How few blacks are there in philosophy?

Following on from this article about the tiny numbers of blacks in British academia, Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has called attention to the staggering lack of black philosophers.

1. Only 50 out of 14,000 professors in Britain are black 
The data in item #1 is reported here, and here To my knowledge (and I am a citizen of Britain), none of these 50 black professors specialises in philosophy.
2. Fewer than 125 out of 11,000 members of the American Philosophical Association are black

3. Fewer than 30 out of 11,000 members of the American Philosophical Association are black women
The data in items #2 and #3 are drawn from Kathryn T. Gines. Being a black woman philosopher: Reflections on founding the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers. Hypatia 26(2): 429-43.
Together, these facts add weight to the conclusion that there is a global lack of blacks in professional philosophy. I urge the philosophical professioriat to take immediate and positive action to combat this global lack.
From here.

78 thoughts on “How few blacks are there in philosophy?

  1. Last year I was at a conference in Basel and spotted another (i.e. in addition to myself) mixed race/black philosopher in the audience and remember thinking to myself that it was a shame how unusual this was. I was later chatting to him in the dinner break and he said that he had thought the same thing when he had spotted me.
    We where both phd students so, neither of us might make it to continued academia, but given the shocking figures above it seems that even just us two could have a large impact on the percentage!

  2. I’d be very interested to hear ideas people might have to improve the situation. I recall reading some discussion on the issue several years ago (perhaps in one of the APA newsletters, though I don’t remember now) about it, and some of the suggestions then included trying to get PhD programs to take applications from historically black universities (and perhaps less prestigious universities more generally) more seriously, by looking for potential in the writing sample and paying less attention to whether the letter writers were famous. That seems like good advice in general, but since, I’m pretty sure, only a fairly small minority of black students go to historically black universities, that focus alone probably won’t do too much. I believe there was also discussion of the fact that people from families with less wealth (as opposed to income, at least sometimes) tended to (rationally) pursue jobs with more certain futures and pay-offs than philosophy when they could, and since African-Americans on average have significantly less wealth in their families than do whites, “top” African-American students were more likely to go to med school, law school, or other similar paths than were otherwise similar white students. I recall the discussants being unsure whether it was wise to push such students towards philosophy, and that was even before the current terrible job market. Anyway, the problem is obviously complex and difficult, and won’t be easy to solve, but I’d be very interested to hear ideas people have. The accumulation of lots of small steps seems likely to be the best path, after all.

  3. With all due respect, the “pipeline” problem is largely a red herring. The notion that blacks are in demand in philosophy, if only they would come, is generally a fraud–especially at the hiring level. The philosophy profession–in composition, sensibilities, and content–is a racially hostile environment, even if that hostility typically manifests itself as benign neglect. No black person who takes himself or herself to have viable alternatives, and common sense, would go down this road. (But, of course, this is true for most people contemplating a career in philosophy these days, regardless of color.)

    Yes, I could tell you stories that you wouldn’t really believe: I can hardly believe them myself. I could try to assure you that “well qualified” blacks are not in great demand–other than for submitting job applications and responding to pointless “diversity office” surveys. I could dismiss the need for more studies of a type which basically presuppose that the gross underrepresentation of blacks in philosophy is due almost entirely to external factors.

    But why are we talking about this? The philosophy profession has clearly spoken: it has no shame regarding its extraordinary whiteness; and blacks have virtually no leverage in such an environment. I cannot in good conscience encourage any black student in the U.S. (or U.K.) to enter the philosophy profession. The extraordinarily few who are determined to go should at least be aware of what awaits them.

  4. McPherson,
    this discussion and similar ones on other blogs is surely an effect of comments I very recently made in response to the news that the APA is funding (yet) a(nother) study on the “gender gap” in philosophy. See here:

    The central point I wanted to make there was that the underrepresentation of women in philosophy is a problem of racism and ableism; it is not a problem of gender per se. Nondisabled white men are overrepresented and the percentage of nondisabled white women in the profession almost reflects that of the general population in the US. If disabled women philosophers and women of colour philosophers were more than minimally represented, the current underrepresentation of women would be pretty much rectified.

