In Search of Gender Balanced Textbooks

Are there any textbooks out there, suitable for an undergrad course (intro or advanced) in metaphysics, which include a respectable number of papers by women philosophers (i.e. more than a token one or two)? I’ve been hunting around Amazon and other sites for a little while and there’s a depressing consistency to the over-representation of men in all the books I’ve found so far.
Your suggestions, especially if you have experience trying to teach a metaphysics course with a decent gender balance in the reading list, are most welcome. Of course I’ve already had a look at the excellent Women’s Works project, but so far that hasn’t turned up something like an edited collection that could serve as the primary text for an undergrad course.

16 thoughts on “In Search of Gender Balanced Textbooks

  1. This post raises an obvious question: Should there be a new series of introductory anthologies in various areas of philosophy that meets this need, say, the “Gender Balanced Introductory Anthology Series” or something?

  2. I have an honest question.

    It seems reasonable to me that an introductory metaphysics textbook should be selected based on its content qua metaphysics rather than on the personal particulars of the authors of that content.

    Given that, why would the gender of the authors be relevant — assuming that the course isn’t “Women in Metaphysics”?

    I don’t mean to offend, and I really do hope someone can point out what I’m overlooking.

  3. Anonymous, I’d say beyond question there should be.

    I was also going to suggest that if one is teaching in a place with a good library and e-search engines, it ought to be possible to pull together one for a class without too much effort. And then one might think in terms of a publisher proposal.

    the upside for this is that one would start with a practially free text for the students. Of course, another thing would be for someone to start a site for such electronic texts. I doubt one could put the actual articles up, but the biblio info and perhaps the search engine might be enough.

  4. Asur, I completely agree. As things are now the choices are absurdly gender-biased. One really bad effect of this gender bias is that the profession loses many excellent philosophers.

    It’s very hard to fight gender bias without taking gender into account, but there is absolutely no reason to think excellence needs to be compromised.

  5. Anonymous, I agree that there should be a new introductory series, but it’s too depressing to contemplate the necessity to call it the “Gender Balanced” series. How about we fantasize calling it the Step Into the 21st Century series, ha ha!

    I gather that Asur questions the basis of the original post as well as Anon’s observation, so I point out that the request is for a textbook for a class, not merely for personal edification. What makes a textbook a really excellent, responsible choice that serves one’s students best includes more than just the quality of the metaphysical argumentation. Professors are obliged to avoid assigning, for example, something so advanced that it is inaccessible (e.g., I tend not to start with McTaggart’s metaphysics of time); we are called to consider more than one point of view (so just reading, e.g., the Frankfurt school is terribly limiting), and so on. Among our many pedagogical tasks is that of including models of philosophers which represent the discipline, so that an anthology of more than 80% male authorship may not present a true picture of the profession. Further, it is good practice to present, when possible, a philosophical community that makes the minority members of our student audiences feel welcome and expected to stay in philosophy; all available empirical evidence strongly suggests that students are more likely to perform well and feel at home in fields when the representatives of that field present them with models of philosophers who resemble them in some way.

    I have heard more than one philosopher roll their eyes at such a list of considerations and refer to such concerns as “political correctness” (I’m not saying you did, Asur, I’m just reflecting on past objections at this point). It is mighty correct of my to be attentive to all the pedagogical implications of textbook choice, but I don’t believe my correctness is political. I believe it is educational, and even morally responsible.

    However, having said all that, I am sure some philosophers could teach an excellent introductory metaphysics course by simply reading one Frankfurt school metaphysician’s most inaccessible work for a semester!

  6. A good introductory text should also have a couple of recently written papers so that students are not given an out of date presentation of the discussion of issues in the field. For this reason, editors usually include at least a sprinkling of good papers written by younger philosophers. It is easy to include some women when doing this, even if most of the classic metaphysics papers of the 20th century were written by men (due to the fact that nearly all the metaphysicians in the 20th century were men).

    The same goes for paper lists for qualifying exams at the PhD level, by the way.

    Just to say this in a more general way: The usual claim with cases like the textbook case or the qualifying exam is that the contents of these are supposed to be constructed from lists of classic papers. But nearly every such list for an actual textbook or exam includes a few contemporary papers (often for the reason I mentioned above). The trouble is, editors or faculty tend to, if they are not thinking about gender balance, simply throw in a few good papers by younger male philosophers. Once people explicitly realize that a requirement that a paper be part of the canon in order to be included is a specious requirement, and in addition explicitly the realize the value of gender representation, it is much easier to achieve better gender balance.

  7. Helen Beebee, Delia Graff Fara, L.A.Paul, Karen Bennett, Jessica Wilson, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Katherine Hawley, Sally Haslanger and many other women have authored top papers in metaphysics. Their papers have appeared in the Phil Review, Nous, Journal of Philosophy, Philosopher’s Annual and so on. Indeed, many of them have published in these journals more than once and more than twice. So the point you are overlooking, Asur, is that *many* of the top metaphysicians *are* women.

    Therefore one could quite easily put together a top anthology in metaphysics from their papers alone.

    Therefore the suggestion that an anthology that happens to contain only papers by women metaphysicians would somehow be substandard, sacrificing quality for political correctness, is nonsense.

    And therefore, while you may not intend to be offensive, Asur, actually, you are being offensive. You clearly ignorant of the state of play in the field of contemporary metaphysics. Yet you assume that an anthology comprising only of papers by women would be substandard and that the selection process would have to be based on political correctness, not quality. Why, exactly, do you assume that ?

