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.