    Not surprisingly, the underrepresentation of disabled philosophers has completely fallen out of the discussion on all three blogs where the issue of underrepresentation in philosophy has been raised this week. On one of these blogs, contributors have determined that underrepresentation in philosophy needs to be considered on a “case-by-case” basis, where of course women are conceptually separated out from blacks and other people of colour, and other unspecified minorities. I say “not surprisingly” because isn’t that the way dominant groups operate? They ration out entitlements, all the while maintaining their own position of privilege from which to do so. And this certainly applies to the APA several of whose members of the Board of Directors prevented me from organizing a committee of disabled philosophers several years ago. Yes, there is no committee of disabled philosophers. There is one representative, who is not a committee chair, (all other members of the Inclusiveness Committee are chairs of other APA committees of “minorities”) for disabled philosophers on the Inclusiveness Committee. Thus, when the chair of a search committee told me at an Eastern APA interview several years ago that I couldn’t take a job in her department due to the fact that I am not legally permitted to drive a car because of the way that I am disabled, I had no organized and institutionally-recognized body of colleagues with which to take up the issue. What was the result of this? After being directed to the wrong APA official 3 times, I finally reached the appropriate person on the appropriate APA committee with whom I could file a formal complaint, and received a non-automated response from him that he was in Japan and would respond to my email at the end of the month. After waiting two months, I sent another email indicating my utter dissatisfaction with his treatment of me and the larger issue at hand. At this point, I guess he decided he should take the matter seriously, told me that he had intended to write me the following week and emphasized how “important,” for precedent, it was that I file a complaint. Needless to say, after the initial lack of concern he had shown me, and given the length of time that had by then passed, I didn’t even continue the communication with him.

    Like you, I would hesitate to recommend this field to any disabled student.
    The discipline of philosophy is an institutionalized vehicle for the “racism against the abnormal” that Foucault talked about in his College de France lecture “Society Must Be Defended” and that Ladelle McWhorter has so painstakingly detailed in her recent book _Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America: A Genealogy_.

  5. Thank you, L.K. McPherson, for telling it like it is. To this day I ask myself why I went down this road.

  6. Lionel and Marina- I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’d be very interested and grateful for your to say more, especially about what sort of improvements might be possible (especially if they are more than “wait for a certain percentage of people to die or retire, and hope better people take their place”!) Obviously, there’s no obligation, but I’m sure it would be useful and instructive.

  7. Tremain: I am currently visiting in South Africa. I’ve learned that “disabled” is a viable affirmative action category here. Not surprisingly, South African a.a. has created some backlash among (“abled”) whites, including those who take themselves to be quite liberal. But at least this backlash is prompted by a policy that really aims to deliver transformative results.

    M.O.: Thank you for the support. Enough said.

    Matt: I appreciate your query. The truth is, I don’t have much to add that matters. I believe there is almost no hope for the philosophy profession at the systemic level, as far as blacks are concerned–for a variety of internal and external reasons. The most that seems possible is for the few individuals of conscience about this issue to attempt to shame their (virtually shameless) departments to commit to trying to train, hire, and tenure some black philosophers–realizing that the philosophical sensibilities of these philosophers might not always and conveniently line up almost perfectly with dominant sensibilities.

    I would also say this: There is no longer much point engaging with skepticism about whether the philosophy profession truly has an internal color problem. I think we all know where such skepticism leads.

  8. Lionel,
    thanks for your remarks. Departments in North America really only use affirmative action policies to hire (white, non-disabled) women. No one seems at all concerned to hire disabled philosophers, despite the flourishes in this regard usually given in job postings.

    I was at the annual meeting of the Canadian Philosophical Association earlier in the week. It was very, very white. There were less than a handful of philosophers of colour, one of whom, from the US, was on a panel I organized, another whom I talked with at a reception, was a grad student from U of Arizona. I’m pretty sure I was the only disabled philosopher there. There were many (nondisabled) white women philosophers. There is a relatively high percentage of nondisabled white women in philosophy in Canada.

    I think many white feminist philosophers would like to remain in denial about how their own practices perpetuate the underrepresentation of disabled philosophers and philosophers of colour. It occurred to me at one point that of all the feminist philosophers with whom I spoke over the course of the conference were attributing my employment status to “a really bad market” (“It’s really tough,” “I’m sorry hear that you are thinking about leaving academia, but it’s a really hard time to get a job”, etc., etc.). None of them even alluded to the fact that I am a member of a social group that is virtually excluded from philosophy and whose work on philosophy of disability is marginalized, though some referred to the underrepresentation of women in philosophy. When I thought about it later, I realized that these responses replicated what has occurred in the past on various occasions and in various forums.

  9. This has been a fine and instructive discussion. I just wanted to add a thought to Lionel’s comments, with which I agree almost entirely. My only quibble has to do with the pipeline issue. I wouldn’t say it’s a red herring, exactly. Or it is, the way it typically gets invoked, but that doesn’t mean that working on the pipeline is pointless. Sometimes putting new people in old pipelines helps to change the attitudes that inform hiring markets and workplace environments. I take it that this is the lesson of the Rooney Rule in the NFL, which seems to have helped people like Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin get hired. This is in part the thinking of programs like McGary’s institute at Rutgers, the CUSP program at Penn State, and PIKSI (all of which are about more than blackness or even race, btw).

  10. If, indeed, we are to be concerned with the “pipeline”, we should focus as much on (a) the movement from the graduate stage to the employed stage, and (b) the movement from the stage of initial employment to the stage of first promotion, as we do on (c) the movement from the undergraduate stage to the graduate stage. All three are important, in order to draw accurate conclusions in this matter.

