Kipnis and epistemology

I continue to be deeply impressed by the work that Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa is doing on Laura Kipnis’s book.  There’s so much that’s important in this post, on the epistemological moves and assumptions that Kipnis makes.  Here’s one small sample.

When she starts talking about specific cases, Kipnis brings in more explicit epistemological assumptions. In a passage spanning pp. 66–71, Kipnis questions the methods of Joan Slavin, a Northwestern University Title IX officer who investigated allegations that Professor Peter Ludlow had gotten an undergraduate student (“Cho” is her pseudonym) drunk, pressured her to come to his apartment, and groped her. Kipnis goes over competing descriptions of several elements of the night, expressing disagreement with Slavin’s judgments of Cho’s credibility. E.g.:

For instance, according to Slavin, Ludlow told Cho that he thought she was attractive, “discussed his desire to have a romantic and sexual relationship” with her, and shared sexual information, all of which was unwelcome to her.

I’m dying to know how Slavin came to the conclusion that Ludlow wanted to have a romantic relationship with Cho. Because an evening spent drinking and going to galleries indicates a man’s desire for a relationship? If so, single women of America, your problems are over. (71)

Kipnis wonders how Slavin came to the conclusion that Ludlow said he wanted to have a romantic relationship with Cho? The obvious answer is: Cho told her. Kipnis often reaches for strange explanations for simple conclusions when she disagrees with them. Here, Slavin listened to Cho tell her that Ludlow said he wanted to have a relationship with her, and concluded that Ludlow probably told Cho that he wanted to have a relationship with her. Kipnis hypothesizes that Slavin is employing the implicit premise that an evening spent drinking and going to galleries indicates a man’s desire for a romantic relationship. This is the kind of premise one might need if young women’s testimony carries no epistemic significance. But if we don’t assume that, there’s no need to reach for such bizarrities.

I find myself thinking that the literature on epistemic injustice will soon be filled with Kipnis examples.


To read the whole post (and you should), go here.

“I am sorry; therefore, I exist”


Becca Rothfeld, a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard, has reviewed Sarah Ahmed’s Living a feminist Life, In the CHE, 6/25/2017. There is a lot to like about the review, and I’ve included below some of my favorite passages. The idea that the manifestations of sexism we may have to deal with are a kind of ethical stupidity certainly fits the experience we find recounted in what is it like to be a women in philosophy? In fact, the question I wwant to raise is about a very related claim. This is the claim that the problem is affective, not intellectural.

***In an earlier post I think I was raising something like this possibility. What I’d really like help with are the questions (a) How new is this thought and (b) who else has been saying it.***

I don’t really do ethical theory, but I’d think this is a common idea. However, then I remember that many of us are surprised by Eric Schwitzgebel’s finding that philosophers working in ethics are not more moral than those of us working in other areas. Is ethics too often treated like an intellectual exercise, as opposed to one that might engage our motivation? One antidote for this might be to include a section on what we get wrong in our obligations. (I may here be indebted to my Somerville tutors – Anscombe and Foot – who seldom left their students motivationally unchallenged.)

Quotes from the review:

How exhausting it is to have to defend your right to excel, and to take on the additional burden of having to explain that you shoulder this burden at all. Sometimes I find myself enmeshed in a nested doll of apologies, apologizing for apologizing until apology supplants apologia and the seed of self that once grounded it and “Sorry!” is all that’s left. The female cogito, the basis of a brutal gender dualism, is this: I’m sorry, therefore I am. We’re allowed to exist in the first place only because we’re pre-emptively sorry for it.

The problem, I think, is not intellectual but affective: Sexism in the university and in the world of arts and letters is more often a failure of empathy than a failure of understanding. Ahmed says as much: “Diversity work is emotional work,” she writes. Callousness and cruelty are a kind of ethical stupidity, and their remedy is a sentimental, not a theoretical, education.

Is there a trend?


