Still philosophy, even if empirically supported!

Two related notices arrived in my email today.  (There should be a technical term for coincidental content-alerts in philosophy.)  The first was an automated delivery of a review of The Moral Psychology Handbook; the reviewer, Dan Haybron, begins with the promising comment:

Around a decade ago, a leading moral philosopher told me flatly, “psychology is irrelevant for ethics.” That was not, at the time, an unusual sentiment. It is hard to imagine anyone saying such a thing today (not, at any rate, publicly).  Should any doubts remain, The Moral Psychology Handbook should swiftly put them to rest.

Yes, Haybron and I were both already inclined to endorse empirical projects, but that’s because we’re so very, very correct!  And even if it isn’t always appropriate to appeal to the empirical realm, at least in the case of this Handbook, it is a success.

The chapters are richly informed by empirical research. The empirical focus, note, is not placed in opposition to philosophical reflection, but employed to inform it. This is still philosophy.

This gives me a shot in my feminist arm!  Here I was beginning to lose the courage of my convictions that embodied and concrete experiences should inform our philosophical efforts, and that gender is especially relevant to so many of the conceptual analyses we do in ethics.

The second related alert was a note from an FP reader regarding an article provocatively titled, “The Dark Side of Forgiveness: The Tendency to Forgive Predicts Continued Psychological and Physical Aggression in Marriage” (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2011 37: 770).  The longitudinal study is fascinating on several levels, although the title somewhat overstates the conclusions.  Hearing about this was a valuable reminder of the extent to which philosophers tend to appeal to hypothetical examples of heterosexual married couples when spinning conceptual analyses of forgiveness.  Imagine how philosophical habits might change if we attended to the experiences of actual married couples instead of relying on the handy cultural narratives we tend to assume we share!  And I haven’t even gotten to the wacky, wild, gutsy possibility that we appeal to concrete examples of intimate relationships other than the heterosexually arranged marriage. 

More on the “Dark Side of Forgiveness” after I’ve really absorbed the data, but in the short run, I can already attest that the findings do not significantly vary between the husbands and wives in the study; sex is not a predictor of re-offense, according to the authors.  Unfortunately, when it comes to serious harm, forgiving might be a predictor of re-offense.

Setting the cat among the pigeons…

Now this blog is not about cats at all, but the expression in the title is nonetheless apt.

There was an interesting op-ed piece in the NY Times recently that was written by a nurse.  She wrote it about how doctors can be very openly condescending to nurses, even in front of patients.  Of course, I was surprised.  I had left medicine off my list of male-dominated hierarchical organizations that too often provide hostile environments for women.  How could that be?

Well, in any case, she had some recommendations.  I translated them over to our discipline a few posts ago, but no one noticed.  So I thought I’d try it again.  It just might set the cat among the pigeon.

The original recommendations from  Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse who also writes for the NY Times:

What can be done to counter hospital bullying? For one thing, hospitals should adopt standards of professional behavior and apply them uniformly, from the housekeepers to nurses to the president of the hospital. And nurses and other employees need to know they can report incidents confidentially.

Offending parties, whether doctors or nurses, would be required to undergo civility training, and particularly intransigent doctors might even have their hospital privileges — that is, their right to admit patients —  revoked.

But to be truly effective, such change can’t be simply imposed bureaucratically. It has to start at the top. Because hospitals tend to be extremely hierarchical, even well-meaning doctors tend to respond much better to suggestions and criticisms from people they consider their equals or superiors. I’ve noticed that doctors otherwise prone to bullying will tend to become models of civility when other doctors are around.

In other words, alongside uniform, well-enforced rules, doctors themselves need to set a new tone in the hospital corridors, policing their colleagues and letting new doctors know what kind of behavior is expected of them.

My translation:

{We should look at] the question of whether leadership in academia could be more effective.  So far the APA has hardly been a help.  Perhaps we should try to energize deans or department chairs. 

Should we try a petition and a set of action guidelines to be sent around to chairs?  What sort of petition might stir things up?  What sort of guidelines could there be?  Should the guidelines come monthly, with perhaps different areas for different months?

I am thinking of the sort of petitions that we commonly mention here.  Could we get a lot of philosophers to sign a petition urging chairs and deans to address the gender inequality in the field?  Gender and racial?  And at least suggest the sort of things that can help.  I believe we could get a emailing list of at least US dept chairs from the APA.

Does gender-inclusive language make a difference?

A new study shows some ways that it does:

Three studies assessed whether a common cultural practice, namely, the use of gender-exclusive language (e.g., using he to indicate he or she), is experienced as ostracism at the group level by women. Women responded to the use of gender-exclusive language (he) during a mock job interview with a lower sense of belonging, less motivation, and less expected identification with the job compared to others exposed to gender-inclusive (he or she) or gender-neutral ( one) language (Studies 1 and 2). Moreover, the more emotionally disengaged women became over the course of a job interview upon hearing gender-exclusive language, the less motivation and job identification they subsequently reported (Study 3). Together, these studies show that subtle linguistic cues that may seem trivial at face value can signal group-based ostracism and lead members of the ostracized group to self-select out of important professional environments.

Thanks, Laura!

Since we are on the subject of cats…

and there have been a few posts today related to the feline, I thought I’d mention Animal Planets new series on dealing with difficult cats. Its cat whisperer has some surprising and good advice about dealing with cats, difficult or not. The whisperer might seem a bit unexpected, but clearly the show had cat consultants.


The show is on Saturday nights.  Bummer.