    I suspect that there is a global lack of blacks in academic philosophy *throughout the pipeline*; and I suspect that the number of blacks in academic philosophy declines *as one progresses along this pipeline*. However, in order to establish these two contentions, what we really need is *global* data on items (a), (b), and (c). In the absence of that data, I encourage others who read this blog to share their own *local* data, so that we can build a discernible picture of what is, and of what has been, going on in academic philosophy.

    For my part, I can offer you the following *local* quantitative data on items (a) and (b). I obtained these data only through difficult, nay cumbersome, research. Since 1970, only one black member of faculty (who did not gain tenure) and only nine black graduate students (only two of whom gained the PhD) have passed through the Department of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. Of the two successful doctoral students, one is not, and has not for some time been, working in professional philosophy, and the other has a primary appointment not in philosophy, but in law.

  11. Let me note that Anita Allen, the second of your two cases, was tenured in the philosophy department at Carnegie-Mellon, before emarking on a legal education, and securing an appointment and then tenure at Georgetown, and then moving to Penn.

  12. I wonder why a black woman with a PhD in philosophy from perhaps the best graduate programme in her field chose to leave a *tenured* post in professional philosophy for the high debt associated with a legal education in the USA and a professional appointment predominantly in a law school.

  13. I don’t know the answer, though you could ask her. She is probably about two million dollars richer thanks to her career change.

  14. For the record, Anita Allen is cross-appointed in philosophy at Penn and regularly teaches in the philosophy department and has been on dissertation committees as well, so it’s at least misleading to say that she’s “left philosophy”.

  15. Thanks for the reminder about the story about Allen. Most of the six main reasons she gives–“the salaries aren’t that great, the prestige isn’t that great, the ability to interact with the world isn’t that great, the career options aren’t that great, the methodologies are narrow”–are applicable, I expect, to a lot of us who prefer a tenure home in law (I wouldn’t have mentioned ‘prestige,’ though, that strikes me as odd). And as Matt notes a tenure home in law doesn’t quite mean having “left” philosophy.

  16. Brian and Matt, *you fail to see the wood for the trees*. This is deeply unfortunate. I make three points.

    First, I said nothing remotely like ‘Prof. Allen has left philosophy’. You mischaracterise my contribution to this blog, when you make the statements such as ‘it’s at least misleading to say that she’s “left philosophy”’ and ‘a tenure home in law doesn’t quite mean having “left” philosophy’. Why do you place the words “left philosophy” in inverted commas? By doing so, you suggest, quite falsely, that I used that phrase in my contribution to this blog. What is said was that Prof. Allen ‘chose to leave a *tenured* post in professional philosophy for the high debt associated with a legal education’. From the emphasis I place on the word “tenured”, it is clear that I do not mean to suggest that Prof. Allen left philosophy *altogether*, so much as left a *tenured* role in philosophy.

    Second, you focus entirely on analysing *one* person’s trajectory, when I gave you data for the trajectories of *ten* people. Why are you avoiding any discussion whatsoever of the argument of my contribution? I am trying to build an argument for the two claims that ‘there is a global lack of blacks in academic philosophy *throughout the pipeline*; and . . . the number of blacks in academic philosophy declines *as one progresses along this pipeline*’. You ignore completely the request I made to you for help in building an argument for these two claims. My request was as follows: ‘In the absence of that data, I encourage others who read this blog to share their own *local* data, so that we can build a discernible picture of what is, and of what has been, going on in academic philosophy’. Why did you not reply to my contribution to this blog by offering your own local data?

    Third, so that it may finally receive some careful consideration, I reproduce that data that I earlier contributed. ‘For my part, I can offer you the following *local* quantitative data on items (a) and (b). I obtained these data only through difficult, nay cumbersome, research. Since 1970, only one black member of faculty (who did not gain tenure) and only nine black graduate students (only two of whom gained the PhD) have passed through the Department of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. Of the two successful doctoral students, one is not, and has not for some time been, working in professional philosophy, and the other has a primary appointment not in philosophy, but in law’.

  17. I have been at the University of Sheffield since 1995. During that time, all of our permanent staff have been white. We have had a few black MA students, and a very few (like one or two) black PhD students.

  18. Nathaniel,
    Since you’ve done this research I was wondering if you could offer methodological tips. How did you find the race data? Did you find records where people self-identified racially, or did you use something else?

  19. Dear Jender,

    I recommend asking:

    (a) members of your faculty (Have they ever supervised a black candidate?),

    (b) your administrative staff (What records do they have of black candidates and of rates of completion of the PhD?), and

    (c) your alumni/ae network (You are sure to have a formal Alumni/ae Association, who might be able to help. I also recommend searching through the names of alumni/ae who are listed on your departmental website. Every major department is keen to show off where it past students are now teaching and researching. Even if you don’t find blacks among these people, you can contact them, to ask them whether they remember any black colleagues in their cohort.)

    Good luck in the search! Persevere! I look forward to hearing local data from elsewhere!

  20. I have no local data to offer. I replied on the point where I had some additional piece of information to contribute.

  21. Dear Brian,

    A year ago, I, too, had no local data to offer.

