CFP: Reasons of Love, Leuven

I should have posted this CFP sooner, as it intrigues me and provides space for splendid feminist perspective.  Seeing the announcement on PEA Soup reminds me that I’ve neglected it:


Reasons of Love
International Conference
Institute of Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)
30 May-1 June 2011

This conference’s title is ambiguous on purpose. The relationship between
love and reasons for action is highly interesting and complicated. It is
not clear how love is related to reasons. Love might be a response to
certain normative reasons, since it seems fitting to love certain objects.
However, love also seems to create reasons and not to be a response to
certain appropriate reasons. Love’s relationship to morality is also
complex. It is not clear how the normative reasons for acting morally are
related to the reasons of love. It is sometimes argued that love is not a
virtue because the reasons for acting morally are not the same as the
reasons for acting lovingly. But the notion of ‘unprincipled virtue’ seems
to make room for love as a motive of morally praiseworthy actions.

This conference seeks to provide an opportunity to discuss these issues.
Related questions are the following: Do ‘the reasons of love’ constitute a
genuine, distinctive category of reasons?  Are different kinds of love
related to different kinds of reasons? What are the requirements of love,
as opposed to the requirements of duty? Are love’s reasons rational or non-
rational? Can love require to act immorally? If so, are love’s
requirements more or less important than those of morality? Is an action
out of love more praiseworthy than an action done out of a sense of duty?
Are there normative reasons for acting lovingly and to what extent do they
justify partiality? How are we to understand ‘acting lovingly’?

Keynote speakers:
Diane Jeske (Iowa), Michael Smith (Princeton) and R. Jay Wallace (Berkeley)


We invite abstract submissions on any issue related to the main topic as
stated above.  Graduate students are encouraged to participate.

The deadline for submission is December 1, 2010. Notification of
acceptance will be sent by January 20, 2011. Abstracts of 1500-2000 words
should be sent to  and

At the conference 40 minute slots will be available for presentation,
followed by 20 minutes of discussion.

A selection of papers will be submitted to Philosophical Explorations for

Conference organizers:
Esther Kroeker, Katrien Schaubroeck, Stefaan E. Cuypers, Willem Lemmens

Women in philosophy of logic *Update

If you are organizing a conference on logic, truth or inference, and lamenting that there are just no women in the world you could invite, check out this rich resource.  Great list, admittedly incomplete, but a service to the profession!

Alas, a CFP on the same website includes an entirely male speakers’ list.  I have sent them an inquiring email asking if they tried /considered inviting one of these women.

**Update: Organizers responded:

Thank you for your message. We have indeed made deliberate efforts to include female speakers in the line-up of this conference, which, however, for various reasons were not successful.

We have also been working on compensating for the all-male speakers line-up in other ways. For example, we have been actively encouraging female researchers to submit a paper or apply to act as a commentators. We are acutely aware of the issues you raise and do regret the present situation.

Kind Regards,

On behalf of the the organisers

Women in logic who are reading this blog, hope you’re encouraged!  Let’s all keep on trying.

Is this clever and amusing?

As a humourless feminist, it is hard for me to tell.

Here’s what happened:  I got an email from the STS group in the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) at Oxford University.  They have had their first walking seminar, which involved walking around Port Meadow for two hours discussing a serious topic.  The topic was “what is it to compare two things”.  And the post had the following terrific picture, which illustrates comparing a graduate student and a cow! 

Isn’t that something!?!

Some men getting worried about porn

Interesting article from the Guardian about a group of men who have set up a website “grounded in feminist principles” to press the case that there is something wrong with pornography, something about which men should be concerned. The article mentions or discusses a wide range of arguments against pornography — that it degrades women, that it leads to sexual violence, that it shapes how men think about women, that the industry is abusive, and so on. As a self-contained summary of the issues and arguments, it’s very neatly done. Some of the discussion below the line is also worth wading through (some of it, naturally, is bilge).

The website itself, The AntiPornMenProject, seems thus far to consist in a mixture of porn-related news, anecdotal articles about the adverse effects of porn on men and their behaviour, and useful summaries of links to further discussions on the subject. I should think that, as it grows, it will become quite a useful resource for people teaching the topic, particularly to classes with a high proportion of men. It’s also, of course, something that seems worthwhile in its own right, and I’m glad it’s getting press attention.

