Dialogues on Disability

Shelley Tremain is planning what promises to be a really valuable and interesting series of posts over at the Discrimination and Disadvantage Blog. She writes:

Dear All,
Beginning on April 15, join me at the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog on the third Wednesday of every month for “Dialogues on Disability,” an exciting new series of interviews I will conduct with disabled philosophers in a variety of positions and situations vis-à-vis philosophy: students and faculty, untenured and tenured, unaffiliated and affiliated. Read the interviews and learn about the philosophy that these philosophers write and why they write it, how they do philosophy and why they do it, their efforts to improve the climate of philosophy, the forms of institutional and personal prejudice that they confront, the future of philosophy of disability, and so much more! If you would like to nominate someone to be interviewed (including yourself!), please feel free to write me at s[dot]tremain[at]yahoo.ca.

Public Philosophy Op-Ed Awards

The APA awards have been announced! Readers of this blog will be especially interested to hear that fabulous feminist philosopher Kathryn Pogin has won for one of her Huffington Post pieces. They might also like to look at the hideously relevant column by George Yancy on Walking While Black. Heck, actually, they’re all great! Go check them out.

Complexities of gender bias in medicine

A fascinating article.  Here are just a few interesting bits.

In the first study, 230 family doctors and internists were asked to evaluate two hypothetical patients: a 47-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman with identical risk factors and the “textbook” symptoms—including chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heart beat—of a heart attack. Half of the vignettes included a note that the patient had recently experienced a stressful life event and appeared to be anxious. In the vignettes without that single line, there was no difference between the doctors’ recommendations to the woman and man. Despite the popular conception of the quintessential heart attack patient as male, they seemed perfectly capable of making the right call in the female patient too.

But when stress was added as a symptom, an enormous gender gap suddenly appeared. Only 15 percent of the doctors diagnosed heart disease in the woman, compared to 56 percent for the man, and only 30 percent referred the woman to a cardiologist, compared to 62 percent for the man. Finally, only 13 percent suggested cardiac medication for the woman, compared to 47 percent for the man. The presence of stress, the researchers explained, sparked a “meaning shift” in which women’s physical symptoms were reinterpreted as psychological, while “men’s symptoms were perceived as organic whether or not stressors were present.”

And from another study, showing the way that biases about femininity may adversely affect men as well:

The researchers also gave the patients a personality test gauging how closely they adhered to traditional gender roles and found that both men and women with more stereotypically feminine traits faced more delays than patients with masculine traits

Trigger Warnings Aren’t Censorship

A nice discussion here:

2. Trigger warnings are already common, and have been for a long time.

hbo violent content

Every time the news warns you before watching a piece of violent video footage, that’s essentially a trigger warning. When you watch HBO and there’s that pre-show list of all the violence, nudity, and sexual content you’re about to see, that’s a trigger warning. All we’re asking is that some of those trigger warnings list “rape” instead of lumping it under “sexual content,” or say “violent hate crimes” instead of “violence,” for example. It isn’t wrong to ask that they let us know which episode of American Horror Story will cheaply involve rape to move along a mediocre plot. Some people need to know that kind of stuff in advance.

Philosophy has to be about more than white men

When it comes to philosophy, for instance – a particularly important discipline as our world is built on ideas – the work of white males, dead or alive, dominates the field. This is not simply because white males have contributed profound work, but also due to the glaring yet tacitly silenced relationship between power structures and knowledge. This is why philosophy professor Angela Davis’s complex body of work on the social justice system has not influenced contemporary philosophical studies on prisons in the way Michel Foucault’s work on the same topic has. Or why the Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yaekob, who long before Nietzsche declared that “God is dead”, daringly criticised organised religion in his 1667 treatise, Hatata, where he also said: “He who investigates with pure intelligence … will discover the truth.” But despite promoting reason in this way, he is not dubbed the father of modern philosophy, Descartes is.

For more, go here.

Inclusiveness by Adrian Currie

Adrian Currie writes, “I’m a confident, cis, white, English-speaking, healthy, middle-class, male philosopher (a cchewmmp?). So I’m one of *those* philosophers. I even have a beard. I also care deeply about philosophy’s lack of inclusiveness: it’s embarrassing; philosophy as a discipline suffers if its pool of potential awesomeness is restricted; people who could thrive philosophically miss out. However, working out how to help is hard, especially given that my capacity to be part of the problem is very real. I am one more cchewmmp, after all. Roughly, then, I’m trying to learn how to “be an ally” (for me this involves going beyond recognizing the problem and trying to affect positive change).”

Read more about what you can do to promote diversity and inclusivity in Philosophy here:

Arguments for diversity and academics |

Catherine Hundleby writes, “Including women and other marginalized people may well require broadening a field or its methods, and that is good enough reason for change, but it’s justified on epistemological grounds as much as socio-political. It’s not easy to do, at all, and token efforts may be quite ineffective, as Carla Fehr (2011) argues. The above are all “diversity as excellence” approaches and they demand a lot of work to be effective. I’ve written this post in the hopes of saving people a step when you are called on to make arguments for the epistemological value of diversity, such as solid representation by women. You have here almost a dozen reasons, just to start with.”

