11 thoughts on “Alcoff in the NY Times

  1. The point Alcoff is making seems right and important. But one thing surprised me. She says, as “the philosophy blogosphere will confirm, the paucity in philosophy of women and people of color is often blamed on us.” She and I must read different subspheres. Which blogs blame the paucity of women or blacks in philosophy on women and blacks?

  2. There have been anonymous commenters on posts at places like the Smoker blog that have tried to argue that some of the problem lies with not as many people of color or women wanting to go into philosophy, which of course doesn’t actually blame the problem on women or blacks in philosophy per se but is placing the problem within women and blacks generally. I don’t know if that’s what she’s referring to, though.

  3. I thought it was pretty clear she was referring to the widespread tendency to allege that because philosophy requires aggression, women are not cut out for the demands of the profession.

  4. This comment troubles me: “Unlike Professor Chisholm, McGinn did not check in with his student but continued to lace his e-mails with sexual innuendo, if not propositions.” How do we know he didn’t? According to him, they had an “agreement” she’d tell him if anything bothered her. The problem is not that he failed to check in, but that even if he had done so, the power dynamic might prevent her from honestly expressing her discomfort. So he shouldn’t have done what he did in the first place. It’s completely different from what Chisholm did, which is simply offer philosophically serious answers to a student’s questions in class.

  5. Jeremy–

    I think we have to be careful here. If women are choosing not to go into philosophy, then the fact that there are not many women in philosophy might or might not be a problem from the point-of-view of justice. (It might still be a pedagogical problem, or a problem for fundraising, where diversity would help).

    It all turns on *why* women are not choosing to go into the philosophy profession. If there is wide-scale discrimination against female philosophers, and budding scholars decide (reasonably enough) that they don’t want to deal with that nonsense, then we have a moral issue that our community needs to solve. On the other hand, there are a whole host of reasons why women might not find philosophy an attractive career path, none of them objectionable. Obviously we’re not going to violate the liberty of individuals by forcing them into a job they’d rather not do.

    My own suspicion is that there are two reasons for the paucity of female philosophers, one moral and one not. First, I think there is bias against women which philosophers are unconscious of. I don’t think there’s a wide-spread problem with overt bad behavior–sexual harassment, for example. But I do think that philosophers, like everyone, suffer from implicit bias errors (in, e.g., reviewing a resume). And some research shows that women’s intuitions toward philosophical puzzles differ from men’s. There might be a tendency to say that these differing intuitions are simply wrong since they do not match up with the received wisdom, but those are poor grounds to discount an intuition–perhaps the intuition should not be relied upon after all if it is so disputed.

    The non-moral cause is, I think, that we do not make the benefits of studying philosophy clear, or maybe attractive, to young female undergraduates. I’m not sure why this is, but the research shows that the biggest loss of women in philosophy comes at the undergraduate level, where the “problem” (here it is not a moral problem) seems likely to be a question of marketing. Once we figure out exactly what’s going on the solution should not be too difficult to implement.

  6. indeed yes let’s be careful. let’s first be careful not to simply toss off the embarrassingly low number of women and people of color (let’s please not forget that Alcoff included race in her analysis) as merely a problem of marketing and fundraising. read some of Alcoff’s work on the subject and you find good arguments that the lack of women and people of color in philosophy is not merely a public relations problem, and not merely a question of justice, but an epistemological problem for the claims made by philosophy/philosophers. why seek to include different persons’ perspectives when it’s clear that they are entirely superfluous? or rather why seek the to solve a problem when one can make a bunch of arguments for why it is not actually a problem at all? this is precisely what Alcoff means by the comment mentioned in comment 1.

  7. sk, it seems to me that if the paucity of women in philosophy is not a result of transgressions of justice then I do not believe we have any obligation to intervene. We might even be acting unjustly were we to intervene. (Again, I believe that the antecedent of that conditional is false.)

    But I’m curious what you mean when you say the paucity is “an epistemological problem for the claims made by philosophy/philosophers”. Does this mean that we are unwarranted in our philosophical beliefs, even if we believe them to be well justified, if there is a lack of women of weighing in on them?

  8. I’m interested in LogicFan’s assertion that if some situation is not the result of transgressions of justice (however that’s understood), then there is no obligation to intervene. Wacky hypothetical: If someone pops into existence and is suffering terribly, am I obligated to help her? Or less wacky: If someone has an accident…?

    Perhaps LogicFan was making a very restricted claim about a very particular hypothetical situation. But can anyone suggest any articles or books that address the general issue? I hope I’m not being obtuse here.

  9. CM: I’m focused on the singular case of the paucity of women in philosophy. I think that if it is not the result of injustice then we need not intervene. Again, I think that at least in part the paucity of women in philosophy *is* the result of injustice and thus intervention is warranted. In your hypothetical, I would say that the victim was treated unjustly. But in any case I don’t think it’s a good analogy, because I’m simply wondering about the case in which women simply opt to do something other than philosophy. We do not think it necessary to correct the paucity of Senegalese playing in the NBA, because we judge that Senegalese would be able to play in the NBA should they so desire (i.e. there is no discrimination against them, etc.) They just don’t want to, and we should respect their individual choice.

    I’m afraid I don’t know of any literature on this particular subject. But if justice=fairness, for example, then a freak accident like you describe really isn’t fair, it’s just bad luck, and thus a moral obligation is generated on the rest of us. Here you could look at the extensive literature on luck egalitarianism for more details.

  10. Hm. I think it can be quite difficult to tease out what people “want” to do. Intervening doesn’t entail disrespecting individual choice.

  11. CM, Judy Thomson has written about these things. Her Good Samaritan and Minimally Decent Samaritan examples.

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