Memorial at conference: “Blindness: Philosophy, Therapy, and Music”

From David White (St. John Fisher College), regarding a memorial work to Dr. Adrienne Asch, who died this past year:

I was one of Adrienne’s friends from high school in Ramsey, NJ, and kept in touch through the years. My last outing with Adrienne was to see the play, “Red.” As part of my sabbatical project, I am organizing a conference, “Blindness: Philosophy, Therapy, and Music,” to celebrate Adrienne’s life and work. The conference will be organized in the open, and will aim to be a model of access, integration, and understanding, from a feminist point of view. If you knew Adrienne in any capacity or have an interest in her work, please let me know what sort of memorial you would like to see; I will make it happen. Thank you.

This notice is being posted exclusively to Feminist Philosophers since it is from you that I first learned of my dear friend’s death. Since Adrienne’s passing, my mother, my brother, and another member of my high school class, all of whom knew and respected Adrienne, have died. Please float the idea of this memorial conference wherever you think Adrienne’s work might be known. Using both face to face personalist communication and modern technology, we have the potential to change the world. I am open as to date, but favor the third Thursday in November, which is the UNESCO World Day of Philosophy.

David White [dwhite at sjfc dot edu]
St. John Fisher College
Rochester, NY

Great minds and ignoble deeds

It is appalling to read about philosophers sexually harassing/assaulting vulnerable people, but is it surprising? An article in yesterday’s New York Times argues that we should not expect better.

The life of an intellectual, Mr. Ignatieff [Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian academic-cum-politician] claims, provides a petri dish for the universal human experiment of thinking, being and doing. It’s a lovely idea. The trouble is that intellectuals seem no better at it than anyone else. They often think great thoughts, while being ignoble characters. Maybe Mill and Berlin and John Dewey were noble characters. But Marx was a serial adulterer, Karl Popper was a pompous narcissist, and Heidegger was a fascist. Elite thinkers, maybe: but as amateurish humans as the rest of us.

I’m not so sure, but there are a lot of issues that need clarification before we’re in a good position to accept or reject the article. Still, there are some points we can make. Great achievements typically require concentration and caring. The idea of caring that extends to what one says and not at all to what one does is puzzling. One expects a great scientist to care very much about the truth of his words. But then what does that care look like if it allows lying in letters of reference to reward sexual compliance?

And isn’t philosophy, at least when it is about human life, different? On the other hand, maybe moral behavior requires more than morally apt thinking. For example, perhaps a capacity for empathy. And a love of truth in one area may co-exist with a capacity for self-deception that enables a lot of borrowing from others. E.g., plagarism.

Perhaps, then, we need to recognize that there are many character flaws that can disconnect behavior from thought. I myself would still, at least at this point in time, like to think that at least for some areas really vicious behavior will mean one does not have the capacity for some great intellectual tasks. But is that really true?

What do you think?

A remarkable example of disconnect was explained recently by Bob Dylan. I thought of him as the voice (or a voice) of a generation of protestors. But, as he has said, that’s not at all what he was doing. He was just a musician. So where did those wonderfully apposite lyrics come from? It was, he says, simply magic.

In fact, many people report a similar experience (I think). As Feymann put it, suddenly boom, boom, the answer is there. Ownership may seem tenuous, and connection with character very problematic.

Breakfast of champions

A great new blog affords us a glimpse into each other’s cereal bowls, along with some glorious photos, some pithy research blurbs and some neato reflections on food and eating. academic breakfast invites anyone who thinks of themselves as an academic to snap a pic of their breakfast and send it in along with brief answers to questions about research interests and philosophy of food. There are already a few feminist philosophers in the gallery… and some great breakfast ideas. Fun!

Stop taxing periods. Period.

A new petition demands that the United Kingdom stop taxing women’s sanitary napkins and tampons as luxuries. According to the petition, men’s razors are not taxable whilst women’s sanitary products are because it is a woman’s choice whether or not to use the latter. Hmm… Perhaps it’s time that British women gather en masse whilst choosing not to use such products and descend on Parliament to protest the tax, perhaps sitting on some posh parliamentary cushions while they’re at it.

