscious and unconscious, that remains. But we hope that others will be tales of ways that improvements have been (or are being) made. Many will be written by women in philosophy. But we hope that not all will be– for others in philosophy also know some important things relevant to what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy. They know, for example, what men in philosophy say to each other when the women aren’t there.

Go check it out, and send some stories– I know lots of you have them! (And yes, sorry, I did use the theme you all hated so much when I tried it out here. I still kind of like it, and now I have an outlet for that.)

Evidence of Diversity Strategies that Work

The recent query from a reader below reminds me that most of us are excellently trained in our disciplines, and yet our splendid graduate-school educations did not usually include training in the research of higher education.  Where does one look for research on questions like hers, for evidence as to whether broader descriptions in academic job ads tend to result in a more diverse pool of candidates?

My source for the initial answer to the OP is an article from Vol.22 of the annual publication Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research.  There are also very helpful peer-reviewed journals including Higher Education, Journal of Higher Education, and Academe. Some good data sources are supplied by the Chronicle of Higher Ed, though usually USA-centered, and there’s a Canadian Journal of Higher Ed for my northerly friends.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Google scholar, try looking for these journals on electronic databases which allow one to search by subject.

The data I rely on can be construed to contain good news and bad news.  The bad(ish) news will not shock regular readers of this blog who are accustomed to discussions of implicit bias; even well-intentioned scholars can draw up advertisements of vacancy that are narrow or traditional in ways that reproduce the status quo:

According to a publication of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) (Turner, 2002a), job descriptions are developed and defined in traditional ways that lead to the hiring of a scholar who looks much like the senior faculty as well as the person who just vacated the position. This phenomenon toward replication in academe is described by Light (1994). Unfortunately, when departments define fields and categories for searches in traditional ways, they often define diverse candidates out of the pool (Turner, 2002a). 

[Source: Tuitt, Sagaria, and Turner, “Signals and Strategies in Hiring Faculty of Color” (2007)]

The happier news is that data suggests that strategies exist for writing ads which succeed in attracting a more diverse applicant pool:

As Smith et al. (2004) observe, “carefully constructing a job description represents a potential intervention that links hiring to the academic program” (p. 137). Their study of approximately 700 searches at three large elite public research universities produced important data about the conditions under which faculty of color were likely to be hired. Although their focus was on the departmental and job variables that accounted for hiring patterns by race and ethnicity, their findings suggest important signals about the kind of jobs that candidates of color are likely to be offered and accept.

Interestingly, those strategies include exactly the one that the OP was fairly sure was true—writing a broader or less traditional announcement, so see especially points 2 and 3:

For example, institutions can construct position descriptions that are aligned with the institution’s commitment to faculty diversity by (1) making sure announcements strongly express the university’s commitment to recruiting faculty of color; (2) developing a broad description of scholarship, experience, and disciplinary background; and (3) asking applicants to describe their experience with diversity issues, diverse students, and working in multicultural environments (Turner, 2002a). Creating position descriptions that express a commitment to diversity, define content broadly, and solicit a variety of backgrounds and experiences signals to prospective candidates that the position is open and inclusive rather than closed and restrictive.

Epistemic authority, Scientific Opinion: Man, oh Man!

First of all, I’ve decided to bring back the phrase, “Man, oh man.”  It’s been less popular since the seventies, and it’s so handy when looking at the keynote speakers on the following CFP.  Let me remind all my gentle readers that it’s possible women have been accepted, or women were invited who declined.  I’m a charitable cat who assumes the organizers tried really, really hard to have some diversity and gender balance on this program.  I’m just saying, Man, oh, man.

Second of all, those of you in philosophy of science who’d like the resulting conference to be more epistemically diverse, it’s possible to send something in ten days to counterbalance the all-male invitees.  I hear this new-fangled email thingy is instant, so you could, you really could send something off.

Final Call For Papers – Apologies for cross-posting

The Authority of Science 8-10 April 2011, University of Sydney, Australia
Abstracts due: 15th October 2010

4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science

Tilburg Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Tilburg University, Netherlands
Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney, Australia

From climate change to the classification of illegal drugs, the extent to which scientific opinion should prevail over other voices in determining public policy is hotly contested.   What is it about the nature of science that confers epistemic authority on scientific opinion, and what are the scope and limits of that authority?
Keynote Speakers:

Sir Peter Gluckman FRS (Head, Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland and New Zealand Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor)
Christian List (Professor of Political Science and  Philosophy, London School of Economics) [also an associate editor of Episteme, btw-profbigk]
Prof. Theodore L. Brown (Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Suitable subjects for submitted papers would include:

History of Philosophy of Science (HOPOS) perspectives
Epistemology of complex systems modelling
Epistemology of highly mediated observation
Philosophical foundations of statistics and decision theory
Epistemology of translational research
Integrating philosophy of science into scientific practice
Philosophy of science in science education

Please send 500 word abstracts in PDF to
by 15 October 2010.