On the value of philosophy in public discourse

Dr Tania Lombrozo, a philosophically-minded professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, writes in a NPR commentary that some recent major news stories reveal how public discourse would benefit from input from academic philosophers. She cites the complex moral, social, metaphysical, and epistemological issues arising in the resignation of a NAACP official who was “outed” as white; in the white supremacist murder of nine black church-goers in Charleston; and in the stance taken on climate change by Pope Francis.

Two thoughts – neither of them particularly original – meant to complement Lombrozo’s insights: First, while stories of this magnitude serve as good examples of the need for philosophical contributions to public discourse, it is probably not an effective strategy to wait for stories of this magnitude before getting involved in public philosophy. Not only is there a good chance of the more subtle voices being lost in the commentary noise anyhow, but without a consistent public presence in the first place, philosophers will not be sought out for commentary either by readers and viewers or by venues and hosts. Only by contributing habitually on the small things, I think, are philosophers likely to find an audience for the big things.

Second, it is worth considering whether the strong disposition to do philosophy, and especially analytic philosophy, in terms of hyper-idealized fabricated examples might comprise a sort of anti-training for public philosophy. The message that real philosophy requires that issues first be framed in terms of the simplest (often bizarrely simple) toy scenarios plausibly socializes philosophers to feel uneasy about commenting in a professional capacity on complex cases – at least, without their commentary comprising a blizzard of caveats. If we want a more influential, vibrant public philosophy in the longer run, it is worth training philosophy students to be comfortable philosophizing about actual cases. Perhaps the most important step in that training will be to model the approach.

Supreme Court backs ‘obamacare’

From today’s NY Times:

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Obama’s health care law may provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance.

There are a number of reasons to be happy with this step. Most important, I think, is that a reasonable interpretation of the law allows millions to keep their health insurance.

CfA: Gender and the Politics of Shame

Call for Abstracts: Gender and the Politics of Shame

London School of Economics and Political Science

14th November 2015

Recent decades have seen unprecedented scholarly interest in affect and the politics of emotion, particularly in feminist and queer theoretical frames. At the same time, activists outside the academy have drawn attention to the role emotions, particularly the self-conscious emotion of shame, have played in mobilisations against marginalised groups, and have suggested ways of countering the shaming of said groups. While significant advances have been made in the development of shame theory and in the further theorisation of affect and political emotions, scholars and activists are now invited to take stock of contemporary theoretical work on shame, and to present new and promising ways of thinking about and engaging the conference theme of gender and the politics of shame.

To this end, papers might address, without being limited to, the following topics:
–       Shame and masculinities and femininities
–       Shame and LGBTQI experiences
–       Shame and class
–       Racialized shame
–       Shame and theories of emotion and affect
–       Shame and related self-conscious emotions (embarrassment, guilt, pride)
–       Shame and agency/subverting shame
–       Body shame
–       Shame and the nation-state
–       Shame and aesthetics
–       Shame and social movements/activism

Given the interdisciplinary interest in shame and the politics of emotion, papers from a variety of disciplines, including gender studies, philosophy, politics, sociology, cultural studies, and history, are welcome.

Confirmed keynoted address: Professor Bonnie Mann (University of Oregon).

Please submit abstracts of not more than 500 words by September 1, 2015 to shameconference@gmail.com. Successful applicants will be contacted by 14th September.

This conference is supported by an award from the British Academy.

Ann Cahill on the potential of feminist self defense courses

Over at Fit is a Feminist Issue, feminist philosopher Ann Cahill writes, “I worry that when we evaluate self-defense primarily in terms of how effective it is in preventing specific instances of sexual violence, we miss some of its broader possible effects. For me, one of the crucial elements of feminist self-defense courses is that they target, explicitly and concretely, some of the bodily habits that a rape culture imposes on femininely gendered bodies.”

For the full post, see What (Feminist) Self-Defense Courses Can Dohttp://wp.me/p2H8o1-wrA