Philosophy in the Public Good: Yes!

A recent article (see below) analyses 52,000 questionaire responses from men and women of varying sexual orientation. The focus was on the frequency of orgasm during sex. There were some disturbing results. Some were no surprise; for example, heterosexual women having sex with a male partner have the lowest rate of orgasms. In contrast were results about what increases the rate of orgasm in women, and the mistaken beliefs a significant number of men have (From the Guardian):

“About 30% of men actually think that intercourse is the best way for women to have orgasm, and that is sort of a tragic figure because it couldn’t be more incorrect,” said co-author of the research Elisabeth Lloyd, a professor of biology at Indiana University and author of The Case of the Female Orgasm.

According to the research, only 35% of heterosexual women always or usually orgasm during vaginal sex alone, with 44% saying they rarely or never did. By contrast, 80% of heterosexual women and 91% of lesbians always or usually orgasm with a combination of genital stimulation, deep kissing and oral sex – but without vaginal sex. “To say that there needs to be some education I think is an understatement,” said Lloyd.

Elisabeth Lloyd is also a very distinguished philosopher.

“Differences in Orgasm Frequency Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men and Women in a U.S. National Sample,” David A. FrederickEmail authorH. Kate St. JohnJustin R. GarciaElisabeth A. Lloyd, archives of Sexual Behavior, 2017.

And the years just fell away

Two events last week seemed to come at me from the past. They could have occurred five years ago, or even 10 or 20 years ago. I did not, however, feel a burst of youth. Rather, I felt a real sadness for all of us who had once found such things common.

One was a lecture at the Jowett Society at Oxford and the other an emailed notice. The lecture itself itself was given by Jennifer Lackey. It was terrific. In fact, I wanted to raise an issue. Indeed, I put my hand up. And then someone else was called on. When that discussion was over, I put my hand up again. And then again. For 50 min my arm was straight up whenever there was a pause for a question. I was incredulous.  I might as well have been invisible.  I finally spoke out.

The other event was earlier. The other event was the CFP for this conference.

A Conference at Keele University, UK, 27-28th June 2017

Keynote Speakers
Philip Goff • John Cottingham • James Tartaglia • Keith Frankish • Christopher Norris

Five male speakers and no female speakers. I was incredulous, and indeed kept rereading the list to spot my mistake.

Well, one good thing: Jennifer Lackey’s sterling performance was a great example of why and how we benefit when women can speak.

When ICE knocks

ICE = US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to today’s Houston Chronicle, there’s a lot of anxiety in the city among immigrants even though the city is a ‘sanctuary’ city. The newspaper has printed a set of guidelines. Even if you are ‘safe’, knowing these guidelines is worthwhile. They may help you keep others safe.


“The Philosophical Case for Polyamory”

This week’s Cronicle of Higher Education uses the above title to announce an article about Carrie Jenkins’ work on love.  And it appears available to all. And there is more, including the story of the You Know What sent through the mail.  Don’t miss it!

Feminism and Racism

No one will be surprised to hear that many women of color experience feminism as exclusionary.  There were some efforts at a number of levels to make the March yesterday be inclusionary.  Women of color, for example, were dominant in the final roster of lead organizers.  Now might be a very good time to work on inclusion.  In doing do, the kinds of injustices effectively addressed will be increased.  And given such efforts, we can all end up in a backed by a more powerful unity.

There are some articles recently looking at racism and the march.  Following a recurring line of advice, I suggest we try to listen very respectfully to what people who feel excluded are telling us, perhaps especially those of us who may well not fully understand what checking our white privilege could or should consist in.

Colorlines has some wonderful relevant articles.  I’m going to give some snippets from one of the most direct.  Everyone really should read the whole piece.

… On the other hand, I’m really tired of Black and Brown women routinely being tasked with fixing White folks’ messes. I’m tired of being the moral compass of the United States. Many of the White women who will attend the march are committed activists, sure. But for those new-to-it White women who just decided that they care about social issues? I’m not invested in sharing space with them at this point in history.

Thus, I am affording myself the emotional frailty usually reserved for White women and tapping out this time. I’m not saying that I will never stand in solidarity with masses of White women under the umbrella of our gender, but it won’t be this weekend. Managing my depression is a complicated daily task, one that will certainly be exacerbated by the presidential inauguration festivities. It won’t serve my own mental health needs to put my body on the line (a body that I believe will invite more violence from Trump supporters than paler attendees) to feign solidarity with women who by and large didn’t have my back prior to November. Not yet. Eventually? Perhaps. But not now.