    It really is quite odd there are not more papers by women in the current anthologies on metaphysics.

    So the assumption that a top anthology comprising papers by these authors alone could only be an anthology

  8. whoops – scratch last sentence. That’s what happens when you write while trying to rush out the door !

  9. You might consider ‘Reading Metaphysics:Selected Texts and Interactive Commentary’ edited by Helen Beebee and Julian Dodd. There are two female authors out of the twelve texts, admittedly not a high proportion, but Beebee’s commentary is also a significant part of the book (Dodd’s too of course).

  10. Just a note to register full agreement with the consensus in this post/comment thread.

    In addition, when preparing syllabi (and reading material for research projects) in metaphysics and related areas of the philosophy of science and philosophy mind, for instance, I find that strictly selecting readings for contemporary work based on the best arguments/publications available includes a high number of female philosophers.

    One of my favorite metaphysics papers in recent years is a more than wonderful article by Jennifer McKitrick titled, “A Case for Extrinsic Dispositions” from a 2003 issue of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (81: 155-174).

    Also, in my recent work on several issues in metaphysics, I find myself wrestling with excellent, first rate work by Cei Maslen, for instance.

    Along with the justified concerns about gender sensitivity, I find that sexism (conscious or unconscious) seems often to play a role in reading selections – either for inclusion in course readings or for discussion in scholarly work. The points, positions, arguments, and argumentative strategy in McKitrick’s 2003 paper cited above, for instance, is arguably highly relevant to much subsequent work that not only fails to acknowledge McKitrick’s paper, but also incorporates many of her points, positions, arguments, and argumentative strategies in that paper by her without giving due credit/discussion. And this is just one quick example off of the top of my head. Philosophers and the profession needs to take the concerns expressed in this post very seriously.

    In fairness, I should note that many philosophers do – rightfully so – take work by McKitrick and others very seriously. Sadly, this does not happen often enough. Hence, the importance of this post and comments thread.

  11. Springer has just published an anthology on feminist metaphysics that might provide some resources for a metaphysics course that is interested in gender balance in author and topic. The articles can be accessed individually. Apologies for the self-advertisement but I thought it might be useful even though the papers are specifically on metaphysical topics pertinent to feminism as well as by women metaphysicians.

    Feminist Metaphysics: Explorations in the Ontology of Sex, Gender and the Self, ed., Charlotte Witt. ISBN: 978-90-481-3782-4

    Introduction; Charlotte Witt.-
    Part I: The Ontology of Sex and Gender.-
    1. What is Gender Essentialism?; Charlotte Witt.-
    2. Different Women: Gender and the Realism/Nominalism Debate; Natalie Stoljar.-
    3. The Metaphysics of Sex and Gender; Ásta Kristjana Sveinsdóttir.-
    4. Ontological Commitments, Sex and Gender; Mari Mikkola.-
    5. The Metaphors of Being a Φ; Marilyn Frye.-

    Part II: Persons and Subjectivity.-
    6. The Metaphysics of Relational Autonomy; Jules Holroyd.-
    7. Beauvoir and the Allure of Self-Objectification; Nancy Bauer.-
    8. A Phenomenology of Sexual Difference: Types, Styles and Persons; Sara Heinämaa.-

    Part III: Power, Ideology and Reality.-
    9. The Politics and Metaphysics of Experience; Marianne Janack.-
    10. Ideology, Generics, and Common Ground; Sally Haslanger.-
    11. Experience and Knowledge: The Case of Sexual Abuse Memories; Linda Alcoff.-

  12. There are so many good remarks here. I do want to stress profbigk’s point about students. I intent to include Appriah’s box on experimental ethics the next time I teach an intro course. I don’t know how many black authors get included in intro courses to mainstream philosophy, but it can’t be many.

  13. Charlotte, I’m sorry to say your comment got caught in the spam box for a couple of hours. I’m so glad I found it; the collection looks wonderful.

  14. Cynofish, I think you were too hard on Asur. I took it that Asur’s point was simply that a good introductory textbook for metaphysics should above all address some basic topics (and, if it’s an anthology, contain the papers that launched those debates), all other considerations aside. And the appropriate response to such a remark is that it’s absolutely true–but that a number of the “big” or otherwise important works in metaphysics are actually works by women.

    Some of those “big” articles were written by men, like Ted Sider, David Lewis, and Dean Zimmerman, and omitting them would seem like a mistake in any such anthology. But, as you rightly point out, a great many women are typically left out of these anthologies when they should actually be included. I (and it) would be very sad indeed to see Marcus, Hawley, Thomson, and Haslanger left out of any such anthology. If I can add to your list of names, I’d also like to see some of the works of HM Cartwright, Korsgaard, and Anscombe included.

    To return to the original request: unfortunately, I can’t think of any such textbooks/anthologies (usually the ones I’ve seen have been written by a single man). While the Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics is pretty good content-wise, it can hardly be called gender-balanced (IIRC, it has one article by Haslanger and that’s it). It would need serious supplementation with a course-pack.

  15. Just wanted to give a special thanks to profbigk for the informative reply, which addressed exactly what I had been wondering. I had been looking at it from the perspective of doing rather than teaching, and you helped me see that anything relevant to a student’s learning was something that should be relevant to someone trying to teach them.

    I’m not sure why Cynofish interpreted questioning the relevance of gender as questioning the relevance of women, since the two seem distinct and at least implicitly contrary to me–if I thought that men did better work in metaphysics than women, it would be self-contradictory to question the relevance of gender in that context.

    It’s precisely because I felt that they did equal work that I wondered why it mattered.

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