    I had to put in effort over and above my regular responsibilities and personal projects to eke out this data.

    If your commitment to racial diversity is more than mere words, more than “benign neglect” to use Prof. Lionel McPherson’s phrase, you too will put in effort over and above your regular responsibilities and personal projects to eke out this data.


    Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman

    Department of Philosophy
    University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. S. A.

  22. Nathaniel- I was also replying to a comment other than (just) yours, and I put “left philosophy” in quotes because I was quoting it. I don’t think that was too hard to figure out, really.

  23. I’m sorry to break it to you, Nat, but you are not the arbiter of what people must do to demonstrate their interest in the lack of racial diversity in the philosophy profession. If you believe the key to the whole issue is collecting “local data,” please do collect it. I would have thought many of the comments, including data, on my blog already confirm your supposition that there is a lack of racial diversity throughout the ‘pipeline.’

  24. There are beginning to be some tough judgment calls with respect to comment deletion, with which you won’t all agree. I’d like to ask you all to assume good intentions of each other. Because suspicion is natural in this sort of topic, I know that’s hard, and I’ll try to be accommodating. But use of abusive/insulting phrases will get you deleted.

  25. I’m glad to see that discussion of the issue on this blog has not tended to regard this as a problem specific to American philosophy departments and universities in the US more generally.

  26. It’s worth distinguishing data regarding *leakage* of the pipeline from data about a lack of racial diversity throughout the pipeline. Some comments on the Leiter blog seem to be rejecting the idea that there is greater leakage of the pipeline in the case of minorities, so getting to the heart of that empirical question certainly seems worthwhile.

  27. David, that seems right to me–but I know that when it comes to discussions of women in philosophy, I find it frustrating when folks bring up the relatively low numbers of female undergrad majors because as an undergrad I saw, time and again, reasons why female students might not want to seriously consider majoring in philosophy in the first place. Regardless of whether or not there are any pipeline issues, since there are people of color in the field telling us that there is a problem, it seems like the primary question ought to be what is going on, and how can we fix it. Of course, perhaps it will take getting that data for folks to take the issue seriously, but I sort of suspect that if someone doubts the testimony of their colleagues in this respect, they may not be compelled by data either.

  28. Kathryn– I agree completely that the issue of choice of major is important (see my post on the Leiter blog). My point here was just that Nathaniel was calling for data of both sorts, whereas the discussion on the Leiter blog emphasized data of one sort.

  29. Sorry David– I really didn’t make myself clear. I meant my comment to be in agreement with you. Everything I wrote after the dash was meant to be a general comment on the discussion of data, and not on your particular comment regarding distinguishing between the types of data Nathaniel was calling for.

  30. Jenny Saul said:
    I have been at the University of Sheffield since 1995. During that time, all of our permanent staff have been white. We have had a few black MA students, and a very few (like one or two) black PhD students.

    Jenny, does your department have any openly disabled philosophers on its permanent faculty? If not, has your department or can you foresee your department actively recruiting a disabled philosopher? and ideally a disabled philosopher who works in philosophy of disability? I get the impression (just from the odd notice I’ve seen which may not be representative) that your department is centered around fairly traditional, analytic philosophy.

  31. Shelley, I am myself disabled, although I don’t work on philosophy of disability.

  32. Jenny,
    thanks for your response. Just to reassure you, my question wasn’t meant as any sort of challenge to you. On the contrary, I asked it because you were forthcoming about the lack of black philosophers in your department. Would you be able to give an estimate of the percentage of disabled philosophers in the UK, either working on philosophy departments or outside of philosophy departments? I’m hard-pressed to think of any disabled philosopher (in addition to me) working in philosophy department in Canada.

  33. I’d likewise love to know the percentage of philosophers in the US/UK/Canada/Australasia/etc who are disabled. (And I’d love to see some information-gathering done to this effect.) But surely those numbers are going to be impossible to estimate, simply because you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they’re disabled.

  34. Magicalersatz: the assertion you make (and others have also made on this blog in recent days) according to which ‘we can’t estimate the no. of employed disabled philosophers because you can’t tell by looking whether someone is disabled’ seems both unsatisfying and worrisome.

    Setting aside the implicit suggestion that only sighted people can acquire knowledge about something or someone, looking at, or seeing is, in ways cases, a notoriously unreliable way to get knowledge about people, including knowledge about their race, gender, and sexuality, not just about whether or not they are disabled. Chike Jeffers, in a thread on the Leiter blog, for instance, has noted that one of his departmental colleagues is black, but seldom recognized as such. Furthermore, most of the knowledge we have about people in the profession is not acquired through actually “seeing” them, but rather through formal and informal channels such as publications, gossip and anecdotes from their colleagues, papers they give at conferences, social media, committees they participate on, associations they belong to, conversation at meetings, and so on and so forth.

