Men discussing abortion

There’s nothing I like better than a bunch of dudes discussing what women should be allowed to do with their bodies. (Must be one of those topics that women just aren’t interested in.)

Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion”

After Forty Years
A Critical Appreciation

August 3, 2011

Judith Jarvis Thomson’s seminal article “A Defense of Abortion” was first published in 1971. It has since become one of the most widely taught, widely reprinted, and widely discussed papers in contemporary moral philosophy. To mark the fortieth anniversary of its initial publication, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Colorado is pleased to announce a symposium devoted to a critical examination of Thomson’s famous article. The event will take place on the early evening of Wednesday, August 3, 2011, the day before the start of RoME 2011.

Participants will include:

Francis Beckwith (Baylor University)
David Boonin (University of Colorado)
John Martin Fischer (University of California, Riverside)
Don Marquis (University of Kansas)

Thanks, L!

Update: I initially forgot to note that a letter has been sent.

UPDATE: Alistair Norcross (who my letter went to, although he turns out not to be the right person to contact) has responded. His response (inserted by me, with his permission) is 63. It’s always good when recipients of our letters respond, and in a friendly manner. Those wanting to comment on Alistair’s response should bear in mind that he is not actually the symposium organiser.

69 thoughts on “Men discussing abortion

  1. marquis’s abortion paper doesn’t discuss the work of a single woman. (he briefly mentions that someone called ‘warren’ has written on the topic in a footnote. he doesn’t mention thomson at all, tho his paper was published in 1989.) what’s more: marquis’s paper doesn’t mention *that there’s a woman involved* in most abortions. so…can’t say i’m surprised these chaps think they can sort it out on their own.

  2. Right but there are women who’ve responded to Marquis. Ann Cudd’s paper, for example:

    Ann E. Cudd (1990). Sensationalized Philosophy: A Reply to Marquis’s “Why Abortion is Immoral”. Journal of Philosophy 87 (5):262-264.

    The Warren he talks about is Mary Ann Warren, author of Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things ; Oxford University Press (2000) ISBN 978-0198250401, as well as the following papers on abortion:

    * Warren, Mary Anne, On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. Monist 57:1 : 43-61. Reprinted in Mappes and DeGrazia 2001: 456-463, (1973)
    * Warren, Mary Anne, Do Potential People Have Moral Rights? In R Sikora and B Barry, eds. Obligations to Future Generations. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press,: 14-30, (1978)
    * Warren, Mary Anne, Postscript on Infanticide. Reprinted in Mappes and DeGrazia 2001: 461-463, (1982)
    * Warren, Mary Anne, “The Moral Difference Between Infanticide and Abortion: A Response to Robert Card” . Bioethics, Vol. 14, pp. 352-359 (October 2000)

    But really I could come up with dozens of names of women who’ve written about abortion. Even if we take the narrower focus of the conference to be ‘abortion in the Thomson tradition’ I can still think of a dozen women.

  3. I find it pretty difficult to see how this could come about. On the (extremely implausible, as noted above) assumption that there just weren’t any women interested in attending this, wouldn’t the proper move be to simply cancel rather than have an all-male revue?

  4. It’s staggering to learn about this. Yet at the same time it is quite consistent, in a weird way, with what I believe is happening generally in philosophical discussions of procreative issues. More and more male philosophers are talking about such issues, yet when many of them do, they avoid noticing that it is women who conceive, gestate, abort or not, give birth or not, and so on. See, as just one example, Julian Savulescu’s discussions of “procreative beneficence”.

  5. Does the fact that it’s at CU Boulder – where we have, oh, I dunno, Alison freakin’ Jaggar, as well as well woman philosopher of science who writes about *what it means to talk about biological life* make it any more appalling.

  6. Before everyone gets outraged, I think you should find out whether or not female lecturers were invited, and whether or not they declined the invitation. I think its a bit premature to look for outrage when this may be the result of nothing more than schedules being misaligned.

  7. Insidious, on the other hand, it might be better to postpone some conferences if one won’t have anyone from a crucial group. At the very least they’re putting the speakers in a not good situation. A lot of people now believe the sort of task the men will take on is foolish. That is, The men will look foolish to many.

    Jender, it definitely calls for a cake with seminal icing. I herewith refuse to make one, as if I could.

