Property, Markets, Morality and Men

Another all-male line-up.


18-20 March, University of North Carolina Greensboro


Hillel Steiner (University of Manchester), “Greed and Fear”
Richard Arneson (UC San Diego), “What is Wrong with Working for a Boss?”
Daniel Russell (Wichita State University), “Capabilities, Redistribution, and Ownership”
Michael Munger (Duke University), “Euvoluntary Exchange and the Difference Principle”
Julian Lamont (University of Queensland), “University Education, Economic Rents, and Distributive Justice”

Eric Mack (Tulane University)
Geoffrey Brennan (UNC Chapel Hill / Australian National University)
Jonathan Quong (University of Manchester)
Daniel Shapiro (West Virginia University)
Bas van der Vossen (UNC Greensboro)
This symposium is hosted by the philosophy department at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and the BB&T program in Capitalism, Markets and Morality.

All welcome. Attendance free, but registration required.

To register and for more information, please contact Bas van der Vossen: b_vande2 [at]

A letter has been sent. (Thanks, S and D!)

20 thoughts on “Property, Markets, Morality and Men

  1. Wait, wait — I teach down the road from UNC-G, and when I first heard about the conference lineup, I contacted one of the organizers — a bit more presumptuously than I should have done. He’s already aware of the Gendered Conference Campaign. He replied, in part:

    “I invited almost as many women as men. All declined. After running out of ideas on what women to invite, I went through the CV’s of those I knew and invited some of their co-authors that I hadn’t yet heard of. Again in vain. It came to the point where a decision to send another invite to a woman would have required significant compromise in quality of speakers. At that point, after asking the advice of a senior colleague, I decided to invite more men, who accepted.”

  2. There are five speakers. In light of this, I’m not sure how to understand “I invited almost as many women as men.” 3 or 4? And then some co-authors. We don’t know how many, but let’s suppose it is 3. So that leaves us with 6 or 7 acceptable women in the field and all the rest would significantly compromise the quality…

    In figuring this out, I’m assuming that the commentators were asked after the speakers were all settled, and so after he’d given up on women..

    I hope there’s more to the story, because as it is, there seems to be a problem. We’re supposed to believe that there are only 6 or 7 acceptable women in the field. That’s all in the areas he’s drawing on, including North American, Australia and Europe?

  3. Right on point, jj. One of the reasons that this conference list really jumped out at me is the large number of comparably qualified female philosophers working on the same or very similar/related topics. I have given this conference virtually no thought whatever and I can quickly come up with many hands full if not dozens of names off the top of my head that do not (in my opinion) compromise the quality of anything.

    History shall (or should) record the development of all sorts of cliques (at least that I know of) in philosophy since the early 1970’s. Many of these cliques operate at levels including journals and book anthologies, for instance, as well as (invitations for…) conference speakers. Of course, providing any further details would require contentious speculation, not to mention getting me into trouble. Nonetheless, it seems a plausible conjecture that the psychology and sociology of academic cliques unconsciously limits and/or changes judgments of such matters as quality and compromise of quality. Perhaps more people should write more about the specific nature and activities of cliques in philosophical culture (assuming, of course, beliefs in and about them).

  4. This is an area closer to my own areas of research than some of the other themes (of the male-only conferences discussed here), and I agree–there cannot be any excuse for this! A lot of women have written about these topics from a feminist perspective (work on the ways that women’s bodies get commodified comes to mind), but perhaps this is not considered “serious” philosophy?

  5. David, interesting point about cliques. This gives us a different perspective on “we really did ask a lot of women”.

    I think there may be a very serious problem about what constitutes a good faith effort to be inclusive. Perhaps the forces that keep the profession male are more a matter of individuals’ practices than can easily be admitted.

    The idea that someone can seriously hold there are only a few acceptable women is making me feel really cross.

