University of Utah, Salt Lake City
October 12- 13 2017

• Dr. Kristie Dotson
• Dr. Adam Hosein
• Dr. Theresa Lopez & Dr. Brian Chambliss
• Dr. Kate Manne
• Dr. Mari Mikkola
• Dr. Jennifer Mueller
• Dr. Victoria Plaut
• Dr. Flannery Stevens
• Dr. Ásta (Sveinsdóttir)

CALL FOR POSTER PRESENTATIONS: There will be a poster session associated with this conference, to be held on its first day. Up to eight participants will be invited to present their work. Accommodation costs & registration for poster presenters will be covered. We may also be able to contribute a small amount to travel costs, but the amount (if any) is to be determined. For examples of papers/presentations within our theme, please see the programs from past conferences:

Abstracts should be prepared for anonymous review, and submitted via email by the 15th of May 2017. Submissions should be made to Louise Pederson, administrative assistant, at

For more information about the conference (including information about the venue and program details), see:

Valerie Tiberius on the well-being of philosophy

A  fascinating, rich discussion of what is good for philosophy’s well-being.  She approaches this in the same way that she approaches the issue of how friends should advise one another.


Given my research, I started thinking… what if PHILOSOPHY were my friend?  I might worry.  Philosophy, what are you doing with your life?  You’re in the news, and not in a good way.

Thinking about philosophy as my friend led me to wonder what would happen if I took my own approach to helping and applied it here.  And that led me to creating a survey, which I hope many of you saw at the end of last summer (2016), called “The Value of Philosophy Survey”.  As I would do if I were approaching an individual friend in need of help, I wanted to know:  what are your values, philosophy?  As is inevitable, I came to the encounter with my own values to discover what we have in common, philosophy and I.  Given my own research and experience, I had particular interests in interdisciplinarity and in how philosophy engages with questions and problems that matter to people beyond philosophy.  Looking at the discipline, I thought diversity was another value worth considering.  I also convened an advisory board of people from different types of institutions and with different backgrounds who helped me generate more questions, and then I tried to reach as many participants as possible.

Do read it!

Women in academia do more service

“We find strong evidence that, on average, women faculty perform more service than male faculty in academia, and that the service differential is driven particularly by participation in internal rather than external service,” the study says. “When we look within departments — controlling for any type of organizational or cultural factor that is department specific — we still find large, significant differences in the service loads of women versus men.”

Read on.

CFA: Moral/Political Conference, Reading

Keynotes: Sara Fine, Zofia Stemplowska, Fiona Woollard

We welcome abstract submissions on any topic within the area of ethics and political philosophy (broadly construed) from graduate students and early career researches (submitted their PhD in the last 5 years).

Abstracts should maximally be 500 words in length, and suitable for presentations no longer than 25 minutes. After each presentation, there will be Q&A of around 20 minutes. The deadline for submission is 14th April 2017. All abstracts will be blind reviewed, so please do ensure that all identifying information is removed.

Dear Fellow White Dudes…

Ethan Mills has a post, “Dear Fellow White Dudes” on his Unexamined Worlds blog.  Mills begins his post by noting, “Man, it’s pretty awesome to be a white dude!  But you’d never know it if you listened to a lot of white dudes these days, which as a white dude myself I find kind of weird.”

He then explores and addresses the contradictions, tensions, and confusions underwriting a particular stance toward the world – he calls it being a “white dude,” but it may cover both less and more than that on the reasoning that not all whites dudes sign on to the culture he describes and more than white dudes may do so.  That’s neither here nor there.  The main thing is to point you to the post itself, which is well worth a read and very astute about the strange cultural moment we occupy.  Mills writes with sympathy and sensitivity, even as he critiques.   Read it here.

History of complaints against Searle

More excellent work from Katie Baker at Buzzfeed.

Top UC Berkeley officials knew that at least three students had made sexual misconduct claims against renowned philosophy professor John R. Searle before he was sued for harassing a young woman in March. The philosophy department had also fielded complaints that Searle made inappropriate comments in his undergraduate classes.