  8. “[Male philosophers] avoid noticing that it is women who conceive, gestate, abort or not, give birth or not, and so on.”

    Conception involves both the male and the female; sperm + egg = baby. It is true that the woman’s body nurtures the child to term, and the woman must bear the pain and transformation involved in this process. It is also true that the woman is especially vulnerable to the male’s flight; if the man abandons the woman, she loses valuable resources needed to maintain her own health and sanity, as well as to ensure the health and safety of the child. However, both male and female have a stake in the outcome of a child’s birth, as the consequence of having a child can radically change the lives of both the male and the female involved. Thus, men have as much of a right to discuss this topic as women do. Assuming that the creators of the seminar did not purposely disallow women to attend, I do not feel that it is an atrocity for these men to discuss this topic.

    Given all that, however, I think it would be more tasteful if men focused on how abortion may uniquely affect the male. Scenarios could be posed for discussion. For example, in some instances, a male and a female may agree to have a child. After conception, however, the woman vetoes the agreement and decides to have an abortion. How might this affect the male? In this instance, even though he contributed 1/2 of the DNA to the child and was willing to be a potential father, he has now lost his chance to have a child with this woman, and has lost a chance to pass his DNA into the next generation. This sort of an event could be very damaging to a male’s psyche, yet these sorts of scenarios are often not addressed by feminist philosophers who often write about abortion.

  9. I like jj’s idea. I think someone should set up some sort of paypal donation option, with the proceeds used to send them a sperm cake.

  10. hi – i’m just a dude, but perhaps you would like to consider the following:

    (1) the conference isn’t a bunch of dudes talking about what women should be allowed to do with their bodies. it is a conference in honor of one of the most ovular (to use louise antony’s term) papers in philosophy of the 20th century by a *woman* (who will presumably be in attendance; so please make sure there is enough sperm cake left so that JJT can have some. nothing would honor her more than a sperm cake sent by some obnoxious bloggers.)

    (2) a point from above needs to be taken more seriously. we don’t know how the group of speakers was selected. the fact that neither alison jaggar nor michael tooley (both at colorado) are speaking (despite their prominent contributions to the literature on abortion) may tell us something about the program. in any case, it is just plain dumb to assume that because the final program means that no women were invited.

    (3) unfortunately, mary anne warren passed away in the last year or so.(anyone embarrassed?) i have no doubt that, were she living, should would have been invited. but, as any conference organizer knows, inviting so-and-so doesn’t entail that so-and-so will be on the program. i find it curious that all of the naysayers here have not made any suggestions of (currently alive) women speakers.

    (4) someone even suggested that the conference be postponed if women speakers could not make it to the conference as scheduled. does this person have any idea about scheduling, conference $$, etc?? moreover, everyone seems to be forgetting that this is a conference in honor of JJT! are you really suggesting that a conference in honor of the 40th anniversary of JJT’s paper should be held on, say, the 41st anniversary? christ! stop for a second and think before you say stuff!

    (5) you all should congratulate yourselves on taking a very rare and exciting event (namely a conference in honor of prominent woman philosopher) and turned it into something bad. surely JJT deserves better than a sperm cake anniversary.

    i predict that i will now be attacked on this blog. please know that i will not be checking back in and your incredibly clever ways of dismissing my comments will be unknown to me. but, by all means, have at it! xoxo

  11. Just to clear up a few possible misconceptions about this comment thread:

    (1) Nobody suggested inviting Mary Anne Warren. None of us have attempted to provide a list of women who have written on abortion or on Thomson’s paper– not because it’s too difficult but because we really can’t imagine anyone would need help thinking of such a list. (I’m not sure why a bit of the discussion got sidetracked into Marquis, which is where the names got provided.)

    (2) The rescheduling suggestion was not one of moving it to a different year. There are many options within a single year for a one-day symposium.

    (3) The sperm cake was totally an in-joke.

    (4) We’re well aware of Mary Anne Warren’s death:

    I left Dan’s comment up even though it violates our policies, because I wanted to clear up the misconceptions he seemed to have. But let’s all remember not to feed the trolls, and also to observe the “be nice” rule.