You can read her arguments for the epistemic value of diversity here:

When truths convey falsehoods

The general idea should be pretty familiar to philosophers of language. But its political ramifications remain under-appreciated. This article does a great job. Those who have jumped on the generics bandwagon will have lots to say about the role of generics in conveying these falsehoods. I’m less convinced that the generics are doing crucial work, but the examples are all excellent.  A small sample:

There is an infinite number of facts about any one ethnic group; so the issue isn’t whether certain facts are correct or not; but which facts are chosen.

If the only time Romanians are spoken of is when they pick pockets, or when they’re seen as unwanted migrants, then the public will end up with a totally skewed view of them. We’ll learn nothing about their history or why they came to Britain, or even get a decent idea of what they do here.

When we hear about white criminality, such as football hooliganism, lager louts or paedophile rings, we already have enough other information about white people to be able to contextualise this, so we don’t leap to conclusions, and we don’t have high-level discussions about a “crisis within whiteness”. But in the absence of counterbalancing stories, it’s all too easy to begin to build stereotypes about minority communities.

(Thanks, R!)


Nancy Hartsock, 1944-2015

We note with sadness the news that Professor Emeritus Nancy Hartsock of the University of Washington has died. A political theorist, a feminist thinker, and a philosopher of social science, Nancy Hartsock was the author of many articles, and books including The Feminist Standpoint Revisited and Money, Sex, and Power: Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism. Nancy Bauer wrote on FaceBook, “Her work was absolutely critical to the flourishing of feminist theory. The particular way she spelled out the idea of a feminist standpoint is brilliant; we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. The University of Washington, where she taught for many years, is raising funds for an endowed prize in her name. Please consider donating. You can contact Christine DiStefano in the PolySci department at UW.”

It is a custom at FP to cite a few lines of the author whose passing we are marking. Scholars who cite her work are welcome to offer notable passages, but I am most drawn to reproduce her words from the Introduction to Feminist Standpoint Revisited:

I never set out to become a feminist theorist. Indeed, when I set out to become a political theorist, such a choice was impossible because feminist theory in anything like its present form did not exist. Nor did I set out to become (in whatever sense I have become) a Marxist, since in terms of my graduate education, that possibility too did not exist. In looking over the essays that I have chosen to reprint I find myself asking how it happened. Each of these essays grew out of and responded to questions that arose from the social contexts in which I found myself. …they are autobiographical in that they respond to issues I found urgent at different times.

She is a model to which we should all aspire. May you write in response to the questions that arise from  your social contexts.

Job Offers: Are They Professional News?

Consider a Philosophy department that is hiring a new senior colleague. They have two or three outstanding candidates in mind, each of whom they would be unreservedly delighted to welcome into their community. But they can only hire one. They make a hard choice and send out an offer; but it is declined. So they make another hard choice and send an offer to another of their preferred candidates.

Consider now the candidate who gets such an offer from a department they respect, couched in terms of how happy the department would be to have them join. Is there any reason why the department should feel in any way embarrassed about making the offer, or why the candidate should feel slighted in receiving it?

There might be — if the first-choice candidate already chose to publicize the rejected offer, and a professional news blog chose to carry the story. Trumpeting senior offers that are rejected is a way of very publicly revealing subsequent appointments as having been second-or-later choice candidates, with optics unlikely to reflect the completeness of the welcome that a department is offering their eventual appointment. This risks tarnishing a relationship between new colleagues; it interferes in a professional relationship that is (starting the moment the first candidate decides to reject the offer) none of the first candidate’s business; and these, I think, are sufficiently uncollegial outcomes to be worth carefully avoiding unless some unusually strong professional interest is served by making the announcement.

What about job offers, then, rather than offers rejected? Is publicizing offers that have been made, but are still undecided, less professionally corrosive than publicizing those that have already been declined? I have my doubts. Either an open offer will be accepted or it will be rejected. If it is rejected, the effects of having publicized it are virtually indistinguishable from those of publicizing offers already rejected. But supposing the offer is accepted, what will have been the benefit of publicizing the offer before the matter was settled? Prudential concerns might arise here — could the costs of a publicly-known declined offer encourage a university to sweeten the deal during negotiations? But even if this made some sense from the candidate’s negotiating perspective (it strikes me as ultimately self-defeating), that would not elevate it to the level of professional news. Gossip, perhaps; but not news.

Somebody’s actually moving to a new appointment might well be professional news — though it’s worth questioning the presuppositions of newsworthiness that attend such a story. The perceived newsworthiness of a professor’s relocation is just the sort of judgement one would expect to find laden with attitudes and biases about gender, race, and sub-disciplinary fields, and irrelevant halo effects arising from academic pedigree and connections. But even if actual moves were newsworthy, prospective ones would be a very different thing. In general a position is offered in confidence, and until it is formally accepted, it might yet be offered to another candidate. While there may be special circumstances and reasonable exceptions, in general information about job offers is best not treated as professional news.

Why my focus on senior job offers, then? I think that the considerations raised here (being careful with information about hiring processes, out of respect for the relationship between departments and their new colleagues) do apply to junior academic job offers as well, though the typical scale and slightly frenzied nature of hiring into junior untenured positions might make it harder to make confidentiality stick. But ultimately the reason to mention senior hires is because those are the offers that have been treated as newsworthy in the philosophical blogosphere.

A word about comments: This post is about practices, not specific cases. Please do keep comments similarly focused.