Wikipedia Edit-a-thon for Underrepresented Philosophers & Philosophy, in Honor of Kevin Gorman (Oct 8th)

On October 8th 2016, from 1:30PM PST onward, in the San Diego Central Public Library, Wikipedia will host an edit-a-thon in honor of Kevin Gorman, whose passionate work on behalf of women in philosophy we highlighted in an earlier post (see also here).  The editathon will be part of this year’s WikiConference North America.  I will be coordinating the editathon with seasoned editor, Julie Farman.

This is a call for crowd-sourcing in advance of the editathon.  What the Wikipedians most need from us: guidance about which pages are still missing, and content and references to fill those missing pages.  Kevin began compiling a list of missing notable women philosophers, and a current list-in-progress is here.  This is part of the “Women in Red” project (so-called because links to nowhere in Wikipedia are in red font.  You can also see a list of the many pages on women philosophers that Kevin had already created toward the bottom of this link.)

For starters, you can post suggestions for pages to add on Wikipedia, about underrepresented philosophers and philosophy in the comments below.  Also please feel free to email me (alexmadva@gmail.com) with comments, questions, suggestions, etc.  We will also eventually need help with content and references.  In particular, to pass Wikipedia’s “notability” guidelines, we will need reliable, verifiable references to back up what we post.

The gaps on Wikipedia remain vast, and they will not be hard to find, but here are my preliminary thoughts about concrete strategies to identify gaps:

  1. Compile a list of existing or planned pages on, e.g., the SEP and the IEP, related to, e.g., feminist philosophy, and then check to see if corresponding pages exist on Wikipedia.
  2. For every page that is already up on notable woman philosophers, see if the Wikipedia page on the subject she works on has a link to her and/or reference to her work.  There’s surely a lot of room for better cross-referencing within Wikipedia.  (The established Wikipedia editors will be especially well-poised to contribute here.)
  3. Check the existing pages on underrepresented topics and people to see if they are accurate, substantive, etc.
  4. More generally, people should just look up the topics they themselves work on (or are currently interested in or are simply curious to learn more about!) and see what’s missing, where there’s room for improvement, etc.

For those who can attend the editathon in person, you can join us for lunch at 12PM PST if you register for $10 that day, or you can come at 1:30pm with free registration.

Stacey goguen on stereotype threat

I wrote about the mind-on-line conference in an earlier post.  Let me here highlight Stacey Goguen’s paper on stereotype threat and the comments on it.

In the last part of her paper Goguen draws our attention to the effects of encountering negative stereotypes on one’s sense/conception/understanding of one’s self.  This seems to me a very valuable addition to the literature.  And Goguen makes it clear that more is to be done.  Have a look!

 

Philosophical Vanities

In an article posted on Aeon and approvingly described by Brian Leiter, Nicholas Tampio argues that philosophy, as the trajectory of thought emerging from Plato (and only Plato), would lose itself (and its funding) if came to embrace thinkers such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and Confucius. I can’t speak to the characterization of al-Ghazali, but the remarks about Confucius are comically unsophisticated and deploy orientalist stereotypes. I make some remarks about this here. But every time some argument of this sort is trotted out to “defend” philosophy, I get embarrassed to be in philosophy. The reasons are multiple, but let me focus on the breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

 

Articles in this style work on a confused logic of purportedly neutral disciplinary definition. They pose as trying to define what philosophy does, as if it is but one among many academic disciplines, and express a happy pluralism about the need for many different disciplines. If that were all they do, perhaps they’d be less obnoxious. But along the way, in describing what philosophy is, they assign it exclusive rights to a host of generally desirable and admiration-worthy qualities. See, philosophy is interested in critical thinking; it is fearless; it is unbound by unexamined commitments; it uniquely challenges the status quo; it is independent in mind; and so on, ad nauseum. In the ascription of generally desirable and admiration-worthy qualities to philosophers, as their defining feature, the philosopher who wants to thereby exclude some body of texts or assemblage of people does not sound like someone articulating reasonable disciplinary definitions. He sounds like someone denying that those he would exclude have what it takes, and this makes all his softening “not that there’s anything wrong with that” gestures toward other disciplines and people especially insulting. [I’ve written a bit on the slippage from description to honorific here.]

 

First, in all of these articles I can recall, the purportedly defining characteristics of philosophy beggar belief as the exclusive province of philosophers. They tend to be characteristics in evidence not only in a host of academic disciplines, but in all sorts of human endeavor. So philosophers laying sole claim to them sound wildly arrogant and, far worse, incredibly ignorant, as if they’ve never encountered other human beings with anything like an open mind or curiosity about what those other human beings do.

 

Second, the purportedly defining characteristics of philosophy are ones actual philosophers, both historical and contemporary, regularly fail to exhibit. E.g., in the article cited above, there are so many unexamined stereotypes of Confucianism deployed that you might take the article for satire. So claiming that philosophers excel in examining everything and being unbound by hackneyed ideas holding others in thrall is just absurd. Philosophers who claim this regularly demonstrate its falsity while claiming it.