  12. redeyedtreefrog: sorry, what i meant to indicate was that marquis doesn’t even discuss warren’s work on abortion in the paper–he merely cites her in a footnote as someone who’s written something on abortion, without another word about it. and as for cudd: she’s even in the same department as marquis; they could’ve carpooled (except one suspects they’re not so chummy…).

  13. I just looked up one of the speakers, and now I’m wondering what the conference is doing and how it is supposed to honor JJT. The speaker, Francis Beckwith, is a Roman Catholic pro-life, pro-intelligent design person who consorts with people many academic philosophers would consider not respectable thinkers. Here’s the somewhat reliable wiki:

    Francis J. “Frank” Beckwith (born 1960) is an American Christian philosopher, scholar, debater, and lecturer. Beckwith advocates in the areas of social ethics, legal philosophy, philosophy of religion, intelligent design and the Christian countercult movement. Currently, he is the associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies and an associate professor of Church-State studies at Baylor University. Beckwith, born in New York City, now resides with his wife in Texas. Beckwith returned to Roman Catholicism in 2007.

    Beckwith has defended the pro-life position on abortion and the constitutional permissibility of the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. He has been affiliated with organizations that advocate for these issues. Beckwith is a former fellow at the Discovery Institute[4] the “hub of the intelligent design movement”; and a former member of the advisory board for the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center.[6] As of late 2007, he is a fellow at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD); and a professor at Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion (ISR).

    Those interested might want to look at Brian Leiter’s claim that Beckwith, at least when Leiter wrote, is a notorious and sleazy shill for intelligent design who also advocates discriminations against the glbt community.

    So it’s this puzzling? Apparently Norcross, also at Bolder, referred to Beckwith’s “bizarro blog” (see Leiter). I think I’m going to stop thinking about this, because I’m getting a bit distressed about the idea that this honors JJT. Indeed, one could be paranoid and say that it shows how little honor is actually being paid to the exceptionally wonderful philosopher.

  14. jj, it just gets weirder and weirder… Not that a conference honoring JJT should necessarily only feature people that basically agree with her and/or have favorable views on abortion; but one would expect that those representing different positions would have better credentials than the ones discussed here. (I must add that I know virtually nothing about the field, but I am not very impressed by what I’ve heard about Marquis and Beckwith here on this thread.)

  15. Marquis is a totally understandable person to get for an abortion conference– he’s probably the most prominent pro-life philosopher, even if we have problems with his views and arguments. The only one whose credentials seem dubious is Beckwith.

  16. Greetings, all. I wish to gently dissent from my blogging friends. It is most important to me to note that David Boonin is and has long been a good ally of feminist philosophers, whose book, _A Defense of Abortion_, is worth its weight in gold. His presence on a one-shot symposium he is organizing on Thomson’s paper would in my opinion be an excellent contribution to philosophy, and not merely described as the presence of a dude discussing what we should be allowed to do with our bodies. Moreover, I would hope that we take the gendered conference campaign as providing opportunities to find out reasons for all-male speakers-lists *before* assessing the actions of the organizers. I believe it works against the very good aspects of the campaign to speculate about oversights or non-issued invitations. And I’m certain David knows Alison Jaggar works in his department.

  17. Of course Boonin is a thoughtful and feminist-friendly philosopher, and of course any of us who aren’t radical separatists think men should participate in discussions of abortion. The horror here is that it’s ONLY men, and two of them on record as quite oblivious to Thompson’s point that a right to life, like any right, is circumscribed by others’ rights–oh, say, the right to bodily integrity, just to dredge up a random example. This conference lineup stinks.

  18. I too would like to add a voice somewhat at odds with the dominant reactions represented here. Jender suggested (7:06) that moving the conference to a different time this year might be preferable to holding the symposium in the absence of female participants who have scheduling conflicts, assuming that might have been a reason why no women are on the program (not counting Thomson, whose work the entire symposium concerns). I’d like to suggest that holding the symposium at a different time within the same year would be likely to result in reduced attendance. I imagine the idea behind the timing is that prefacing the JJT symposium to the RoME Congress will bring in (perhaps for both events) attendees who would be unlikely to make two trips to Boulder in one year, but who are interested in both. That seems to me to count in favor of holding the symposium at the planned time.