  6. The particularities of this case notwithstanding (not my area of expertise), I have to strongly disagree with jj, and perhaps self-consciously add a data point for David’s speculation about the epistemic role of academic cliques. I find it perfectly plausible, reflecting on the (not particularly obscure) philosophical problems that I might be interested in organising a small-scale conference on, that one can reasonably consider there to be no more than two dozen or so active scholars at any given time who are insightful or interesting enough for one to go through all the effort of gathering them for a mass person-to-person intellectual exchange (as opposed to, say, merely reading their papers, or inviting them for individual guest lectures). Given the abysmal gender composition of the profession as a whole, it would therefore be rather fortunate if there were more than a dozen women among them.

    A small-scale conference is usually rather unlike a professional society meeting: it is rarely intended as a comprehensive or even representative sampling of work in a discipline. Rather, it is normally a reflection of the organisers’ specific interests and intellectual judgements; only those judgements and interests motivate the effort of organisation to begin with. It is perfectly justifiable to require (politically or ethically) that, should the organisers wish to gather ten speakers, and have an initial list of twenty scholars of sufficient interest (of whom, optimistically, around a third will be women, given that the current proportion of philosophy PhDs are awarded to women is about 30%), all the women from the initial list should be among the ten invited first. Should all (or even most) of the 6-8 women accept the invitation, gender equitability will be more than ensured. But should they all decline, looking for additional women outside of the original list seems supererogatory at best, and possibly even intellectually detrimental (unless, of course, enough of the initial prospective speakers decline, and the organisers have to look beyond the original list to fill the ten slots). In contrast, at large-scale conferences, and especially profession-wide gatherings, it is the scale itself that makes it the case that any failure to ensure gender balance among featured speakers is a serious political or ethical failure. Conflating the two types of cases seems to me to be simply a mistake.

  7. JP, i think you are arguing that inviting 6-7 women was enough. That’s not really the issue. The issue is his claim that there were only that many accetable women on the three continents.

    Let me say generally that I’m getting nervous about all these women turning all these people down. I think it would be invidious to cast general doubt on the veracity of one’s colleagues. But would none of us exaggerate a bit when faced with a public challenge?

  8. To clarify: There may be areas in which there are very few people working. It’s not obvious this is likely to be one.

  9. On the alleged tendency of women systemically turning down invitations, here’s my personal experience…
    On the receiving end: I have been invited six times now as a plenary speaker (that I’m quite junior, only a postdoc). In three of these cases, I was invited months in advance so we could plan things ahead. I accepted all of those invitations. However, the other three of those cases I was invited only a few weeks (in one case, only one week) before the actual conference took place, and at least in two of those cases it seemed obviously like the invitation was an afterthought (we have no women on the schedule, let’s quickly invite some that work in the area). I could not accept either of them.
    On the organizing end: A few years ago, I did a workshop on numerical cognition. I was not aware of gender balance issues back then, but nevertheless the people that popped into my head included quite some female speakers, because there are actually quite some women working in this field – but then, psychology is a lot more gender balanced than philosophy. All my female speakers accepted, so we had a reasonable gender balance. My second workshop was on philosophy of social science. Again, I invited one male and one female keynote and both accepted. I am not trying to cast doubt on those who argue that women systematically decline, but from my personal experience it seems that if one asks female speakers well in advance, and not as an afterthought, they are as likely as their male colleagues to accept an invitation. It also seems like the proper thing to do.

  10. Several of the speakers are libertarians of various sorts, as is Bas van der Vossen (the organizer). Based on that and the title, I suspect this is a small gathering for libertarian political philosophers, not philosophers generally interested in ethics and economics. I’m not very familiar with that corner of political philosophy, but I could believe that not so many women work in it.

  11. jj, you seem to be misreading me. I think its highly implausible to interpret “there are no more than 6-7 women intellectually interesting enough to have at one’s small-scale conference” as implying “there are no more than 6-7 competent women working in the general area of the conference’s topic.” And it is only the latter claim that would be politically problematic (and false).