I’d like to see a million White women march to the grave of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth or Audre Lorde, or perhaps to the campus of Spelman College to offer a formal apology to Black women. It’s time for White women to come together and tell the world how their crimes against Black women, Black men and Black children have been no less devastating than the ones committed by their male counterparts. Perhaps the Women’s March on Washington will provide the grounds for the level of catharsis required to make that happen. If anyone can plant the seed, it’s Mallory, Perez, Sarsour and Janaye Ingram, the march’s head of logistics. But I just can’t make my way to Washington D.C. this weekend to find out.

Maybe next time.

[Jamilah Lemieux is a writer and the vice president of Men’s and News Programming for InteractiveOne. Follow her on Twitter: @jamilahlemieux]








Did this really happen to me? And what was it anyway?

Telling myself, while I was still very angry, that it would all seem funny one day, I pulled together some of the facts of the case.  First of all, some background:  the rental market in Oxford, England, is stressful, to say the least.  It is entirely possible to pay $1000 a week for a studio or one bedroom apartment.  Such prices tend to be for short term rentals, and I decided to try for a more reasonable long term rental.  Buying one of the one million-plus tiny Victorian houses in the area near my college didn’t seem a good idea.

So I found online a Great flat in exactly the right area and with a bonus view over the Oxford canal.  And I used the online site to write to the letting agency, a distinguished and established one.  In effect, I sent them an inquiry connected to a female name from a person in Houston, TX.

The next thing I know, I received a fairly long list of questions, including ones about visas, pets and children.  I do wish I had stopped there.  I should have just said, let’s decide on the details of the lease and I can answer these later before everything is finalized.

Foolishly, I answered them.  Clearly not a careful reader, the realtor misunderstood my response and concluded that I wasn’t really interested in renting.  And a week after my inquiry he tells me that someone else has made an offer that they are accepting.

So what happened?  Despite my experience as a feminist in philosophy, I was at first inclined to think he just was a  not very bright young man.  But suddenly I remembered what can be the point of introducing a list of distractors.  At the very least, it delays things so that the candidate doesn’t get full treatment and some ‘more acceptable’ alternative can be found.  It also takes the proceedings more or less out of the control of the candidate.

Who knows what was really going on?  At least, it could have been much, much worse.  As the Guardian has pointed out, some London landlords are demanding sex for a lease.

The CHE on Implicit Bias

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has an article on implicit bias which raises questions a number of philosophers have pursued.  The general question is about the relation between implicit bias and biased behavior, with specific reference to the IAT (Implicit Association Test).  The conclusion that is emerging is that getting rid of implicit biases will not get rid of the biased behavior.  The point is made that from the fact that bias causes biased behavior, it does not follow that getting rid of bias gets rid of the behavior.

While that sounds true, we should know more.  One reason could have to do with what ‘implicit bias in a person’ really is.  Edward Machery has a lot of work on this question.  But in general we have known for sometime that that beliefs tend to occur in networks, and changing the belief in one  network may leave it more or less intact in another part.  Another could be that the biased actions or their results are held in place by structural factors in the society.  I am not sure who all have pursued this line of investigation, but Sally Haslanger has a lot of excellent work in this area.  In my contribution to the 2-volume OUP work on implicit bias edited  by Brownstein and Saul, I raised a question about this, and look at some recent psychological literature.  Once one starts to look at the structural factors underpinning racist actions, for example, one can see that the needed change has got at least to include a change in social structures.  (You can find a good article by Machery in the same 2-vol edition.  Google will reveal lots of work by Haslanger.)

It would be great to get more reading suggestions on the structural side in the comments.

For people who have been following this literature at all closely, one of the biggest surprises is that one of the originators of the supposedly fundamental IAT  seems to have changed sides!  That’s Brian Nozick of the University of VA.



Feminism lost?

Susan Chira in ‘Feminism Lost. Now what?’ in the New York Times attempts the large task of understanding the national election in terms of its rejection of women’s issues AND offering something of a path forward. I was not very fond of it principally because it provides a forum with little criticism of what people are reported to say. For example, it seems to assume that Clinton was in the campaign principally to join the boys’ club of very powerful people. This view, coming from a prof at UC Hastings College of Law, does not seem very plausible to me, perhaps especially considering the very high cost for women of Republican leadership in my home state, Texas. Conservatives lament feminism left-leaning policies without being asked how they plan to mitigate the destructiveness for women of conservative policies.

All that said, it would be foolish to deny that feminism has to work harder to include women of different ethnicities, gender orientations, educational levels, abilities and class positions.  (I apologize for any important categories left out, such as age.). There is a huge and important agenda for us.

Chira (

To many inside and outside the feminist movement, the Clinton campaign message missed the mark.

“White working-class women saw Hillary Clinton as another privileged white woman wanting to break the glass ceiling,” said Joan C. Williams, professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law. “That metaphor makes sense if your central goal is to gain access to jobs that privileged men have. Hillary’s feminism was not about them.”