    Also, I am entirely unfamiliar with the literature on JJT, so it makes me somewhat uncomfortable when people make statements to the following effect: several good female candidates for inclusion on the roster come instantly to mind, and I refuse to name any. No rush here. No one’s asking for an ordered list of the best responders to JJT. But, if there really is an embarrassment of riches (again, I wouldn’t know one way or the other; this is not my area), surely it wouldn’t hurt anyone to name a handful of the good (living) female candidates. Part of the reason I think this is so important is that—as I think perhaps most of us would agree—whether or not there is something offensive going on depends on what the facts of the case are. And among the salient facts are who JJT’s best living critics are.

    I don’t mean to call anyone’s bluff here. I look at it this way: if you can bolster your case that something unjust has happened by supplying some of the asked-for info (rather than citing its obviousness), you probably should, right?, just dialectically speaking. And if that turns out to be difficult, maybe there’s less to be offended about than there seemed at first to be. Anyway, I’m genuinely curious which philosophers’ presence you’d deem worth post-poning the conference for.

  19. Note that we’re looking at the line-up of a single event, a panel, not a conference.

    (FWIW, I support the gendered conference campaign, and have indeed taken part in sending a letter or two myself.)

  20. metaphysicist, see #5 for starters, and I re-read all the comments without finding one who ‘refuses’ to type out a list of all the qualified scholars. But just off the top of my head:

    Hilde Lindemann (who so kindly rang in just now, thus providing me with a very obvious choice, thanks Hilde!)
    Nancy Davis
    Carole Pateman
    Vicky Davion
    Christine Overall
    Amy Gutmann
    Janice Moulton
    Susan Sherwin
    Carolyn McLeod
    Shelley Tremain
    Sheri Ross
    Eva Kittay
    Ellen Feder

    Happy reading.

  21. A couple of questions:

    1. Why would one consider this a ‘horror’ or ‘outrage’ or ‘astonishing’ when no one has any clue as to the reasons for the make-up of the panel?

    2. Maybe more importantly; Why in 2011, at a symposium celebrating one of the most important contributions to applied philosophy (by a man or a woman) AND the woman who made that contribution, should anyone care? I would really love an answer…any remotely relevant practical consideration of how/why it matters in this particular case and context?


  22. My pleasure. There really IS an embarrassment of riches, and I earnestly attest that my friends and colleagues didn’t list them all because there truly are so many. When they say dozens, they mean it! The scholars I’ve named are just the ones I name off the cuff. I haven’t even gotten to the up-and-coming scholars who are not so well known but doing tremendous new work in the field, any of which would frankly benefit greatly from inclusion in a pre-RoME symposium.

  23. I believe one can find numerous responses to comment #34 in numerous discussions on this blog and elsewhere. (Perhaps someone with more patience than me at the moment will repeat, once again, a list of some relevant links.)

    It seems to me that the posting of comment #34 says a great deal about the problem itself.

    I totally agee with profbigk both on the embarrassment of riches, and on the up-and-coming scholars. As in so many other fields, young scholars and graduate students do much of the best, most exciting, and cutting edge research (for which their lab directors often receive the most credit in many cases/fields… remember the “Empirical Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Research” clip…). Conference speaker status varies widely (not just from field to field and department to department but often also from various time periods to others). I skip here for sake of brevity analyses of cases that allegedly do and do not display various patterns and alleged biases.

    … [memory association:] I recall one (reported/alleged) job search whose main criterion was (or seemed to be) “raising our Leiter ranking”. …


  24. Wow, so I think Dan Kaufman (#19) and comment 34 may have the wrong idea about the nature of the criticisms and comments posted here. I take it that no one objects to the idea of men serving on a panel discussing abortion, and no one is saying that all the folks invited do bad work. I certainly wasn’t. I think male voices can be valuable, and I think there are men who do good work on these sorts of issues. And certainly no one thinks it’s bad to have a panel discussing JJT’s work.

    The objections were really based around the idea that an *all-male* panel has been invited, and the original post certainly implies that we’re talking about an all-male panel.

    Also, I don’t think anyone is here to flame Dan. If he’d like to continue posting instead of doing a fly-by uncharitable attack, I assume he’s totally welcome to continue the discussion. I mean, I’m not running this blog or anything, but I’ve always felt pretty welcome here and I assume he’s just as welcome as anyone else.