Read on.

A Reply to McMahan and Singer on the Stubblefield Case

Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer have a piece in the Stone today at the New York Times that I think is woefully ill-argued, in which they conclude that Anna Stubblefield has been treated unjustly by the courts, and question whether or not the man she was convicted of sexually assaulting was really harmed by her. I’m not going to address every point in their piece — but I do think it’s important to say a few things.

First, while I haven’t seen all of the evidence they have apparently been made privy to, there is enough in the public domain to know that their description of the events which transpired is deeply misleading.

For example, on the matter of John Doe’s* communicative capacities, they write,

“Sheronda Jones, an undergraduate at Rutgers at the time, volunteered to assist [John Doe] by using facilitated communication so that he could write papers for an English class he was auditing at Rutgers. Before the trial, Jones had told a detective in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office: “He pretty much read the books. I didn’t know any information about the book. I made sure never to read any of the information. I can’t tell you what he read. And he typed out the information.” Jones did not attend the class [John Doe] took. If she did not read the material on which his work was based, how could she have produced writings that respond to that material?”

They fail to mention that Jones’ statement went on to note that one of her roommates was in the same class, and she knew that her roommate and John Doe produced similar writings for the class. So, how could she have produced writings that responded to the class material which she had not read? By reading her roommate’s homework.

They also fail to mention that despite training in how to use facilitated communication, neither John Doe’s mom or brother was ever able to successfully use it to communicate with John Doe, and that they believed the purported communications facilitated through Stubblefield conflicted with what they knew about John Doe from experience living with him (e.g., according to Stubblefield, John Doe didn’t like gospel music, but according to his family, his behavior suggested he particularly enjoyed it).

As another example, on the matter of the assault itself, they write:

“If we assume that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, we should concede that he cannot understand the normal significance of sexual relations between persons or the meaning and significance of sexual violation. These are, after all, difficult to articulate even for persons of normal cognitive capacity. In that case, he is incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations; indeed, he may lack the concept of consent altogether.

This does not exclude the possibility that he was wronged by Stubblefield, but it makes it less clear what the nature of the wrong might be. It seems reasonable to assume that the experience was pleasurable to him; for even if he is cognitively impaired, he was capable of struggling to resist, and, for reasons we will note shortly, it is implausible to suppose that Stubblefield forcibly subdued him. On the assumption that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, therefore, it seems that if Stubblefield wronged or harmed him, it must have been in a way that he is incapable of understanding and that affected his experience only pleasurably.”

Now, just on the question of if John Doe was forcibly subdued, set aside for the moment that of course assault is not actually the sort of thing where all perpetrators lurk in dark alleys, twirling their mustaches as they lay in wait, ready to do obvious physical violence, and one need not have been forcibly subdued in order to be a victim of assault — as a matter of fact, the evidence does suggest that John Doe tried to get away from Stubblefield, at least on the first occasion they had sexual contact. As the New York Times wrote on this case back in 2015,

“They met the following Sunday at [John Doe]’s house, while his mother was at church. They tried to kiss while lying down on [John Doe]’s bed, on the theory that it would be easier, given his impairments. But [John Doe] kept sitting up, and then he lowered himself onto the floor. Anna offered him the keyboard and asked if anything was wrong. Nothing’s wrong, he typed, he was very happy, but also overwhelmed — he needed a minute. Anna said O.K., and [John Doe] scooted out into the hall.”

Stubblefield performed oral sex on John Doe a few minutes later.

Second, philosophically, this argument is quite astounding. One’s being incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations makes unclear what the nature of the wrong of sexual assault could be? Seriously? Why ever should we think that one must have the cognitive capacity to conceptualize precisely how one has been harmed in order to have been so harmed? Are small children not even possibly victims of sexual assault? Can animals not be unjustly exploited? Are persons with severe brain damage incapable of being victims of theft?

Why think experiencing pleasure precludes genuine harm? And even if one wanted to subscribe to a principle so readily met with counter-examples, why ignore that, again, according to Stubblefield’s own description of events, on many occasions John Doe expressed discomfort?