    My point of disagreement with you is that I think it is both reasonable (and possibly desirable) for one to think, of any arbitrary philosophical sub-field, there are only several dozen scholars who meet an intellectual standard that justifies the specific effort of organising a conference where they will speak, and that looking outside of those scholars is an intellectual compromise (n.b what is at issue is the specific effort that goes into conference organising; one may well find a given scholar’ paper on topic X engaging without thinking that investing the effort into organising a conference on X to give that scholar a highlighted platform is worth the bother – perhaps the scholar can just be invited to give an individual talk). Of course, in any given case, the intellectual standards used to arrive at that list of several dozen may themselves be flawed (and if the conference under discussion in this thread is being organised by libertarians, that scenario is immensely likely). But the idea that everyone should think there is a huge stock of people intellectually worth the bother of organising a conference around, even on a mainstream topic, as opposed to a very small number at any given time, strikes me a as nothing short of preposterous. After all, most of us make only piddling intellectual contributions most of the time, the sort that become valuable cumulatively in a scholarly community, but that hardly merit individual exposure.

    As for impugning the veracity of one’s colleagues – I find it as productive to believe them when it comes to matters like this as it is to believe an average member of parliament (i.e. not very much at all). But that is a different matter entriely.

  12. JP, I have not been debating your substantive points, but I am disagreeing that you have got my point right. I had thought it was clear that I was addressing the following sentence quoted in the first comment above:

    It came to the point where a decision to send another invite to a woman would have required significant compromise in quality of speakers.

    The claim is not about relevance of field; it is about quality. Now it might be claimed that he meant relevance, but we really don’t have anything but what was said. At least one speaker at the conference is at the beginning of his career, so we can assume that the organizer could draw on roughtly three generations of philosophers on three continents who write on libertarianism. I see no initial plausibility in the view that there are very few people working in this area. I think that we are more likely to be dealing with someone who thinks it is very plausible to say that asking women risks lowering the quality.

    In any case, our letter does not say that we think the person is rotten or anything like that. We simply draw attention to the facts. Obviously, though, people sometimes experience a public announcement that they’ve arranged an all-male conference fairly negatively. Should we do this? I often find intuitions are sharper if we think in terms of race instead of gender. Suppose a third of the profession were African Americans whom we agree are capable as whites in general, but who tend to be clustered in lower ranked universities and have lower pay, are generally not given the professional opportunities that all sorts of invitations provide, and so on. And, let’s suppose, in general whites discuss philosophy much more with whites than AAs, whites tend to have much more in the resources, etc, than AAs. Now, should we say that when whites want to give small conferences, there’s just not much of a problem if they don’t go to an effort to invite qualified AAs? Why not just leave whites alone to have their white conversations?

    This looks to me to be too close to the familiar country club argument.

  13. No, jj, I understand your point, and (for the third time now), have to dissent. It can be a perfectly reasonable judgement about the quality about scholars in a field, no matter how large, that there are no more than two dozen or whose quality is high enough to warrant the effort of organising a conference in order to gather them in one place. That is perfectly consistent with one thinking that the quality of scholars in the field overall was very good, or very poor. In the first case, one might only be sufficiently motivated to organise a conference if one can get the best of a good lot; in the second, one might only be sufficiently motivated if one can get the least bad of a bad lot. But in either case, it seems utterly unreasonable to insist, as you do, that it is impossible to have a good reason to think there are never as few as several dozen people worth the organiser’s effort, or that the choice isn’t between getting some of those people and choosing to do something else with one’s time entirely – and that, consequently, one can never simply run out of scholars in a certain demographic to invite. I see no evidence whatsoever that the conference organiser did in fact have to draw on “roughly three generations of philosophers on three continents,” as opposed to a couple dozen that he judged passed the quality bar for motivating the organisational effort. I also see no firm evidence that the organiser does not think that inviting anybody other than the people he actually invited, regardless of demographic, would lower intellectual quality.