    Your(and others’) assertion is worrisome to me because I think it gives departments an easy way to rationalize the under-representation of disabled philosophers on their faculty. In fact, in my experience, it’s not uncommon to hear something like this: “Half our faculty could be disabled for all I know! We can’t ask that kind of question in a job interview.” Numbers are necessary to demonstrate our under-representation, and we should make a concerted effort to eliminate obstacles to getting estimates of numbers. Finally, asking for an estimate of the no. of disabled philosophers should not be misconstrued as a request for a precise no. By asking Jenny Saul for an estimate of the no. of disabled philosophers in the UK, I was leaving it open for her to say something like: “I know of five, but there could be more.”

  35. I’ve been thinking some more about the idea of asking philosophers directly how many, if any, disabled philosophers are on the faculty in their departments. As I said, when I asked Jennifer Saul this question, I didn’t do so in any sort of challenging way; but it occurs to me that this is what we SHOULD do. So, I want to propose that henceforth any person who comments on this blog in a thread about under-representation in philosophy, or disability, or employment, or discrimination and bias, must “own up” to how few disabled philosophers there are at present in her or his department, and also what actions she or he is committed to undertaking in order to rectify the current state of affairs with respect to the dearth of disabled philosophers in the discipline as a whole!

  36. Anyone at FP starting to worry about I am. It’s promoting a lot of stereotypes about what a ‘philosopher’ is, particularly ones that seem to be somewhat statistically more likely to be true of male and middle-class philosophers. I haven’t yet checked for race-stereotyping, but I’d not be surprised to find it too. I think it’s worrying; philosophers who lack the traits being ascribed to ‘philosophers’ can easily be made to feel like they’re not ‘real’ philosophers by this sort of thing. The latest post, for example, clearly identifies various stereotypically middle-class activities (hanging out in coffee shops, libraries etc.) with philosophers, and various stereotypically working-class activities (pop concerts, clubbing, watching action movies) with non-philosophers.

  37. I took Magicalersatz’ claim to be ‘it can be hard to ascertain whether some one is disabled, so we’d need to gather data’. I think in that regard, Shelley and Magicalersatz, you are in agreement? (Correct me if I’m wrong!).

    (I, like Mgclrstz, find myself using metaphors that are familiar, if based on an experience that isn’t shared by all. Useful to be aware of when we’re doing it!)

  38. Yeah, exactly (sorry if the phrasing was unhelpful or non-inclusive). While I realize that things like gender and race can sometimes be very non-obvious on casual interaction, I feel comfortable saying that it’s more difficult to get a *rough estimate* of the numbers of disabled people in philosophy than it is to get a *rough estimate* of the numbers of women/racial minorities/etc.

    It’s precisely for this reason that I think we should feel pressure to undertake a concerted effort to gather specific data. Rough estimates will be hard to come by, but as Shelley says, we don’t want this to be a way for departments or administrations to let themselves off the hook: “oh, for all we know half our faculty is disabled”.

  39. in case anyone wants to follow up on the stats for the UK:

    1. The Equality Challenge Unit produces a general statistical report on equality in UK higher education each year – it won’t be broken down into subjects, but gives a bit of background –

    2. The HEIDI equality project (HEIDI = Higher Education Information Database for Institutions) has a database you can query, and in particular you can break down the stats by subject area. I think you may need an institutional login, but many UK universities and colleges are signed up, and anyone working in one should be able to get hold of their institution’s password. (If you email HEIDI via the contact details on their website they should be able to tell you who the contact person is at your institution.) See for an introduction to the project.

  40. Generally speaking, people regard distributing social goods (such as jobs, housing, and access to social spaces) to disabled people as falling into one or another supererogatory region of beneficence, rather than as properly situated in the realm of justice, equality, and care (in a non-paternalistic, relational sense). So, philosophers (and other academics) do not feel an urgency to ameliorate the under-representation of disabled people in philosophy, either as students or as faculty members. I know, nevertheless, that things are much better for disabled academics in other disciplines in the humanities than they are in philosophy.

  41. Regarding the number of disabled philosophers, I think the issues can be quite tricky. I know this for my department because of the admnistrative role I hold but
    none of my other colleagues do because workplace accommodations for disability are confidential. I know it but can’t share it and no one else would know the right number.

  42. Redeyedtreefrog:
    and we can then ask: why do they (prudently) fall under the authority of confidentiality? To which we can answer because of the social stigma and shame associated with having certain requirements that don’t fit into some idea(l) of “normal functioning”.

    With all due respect, I think we recognize that the issues are, as you say, “tricky.” As I said in a previous comment in one of these threads, I think we need to figure out ways to eliminate obstacle to getting numbers. Why? because arguments about equity in philosophy seem to depend on them and no one is likely to do anything otherwise. For me,furthermore, your post raises the question of whether someone who is not “out” about being disabled should count when we determine the extent to which disabled people are underrepresented in philosophy. What does representation in this context mean? Is such a person a “role model” for disabled students (who could certainly use them just as much as students of any other socially marginalized group)?

