Diversity and Philosophy in the Washington Post

Andrew Janiak (Duke) and Christia Mercer (Columbia) have written a rich and insightful article in The Washington Post on Philosophy’s gender and racial troubles. They focus especially on the mishandling of the history of philosophy:

From Plato’s “Republic” through the early modern period, questions about the relation between justice and education were central to philosophy. Unsurprisingly, it is marginalized authors such as de Gournay who often treat these questions most astutely. Treatises on toleration, abolition and dignity — written by women and former slaves — are also abundant in early modern Europe, as are discussions of rights, community, self-respect and freedom among 19th century African Americans. Anna Julia Cooper’s “A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South,” published in 1892, is full of philosophically rich provocations. Given our students’ concerns with education, toleration, justice and dignity, it seems obvious that our courses should contain historical discussions of these issues.

“The Norton Introduction to Philosophy” epitomizes a problem professional philosophers have been unable to solve. Our discipline has a lower percentage of women and people of color than any other in the humanities and social sciences; it ranks only slightly better than engineering, computer science and physics. Although more than 56 percent of undergraduates are now women, federal data show that women earn only 30 percent of bachelor’s degrees in philosophy. The biggest drop in the proportion of women in philosophy occurs between students enrolled in introductory philosophy classes and philosophy majors. Given the low percentage of undergraduate women in the subject, it should come as no surprise that the share of women is low among graduate students (30 percent) and professors (17 percent).

We think that part of the explanation for this sad state of affairs is that academic philosophers have not made proper use of philosophy’s rich and diverse past.

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