…or maybe just sign the petition. Here it is.

(H/t to CA for sharing the petition and to MS for the unorthodox protest suggestion.)


From David J. Prokopetz:

Rape is the only crime on the books for which arguing that the temptation to commit it was too clear and obvious to resist is treated as a defence. For every other crime, we call that a confession.

(Thanks, Mr. Jender.)

Hilde Lindemann: Guest Post

What follows is a guest post from Hilde Lindeman, Chair of the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women. She was interviewed for by Inside Higher Ed regarding sexual harassment in philosophy, and her remarks were taken so far out of context that their meaning was seriously distorted. Here she sets out her views regarding sexual harassment in philosophy.

Let me be clear. It seems I was not, in the interview I gave Colleeen Flaherty for the article that was published in the May 19 issue of Inside Higher Ed. All sexual predators should be prosecuted and, if the evidence warrants, punished for their crimes (and yes, sexual harassment is actionable, as is attempted rape and sexual molestation). Within philosophy, sexual harassment, sexual predation, and bullying have been and are all too common, and I agree with Eric Schliesser that because too many decent philosophers keep looking the other way and refusing to speak up, lawsuits and “the harsh light of publicity” are needed to break the culture of silence.

While Schliesser calls the discipline a “train wreck” that is “incapable of self-reform,” I have not given up on self-reform. I believe philosophy’s climate of hostility to women must be tackled on many fronts, both from without and from within. Each of us in the profession is obliged to do what we can from where we stand. Departments must do their part, as must the APA, as must the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women, which I chair. Neither the APA nor the CSW are in the business of policing individuals’ behavior. That responsibility falls to the universities where the crimes occur, and to courts of law. The allegations against specific philsophers are so serious that due process is and ought to be required before they are stripped of tenure and made to pay criminal penalities, yet because universities seemingly fail pretty frequently in their duties to investigate these allgeations and punish the offenders, we are too often left with nothing but rumors and inuendoes, so that while many people “know” so-and-so is a sexual predator, nothing concrete is done about it.

In any case, when the focus is solely on individual bad apples, and whether their victims consented, and whether the balance of power is so great between a graduate student and big-ticket philosophers in her area of specialization who might be able to advance her professional interests that consent isn’t really possible, attention is diverted from the systemic problem of a culture in which bad behavior flourishes. That is why I say philosophy’s climate of hostility to women must be tackled on many fronts. Some of us have given to the Protecting Lisbeth campaign—a worthy way of helping victims hire the attorneys they need to prosecute their harassers. (In my interview with Ms. Flaherty, I was not asked to comment on the Protecting Lisbeth campaign and did not do so. Nor did I suggest that a site visit to the Yale philosophy department would be a better strategy. In fact, such a suggestion would have been ridiculously naïve. Site visits are for any department, including good ones that want to become better, and are made at the request of the department.) Some of us have called out colleagues in our own departments who have made disparaging remarks about women or engaged in bullying behavior. Some department chairs among us have asked the CSW for a site visit to assess their department’s climate and make suggestions for improvements. Some of us—in fact, quite a lot of us, and I’m personally grateful to you all—have given money to the CSW for its Site Visit Training Program and the Diversity Conference to be held in May 2015 at Villanova University.

We need all these strategies and more if we are to succeed in making the profession of philosophy a hospitable one for women and other underrepresented groups. Philosophy as a discipline is better off when talented people from many different social positions contribute to its body of knowledge and understanding. And in any case, discrimination for irrelevant reasons is just plain wrong.

I am actually quite heartened by the well-publicized scandals that have made the headlines this past year. I take it as a sign that something is shifting, that the old culture of sexual predation, coverup, and contempt for the relatively powerless is beginning to give way to a culture in which such behavior is no longer tolerated. But we are going to have to keep applying steady pressure here, in all the ways I’ve mentioned and in many others as well. Philosophy deserves no less.