  43. I have absolutely no way of knowing how many disabled people there are in UK philosophy, though I do know several. As to being ‘out’– I’m out as disabled I guess– but because I don’t write on disability most philosophers will not know this fact about me. I think this is much the same as being an out lesbian philosopher who doesn’t write about her sexual orientation. Why on earth would I know about it unless I knew her personally? Something can be out without thereby being widely known.

    You’re absolutely right that we need numbers from it. But asking individuals to estimate is, it seems to me, the wrong way to do that. Among other things, it will give people an inflated sense that they already know this stuff. We need real data, not guesses.

  44. Jenny,
    I agree with you that we need real data. I was merely asking you for an estimate informally, off-the-cuff, in the course of this conversation. As I said in a previous comment in one of these threads, there are lots of ways to come to know that someone is disabled. In that comment I said that “seeing” wasn’t the only way to find out. Knowing someone personally isn’t either. I now know you are disabled, but I don’t know you personally. Lots of people know I’m disabled, though I’ve never met them. Again, information of all sorts about people in a profession flows through all manner of formal and informal channels.

  45. Just to clarify: my remarks about ways of knowing were not intended to counter the claim that we need data. I was responding to other claims made in Jenny’s post. Incidentally, I believe that I was the one who introduced and subsequently the need for numbers, data.

  46. Sorry, I omitted a word from my previous comment. The last sentence should have read: “I believe that I was the one who introduced and subsequently DEFENDED the need for numbers, data.”

    In fact, I know it was me. (-:

  47. N has emailed, asking me to post the following: “at least in Britain, living with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) is considered a disability, as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (which updated and amended the Disability Discrimination Act 1995).

    Although there are tell-tale signs of AIDS, most people who live with HIV in Britain do not have AIDS. The recent report, (, provides us with a cornucopia of reasons why a professional philosopher who is disabled by HIV is unlikely to reveal this fact to her colleagues or to the administrators at her university.”

  48. I guess many people may not realise how much information is already collected by institutions (in the UK at least) and it’s really worth asking them for it – and if it isn’t released, try a freedom of information request.

    There are two things which many institutions will be doing:
    1. collecting data on staff and student disability as declared on staff/student records and submitted to the Higher Education Statistics Agency every year (this can be viewed and analysed at HEIDI, too – see comment 44 above);
    2. conducting anonymised staff attitude surveys which also request information about disability from respondents (it’s good practice for these to be conducted by an external body which also holds and analyses the data, so that anonymity is genuinely respected).
    These will get at potentially quite different populations. (1) will only capture people who have declared a disability to the institution, perhaps because they have needed reasonable adjustments, whereas (2) may capture people who have not otherwise informed their institution about disability, but will have the usual low-response-rate problem. Neither is perfect, but they do provide data rather than anecdote and it’s a starting point.

    Institutions should be doing these things because of the Equality Act 2010 and previous legislation. But it’s not often publicised, and central departments don’t always realise that academic departments want to know. So ask, and if your institution isn’t doing these things, ask why not!

  49. Hi Heg,

    Thanks so much for the information. I think this is an area where US norms differ widely from UK norms. The Americans with Disabilities Act has put in place very strict requirements for circumstances under which employers are allowed to ask employees/potential employees about disability. (When I was on the job market I applied for some UK jobs, and remember being shocked that they asked about disability on the application.) So there’s not as much data taken in as a matter of course. I don’t know whether surveys like those you mention in (2) are routine, though.

    Does anyone know how this issue plays out in, e.g., Canada or Australia? It would be cool to know which countries will have a lot of data readily available.

  50. I am finding this discussion about disabilities very difficult. First off, I am not sure where illnesses, diseases and cancer fit in. Should we say, O X is not disabled; she is just dying. Secondly, I think a lot of people are in academia with mental illness and/or learning difficulties which they may well not be inclined to make public. Finally, I have been asked to keep secret more than one semi-publicly spottable disability.

    While I understand the need for data, I do have the sense that this conversation, which seems to be largely about what is pubically available/discernible, directs our attention to a sub-group of the disabled. It is hard to deny that, I would have thought, if one insists that we now know about disability in the profession. E.g., that we can talk about the percentage of white non-disabled women with any confidence at all.

    Is the reticence to reveal one has a disability a matter of shame and stigma? How dare you assume that!?! Viciousness is unchecked in academia and our profession is one of the worst. Any weakness in a woman is too likely to make the bigotry much worse. Many of us with illness, such as manic depressiveness, may be quite sorry we cannot be out with it, but the number of ways in which we’d pay could be quite awful.

  51. Anonymous,
    I take your last two sentences to *confirm* that one might not be candid about disability because of stigma, rather than refute it. I also understood N to be confirming that stigma may well prevent one from being candid. Social stigma is one effect or manifestation of bigotry. Disabled people are made to feel ashamed of themselves. Not all do feel ashamed, but some certainly do. That’s one way in which oppression works, or as Iris Young would put it, that’s one “face” of oppression.

