Doing Public Philosophy

As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell.

I joined Feminist Philosophers in July 2015, after having written a pair of guest posts at Digressions & Impressions that received some attention, both positive and negative. That was one of my first forays into public philosophy. Here are Part I and Part II of that piece, and my reaction to its reception by some senior men in philosophy can be found here. Rereading those things, what I find striking is that my immediate response was to frame matters in terms of unproductive adversariality, as per Janice Moulton’s critique of the Adversary Method in philosophy. For those unfamiliar with that work, it’s not the same as a call for civility, which I don’t particularly have a lot of faith in either. But it is a criticism of our tendency in philosophy to treat discussions automatically as debates that can (and ought to) be won.

My training is in analytic philosophy, and in particular in the history and philosophy of mathematics. I was hired as our department’s logician, and I still teach a regular slate of logic courses. But at the time I started on at this blog, I was still making the transition over to thinking of feminist philosophy as my primary research area (which it certainly is now). The way I was doing it at the time was through feminist perspectives on informal logic and argumentation theory.

I have been extremely grateful for feminist philosophy, feminist philosophers, and Feminist Philosophers for helping me develop as a professional philosopher. Though I have not been at all prolific here, the connection to the larger community of feminist scholarship has helped me feel as though there is a place in philosophy for someone like me. Though I still love logic and the philosophy of mathematics, it was never a field that felt like home. Being part of this blogging community helped me to think through what a field that felt like home might be.

These days a lot of my work is centred on issues around gendered violence, and the FP post that I still think about was an attempt to work through some thoughts that didn’t yet have a more formal venue. Many of the things that I wrote in a post called Me Too: But What About You? were also part of a paper that came out the same year in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly.

But that FPQ paper was still framed in terms of how we, from the outside, might view perpetrators of gendered violence. What I think about these days has more to do with how we, as ordinary people, are ourselves contributing to violence and upholding oppression. It is really not that hard for us to hurt each other, and we need to come to terms with that without falling into either quietism or unproductive guilt.

I don’t have another regular public venue in which I write down my thoughts. And I have become a bit more pessimistic about blogging as a general way for me to bring about change. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it – I was very happy to have written this piece for the APA blog relatively recently, for instance. But at the moment, it doesn’t feel like something I can do effectively or on a regular basis.

I think that activism requires a division of labour, and the work that I feel best about these days are smaller scale. Public philosophy is important, and I do think it’s incumbent on those of us who are relatively privileged to keep working to make the world better in whatever ways we can. But that work can take a lot of different forms. It can take the work of public writing. But it can also take the shape of working in our communities and campuses, or of supporting and amplifying the voices of others who need to be heard.

In the meantime, I’m grateful to the Feminist Philosophers community for giving me the opportunity to contribute in whatever ways I have. And I wish us all the best as we each work out the ways in which we are best suited to resist oppression.