On the question of predation, McMahan and Singer write:

Judge Teare described Stubblefield as “the perfect example of a predator preying on her prey” and gave her a sentence that would be fitting for a predatory rapist. Yet no one would or could ever have known that Stubblefield and [John Doe] had had sexual relations if she had not conveyed to his mother and brother what she believed to be his message to them, via facilitated communication that she conducted in their presence, that he and she were in love and had consummated their relationship. This is the action not of a sexual predator but of an honest and honorable woman in love. Even if she is mistaken in her beliefs about his intelligence and ability to communicate, it is undeniable that these beliefs are sincere and that she was neither reckless nor negligent in forming them. This ought to have been a mitigating, if not wholly exculpating, consideration in the sentencing.

Stubblefield was aware of the controversial nature of facilitated communication. She may have believed that the experts which determined it to be pseudoscience were mistaken — I suspect she genuinely did — but she also knew that others who had diligently attempted to learn the methods of F.C. had failed to communicate with John Doe. She knew that she was in a particular position of power over him, and that she had an interest in virtue of her own feelings, in his communicating particular things.

But more importantly, McMahan and Singer confuse self-conceptualizing as having good intentions with failing to engage in predatory behavior. They confuse a willingness to articulate one’s position with being honorable. If these characteristics were genuinely interchangeable, multitudes of paradigm instances of exploitation through grooming, and even through violence, would be mitigated or exculpated. How many victims of childhoood sexual abuse have been told that their assailant loved them?  How many cult-leaders have thought they were doing what was best for the souls of their followers? How many perpetrators of domestic violence believed they were doing what was best to keep their families as they should be?

Intending to do good is not in any way inconsistent with doing enormous harm.

[Update: An earlier version of this post used the victim’s initials rather than the pseudonym John Doe. I’ve removed his initials in an attempt to do a better job of respecting his privacy.]

Philosophy of Early Motherhood

An interview with Fiona Woollard.  A small sample:

When we demand that mothers defend their choice to use formula, we treat them as if they have a defeasible duty to breastfeed.

When we treat arguments supporting breastfeeding, or even any celebration of breastfeeding, as an attack on formula feeders, we are assuming that if breastfeeding is good, then mothers must have a defeasible duty to breastfeed.

But the fact that something is good normally only give me a reason to do it, not a defeasible duty. Because it would be good to raise money for cancer research, I have a reason to run a marathon. But I don’t have a duty. If I don’t run, then other people can’t accost me, demanding that I justify this. And I don’t need to feel guilty. But the reason helps to make sense of what I do and gives other people reason to support me.

I think that if breastfeeding is beneficial, mothers have a reason to breastfeed, but do not have a duty to breastfeed. Once we recognise this, we can see that it is possible to argue for the need to support breastfeeding *without* implying that formula feeders should feel guilty.

Reader query: improving the climate

A reader writes:

Some grad students recently came to me complaining about the gender climate among the grad students. It is the usual sort of thing – the men talk over the women, patronize them, make sexualized jokes, ogle them, etc. I find it totally credible, though I have not witnessed much of it – the grad students do a lot of things independently (reading groups and so on ) and also, I think they are on their best behavior when faculty are around. The department in general is probably average on gender climate. Things are better than they used to be. (It is certainly not the case that the grad students are just modelling what they observe in the faculty). We have tried hard to raise awareness, with fairly regular workshops/sessions on implicit bias, and other issues facing women in philosophy. It is, of course, quite likely that the worst offenders  simply don’t show up to these things. Another problem is that turnover for grad students is of course, faster than for faculty – this year’s first years many not have been to any talks on gender, though the events feel fairly regular to me. One thing I think I need to do is make sure that I do something targeted at new students at the start of the academic year.

I’m looking for advice about what to do – both with new students and also about how to intervene with the current cohort. It is very hard to make anything compulsory, though not out of the question. But I am also aware of the need to tread carefully, not to trigger the backlash. Any suggestions welcome!

Put your suggestions in comments!