    I’d be interested to read more about why you think the discussion thus far has been largely about what is “publically available/discernible”. I think that has in fact been one of the aspects of the discussion that we have been grappling with, rather than taking for granted.

  52. Hi Anonymous,

    I’m so sorry if anything that’s been said here has upset you. And more importantly, I really hope it hasn’t made you not want to participate in discussions here.

    Regarding where illnesses, diseases, etc fit in to the category ‘disability’ — I guess the received wisdom is that they count as disabilities insofar as they have a substantial effect a person’s day-to-day life (or, on some accounts, have the potential to), and do so over a prolonged period (legal definitions usually give an arbitrary cut-off of, say, a year). So meningitis isn’t a disability — it’s not ‘chronic’. And a late-stage, fast-progressing cancer may not be a disability for similar reasons. But many conditions which are eventually terminal — cystic fibrosis, chronic leukemia, etc — are. And many conditions we’re more used to thinking of primarily as ‘diseases’ — MS, lupus, etc — likewise are construed as disabilities. Obviously, that’s all extremely vague, and there will be borderline cases. But I think we can still have fruitful discussions about the group we’re labelling ‘disabled people’, despite it’s being a group with vague boundaries.

    I very much share your concerns about the assumption that information about disability will be publicly available/discernible. And I hope that you don’t feel that all of us are attributing reticence to publicly discuss disability to shame or stigma. Some people who comment here may feel that way, but personally I’d never want to attribute motive to someone’s decision not to speak (or to speak, for that matter) about something as personal as disability. That’s their business, not mine, and I’m not in a position to know why they make that choice unless they tell me.

    I do think having the data we’ve been discussing would be interesting and helpful, but the kind of information-gathering I had in mind was along the lines of the anonymous opinion surveys recently carried out by David Chalmers & co. That’s a way to get sensitive information, but not ask anyone to forgo anonymity if they don’t want to.

  53. magicalersatz’s suggestion of information-gathering that retains respondent-anonymity takes us back, I think, to the question I posed (in response) to redeyedtreefrog, namely, what does representation, or rather underrepresentation of disabled people in philosophy, mean?; that is, what counts as “representation” or “underrepresentation” in this context? Does it mean simply counting people who report, even anonymously, some “medical condition” or does it mean something else?

    What magicalersatz has called “the received wisdom” regarding whether illnesses and diseases fit into the category of disability assumes the definition of disability used in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) where “disability” is the term used to define the *functional* consequences of an “impairment”. This is not what “disability” means in the UK. In the UK, and increasingly elsewhere, “disability” is defined as a form of social discrimination, oppression. This is what is called “the UK social model of disability”. It’s a different conceptual framework. The DDA in the UK, for the most part, assumes the social model; as N has pointed out, HIV status, which still carries considerable stigma, falls under the UK definition of disability, though it may not affect one’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks. In the terms of the ADA, a third term is used to cover stigma and other forms of discrimination inflicted upon disabled people, namely, “disability discrimination”. The title of the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK suggests that it uses the same category (that is, a third term) to cover something like stigma, but this is really a matter of the name of a policy not staying abreast of the changes made to its application.

  54. Just to give some sense of how difficult the data collection will be: I have never listed myself as disabled on any university documents. I thought (wrongly I guess) that I should only do that if I’d been officially recorded as disabled by the NHS.  Since I moved to this country post-diagnosis, and with no need for ongoing care, I never bothered to do anything about getting diagnosed in this country (it having been a long ordeal in the US). Hence, there are no official records of me as disabled.

  55. I guess I think there are a lot of different ways philosophy could potentially be hostile to disabled people, and they all seem worth caring about.

    There are different factors within philosophy which could have a negative impact on disabled people. Some of them are more likely to affect only those whose disability is common or public knowledge (e.g., explicit social prejudice against the disabled), some of which could affect disabled people whether or not they are ‘out’ about their disability (e.g., lack of access, the importance of social networking/conference attendance/etc, ableist presuppositions in some areas of philosophical discourse, etc). Insofar as we care about making philosophy an inclusive environment, surely we should care about all of these.

    And fwiw, what I said about disability didn’t assume the ADA definition. It’s perfectly consistent with the definition of disability given by the UK’s DDA, which is:

    “In the Act, a person has a disability if:
    -they have a physical or mental impairment
    -the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities”

    (See The DDA language does use the impairment/disability distinction commonly associated with the social model, but I was hoping to answer Anon’s query without getting into too many niceties of detail on a theoretical issue s/he may not be that interested in.

