The ASA: mansplaining, whitesplaining, othering, silencing

AND sexual harassment.  All at the recent American Society for aesthetics.  Three attendees describe what went on here, and there is another discussion of it here  One example:  an African-American artist was asked to discuss his recent work on urban youth.  The audience’s questions, in contrast, focused on the exotic features of the unknown culture.  Such as the risks of baggy pants falling down.

If you don’t quite get this example, think of giving a talk about poverty in Uganda and receiving mostly questions about the styles of women’s hair.

One cause of the situation may well be, as various writers suggest, the Society’s rapid movement toward diversity and inclusion.  The effects of the efforts have left some members unsocialized, at least as fas as dealing with a mixed program goes.

There may well be another problem:  members of introspective fields are ill-positioned to detect how socially out of it they are. [West, R. F., Russell J. Meserve, and Keith E. Stanovich. (2012). Cognitive Sophistication Does Not Attenuate the Bias Blind Spot. Journal of personality and social psychology, Online First Publication. ].

Further, a fair number of our colleagues may doubt that being with-it brings any epistemic advantages.  This might not be so bad but for the profession’s long term view, as it seems to me, that nothing distinctive about the excluded groups could be of professional interest to philosophers.

So what to do when one efforts at inclusion means that members of ill-represented groups are treated in ways reflecting too familiar racist and/or sexist clichés?  Let me make one suggestion:  one could try implementing something like bystander intervention.  I’ve seen this done fairly recently a couple of times and it is a way of alerting a whole meeting to a problem.  In effect one says during the Q&A, hopefully as nicely as one can, something like “Let me express a concern that so far questions are not bringing what our speaker really has to offer.  Let’s try to address instead his art and its … “.  There are probably at most conferences enough people interested in promoting diversity to change at least some of the meetings.

One warning, though:  don’t be too surprised to find out that you may not initially have much support.

Eileen O’Neill: Obituary

The death of Eileen O’Neill is a huge loss to feminist philosophy.  Louise Antony and Christia Mercer have written the following:

Eileen O’Neill (1953-2017) was an historian of early modern philosophy whose scholarly breadth, philosophical acumen, and life-long commitment to rediscovering understudied and forgotten women in the history of philosophy will prove her to be one of the most influential historians of the past century.

At the time of her death, O’Neill was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she taught a wide range of courses in the history of modern philosophy, as well as courses in feminist philosophy. She was a deeply committed teacher who gave generously of her time and effort and she inspired strong loyalty among undergraduate and graduate students alike. She was loved talking philosophy with her colleagues, and several times co-taught courses with them. She was valued not only for her erudition, but also for the optimism, enthusiasm and energy she brought to the department in everything she did. She was terrific fun to be around.

O’Neill was an undergraduate at Barnard College, where she graduated summa cum laude with a BA and Honors in Philosophy in 1975. Upon attaining her PhD at Princeton in 1983 (with a dissertation on Descartes, Mind and Mechanism, directed by Margaret Wilson), O’Neill set her sights on finding long-lost texts of early modern women and then explicating their most important ideas. O’Neill read microfilms, searched libraries, and tracked down leads to create the most robust list ever made of the texts and philosophies of early modern women.

O’Neill published a number of important papers and engaged in editorial work, but her enormous influence is primarily due to her skills of intellectual persuasion. She made texts available, revealed their philosophical importance – often in brilliantly clear detail – and encouraged historians with any feminist inclination or any desire to get things right in the history of philosophy to turn their attention to women philosophers. O’Neill’s classic 1998 paper, “Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and Their Fate in History,” exemplifies her erudition and powers of persuasion. O’Neill shows exactly how “scandalous” it has been to exclude women from our histories of philosophy and offers a clear path to right that wrong. By such means, she persuaded her early modern colleagues and students to work on women and made it easy for them to do. By continuing O’Neill’s project, those colleagues and former students are now influencing the next generation of historians so that O’Neill’s influence will continue long after her death. Thanks to her tireless work and philosophical insight, philosophy’s past will be more inclusive, more interesting, and more accurate. All feminist philosophers owe O’Neill an enormous debt. And she will be dearly missed as a teacher, colleague, scholar, philosopher, and friend.

— Christia Mercer and Louise Antony

Eileen O’Neill was celebrated at a conference at Barnard College in 2009, organized by Christia Mercer in her honor: “Women, Philosophy and History.” The following is a link to a video recording of Eileen’s closing address to the conference, preceded by Christia Mercer’s delightful and very moving introduction:

The Eileen O’Neill Memorial Fund has been created at the Center for New Narratives in Philosophy to support students and scholars working in areas of interest to Eileen. Contributions can be sent to:

 Prof. Christia Mercer
Director, Center for New Narratives in Philosophy
Philosophy Department
Philosophy Hall
Columbia University
New York NY 10025

 Checks should be made out to Columbia University with the notation “Eileen O’Neill Memorial Fund.”