On the subject of teaching about pornography, and going back to the Guardian article, I found two things particularly interesting. First, there was this quotation from Michael Kimmel:

What also strikes me is that young men seem utterly unapologetic about their porn use. It’s like it’s so ubiquitous – what’s the problem? And they expect a similarly casual approach from their female friends.

Second, there was this passage concerning the pseudonymous subject of an interview by Gail Dines for her book “Pornland“:

Dan… is worried about his sexual performance with women, and tells [Dines]: “I can’t get the pictures of anal sex out of my head when having sex, and I am not really focusing on the girl but on the last anal scene I watched”.

I recently covered pornography in a second-year class on feminist philosophy. The class has a healthy proportion of men. The Kimmel quotation sums up the attitude of not just the men, but the entire class, to the issue, and hence to most of the arguments we discussed. Both men and women were unimpressed with Mckinnon-style arguments (“silly”), empirical arguments about links to sexual violence (“exaggerated”), and arguments about the industry (“circumstantial”).

The one suggestion that really seemed to engage them was the idea that pornography could be bad for their own sex lives. Now on this, there was a gender divide in the class. The women were very ready to agree with the idea that pornography normalises a range of sexual behaviour which should perhaps be the subject of explicit negotiation rather than of assumed consent. But the men were less willing to accept this, on the basis that they (if not other men) were too enlightened to assume consent to slapping and facial ejaculation and all that. The second quotation above provides a slightly different tack on this argument. OK boys, perhaps you’re too smart to actually do these things; but the more porn you watch, the more they’ll be on your mind; the more they’ll be on your mind, the worse your sex life will be; so the more porn you watch, the worse your sex life will become. QED.

I don’t mean to suggest that the other arguments against pornography aren’t good, or worth discussing; but this is certainly a tactical move I’ll bear in mind for when I next teach the issue to a class of sceptics about the other arguments.

Homebirth: Mother v. Baby? More like Mother v. Medical Community

In july, we reported on the Guardian’s very ridiculous coverage of a very ridiculous meta-analysis of international data on homebirths that purported to show that homebirths are safer for the labouring woman, but more dangerous for baby.

Reader Wahine has just sent us links to a Lancet editorial about the findings, and its attendant angry letters. The editorial states that

Although home birth seems to be safe for low-risk mothers and, when compared with hospital delivery, is associated with a shorter recovery time and fewer lacerations, post-partum haemorrhages, retained placentae and infections, the evidence is contradictory for outcomes of newborn babies delivered at home.

The author goes on to claim that this is due to methodological problems, and continues,

Professional organisations, perhaps unsurprisingly, have issued contradictory policy statements regarding home deliveries.

This is followed by a list of various countries and their various contradictory policy statements. The author then goes on to cite the meta-analysis mentioned above, and conclude that, well, now we know it’s really unsafe for babies, everyone ought to fall in line and recommend hospital birth.

So… lots of different countries have lots of different healthcare systems, with lots of different approaches to midwifery, homebirth, and indeed birth more generally…and the evidence across all (or many) of these systems is (big surprise) conflicting (as it would be, given we’re not comparing like for like). And the fact that this ‘conflict’ is reflected in ‘conflicting’ international guidelines is…further evidence of confusion? What? Circumstances differ cross-nationally; so evidence differs cross-nationally; so advice differs cross-nationally. That’s a sign that the advice is good: that it reflects the applicable evidence.

So, alright, I’ve ranted about this already. Let me start a new rant. The author of the editorial concludes, no big surprise, that

Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk. There are competing interests that need to be weighed carefully.

And in letters there’s huge anger over this.

Reducing rights to mere interests that can be weighed changes the mother from the owner of to a mere factor in the perinatal decision process. This is directly deleterious to her right to self-determination. The weighing of interests, risks, and outcomes is part of a capable exercise of human autonomy, not the other way around.

Quite right. But here’s my further worry: the meta-analysis purports to show that standard practice (hospital birth) is less safe for the patient (the pregnant woman) than a viable alternative (home birth). This shows a problem with existing medical practice. And yet, seemingly across the board, the discussion has been (only) about whether and which way the patient herself might be at fault; what the patient ought to do; what rights the patient ought to have (NB. the rights discussion never seems to stray into the question of what the woman’s rights are wrt decent medical care; we only ever discuss her rights wrt maiming babies).

