Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not Persons

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against St. Thomas More Hospital in Colorado. Lori Stodghill, who was pregnant with twins, died from a heart-attack shortly after she had been admitted. Her husband filed a suit in which his lawyers argue that a cesarean-section could have saved the twins, and so ought to have been performed.

Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

You can read more here.

Woman or tool?

Princeton University psychologist Susan Fiske took brain scans of heterosexual men while they looked at sexualised images of women wearing bikinis. She found that the part of their brains that became activated was pre-motor – areas that usually light up when people anticipate using tools. The men were reacting to the images as if the women were objects they were going to act on. Particularly shocking was the discovery that the participants who scored highest on tests of hostile sexism were those most likely to deactivate the part of the brain that considers other people’s intentions (the medial prefrontal cortex) while looking at the pictures. These men were responding to images of the women as if they were non-human.

I’m not particularly shocked that the hostile sexists were the most prone to this! From here. (Thanks, Mr Jender.)

Reader query: sexist lecturer

A reader writes:

I’m taking an ethics course in college right now. One of the chapters deals with feminist ethics. I’m really disappointing in my instructor, as he wrote the book and clearly has issues with feminists.
He brings up the ridiculous assumption (and supposed “facts”) that women can’t make ethical decisions, that we are inferior to men in the morals department, and that we can never be moral or ethical due to the differences in our brain structure…

What do I do? I don’t know if you answer questions like this, but I could really use the help. I have a bad feeling the other women in this course will just go along with what the book says.

Any reliable sources debunking this garbage?

Everyone Poops.

Yes, everyone poops. But discovering that reality could be even more traumatizing than discovering the reality of the violence of war. Or so Ryan Smith, who authored this piece at the Wall Street Journal (titled “The Reality that Awaits Women in Combat”), seems to imply.

Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation’s military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?

Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex.

a cautionary word about weight loss and pills

A few weeks ago I did a poll on whether one would want the side effects of a pill that causes weight loss. And in another post I mentioned falling. Oddly enough, the two were connected.

According to web lore, one of the generics of Wellbutrin has not been certified by the CDC or whatever as the same as the brand. And the uncertified one can cause really unpleasant side effects in a very, very small part of the population, anonymous people on the web maintain. Now, we are not talking a fall or two; I think I actually fell 7 times in about a week, mostly outdoors, and was prevented from falling 3 or so other times. This is actually very dangerous and I was worried.

Since no doctor or pill book seemed to know what might be going on, I decided to follow the web advice and switched back to the very expensive brand name. And I stopped falling.

Dizziness is listed as a possible side effect of Wellbutrin, but that is not what was happening. It felt as though some signal was not getting through, and in particular the ones that have one shift one’s center of balance when one’s carrying something, going up a step and so on. In fact, I think there might be some subtle counter-example to claims about knowledge without observation. That is, I suspect I could briefly access the signals consciously. But that’s not the point here!

And thanks to ChrisTS, who suggested that I try to find out what was happening! Her comment helped focus my attentions.

CFP: Feminist Philosophy and Pornography


16-18th of September 2013, Berlin


Anne W. Eaton (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Rae Langton (MIT)
Hans Maes (University of Kent)
Ishani Maitra (University of Michigan)
Mary Kate McGowan (Wellesley College)
Evangelia (Lina) Papadaki (University of Crete)

The heir of Playboy, Cooper Hefner, stated in a recent newspaper article that Playboy isn’t pornography – rather, Playboy is art and it empowers women (The Independent, Jan 6th 2013). This claim is in stark contrast with most feminist views: many feminists do not consider Playboy to be empowering and they take pornography to be a kind of harm. Rae Langton forcefully and famously argued for such feminist claims in her article “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” (originally published in 1993). In her paper, Langton defends the philosophical cogency of Catherine MacKinnon’s view that pornography not only causes the subordination and silencing of women, but it also constitutes women’s subordination and silencing. Langton’s defence appeals to J. L. Austin’s speech act theory. She argues that pornographic speech illocutionarily subordinates women and silences their speech. It does the former in ranking women as inferior, legitimating discrimination against them, and depriving women of important rights to do with free speech. This last point connects to illocutionary silencing. Pornographic speech does not prevent women from making utterances. Rather, the thought is, pornographic speech may create communicative conditions that result in illocutionary disablement of women’s speech in specific contexts. Particularly this may be so with respect to women’s refusals of unwanted sex: if pornographic speech prevents the locution ‘No!’ from being seen to be a refusal in a sexual context, due to which sex is forced on the speaker, she has not successfully performed the illocutionary speech act of refusing the unwanted sex. In this case, there may be a free speech argument against pornography.