    Granting this, there can still be two important problems. 1) The judgements used for selecting one’s initial list of potential speakers could be rigged against scholars of a certain demographic, so that they are under-represented on the list (you say you are generally prepared to give colleagues the benefit of a doubt when they proclaim their initial lists were not so skewed, as this organiser has done; I find myself far more sceptical in most cases). 2) The judgements used are flawed in some specific other fashion, so that there is no defensible intellectual evaluation principle that can distinguish, by quality, the scholars on the initial list of several dozen from those in some wider class. Here, however, the flaw has to be specific, and the judgements must therefore be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (which you do not really attempt to do; I, for one, have little difficulty in imagining a libertarian having seriously flawed judgements of intellectual quality).

    I take no issue with your initial letter. In fact, I applaud it. I am taking issue with the comments that you have made in this thread. It just is not the case that there are never (or possibly even often) justifiable intellectual criteria according to which inviting additional women, or men, or libertarians, etc., to speak at a small-scale conference would compromise intellectual quality, regardless of the overall number of scholars working on the conference’s topic. [Actually, I think that we have excellent political and ethical reasons to embrace these compromises in the case of women and people of colour,but that’s a different matter.]

  14. Just because I think it’s important to make it clear that these issues are tough, and that we are not all in total agreement at this blog, I thought I’d mention that I do have some sympathy for jp’s point. However, I think it’s not entirely separable from one about relevance rather than quality– even granting everything jp says, the organiser could clearly get more high quality people by expanding their ideas about what topics/approaches are appropriate. But I think it’s also legitimate sometimes to *not* want to expand one’s ideas about what topics/approaches to cover (although I do think that such expansion can often be be good, not just politically but also philosophically).

  15. Jender, nothing I said was meant to deny that there are reasonable limits to what one has to do. I am very concerned that my remarks have been taken to issue an unreasonable insistence, and I get quite worried when that starts to happen.

    I am also very concerned about the rhetoric that is showing up in discussions. “There weren’t anymore acceptable women” and “All the women turned us down” are the sorts of things that have been said again and again through decades of struggle for equal rights. That does not mean that they show sexism is operating; they may be literally true. But I think that it would be naive to take them all at face value and reckon that the mystery of the absence of women now has a satisfactory explanation.

    I do contest most of JP’s interpretation. Perhaps I am getting harder to understand.

  16. Jender, that’s an excellent point. I certainly believe people’s judgements about what topics and approaches are worth an effort are open to criticism, just like people’s judgements about the intellectual quality of scholars working on a given topic or with a given approach, along the same grounds as my 1) and 2) above.

    jj, I fully agree with the middle paragraph of your latest comment. I just think that the appropriate reaction to an organiser’s reply like the one under discussion in this thread is not along the likes of your previous comments, but should rather consist in a dual demand: A) provide us with your original list of potential invitees and the list of scholars actually invited (because the social context makes us unable to take you at your word that they were not discriminatory), and B) provide us with the justification behind that particular selection (so that we can independently evaluate whether it carves along an actual intellectual quality joint). Perhaps it is my poor reading comprehension, but your remarks seemed to me most easily interpreted as a claim that there are no intellectual quality joints fine enough that they could ever justify a final small-scale conference line-up as demographically skewed as the one above, and that is what strikes me as deeply wrong.

    For what it’s worth, my guess is that the particular case in question is in fact problematic. But I don’t have good evidence of this.

  17. And, as I mention earlier, it is not the insistence by itself that I would find unreasonable. I think that considerations of justice can (and often do) merit compromising one’s standards of intellectual quality (of course, admitting to this opinion while speaking non-anonymously, or especially as a conference organiser, could be self-defeating, and is perhaps best passed over in silence).

  18. At this point, I think jj, jp and I are all in agreement. Hurrah!

    Sorry for misinterpreting you, jj.

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