Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff was sworn in as Brazil’s first female president Saturday, capping a rapid political trajectory for the career technocrat and former Marxist rebel who was imprisoned and tortured during the nation’s long military dictatorship

(“Career technocrat and former Marxist rebel.” What an awesome and unlikely phrase!)

For more, go here.

Thanks, Jender-Parents!

UN Women begins today, January 1, 2011

UN Women officially begins today. They even have a new website (along with redirects for many of the previous links to the former UN Women website, and at least some previous links with no place to go). Here is the new UN Women website:

UN Women is now the main UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Here is an “About” link and a “Frequently Asked Questions” link:


Frequently Asked Questions:

UN Women appears to have seven specific focus areas (all devoted to gender equality and the empowerment of women): Violence Against Women, Peace and Security, Leadership and Participation, National Planning and Budgeting, Human Rights, Economic Empowerment, and Millennium Development Goals. Here is a link to a webpage for more on these focus areas:

The current UN Executive Board, elected on 11/10/10, includes Saudi Arabia. For comments on or related to this controversial board member and related facts, events, new stories, etc, interested readers can check out the thread to the following Feminist Philosophers post:

Saudi Arabia on UN Women Board

The UN Women website indicates in the “Governance” section of the “About” webpage that the following international agreements guide the work of UN Women:

1) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

[On this agreement, interested readers might want to note/know one of the official reservations with which Saudi Arabia ratified CEDAW: “The Kingdom does not consider itself bound by paragraph 2 of article 9 of the Convention…” Paragraph 2 of article 9 of the convention states: “Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.”]

2) Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (PFA)

3) UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (2000) [and resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009) and 1960 (2010)]

4) Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals

Let us hope and see whether “This ambitious new organization consolidates and scales up UN actions to achieve gender equality, offering the promise of accelerated progress in realizing the rights of women worldwide.”

“The Lives they Lived” from the NY Times

The NY Times has a collection of remembrances of some people who died in 2010.  One remarkable fact is that it includes two philosophers.  Even more remarkably, both are women.  Let us celebrate their recognition separately.  We will look at their piece on Mary Daly next week.  For now, it is Philippa Foot.

The articles captures both some of the originality of Foot’s thought, and the interesting progression of her thought:

Incrementally, over many decades, first at Oxford and then at U.C.L.A., Foot shaped an alternative moral vision. In the late 1950s, she questioned whether you can have a recognizably moral attitude about just any set of facts. (Can you really believe that it is immoral to look at hedgehogs in the light of the moon?) By the ’70s … In the ’80s, after considering how we evaluate what is “good” for plants and animals, she developed the argument, presented in “Natural Goodness,” that vice is a defect in humans in the same way that poor roots are a defect in an oak tree or poor vision a defect in an owl: the latter two assessments have clear normative implications (“oughts”), yet are entirely factual.

Looking back, she seemed to appreciate the connection between her distinctive talents and the long arc of her career. “I’m a dreadfully slow thinker, really,” she said. “But I do have a good nose for what is important.”

Her final book, Natural Goodness, was published in 2003.   The earlier Virtues and Vices is a collection of her essays. 

The article captures a style of interacting in philosophy in Somerville College that perhaps was once common, but which seems to me to have becomes quite uncommon.  Here is a bit of it:

In the wake of the news of the concentration camps, Foot was haunted by the notion that there was no way to rationally overcome a moral standoff with a Nazi. She wanted to argue that moral evaluation (“It is wrong to kill innocent people”) is not fundamentally different from factual evaluation (“It is incorrect that the earth is flat”). … It was Anscombe, a devoted Catholic, who liberated Foot, a lifelong atheist, to dare to think in this outmoded fashion. Foot had been speaking of the conventional contrast of “ought” and “is,” and Anscombe feigned confusion. “She said: ‘Of what? What?’ ” Foot recalled. “And I thought, My God, so one doesn’t have to accept that distinction! One can say, ‘What?’!”

Fresh from the APA, I’m inclined to wonder whether this style has completely disappeared.  I can certainly easily imagine Anscombe, adjusting her glasses and drawing on a cigar, saying “Really, come, come.  You think there are these things in the brain that you call “mental representations,” which refer to things outside our heads.  I do know that philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries said something similar, but on the face of it, it is a very stupid opinion.”

(That philosophers held a position was a good reason to think it was suspect, but Anscome would certainly have reasons for saying this, which she was happy to share.)

It is a challenge to reexamine, with a view to rejecting, basic assumptions current in one’s philosophical society.  Terribly impractical, of course.  I do know Philippa worried seriously that such approaches did not prepare her students for academic life as it is now conceived.

But I wonder if our field has so configured itself that today the fact that philosophers think something is a reason to take it very seriously indeed.   Despite Kuhn, I think one could make a good case for saying that something similar is true of many science fields.  But do we think philosophy is the same?  Should we?  Or is it just too easy to question everyone else’s assumptions?

What do you think?