“Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Group” on FB

From Rebecca Kukla and Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, who invite those interested to contact them [rkukla at gmail dot kahm, or conceptualtruth at gmail dot kahm — or via a FaceBook message]:

We have just founded the Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Group on FaceBook. We would love to
get the word out about it, and find potential members. We think it’s exciting that we’ve reached a moment where such a group can exist! Here is our mission statement:

This is a private (“secret”) group for the exploration of political, personal, disciplinary, and theoretical issues surrounding ethical non-monogamy. We welcome those who identify as professional philosophers (or philosophers-in-training) and who are sustaining, building, or attempting to build ethical non-monogamous relationships.

By ethical non-monogamy, we mean participation in romantic and/or sexual unions that are consensual, critically and consciously constructed, and do not fit into the traditional exclusive dyadic form.

This is a discussion group, not a dating group. It is not, under any circumstances, to be used for hook-up attempts. It is also not, at this time, for allies, nor is it for those who are skeptical of whether ethical non-monogamy is possible or those who are merely interested in talking about it.

Joining the group constitutes your consent to keep its membership and discussions completely confidential. Violating the privacy and confidentiality of any member of the group will result in immediate expulsion.


Please note: We will not be imposing any particular standards for who counts as a philosopher, and self-identification is fine.

Teenage sex

The sad state of teenage sex – young women being coerced into painful anal sex by young men. Read more here.

Thanks for your thoughts, and sorry not to provide more commentary on the article when I posted it up – I’m extremely pushed for time at the moment, thought that folks might find it interesting, so threw it up quickly when I had a spare ten seconds. By way of providing more context/discussion, here are some quick notes in response to some of the thoughts below (and again, there isn’t time to formulate all of what I might want to about this right now, so bear with me):

1) As C. K. Egbert notes, this is being read in the context of other studies/reports about sexual attitudes and behaviour amongst teens. Also, more anecdotal reports from friends who work with young people in various capacities, and my first year students reflecting on their experiences. These all point to a pretty toxic sexual environment, which prevails in at least some sectors of the teen population, where the dominant norms involve coercion of young women, lack of regard for consent, pressure on young men to prove their manliness in the eyes of their peers by getting enough sex, a lack of regard for women’s sexual pleasure, and so on.

2) I don’t care whether teen sex culture today is better or worse than previous generations. I care about the fact that certain aspects of it are pretty toxic. So this post wasn’t intended to bemoan the state of kids today compared to a previous rosy state of affairs.

3) What’s interesting (and worrying) to me, is that the toxic norms exist in a culture where many folks think that equality for women has been achieved and there is nothing more for feminism to do (at least, this is an attitude I encounter often when teaching an intro to feminism course).

4) Quite right, I didn’t mean to suggest that anal sex is always painful or that there is something inherently wrong with anal sex. The worry was instead that some of the young men surveyed thought that it might be painful for their partners but didn’t care. However, I find myself a bit confused now. I can’t help feeling that there is some significance to the fact that the sex being coerced is anal, but I’m not quite sure I can articulate it. Do I think it’s worse than being coerced into, e.g., vaginal or oral sex? No – because any sort of coerced sex is wrong. Is it because I think there is something wrong with anal sex? No. I *think* what’s bothering me is that whilst penis-in-vagina sex can certainly be painful if the penis-wielding person isn’t sufficiently sensitive to the vagina-wielding person, for anal sex to be pain-free (and pleasurable) the person doing the penetrating has to be more sensitive to the person being penetrated. In other words, it seems to me that to be pain-free, it requires more equality of interaction than penis-in-vagina sex, so it seems significant that it’s – according to studies like this – taking place in a context where there is a lack of equality of interaction. Does that make any sense? Thoughts?

Philosop-Her on Gender and Journals

Philosop-Her has opened up another discussion on an important topic: whether quotas could help address gender balance in philosophy journal publishing. (The aim of the post is to start a conversation, rather than to argue for a view about this issue.)