  25. Dave & Matt (& presumably others),

    I understand the concerns pretty well (i think), I am just wondering what possible justification one could have for the positions expressed here without any consideration for the reasons behind the composition of the panel.

    It is pretty clear that no one knows those reasons, therefore I can only assume that folks have some sort of justification that supports ‘outrage’ and ‘horror’ regardless of whatever reasons could possibly be given for the composition of the panel.

    So, although I am terribly sorry to strain Dave’s patience, I am really curious as to what principle or concern or worry might dictate that the panel above is ‘horrifying’ regardless of any or all reasons that might be given for it’s composition.

    Until someone knows the reasons for the make-up of the panel, I can only assume there is something prima facie wrong about this sort of panel discussing this sort of topic…I am genuinely interested in what that something is.

  26. Comment #34 seems written in ignorance of the “Gendered Conference Campaign” concerns/work/goals/reasons-for-being.

    Similarly, comment #34 does not seem to be based on the non-existent objections listed in the first paragraph of comment #37.

    Also, I do not see anyone attacking Dan (from comment #19) in this comments thread (though several commentators made helpful clarifications of various kinds in response to the seemingly uncharitable “attack” of his own). If I missed them, could someone please point out and explain the attacks on Dan to me?

  27. Dave,
    Still missing the point. I am certainly aware of the concern. Let me enumerate my concerns:
    1. no one knows whether or not an *all-male* panel was invited, nor does anyone have any idea if the panel will ONLY include dudes…For all we know they are the only one’s who could R.S.V.P in time for the press release (notice that it states ‘participants will include’…

    2. No one has any clue as to the make-up of the panel let alone the justification for the make-up of the panel. There are countless really relevant and important reasons I could imagine for why the panel might be advertised using some dudes names…all of which might be completely consistent with the goals of the ‘Gendered-Conference Campaign’…

    Given those concerns all that I am asking for is…

    I. ONE reason that could trump any and all possible mitigating/excusing factors and justifies assuming that there won’t be any women on the panel…without that? This is all just a bunch of overzealous jumping o’ the gun. If you can provide that reason, then you’ll have offered a really awesome interesting, groundbreaking, principle that not only supports a particular approach to feminist theory but likely supports the notion of psychic ability…I just have NO idea what it could be.

  28. Bubba (for short): I’m not sure I can do justice to your remarks, but let me point out that concerns are raised against a background of practices. If philosophy was an equitable discipline, it might be questionable to raise a question about one conference. But the presumption in philosophy is hardly that there is a level playing field.

    In surely just about any case where questions about discriminatory exclusion are raised, one can challenge them if there is no solid history of discrimination. But where there is, the burden of proof is different.

    Do note that I am being very cautious. I’m merely arguing that the questions re discrimination are appropriate.

  29. My comments below are more shallow and simple than jj’s comment #41 above. I welcome others to correct/elaborate if/where appropriate.

    If this is not a conference with all male speakers, then many if not most of the concerns here may indeed not apply. (Others who know more about the campaign can certainly address the matter further if they like.)

    I do think conference advertisements of the kind in question (that only list male speakers) can have negative effects similar to those caused by actual conferences with all male speakers. Raising consciousness of (and finding ways to reduce if not eliminate) biases that cause and perpetuate such speaker lists are a major concern of the campaign, I think it seems clear.

    On my understanding of the campaign, a major focus concerns the effects of the mere existence of conferences with all male speakers (and perhaps the advertisement of apparent or potential conferences with all male speakers). This focus/concern stands even in cases involving many careful efforts to include female speakers. I believe the campaign in substantial part aims for the inclusion of more female conference speakers as well as more information about the causes of conferences with all male speakers that people can use to make more careful efforts in the future to include (more) female speakers at future conferences. Perhaps the negative, and possibly less than constructive, reactions recorded here accidentally eclipse this aim of the campaign.

    If the conference does indeed include female speakers, then this is a happy news update (that may correct several false assumptions). If the conference does not include female speakers, but the conference organizers made many careful efforts to include female speakers, then this is welcome and sad news, I take it. However, even given those circumstances, a major concern that the campaign focuses on still stands – the harmful effects of conferences with all male speakers (and perhaps advertisements for conferences that list only male speakers). Others who know more about the campaign, please either correct me or add much more subtle details.

