Philosophy of Etiquette

BP Morton has an interesting blog post arguing that we need a philosophy of etiquette, here.  I wholeheartedly agree, but would add that were the profession even a bit more broad minded, it would discover that multiple such philosophies exist in early Chinese philosophical traditions, complete with full-throated advocacy of etiquette and some of the funniest philosophical etiquette skeptics that ever blew raspberries at all (i.e., Zhuangzi).  My own sense is that developing a robust contemporary philosophy of etiquette would require shifts in how philosophy understands itself and how it approaches its subject matter.  For something in this vein, see here.

Congratulations! Your All Male Panel is Statistically Unlikely

The issue of conferences in which all the invited speakers are male is probably well known to blog readers, and is the target of campaigns such as the Gendered Conference Campaign and the hilarious Tumblr Congrats, You Have An All Male Panel. Recently, Greg Martin, a mathematician at UBC, gave an interview with the Atlantic with a nice mathematical argument showing that most all-male panels are in fact statistically quite unlikely. This nicely undercuts an all-too-common response among conference organizers that their all-male panel “just happened” or was simply the result of chance.

If conference speakers were being chosen by a system that treated gender fairly (which is to say, gender was never a factor at all), then in any conference with over 10 speakers, say, it would be extremely rare to have no female speakers at all—less than 5 percent chance, depending on one’s assumption about the percentage of women in mathematics as a whole.

Turning that statement around, we conclude that any such conference without any female speakers must have come into being in a system that does not treat gender fairly.

Martin’s interview also links to a Conference Diversity Calculator that lets you play around with calculating the likelihoods of various demographic distributions among conference speakers, given their representation among the pool of available speakers.

CHE: Why getting rid of predatory faculty can be so hard: addition

Tenure and the reactions of faculty peers can be a significant part of the problem, according to the CHE (in an artcle unfortunately behind a firewall):

Even a professor who is the subject of regular misconduct complaints often cannot be easily removed from a campus. Tenure protects many professors from quick dismissal. Their faculty peers, who are often charged with assessing whether an accused colleague bears responsibility, may view the cases as attacks on tenure. College leaders, who often don’t have the power to terminate a professor without consulting the faculty, may fear damage to their institution’s reputation. Students who experience harassment may not file complaints if they feel they have little chance of being taken seriously.


Nor, as the last sentence suggests, is the victim usually keen to file charges. As Mr Isicoff, the lawyer defending the University in the McGinn case, is quoted as saying, “you’re walking in with the odds largely stacked against you,” as a student.

Part of the solution may consist in steps taken before hiring, as the philosopher Heidi Lockwood said.

…Ms. Lockwood sees it. She said colleges can take clear steps to improve how they handle claims of misbehavior by professors. She recommended, among other changes, that colleges conduct harassment-specific background checks before hiring professors.

Added: I’ve just noticed that the article is utterly silent about the role – or lack of roles – for bystanders. I’m unhappy that I didn’t notice this right away and think we might put some effort into reminding ourselves we should be thinking of taking action. In the Macy case, for example, the situation was well known to a lot of people before formal complaints were made.

What should we say now about moral progress?

In her wonderful recent talk at Rice University, Kate Norlock expressed pessimism at the idea we have – or can – achieved genuine moral progress of any general kind. Her words were vividly in my mind when I had read Eve Ensler’s piece in a recent Nation.

This part below seemed less distressing to me than ISIS’s pricelist for female infants/girls/women.  Or the manual for how to treat sex slaves

I am thinking about the inertia, silence, paralysis that has stalled and prevented investigation and prosecution into sexual crimes against Muslim, Croat, and Serb women raped in camps in the former Yugoslavia; African-American women and girls raped on plantations in the South; Jewish women and girls raped in German concentration camps; Native American women and girls raped on reservations in the United States. I am hearing the cries of the permanently unsettled ghosts of violated women and girls in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Guatemala, the Philippines, Sudan, Chechnya, Nigeria, Colombia, Nepal, the list goes on. I am thinking of the last eight years I spent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a similar conflagration of predatory capitalism, centuries of colonialism, endless war and violence in the name of mineral theft has left thousands of women and girls without organs, sanity, families or a future. And how terms like re-raped have now become re-re-re-re-raped.I am thinking that I have been writing this same piece for 20 years. I have tried it with data and detachment, passion and pleading, and existential despair. Even now as I write, I wonder if we have evolved a language to meet this century that would trump a piercing wail.

I am thinking about the failure of every patriarchal institution to intervene in any meaningful way and how structures like the UN amplify the problem as peacekeepers, meant to protect the women and girls, are rapists themselves.

Dialogues on Disability – Joshua St. Pierre

I’m a bit late posting about this due to internet difficulties, so many readers will probably already have seen that the latest installment in Shelley Tremain’s interview series is out. But for those of you who haven’t, her subject this time is Joshua St. Pierre, who talks to Shelley about dysfluent speech and communicative disability (amongst other things)!

My guest today is Joshua St. Pierre, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Alberta. Joshua has a wide range of interests within feminist philosophy, disability studies, posthumanism, eugenics, phenomenology, political theory, and communication studies. When Joshua is not writing, he edits a blog, takes trips to the off-leash park with his dog Scholar, reads graphic novels, or goes out for brunch.

Thanks to Shelley – and Joshua – for yet another fascinating and important piece. You can read the interview here.

Revealing story on attitudes regarding McGinn

It’s an understatement to say that they haven’t found many philosophers still willing to defend McGinn, though they appear to have tried hard to do so. Here’s what I say in the story, which I firmly believe to be true. The outpouring of support for Monica Morrison from the philosophical community has confirmed my impression.

Jennifer Saul, who teaches at the University of Sheffield and is director of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK, believes few supporters of McGinn remain. “There is, from what I can tell, near universal agreement that he acted appallingly,” she said.

Coming forward as a victim of sexual harassment in the philosophy world is incredibly risky, Saul said, but she believes things are changing.

“There’s an increasing understanding of these dynamics, and so I think a lessened tendency to view victims as ‘troublemakers,’ and actually increasing admiration for their bravery in speaking out,” Saul said.

For more, go here.