clinton, Mind-reading and attributions of racism

There’s a kind of mind-reading that seems to me to be very prevalent in the US.  It often goes so far as to assume that someone other than X is better able to tell what X thinks than X is.  This not a harmless assumption, and it is built on a false assumption about our access to other minds.  In fact, our mind-reading is prone to a lot of mistakes once we get beyond the very simple tests used on 4 year olds in psychology.

Most recently Hilary Clinton is being victimized by mind-reading.  She said:

Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.

Here are some facts.

Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young Black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.


Apparently, a lot of people looked at this and said she wouldn’t have said this unless she felt that fear. So she is a racist.

But in fact the comment about fear was one of a long list of bad facts about racism in the States. And she said we must admit these features exist and get rid of them.

So the racism is most certainly not in her words. It is an injustice to report that it is in her head.

Many thanks to Rachek McKinnon for bringing this up on facebook. Of course, as Rachel said, on the left this might all just be misogyny. If so, hang on because it’s probably going to be a horrible election season.

As we age: not such good news for women

New news from the Alzheimers Association




WASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2015 – Women with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have two times faster decline in cognition than men with MCI, according to new research reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® 2015 (AAIC® 2015) in Washington, D.C. In addition, women decline more dramatically than men in cognition, function and brain size after surgery and general anesthesia, according to another study reported at the conference….

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, launched

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 1, hit the virtual stands today, and on behalf of Samantha Brennan, Carla Fehr, and Alice MacLachlan, I’m pleased and proud to remind readers that it is anonymously peer-reviewed, free to writers and to readers, and each article is available in downloadable PDF form. Submissions for future issues are welcome at the website!

Our thanks to the authors and to peer reviewers for contributing to making this possible.

The Contents of FPQ 1.1:

Care, Concern, and Advocacy: Is There a Place for Epistemic Responsibility? by Lorraine Code

After Mr. Nowhere: What Kind of Proper Self for a Scientist?       by Sandra Harding

Different Voices, Perfect Storms, and Asking Grandma What She Thinks: Situating Experimental Philosophy in Relation to Feminist Philosophy       by Gaile Pohlhaus Jr.

Female Under-Representation Among Philosophy Majors: 
A Map of the Hypotheses and a Survey of the Evidence   by Tom Dougherty, Samuel Baron, and Kristie Miller

Gestation and Parental Rights: Why is Good Enough Good Enough?        by Lindsey Porter

Technology and Narratives of Continuity in Transgender Experiences       by  Amy Billingsley

Fact/Value Holism, Feminist Philosophy, and Nazi Cancer Research         by   Sharyn Clough

fpq logo

Help with a study about women in philosophy

Lovely readers! I am seeking people to let me study their students via a brief survey at the beginning and the end of a course (in UK-English, a module). There are two kinds of course I am mainly seeking at this point: Feminism courses, and non-feminism courses than nonetheless have a lot of women (>30%) on the syllabus.

If you’d like to help me with my study, can you pop me an email at j.saul AT

Many thanks!!

Dialogues on Disability – Maeve O’Donovan

The most recent in Shelley Tremain’s excellent series of interviews came out last week. I’m a little late posting here, due to a lack of internet access! The interviewee this time is Maeve O’Donovan, who discusses, (amongst other things): intersectionality, ADHD, and the failure of feminist philosophy to adequately incorporate and acknowledge issues surrounding disability.

Maeve is associate professor and chair of the philosophy department at Notre Dame of Maryland University and a former executive secretary of the Eastern Division of the Society for Women in Philosophy. Maeve is deeply committed to women’s education and empowerment and uses her roles as teacher, researcher, and department chair to promote an inclusive and diverse feminist space in philosophy that encompasses everyone who identifies as a woman or as a supporter of women. As she describes it, her research examines the fruitful and error-prone intersection of disability, feminism, and philosophy, with her current projects putting race at the center of that discussion. In recent years, she happily spent a great deal of her time caring for her terminally-ill father.

Go have a read!

Myisha Cherry on Police Violence Against Black Women

Philosopher Myisha Cherry:

A year ago Eric Garner was killed by police. Within these last twelve months, there have been more lives added to the number of this “black list’ of souls taken from us so quickly by those we are suppose to trust. Recently, two black women were added to this list: Kindra Darnell Chapman and Sandra Bland. Its not as if women have ever been absent from the list of victims of police brutality. We remember Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Rekia Boyd, and seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones to name a few.

Many protestors and so-called ‘allies’ have failed to call their names with other fallen black men. Some have not called their names due to ignorance. Others have not called their names because ‘black’ has always been synonymous with men. As a result, so many have co-opted #blacklivesmatter to really mean black men lives matter. “Let’s take care of men first, then we can take care of the women.” We, black women, have always been invisible or secondary.

I thought this kind of invisibility would work in my favor with the police. I knew that my black skin would make me visible to the police but my gender would never make me a target. I also thought that my education would save me if I ever had an encounter with the police. I’ve been stopped by the police several times. Once, I was mistaken as a prostitute because I was checking my phone on a corner in East New York, Brooklyn. I was let go once they realized I was a professor. Not having a criminal record saved me. My faculty ID saved me. My status saved me. But I don’t think any of that matters. I was lucky. Professor Ersula Ore’s encounter with police taught me that. You can have a Ph.D., a tenure track job, and a skirt on. It doesn’t matter. You are still the N-Word to them. Sandra Bland was educated and a conscious sister. One only wonders if what was in her head and heart was the motivation for her suspicious death by “them.”