    The simple details of the content of the conference (critical appreciation of a female philosopher’s writing on issues that involve women in ways that they do not involve men) seems to have (understandably if not justifiably) inflamed the usual reactions. Some commentators have and used notions such as outrage and horror. Bizarre comes to my mind.

  30. I’m the one who wrote the letter, and I want to weigh in on the side of those criticising expressions of anger and outrage directed at the symposium organisers (it’s not always clear to me where these emotions are directed, so perhaps I’m not criticising anyone). However, I’ll also note that I do understand those feelings.

    There are, as I note in the letter I sent, a large number of reasons that might lead to an all-male lineup, and only a few of them should properly be the objects of condemnation. Even implicit bias, unconscious and nonvoluntary as it is, is not (in my view) blameworthy. The point of this campaign is to highlight the phenomenon of all-male conferences, to try to understand how they come about, and to encourage people to try to avoid creating them. (Also to offer suggestions about how to avoid creating them– the rescheduling idea came up in a previous discussion and was very well received there. It may not be appropriate for this one, since (as noted) the symposium is tied to a previously scheduled event.)
    It seems to me that in most cases the proper object of anger is the situation we’re in: one where the under-representation of women is so stark that people *can* organiser all-male conferences without noticing, because it seems normal.

    Now, this particular one is especially striking for three reasons: (1) It’s a topic that lots of women have written on (in addition to those cited already, a few others leaping to mind are Maggie Little, Alison Jagger, and Laurie Shrage). (2) Part of the point of Thomson’s paper was that discussions of abortion have focused solely on the foetus’s rights, failing to notice that someone else with rights– a woman– is involved. The lack of women on the lineup seems a bit ironic in light of this. (3) Far too much public discourse in the US in particular takes the form of a bunch of men discussing what women should be allowed to do with their bodies. This is a frequent complaint of the feminist blogosphere.

    I think these factors led to expressions of shock and outrage. Those are understandable– and appropriate, if directed at the state of affairs we find ourselves in. But I really don’t think that it’s right to direct these at the conference organisers, at this point.

  31. Like Thomson’s article, Marquis’ has been published and republished in many collections. He has revised portions of the paper in later versions to address Thomson’s arguments, so whatever else we think of his work, we can lay this aspect of the “*gasp* j’accuse!” objection to rest.

  32. On no interpretation that I can think of any of the problems alleged here does the mere presence of Marquis as a speaker pose any sort of problem or grounds for objection.

    What is the aforementioned “aspect of the ‘*gasp* j’accuse!’ objection” and what does it mean (literally, I do not know what this means)? If possible, please explain it to me like I am six years old. Although I both teach Thomson and Marquis every year and I share the main concerns expressed in this comments thread, I do not understand comment #45. Can someone please help me understand?

  33. Sure, David. People were complaining that Marquis didn’t address Thomson’s work, and I was just pointing out that this oversight has been corrected. The “j’accuse objection” is just the general piling-on and finger-pointing going on in this thread over dudes talking about abortion (to the exclusion of women)–some of which I think is warranted, and some of which I do not. You’re certainly right that no one is complaining about Marquis being on the panel, though on no charitable interpretation of my first comment that I can think of would anyone have me saying, etc., etc.

  34. qb, i believe my comment above is the comment re marquis with which you are taking issue. so, to clarify: i did not mean to complain that marquis didn’t address thomson’s work. i meant to point out that marquis, in general, does not seem to address women’s work on abortion. it’s great to hear he’s talked about thomson in more recent work. but his 1989 discusses the work of men, exclusively. and i meant, merely, to point out that, given this, his speaking on abortion as part of an all-male line-up is quite fitting. (his 1989, by the by, has been anthologised 83 times now, by my count. so, clearly the time for questioning marquis’s inclusion in the debate has long since passed.)

  35. Thank you sincerely for the patient and kind explanation. However, I am sincerely still not sure I understand. I recall one person who was not familiar with the high quality of Marquis’ work (hey, even great scholars with many areas of specialization/competence can’t read everything..). I somehow missed people complaining that Marquis didn’t address Thomson’s work.