I don’t get it. Why aren’t we talking about what’s wrong with obstetrics? What the hell is going on here?

In related news, a midwife in Hungary has been arrested for assisting in home births. Read more here.

Fashion crime. Seriously?

Reports here about the (ironically named) People of Freedom Party’s attempt, in the Italian town of Castellammare di Stabia, to outlaw miniskirts as a form of anti-social behaviour.

Mayor Luigi Bobbio said the regulations would help “restore urban decorum and facilitate better civil co-existence”.

Of course, the way to ‘restore urban decorum’ is to regulate women’s dress. Sigh. To think that effort is being wasted on such nonsense regulation instead of the actual sexism in Italian society.

Leaving out women philosophers creates gaps

I’m taking advantage of an opportunity to post here on gaps in the history of philosophy or, more particularly, on a project that is said to proceed to lay out the history of philosophy without gaps.  I’m writing in the persona of a historian.

Reader MD brought to FP’s attention the podcast website from Kings’ College, London, which claims it will cover the entire history of philosophy.  The “No Gaps” logo is very prominent.  However, a feminist philosopher might well start to worry early on. In addition to the name of Peter Abramson, the lead academic, there are a lot of other names on the site:  those working on background music and editing, those advising on content and those whose work is cited for background reading.  And they are all male, as far as I can see.  The point here is not to chide anyone for this all-male start up.  Rather, the question that needs to be pressed is whether this male crew will spot the gap that is so obvious to so many women.

There are two areas where women’s names particularly need to go in.  One is with historical philosophers, and the other with the background commentators.  Fortunately, Feminist Philosophers has some good resources for the first.  A recent FP post that conveyed a request from a reader lead to a large number of comments on distinguished women to be included in a course.  For example, from Cynofish we got:

I’ve published some work on Hume and in the course of my research have developed an interest in woman philosophers of the early modern period. Jacqueline Broad’s book ‘Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century’ is a really interesting read. It’s an account of the intellectual role that six female philosophers – Elizabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Mary Astell, Damaris Cudworth Masham and Catharine Trotter Cockburn – played in the seventeenth century. In addition to Princess Elizabeth’s correspondence with Descartes, Broad critically discusses Margarent Cavendish’s writings on Descartes and Hobbes, Anne Conway’s writings on Descartes and Spinoza, Astell’s writings about Descartes, Malebranche and Locke, Damaris Masham’s correspondence with Locke and Leibniz and Catharine Trotter Cockburn’s defence of some of the views of Locke and Samuel Clarke.

It is equally important to include more recent women commentators, of whom a large number are very distinguished.  Not only is the quality of work by women very high, but also some of the issues they draw to our attention are not easily found in the men’s literature. 

One of these issues is very obvious in my field, Hume Studies, and it was very much noticed at the 2010 Hume Society meeting in Antwerp.  We can see the issue as drawn earlier in Annette Baiers “Commons of the Mind.”  There she notes that Descartes thinks reason is whole and entire in each of us, and she takes Hume to have rejected this view, as she herself does.  Jackie Taylor’s work on the essential contributions of the community to moral normativity was referred to a number of times at the conference.  Further, in my own discussion of the possibly skeptical Part IV of Bk I of the Treatise, I had to point out that Garrett’s admiring use of Annette’s work gets her wrong on just this point.  He takes Hume as thinking what while the community is a help, the mind itself has sufficient resources to critique itself.

I don’t think one needs to be any sort of gender essentialist to see that women commentators on Hume are much more likely than men to see how  kind of constitutive normativity is socially situated.  Equally, in leaving out the women we will loose this theme.

There are many other resources for recent commentary by women.  One is the series editied by Nancy Tuana on Rereading the Canon, from Penn State Press.  Margaret Wilson’s brilliant essays are gathered in an anthology; her essay on primary/secondary qualities places in question some of the sceptical readings that have limited so much of our understanding of early modern philosophy. 

I find lists of names potentially invideous, though people commenting here are welcome to mention them.  But I do want to bring to the podcasts attention an Aussie they might overlook:  Genevieve Lloyd, whose Man of Reason is a classic and whose whose work on Spinoza is first-rate.