In response to a comment that notes a familiar kind of worry about whether such actions may serve to reinforce prejudice, Meena writes (also in the comments):

Many people argue against affirmative action in the workplace for the reasons that you mention – namely, that it may be stigmatizing. In the end, I’m not sure if this is really the case. Research shows that once people are surrounded by people of colour, for example, and start working with them they start to perceive people of colour differently and more positively. I wonder if something similar wouldn’t apply to the case of seeing more articles by women in top tier journals. Once they are there, we may view the authors and their work more positively.

Why I signed the Salaita pledge

I signed the Salaita pledge last week. I thought I’d say a bit about why. Quite a few of the people I’ve seen discussing the petition online at least appear to hold the view that anything an academic says on the internet– or at least any expression of a view– should be protected by academic freedom and not subject to administrative oversight or disciplinary action. I think this view is wrong. Academics can say things online– even via the expression of views– which are instances hate speech, bullying or harassment. They can also say things which serve as evidence of serious professional wrongdoing. When an academic says something which is hate speech, bullying, harassment, or evidence of serious professional wrongdoing, universities very much should get involved and should consider and possibly take disciplinary action. I also in fact place a rather high value on civility, as readers of this blog are aware.

Despite all of this, I signed the pledge. One very important reason is that I don’t think what Salaita has done is an instance of bullying, harassment or hate speech. Bonnie Honig lays out the reasons for thinking it is not any of these better than I possibly could. I am, however, aware that others take a different view. Nonetheless– even if these others are right– it is wrong to take such an extreme action on this basis, without proper consideration and due process.

As to civility, much maligned at the moment on the left– I still value it enormously and strive to promote it on this blog and elsewhere. But its lack is clearly not a firing offence– or in fact an offence of any kind unless it rises to the severity of one of the categories already discussed.

And so– despite thinking civility is an important academic virtue, and despite thinking that what an academic says online is a legitimate matter for concern, I signed that pledge.

Women are interested in lots of things

Two caveats. First of all, I’d like to say that I love the Daily Nous, and I’m really grateful for it. Secondly, I’d like to say that the point of this post isn’t to beat up on Justin for posting something I disagree with. Rather, it’s to try to explain why I – and I expect many others – found a particular post problematic.

In this post, Justin asks for recommendations of ‘philosophical topics of interest to women’. The intention behind this request is, as far as I understand it, a really good one – it’s one way of trying to grapple with the underrepresentation of the women in philosophy. And yet. And yet I find posts – and conversations – like this frustrating. Let me explain.

1. Requests that ask us to think about ‘what women like’, ‘what women want’, ‘what women are interested in’, etc. encourage the unhelpful but common assumption that women are some sort of bizarre hive mind (and perhaps unconsciously rely on/promote gender essentialist ways of thinking). Different women are very different. Different women are interested in very different things. A white working class lesbian woman will probably have different interests from a straight upper class Asian woman. That’s how that goes. 

2. Women are often socialized – and pressured – to express interest in certain kinds of things. Uncritical discussion of ‘what women like’ or ‘what women are interested in’ can often gloss over the important social factors that shape both the interests of women and the ways in which they express those interests. It also glosses over – and perhaps contributes to – the effect of things like stereotype threat and implicit bias for women’s interest in traditionally ‘male’ areas.

3. If you say something like, e,g., ‘women like ethics, but they don’t like philosophy of language’, that doesn’t send a very nice message to the actual women who are actually doing great work on philosophy of language. Those women already have enough gender-based nonsense to deal with. They don’t need to read on the internets about how they’re working on a dude subject. 