  36. I typed my comment #49 before I saw comment #48. Although comment #48 helpfully clarifies some matters, I still do not see that “people were complaining” as you state in your patient and kind explanation (comment #47).

  37. brynhild, Thanks for the clarification, sorry I misunderstood. I seem to remember that the revisions of Marquis’ article referring to Thomson are even being published under the same title as the original piece, though I could be wrong. I can understand why publishers would do that, but if they do, it would raise problems of its own.

    David, when I typed the comment I remembered only that Marquis’ initial failure to address women had been raised in more than one comment, but I was outside, walking, and reading the thread on a phone, so scrolling up and down to collect citations seemed like too much of a pain to go through for a comment on a blog post. Maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, think of “people” like the syllogistic “some,” if that helps: one or more persons.

  38. I’ve decided to do some heavier moderating of this post from here on (though of course there are times of day when I’m less able to). jp, your comment made assumptions about the organiser’s intent, which violated our rules. If you can rewrite without those assumptions, I’ll let the comment through.

  39. I would not appear on a panel with Francis Beckwith, who is neither a good philosopher nor an honest or honorable person, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. Perhaps this has something to do with why women may have declined to participate? I’m frankly surprised that a serious department would invite someone like him–it reflects badly on Colorado.

  40. Brian, I don’t think we have any reason to think that women have been asked, with the exception of JJT.

    I think that one thing the gendered conference campaign might say more about is the self-interest of the organizers and that of the male participants. It is at least possible that this panel, occurring on its own day right before a larger convention, will have a smaller audience just because of its makeup.

  41. It is incredible that Francis Beckwith had been invited at all (a conference in in honor of JJT!) and that other well-known philosophers had agreed to participate. The absence of women is all the more incredible. A small conference, but speaks volume about the “culture” of our profession.

  42. I have no direct evidence for this, but I have a conjecture concerning what happened here. Perhaps the organizers wanted to have some sort of “balance” on the topic, that is have two “pro” speakers and two “against” speakers. That is, very roughly speaking, how the panel divides up.

    There are a lot of women philosophers who work on this topic — how many of them fall under the “anti” heading? I’m guessing not many, but this is just a guess…. completely not my area at all. Marquis is well known, and an interesting philosopher, so he is a natural invite for one of the “anti” slots. I have no idea why the other speaker for the “anti” slot was chosen. But, in any event, if there aren’t very many women defending “the anti side”, the odds of two of the places being men get pretty high. And it would make sense to want at least one of the ‘pro’ slots to go to a male speaker, I’d think, so it doesn’t look like the ‘anti’/’pro’ positions divide neatly along the gender line. So you can kind of see how you could end up with 3 of the 4 positions being men w/o the thought process sounding too out there.

    I’m not sure how you get to 100% though. That does seem pretty indefensible to me.

    [I know the labels ‘anti’/’pro’ are horribly imprecise and reductive. I apologize for that, just don’t have a good short hand here to use.’]

  43. the above isn’t meant as any sort of defense of what happened. just an attempt to put myself in a possible headspace of the organizers. maybe that’s not worth doing, but just thought i’d clarify a bit

  44. Jender, I didn’t mean to suggest we had evidence one way or another.

    mm – they might have asked a women who did not like thompson’s arguments. Or perhaps some of the very many virtue theorists who might give a nuanced annount that managed to criticize several approaches.

  45. In regard to mm’s suggestion (#57), I agree that this is a *possible* explanation for how some of the speakers were chosen. But the philosophical debates about abortion are so complex, and JJT’s paper is so rich and challenging in many respects, that it just seems odd to suppose that a panel about her paper could or should come down to merely “pro” and “anti” abortion positions.

  46. i agree that it seems odd that it should have, it just kind of looked like it did, and so I speculated backwards as to mindset. but it’s just speculation, not meant as any kind of defense.