  56. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve looked at the DDA. The conception assumed in the definition you quoted is not the one advanced by the social model. It uses the same language as the social model, but it doesn’t (as you suggest) make the impairment/disabiilty distinction advanced on the social model. The model claims to make a clear distinction between impairment, which is a feature of individuals, and disability, which is a product of the environment. That is, the innovative claim of the social model is said to be that it breaks the causal connection between impairments and disability. On the social model, impairments are neither necessary nor sufficent for disability. I understand that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of disability theorists and activists in the UK with the DDA. I can now see why. Incidentally, in my work I have shown why the claims according to which there is no causal connection between impairment and disability ought not to be accepted. I’ve made this argument in various places. I give a detailed account of the distinction between the conceptual framework of the ADA and the conceptual framework of the UK social model in “Biopower, Styles of Reasoning, and What’s Still Missing From the Stem Cell Debates” which appeared in Hypatia in Summer 2010.

    I’m not sure how to respond to Jennifer Saul. It occurs to me however that data is collected about many features, contingencies, and characteristics about individuals that change: marital status, parenthood, nationality, citizenship, etc. I agree with magicalerstaz that there are many factors in the discipline of philosophy that negatively impact on disabled people, of which under-representation is only one. But I think it is a factor that probably is not unrelated to the others, or at least many of them. The increased presence of a range of disabled people in a range of social contexts has been shown to decrease their Otherness, just as is the case with people of colour, lesbians and gay men, transgendered people, and so on.

  57. A further complication: Although my disability renders me unable to drive, unable to write more than a little bit, and for some lengthy periods (e.g. all of undergrad and most of grad school) unable to type, it never occurred to me to think of myself as disabled until the last few years, as I learned more about the definition of disability. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, and it further complicated the effort to get data.

  58. Oh, by the way, the ADA also uses the terms “impairment” and “disability” but it also does not assume the conception of disability that the social model advances.

  59. I have been a bit concerned that a discussion that started off about black underrepresentation has left that topic. I think we need to try to do something that holds the attention of our colleagues on a subject they have not noticed much in the past.

    Still, there are obvious connections between how to think about race in philosophy and disability. One question concerns when and how to use one’s eg theory of oppression in describing people. I think that one thing I would never say to a black philosopher is that he feels shame about being black. If i did, though, and got an angry reaction, I’m not sure it would help to explain that the reaction or other things said actually confirm the theory about shame.

    Part of what I am wondering is whether we should accept such theories. It’s one thing to say that oppression, among other things, involves trying to force feelings on a sub-group and another to think one’s theory gives one access to how actual individuals feel. The first way can emphasize the extra burdens placed on the person, and it seems to me in contrast that trying to describe ‘the beatle in the box’ (Wittgenstein) may be a distraction.

    It might sound like I am on a very misguided course here, but I’m not so sure, especially since I just realized it is Wittgensteinian.

    It is one think to think a social theory should address cognitive and affectve effects, and another to suppose we know what they are with any definiteness at all. I think what we’re learning from the best of cognitive is that our models of others’ internal lives are often off-base. At the same time, in my painful experience theories about internal lives all too often are used to regulate and control.

  60. JJ,
    if you are referring to my remarks, I think you should notice that what I said was that the last two sentences of Anonymous’s post “confirmed” that stigma was operating. I was referring to Anon. reference (mopre than once) to bigotry.

    I agree with your worry about the fact that this had started as a thread about the under-representation of black people in philosophy. That has worried me since I raised the issue of disability early in the thread. I had thought of suggesting that a new, other thread been created to discuss the under-reprepresentation of disabled people in philosophy. Perhaps you would like to initiate one.

    I’m also troubled by the fact that the thread on the Leiter blog died out quickly, but the discussions about yet another journal’s practices seem to have a captive audience and participanst there and on another blog.

  61. I love Philosophy and I am black. I wanted to pursue a PhD in Philosophy, but school is very expensive, and I wondered whether there were any jobs for minorities in that field of study. Other than teach, what else can you do with a degree in Philosophy? If I could find or was offered a fully paid scholarship to obtain a PhD in Philosophy I would take advantage of it, whether it was in the UK or US.

  62. There is a lot of statistical information/references regarding uk/us black women in philosophy, or the lack thereof. I am just curious to know what the numbers are with regards to black women philosopher in Canada – Does anyone know?

  63. Someone might, but my student and I only hand-counted women in philosophy in Canada, which we did by readings websites which were often unrevealing of the race or ethnicity of women. (FWIW, we seem to consistently come up with a percentage of 27.5% of philosophy instructors in Canada being women.)

  64. Currently Canada does not have such a compiled current database (and would it comprise all/only everyone employed by a department of philosophy in a higher ed institution?). I am certain, though, that Canada-employed scholars have discussed, in my presence, better maintenance of data. Perhaps the future will be different.

  65. thank you for the info. I would like to find out for my own personal reasons. I am under the impression that there is only one tenured black philosopher in Canada: Dr. Chike Jeffers of Dalhousie. I aim to join him as a tenured professor of philosophy in Canada. I will be the first black woman in Canadian Philosophy who gets a job at a Canadian University!

  66. […] race problem, in that it is likely over 90% white. In particular, recent statistics suggest that fewer than 125 out of 11,000 members of the American Philosophical Association are black. This is pretty clearly—to me, at any rate—an instance (or at least a consequence) of […]

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