For the rest of this immensely depressing and important article, go here.

Papineau on Women in philosophy.

I am very grateful for the help various members of the blog provided.  I’ll try to list them tomorrow.

David Papineau has written a review of Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change? a collection of essays edited by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins for the TLS.  I think it is exceptionally difficult to review adequately an extended examination of biases and other obstacles encountered by a disadvantaged group if one is not a member of that group.  This problem is particularly severe when the examination reflects a number of viewpoints from members of the group which are elaborated with some exquisite detail.  So why did the TLS ask Papineau to write the review?  He does not have a history of distinguished contributions to the field of feminist philosophy, sociological treatments of bias and discrimination, and so on.

Well, who knows their actual reasons?  It might, however, be because they thought he’d write a thoughtful and fair review, as indeed I think he has.  Here his review contrasts markedly with recent discussions of microaggression, which are discussed below.  This was not my first impression, however, and so when I mention complaints, do remember that his task was actually exceptionally difficult.  Indeed, it isn’t clear to me he realized how difficult it was.

Let me first say that readers may want to pay particular attention to his discussion, both for the information conveyed and for the model of discourse that is presented.  Among other things, Papineau’s discussion reveals he has listened seriously to those invoking empirical research on implicit bias and stereotype threat.  He is critical of the role of aggressive discourse.  Perhaps most remarkably, he considers whether the typical topics of philosophical discourse should be enlarged to consider issues about, for example, power and gender.  Papineau’s comments argue an unusual ability to expand one’s imagination.

To take a more critical view: I will mention two problematic areas in his discussion:  1.  His view of the place of the excellence required by philosophy, and 2.  Two assumptions he makes about women in relation to philosophy.

The first:  Carol Dweck was one of the early theorists who saw a difference between two approaches to academic excellence.  One view is that achieving excellent is a matter of utilizing a talent existing independently of one’s training.  The other view is that the crucial factor is sustained long-term effort.  Which view one takes may not reflect any fundamental feature of the field.  If we take this idea to Sarah Jane Leslie’s thesis that philosophy’s image of itself has it requiring some sort of given brilliance, we can notice that the idea of inborn excellence may be a conceit of a field, but that does not mean it is true.  Indeed, I was extremely surprised to see blog discussions asserting that our field does require a high level of pre-existing intelligence. Papineau, who discusses Leslie, appears to take a realist’s view.   Such a view invites us to take biased pictures of the likely embodiment of such brilliance.  One would not be surprise if  most instances are male.

2.   The first:  the supposedly distinctive traits of women:  It doesn’t really matter whether or not in the end there turns out to be any real difference between women and men. The problem with positing that there is is that this is a claim that has been made so many times in ways that harm women’s interests that it ought to be handled with extreme caution. Papineau doesn’t show the caution needed.   Of course this doesn’t make his point malicious or sexist, but the assumption that women are relevantly different can be a huge distraction in solving the problem of women’s low participation.

The second assumption:  the problems of marginalised groups:  Papineau says,  “There are obvious reasons for wanting political institutions to include a suitable proportion of women and other under-represented groups. A similar case for affirmative action can be argued more widely, even for such technical professions as law and medicine. Good practice in these areas often demands familiarity with the problems of marginalized groups, as well as purely theoretical expertise. However, this line of thought has no obvious application to philosophy, or to snooker for that matter. On the face of things, neither profession has the function of representing particular groups.”   A contrary view is that philosophy is a valuable enterprise and its value lies in the way it helps us make sense of complex and troubling aspects of human existence and experience, and not just those problems shared by men of European origin.  [See comments 1 & 2 below]. Some time ago Lorraine Code observed that the concentration in epistemology on “S knows that P” abstracts epistemology from all the issues about why knowledge is important.  The progress fueled by her work and that of others shows how important a very wide array of viewpoints can be.  Similar points have recently been made against the idealizations so standardly employed in ethics, political philosophy or philosophy of science, at least until recently.

These two hypotheses together lead Papineau to say: ‘Even if we assume that women are voluntarily selecting themselves out of philosophy, as in snooker, and that there is no special social need that warrants affirmative action, as there may be in law and medicine, it does not yet follow that philosophy’s gender imbalance is benign.’  Such mere assumptions made in the context of a philosophical argument or an article of this sort may not be neatly confined to their context. They often spill over to subsequent debates. The thought of having to spend more time than is already necessary explaining to people why one shouldn’t assume that women are just less interested in philosophy and arguing that familiarity with the problems of the marginalized is important for doing good philosophy fills one with dismay.  That his review could have this outcome is unfortunate, given that it contains so many good points.

The Prison Divestment Movement

Feminist philosopher Christia Mercer on why universities should divest from prisons.

Columbia’s prison divestment campaign called special attention to G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, and to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United States, whose guards are reported to use “extreme isolation arbitrarily and abusively,” exposing prisoners to contaminated water, and delayed medical care, causing “needless suffering.” As a Columbia Prison Divest organizer made the point, “The private prison model is hinged on maximizing incarceration to generate profit — they’re incentivized by convicting, sentencing, and keeping people in prison for longer and longer times.” In words reminiscent of the apartheid campaign, she added, “We don’t think about how the privileges and resources students get access to are premised on violence done to people by virtue of their race, class, or citizenship status.”