 

The level of inadvertent self-satirization in this sort of exercise is plainly embarrassing. What I get from this sort of thing is that where philosophers really excel is in exercises of self-congratulation wholly unmoored from actual learning, curiosity, or reasonable intellectual humility. For people who boldly claim to corner the market on open-minded, radical curiosity that seeks to leave no stone uncovered, they look a lot like people hiding under rocks. If philosophy is ever going to be better, even at what its old guard claims it does, it really needs to see that puling self-flattery and wanton arrogant insult of others is not the same thing as “defining philosophy.”

Ageism in philosophy?

After spending years at conferences where women had to struggle to be heard, i thought that sorry situation changed considerably in 1986.  Suddenly it was recognized that women could do philosophy, or so it seemed to me.  But there was a problem.  Men acted, again from my point of view, as though women became able to do philosophy in 1986.  With few exceptions, the older women were not taken more seriouly than before.

Surely I exaggerate for the sake of a neat narrative.  Perhaps so.  But it may be worth asking ourselves if there is ageism operating in philosophy.  Equally, we could ask if this bias affects women more than men.

If ageism is active, it would do us well to start looking at it by reminding ourselves of its presence in all sorts of areas.  And so here’s a bit from HuffPo about another industry.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-an-unfair-hollywood-is-hurting-people-over-60_us_57d6d947e4b03d2d459b8746.)

You have to look wide and far to find people over 60 in the 100 top-grossing films of 2015, and when you do find them, they are demeaned by ageist language and presented inaccurately and unfairly, says new research conducted by Humana and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Among the researchers’ more disturbing findings:

1. Older people are underrepresented in film.

While 18.5 percent of the population is 60 and over, just 11 percent of film characters were that age.

2. More than half the films with older characters direct ageist comments at them.

Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 contained ageist comments; that’s more than half of the films. Characters were called things like, “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” The report does not name specific films, nor would study representatives identify in which movies those three sample quotes were from.

3. Older people are stereotyped as tech-illiterate.

Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older are depicted using technology, while 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.

4. Older people are portrayed as anti-social shut-ins.

On screen, just one third of seniors pursue interests or hobbies and 38.5 percent attend events, while in reality, they are more than twice as likely to engage socially with friends or relatives on a weekly or monthly basis.

5. Seniors are rarely shown as the masters of their own destinies.

The top five traits respondents rated as most important to aging successfully were self-reliance, awareness, honesty, resilience and safety. In film, seniors are rarely depicted as in control of their lives.

The pity, of course, is that people believe what they see on-screen.

 

Karen Warren on facing death and considering options

Eco-feminist philosopher Karen Warren has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In a moving piece in Psychology Today, she writes,

This was the start of my personal journey confronting death. As a philosophy professor for nearly 40 years with an expertise in ethics, I often lectured about euthanasia. So, I am quite aware of arguments for and against various end-of-life options. But I never anticipated that my academic expertise would turn into a lived experience: Every day I watch myself deteriorate from a fatal and excruciatingly painful disease. And every day I do so knowing that I cannot legally choose to end my life before I become immobile. Because in my home state—Minnesota—it is illegal to help someone die.

The crux of the debate about aid-in-dying options centers around medical ethics. Physicians take an oath to help their patients and “do no harm.” Many interpret this oath as requiring that patients be kept alive at all costs. The goal of the medical community is to make us live as long as we possibly can—even when our body would long be gone without medical equipment and our quality of life is next-to-nothing.

See more here.

Katherine Hawley on Kristie Dotson

in Psychology Today.

 

Misunderstandings can sometimes occur despite everyone’s best efforts. But this becomes an ethical issue when the audience really should have known better, when open eyes and open ears would have allowed them to empathize more, and acknowledge that they don’t have the full picture. Professor Dotson writes movingly of ways in which black women, in particular, can be on the receiving end of such avoidable but harmful misunderstandings. As she points out, this can lead women to self-censor, because silence seems preferable to routine dismissal or rejection.   Dotson calls this ‘testimonial smothering’ – a reminder that although it may seem like self-censorship, it arises from anticipation of others’ negligence.

cognitive science and feminist philosophy: online conference session

The Minds Online Conference has a great deal of interest, but the second session addresses quite explicitly topics in feminist literature. A number of us, most notably Sally Haslanger, have been working on figuring out the social nature of the destructive bias and and discriminations so many experience.  Bryce Huebner gives a stellar presentation on this topic.

In the same session, Stacey Groguen expands the topic of stereotype threat in a way that clarifies some important issues.

I haven’t yet looked at the rest of the papers, but I do urge readers to have a good look at them.

 

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Trial of anonymised university admissions

Exeter, Huddersfield, Liverpool and Winchester will pilot a system this year where the names of applicants are not seen during admissions.

The aim is to stop “potential bias” about students’ race and identity.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said he backed attempts to “stamp out inequality” in higher education.

The pilot project aims to see if masking the names of applicants will remove any “unconscious bias”.

This is interesting, but UK university admissions in so many places is just matter of A-level scores that I’m dubious how much difference this will make.