  47. Alistair Norcross (who my letter went to, but who turns out not to be the symposium organiser) writes:

    I share your concern, but I would like to point out that the connection with
    the Rocky Mountain Ethic Congress (RoME) is only peripheral. Ben Hale and I
    are the organizers of RoME. The Thomson symposium is a one-off event this
    year organized by David Boonin, to mark the 40th anniversary of the
    publication of Thomson¹s landmark “Defense of Abortion”. It¹s mentioned on
    the RoME site because it takes place the day before RoME starts. I know
    David invited Judy to take part. She was delighted with the event, and with
    the speakers already lined up, but she declined to take part, for health
    reasons. We are still hopeful that she will be able to make it for the
    symposium, and for the RoME Congress. She gave a wonderful keynote talk at
    the 2009 RoME. The lineup for the abortion symposium is not actually set. As
    you will have noticed, the announcement of the symposium says that the
    speakers “will include” those mentioned. I know David is still open to
    adding female speakers to the event. The main problem, as I understand it,
    is that the point of the symposium is to bring together critics of Judy¹s
    defense of abortion, which is, by far, the best known and most widely
    reprinted article on abortion. David, who is one of the best known defenders
    of Judy’s position, having devoted a long chapter of his own book on
    abortion to it, will be making introductory remarks as the organizer. The
    speakers so far lined up are the most prominent critics of abortion or of
    Judy’s specific argument. The most prominent female philosopher who
    published criticisms of Judy’s article (in the context of her own defense of
    abortion) was Mary Anne Warren, who, sadly, died last year.

    At the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress itself, we have three invited keynote
    speakers each year, and between 45 and 60 peer reviewed papers on the main
    program. Each year (this is the fourth) one of the keynote speakers has been
    a woman (this year we have Cheshire Calhoun). The main program for the first
    three years has featured 20%-25% papers by women. That¹s the same as the
    percentages of submissions from women, and, unfortunately, about the same as
    the percentage of women in philosophy. All the papers are reviewed anonymously
    (acceptance rate is approx. 25%). This year¹s submission deadline has only
    recently passed, so the reviewing process has only just begun.

    I know David is aware of your concerns.

    All the best


  48. from comment #57, “…And it would make sense to want at least one of the ‘pro’ slots to go to a male speaker, I’d think, so it doesn’t look like the ‘anti’/’pro’ positions divide neatly along the gender line…”

    I cannot think of a good reason to want at least one of the “pro” slots to go to a male speaker. God forbid we might have more than one woman on any part of any symposium/conference! God forbid we might have an all women symposium/conference!

    As for the conjecture about two people for “anti” and two people for “pro” positions, there are plenty of female philosophers who criticize as well as defend Thomson’s article. I believe the web-posting for/on this symposium(/conference or whatever they want to call it) represents it as “A Critical Appreciation” of Thomson’s 1971 article after 40 years. It seems just as plausible a conjecture to include two people who criticize Thomson’s article/arguments and two people who defend them (compared to including two people for and two people against the moral permissibility of abortions…). The concerns raised in this thread seem to remain.

    [Update: I now see that jj and mm seem to have made/addressed the attempted points here.]

  49. As a female philosopher of math recently said to me, “I could do a phil of math conference and have only women as keynote speakers, and I could even justify the choice of each and every speaker”.

  50. Pressed ‘post comment’ button a tad too soon. What I meant to say was that her suggestion was taken by others as a joke or an outlandish suggestion, whereas I thought the idea is not fundamentally different from conferences with an all-male lineup. In each of these all-male conferences, one can justify the choice of each of the speakers.

  51. Philosophers are indeed good at providing justificatory arguments, and I have no doubt that one could be provided for each male or female speaker (though it does sound like it might be tougher with Beckwith). But that’s not the point we’re concerned with here: our concern is with the *effects* of all-male lineups.

  52. as it’s recently become relevant to my research, i was wondering can anyone on this string direct me to marquis’s reply to Thomson? or indeed, any work of marquis’s in which he even mentions Thomson? I’ve so far been unable to find any… (I’m not trying to challenge anyone’s claims. i really truly need this for the research I’m doing.) thanks!

  53. Interesting.

    In academia people’s arguments are usually examined on their merits and are not conflated with their other associations (e.g. other beliefs such as intelligent design, etc). In short my having beliefs you don’t like doesn’t mean I don’t have good reasons to believe this particular thing. So the relevant point here would be the work Beckwith has done in defense of his pro-life views, and the arguments he gives in his writings, and not his other beliefs per se. To dismiss a professional philosopher’s arguments for one of their views (before one has even read them) on the basis that they hold other views which you find reprehensible may be an intuitive reaction, but it’s a logical fallacy.

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