Note: And now there’s a third:  See end of post.

I just noticed a second cover which has a woman with her back to the reader. It makes me uneasy, but I’m sure there are other interpretations that can leave one feeling part of the endeavor.  Mostly I thought it is an odd coincidence on which people might want to comment.  We could think of this post as allowing an odd interlude for free association.

Let me note that Edouard posted several versions of his cover, and I don’t know that he selected the one I am showing. Each has the female figure with her back showing.

Marc Sanders Foundation Public Philosophy Award

Readers may be interested in a new prize for long-form philosophical essays written for a general public audience. Up for grabs are publication in Philosophers’ Imprint, Aeon, Salon, and The Point, and $4,500. Below are details from the announcement.

We invite submissions of unpublished essays (minimum 3,000 words, maximum 8,000) with significant philosophical content or method by authors with significant philosophical training addressed primarily to the general reader. There is no restriction to any area of philosophy. In particular, there is no restriction to practical philosophy. Everyone from graduate students to emeritus professors is encouraged to apply.

The winner of the Marc Sanders Award for Public Philosophy will receive $4,500. The winning essay will be published in Philosophers’ Imprint, a free online journal specializing in major original contributions to philosophy. The second best essay will be published in Aeon, whose editorial staff will be available to help with the final draft. There will also be an opportunity for the winner(s) to present their work directly to a general audience.

The Award Committee is Chaired by Susan Wolf, Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill. The other committee members are Kenneth A. Taylor, Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and co-host of Philosophy Talk; David Velleman, Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics at NYU and a founding co-Editor of Philosopher’s Imprint; Barry Maguire, Associate Professor at Stanford University; and Brigid Haines, Editorial Director at Aeon Magazine.

Deadline: 15 September, 2017
Please submit your entry to by 15 September 2017. Please include the essay title in the Subject line. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by email. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit all remarks and references that might disclose their identities. Unlike other Marc Sanders Prizes there is no restriction to junior candidates. Philosophers at any career stage are encouraged to submit. No more than one submission per person. Previously published essays will not be considered.

Any inquiries should be sent to Barry Maguire at

Daughters of the Dust

(From wiki) Daughters of the Dust is a 1991 independent film written, directed and produced by Julie Dash and is the first feature film directed by an African-American woman distributed theatrically in the United States.[1] Set in 1902, it tells the story of three generations of Gullah (also known as Geechee) women in the Peazant family on St. Helena Island as they prepare to migrate to the North on the mainland.

From ‘Watching’ in the NY Times

Hume, Bloom, and White Privilege: Update

Update: Correspondence with Janine Jones made me realize that I hadn’t gotten her view right. Since her view is being expressed in a paper in progress, I’m going to wait until I see the final version before I try again to present it.

In the meantime, I realized that I had really stated what could be read as a very strong thesis, one that might say no white people had any sense of the moral status of people of color. I’m grateful that no one in comments took me on for such a thesis, which is clearly false. Blog posts are not well worked over philosphy papers; if they were, I’d post very little indeed.

I also think that there’s an underlying concern that really isn’t about race or ethnicity. Claims of marginalization in Anglo-American philosophy can be made on behalf of members of many different groups, based on class, nationality, gender/gender-orientation, body-type, school prestige, and more. John Dovidio and his group at Yale in psychology have spent decades looking at the effects of insider-outsider status. Some emphasis has been on health fields, but I stronly recommend philosophers look closely at the work that has emerged.


A really brilliant paper at the 2017 Pacific by Janine Jones (UNC, Greenboro) led me to think I might finally understand why the feminism I am so invested in remains, at least for many people of color, white feminism. Her paper claimed that even well meaning white people fail in extending their empathy to people of color. The central problem, according to Jones as I understood her, is that we cannot share “the others'” perspective. Indeed, we don’t even try.***

I want first to look at another articulation of the white lack of empathy.  That is captured by the quotes below from WHY I’M NO LONGER TALKING TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Next we will consider Hume, and Paul Bloom’s Against Empathy:  the case for rational compassion.   The word ’empathy’ and the 18th century word ‘sympathy’ are much the same in meaning.  As such, Bloom has recently objected to its having a role in morality while Hume is very pro-sympathy.  So nearer the end of this post, I’ll say why they are being brought in.