4. It’s a common misconception of those of us who think feminist philosophy deserves a more central place in the philosophical cannon that we think feminist philosophy is really important because it (unlike, e.g., metaphysics and philosophy of language) is something women care about/are interested in. I only speak for myself here, but that’s certainly not how I see it. The importance of feminist philosophy isn’t that it’s ‘something women like’. Rather, the importance of feminist philosophy is that it emphasizes the philosophical importance of gender, and highlights how so many areas of philosophy – including things like metaphysics and philosophy of language – can be affected by considerations of gender. 

Again, I say all of this in the spirit of constructive criticism, and with deeply felt gratitude for all of Justin’s hard work. 


Update: Hilde Lindeman says the following in the Daily Nous comment thread:

The question [‘what philosophical topics are of interest to women?’] is a good one, and does NOT necessarily essentialize women. The fact remains that women and other marginalized social groups are woefully underrepresented in philosophy, and course content in introductory and other undergraduate courses can be part of the problem. What I think would really help is if philosophers stopped boundary-beating, and respected the work of people who are doing philosophy on topics that haven’t gotten much attention in mainstream philosophy. A lot of that work is practical: think of the departments, for instance, where bioethics gets dismissed as “not real philosophy.” Philosophy of race, feminist philosophy, philosophy of disability also easily spring to mind. If undergraduates were exposed to some of this stuff in their undergraduate courses, more of them would perhaps find something in philosophy that really speaks to them, whoever they are.


I agree with pretty much everything she says (including that the question doesn’t necessarily essentialize women), except the part where she says that the question is a good one. I think the issue of whether the question is a good one and the issue of diversity and boundary policing within philosophical topics are issues that can and should be kept apart. Philosophy has been primarily white, male, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, etc for a really long time. As a result, philosophy can really show its collective bias and groupthink. It’s perhaps easier to think that gender isn’t a philosophically central topic or that we can ask The Big Questions without considering gender when you’ve benefitted from male privilege your whole life. It’s perhaps easier to think that race isn’t a philosophically central topic or that we can ask The Big Questions without considering race when you’ve benefitted from white privilege your whole life. And so on. People who don’t share that same privilege may disagree – and may feel alienated as a result. But it’s a far cry from those concerns – concerns which collectively might push us to expand what we count as ‘real’ or ‘core’ philosophy and encourage us to examine philosophy’s collective biases – to thinking it’s a good idea to ask ‘what kind of philosophy do women like?’  

Epistemic Safety in Numbers?

When groups make decisions, we might hope that those decisions would collect and reflect the expertise of the group members, and that pooling their wisdom would boost the chances of making a good decision.

But alas, the world is not always what we might hope. “Groupthink” is a phenomenon in which decisions made by a group are irrational or dysfunctional on account of the group’s desire to reach consensus and minimize conflict in conditions where consensus is challenging. Structural risk factors are theorised to include:

  • insulation of the group
  • lack of impartial leadership
  • lack of norms requiring methodological procedures
  • homogeneity of members’ social backgrounds and ideology

In philosophy, I think it is fair to say, these risk factors are sometimes present. And given my scepticism about univocal philosophical bestness, I would have expected consensus in decisions concerning philosophical quality to be extremely challenging even before considering such structural features.

So it seems epistemically risky to assume that, for example, philosophy hiring committees will generally choose the best candidate, or even that the choices made by hiring committees will generally reflect the combined knowledge and wisdom of the committee members. It seems similarly epistemically risky to assume that tasking a group of philosophers with deciding which papers, philosophers, or departments are “best” will typically result in an outcome that adequately reflects the quality of what is being assessed, or even the combined expertise of those involved. When it comes to what gets selected as “best” in philosophy, the epistemic status of the status quo decision-making procedures can be questioned.

And just as with reflexive defences of the status quo that appeal to our sense of our own personal objectivity, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with defences that appeal to the assumption that our collective decision-making will reflect our combined expertise. Among the risks associated with groupthink are:

(1) that “[g]roup members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences”,

(2) that “[l]oyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking”,

And perhaps most relevantly here:

(3) that “[t]he dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “outgroup”).