Since the publication of Langton’s seminal article, a rich philosophical literature on pornography has emerged. A number of philosophers from different backgrounds have either critiqued or defended Langton’s position (e.g. Ronald Dworkin, Leslie Green, Jennifer Saul, Judith Butler, Caroline West, Nellie Wieland, and many others). Despite the rich literature on the topic, precious little agreement still exists on some key questions: How do or should we define ‘pornography’? Does pornography in fact subordinate and silence women? What should legally be done about pornography, if anything at all?

The first goal of this conference is to take stock of extant debates and discussions. We wish to clarify the conceptual and political terrains of feminist discussions concerning pornography. In particular, we wish to investigate how do or should feminist philosophers define ‘pornography’ and related terms (e.g. harm, silencing, objectification). Further, what are the political commitments of those working on the topic, and what might be a helpful feminist political strategy with respect to the reality of pornography. Despite the wealth of literature on pornography over the past couple of decades, these questions are still in need of being addressed.

The second goal of this conference is to explore new issues and themes in the feminist philosophical debates that have emerged more recently. By doing so, we wish to create new lines of inquiry on themes that (to date) have received surprisingly little attention from feminist philosophers. We also aim to investigate how these new issues intersect with older, more established, debates. Specifically, we wish to examine three themes: HARM – EPISTEMOLOGY – AESTHETICS. We will investigate the themes themselves, how they intersect with one another, and how do or can these issues and their intersections help answer our first set of questions about feminist conceptual and political commitments. In more detail, we will be asking:

HARM – Are the existing conceptions of harm, illocutionary subordination and silencing plausible and/or helpful? Do they help us in settling questions about the legal treatment of pornography, or should we base our discussions in the legal domain on some other notions? Do feminist philosophers even have to settle the issue of pornography’s harmfulness once and for all?

EPISTEMOLOGY – What kinds of knowledge claims does pornography involve, if any? Does it involve maker’s knowledge, as Langton has recently argued (in her Sexual Solipsism, OUP 2009)? If so, is the maker’s knowledge that pornography involves harmful, as Langton claims? What would its harmfulness consist in?

AESTHETICS – What kind of representation does pornography involve? Is the representation (of women, sexuality, etc) in pornography harmful and if so, in what sense? How do the elements of reality and fantasy in pornography relate to one another? And how do these elements intersect with the previous two themes (harm and knowledge)? Can pornography be considered art (as Hefner Jn. claims)? If so, what consequences does this have for the view that pornography harms women?

We invite submissions on these themes (broadly conceived). The focus of the event will be on analytic feminist investigations of pornography; however, we also welcome paper submissions from other philosophical perspectives. Please email FULL PAPERS suitable for anonymous review of no more than 3,500 words by 15th APRIL 2013 to with the subject title ‘CONFERENCE SUBMISSION’. (PDF submissions are preferred.) Notification of acceptance will be send late June 2013. We hope to be able to provide travel bursaries for accepted papers.

This conference is part of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Symposium Series Feminist Philosophy and…. For further information about the Symposium Series and about past events, please see For queries concerning the forthcoming event on Pornography, please contact Mari Mikkola (mari.mikkola AT

Even more disabled philosophers

Our side-project the Disabled Philosophers blog took a little hiatus, but it’s back up and running now with a beautiful post by Anna-Sara Malmgren. For the foreseeable future, this is how we’ll be running the blog – some posts, a hiatus, some more posts, lather, rinse, repeat. The primary point of Disabled Philosophers isn’t so much to be a blog – where you, I don’t know, read about your disabled philosopher of the week – but rather to be a public declaration and source of information. It’s something which we can look at from time to time to remind ourselves of things we might otherwise forget, and something which we can show to our students and our potential students.

Anyway, if you’re a disabled philosopher please consider sending us a post!