I suppose one example of the disconnect among white feminists and women of color became evident when women (in North American?  Elsewhere?) stage a ‘night out’ in often scanty clothing and sometimes calling themselves “Ho’s”.  The point being that such behavior was not an excuse for rape.  Then some members of the black commmunity objected that calling themselves “Ho'” would not be ironic or amusing to black women.  Why hadn’t white women seen that?

I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us. This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm and all others deviate from it.

Why are white people so oblivious?

It’s like something happens to the words as they leave our mouths and reach their ears.   The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further. That’s the emotional disconnect. It’s not really surprising, because they’ve never known what it means to embrace a person of colour as a true equal, with thoughts and feelings that are as valid as their own.

What helps to hold their ignorance in place?

I’ve written before about this white denial being the ubiquitous politics of race that operates on its inherent invisibility. So I can’t talk to white people about race any more because of the consequent denials, awkward cartwheels and mental acrobatics that they display when this is brought to their attention. Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.

 Though Hume sees empathy as important to the foundation of morality and Bloom opposes that idea, each sees as vitally important our having an inclusive idea of the human moral community as having members very different from ourselves.

The question I want to ask is whether either sees that effective inclusion may require a great deal of work on our parts. And this is not, as each sees, because we need to let go of our specific interests. Rather, we need to get, as far as possible, a grasp of others’ specific interests.

And there is another and even more worrying question: is their confidence in our grasping the morally necessary perspectives in fact encouraging their readers to think they are already equipped for inclusiveness?  Is a deeply entrenched style of theorizing a source of the problem philosophy itself has with diversity?

***The Title of Jones’ paper is: “Disappearing Black People Through White Empathy”. Is (or a near relative of it) will be forthcoming from OUP in a volume on feminist philosophy of mind, edited by McWeeney and Maitra

Comey’s experiences and sexual harassment

An interesting analogy.


A man is being publicly grilled about why he was alone in a room with someone he felt was threatening him. Why didn’t he simply resign if he felt uncomfortable with what his boss was asking him to do? Why did he keep taking calls from that boss, even if he thought they were inappropriate? Why didn’t he just come out and say he would not do what the boss was asking for?

Sound familiar? As dozens of people noted immediately on Twitter, if you switch genders, that is the experience of many women in sexual harassment cases. James Comey, the former director of the F.B.I., explained to senators during today’s hearing that he felt acutely uneasy and hesitant to directly confront his boss, the president of the United States. That’s right, even a savvy Washington insider, the same height as LeBron James and no stranger to the cut and thrust of power, seemed slightly ashamed that he had not been able to do so.

CFP: SAF at Eastern APA 2018

Society for Analytical Feminism

Feminist Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition


SAF Session at the Eastern Division APA

Savannah, GA, January 3-6, 2018

Deadline: JULY 10, 2017

The Society for Analytical Feminism invites submissions for a session at the 2018 Eastern Division APA meetings in Savannah, Georgia.

The Society seeks papers that examine feminist issues by methods broadly construed as analytic, or discuss the use of analytic philosophical methods as applied to feminist issues. Authors should submit full papers of a length appropriate to a 20-minute presentation time. Please delete all self-identifying references from your submission to ensure anonymity.

Send submissions as a word attachment to Kathryn Norlock

(kathrynnorlock at gmail dot com).

Deadline for submissions: Monday, July 10, 2017.

 Graduate students or underfunded professionals whose papers are accepted will be eligible for the Society’s $350 Travel Stipend. Please indicate in your email if you fall into one of these categories and wish to be considered for the stipend.

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