Feminism, which at its heart should mean opportunities for women in every sphere, has also come to be seen as a proxy for liberalism, alienating conservatives.

S. E. Cupp, a columnist for The Daily News in New York and a conservative who did not vote for Mr. Trump, said: “There’s a condescension that comes across from some in the women’s movement. There’s this idea that if you’re not liberal, you’re a traitor to your gender. Is our message alienating entire groups of people, including women?”


“Ashes to ashes, dust to white liberal feminism,” wrote LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant, associate professor of Africana studies at Williams College, in an impassioned open letter noting that white feminists now shared the kind of fears long known to black women.

Rather than playing down race, these women argue it’s essential to recognize its interconnection with feminism. Allowing racism to fester, they say, threatens not only black women but also white women, because it encourages white nationalism, which is also hostile to women’s rights.

But building bridges across racial and ethnic lines requires white feminists to understand that their experience is not universal, Professor Manigault-Bryant said. And it means defining women’s issues as broadly as possible.

“Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box”: A problem for professional philosophy?

Here are some relevant claims which track a line of thought from cancer to a problem for professional philosophy.

(1) Aromatase inhibitors, very commonly used in post-op treatment for breast cancer patients, lower available estrogen.

(2) Lower estrogen means less available dopamine.

(3) Less available dopamine creates some cognitive problems.

You can find these three discussed on this blog here  One thing I had discovered before learning about aromatase inhibitors is that dopamine gives you your get-up-and-go.  Losing dopamine can bring you to a halt, at least in some ways.  I give an example in the earlier post.  I also note that a recent long  list of side-effects of aromatase inhibitors does not list any cognitive deficits, unless one counts depression and mood swings.

Another cognitive role dopamine has is giving one focus.  Less dopamine means less focus and filtering; more signals reach the frontal lobes where ‘executive functioning’ is located.  There’s more to think about, more to consider possibly relevant.  More technically, having fewer dopamine receptors in the thalamus means less filtering.  And that appears to be a central grounding for divergent thinking and creativity.

This grounding for creativity is not unproblematic, since in this respect schizophrenia appears to be caused in much the same way.  As a comment on recent work has it:

Now research from the Karolinska Institute has shed light on a possible connection to dopamine. Looking at the dopamine receptors (D2 receptors) of ‘highly creative’ people, they found that the dopamine systems were similar to those observed in people suffering with schizophrenia in particular. The researchers postulate that dopamine receptor genes may be linked to the capacity for ‘divergent thought’.

The study, which was led by one Dr Ullen and used psychological tests to measure divergent thinking, found specifically that ‘highly creative’ types, as with schizophrenics, demonstrated a low density of D2 receptors in the thalamus. The role of the thalamus, among other things, is as a ‘filter’ which decides which thoughts and which information should make it to the cortex for reasoning to take place.

Having fewer D2 receptors then might cause less signal ‘filtering’ meaning that you have more information available to the cortex and are better able to come up with ‘novel’ solutions as a result and to ‘think outside the box’. On the negative side however, these sometimes illogical associations and connections could also be partly responsible for the kind of thinking seen in schizophrenic patients.

As the original research paper has it, highly creative types think outside a less intact box.  And I think we should ask what will be the fate of  such types in today’s academic philosophy.  One part of the question concerns what journal referees will think of a paper with a number of original ideas commending different ways of looking at what the writer may think of as one topic, but the referees may not.  One might find the reports say things like “I just don’t get this,” or “Too implausible to publish.”  It may be very difficult for such a person to amass enough for a tenure case, given today’s stress on quantity of peer-reviewed items.  As someone remarked to me very recently in discussing this sort of situation, there may not be any peers for the work in question.

Hopefully the person in question will get help from grad school mentors.  In a more extreme case, if one or more powerful figures, recognising the creativity, get the person tenure despite a thin record, then the problem will be the lesser one of the resentment felt by others who cannot understand the work and don’t see why tenure was possible.  I know of one case like this.

One might want to say to the floundering scholar, picking up a paper with five significant new ideas, “Just pick one and developed complete arguments for it”.  That’s just what may be outside the person’s ability.  To use a vivid but regrettably unflattering analogy:  A very creative landscape artist might continually mess up colouring books.

Here’s the bottom line:  Some valuable philosophers may find our current standards of number of peer reviewed publications excessively difficult to meet.  One can now be almost too creative to be a professional philosopher.

Concluding comment:  I’ve sat in a number of discussions of why “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” doesn’t have any good arguments in it.  What would its fate be today?  Probably it would be foolish to try to answer this question, but we are fortunate to have it in the canon, since it’s got a number of great ideas in it.