Kate Norlock’s essay “Can’t Complain” (appearing in the Journal of Moral Philosophy) is featured in an online discussion at PEA Soup. The essay catches at just what we’re doing and maybe accomplishing when we complain and PEA Soup is open for your inquiries and comments!
Last year I wrote a post reflecting my view that Rebecca Tuvel had been drafted as symbolic stand-in for a host of disciplinary issues and now I find my reactions much the same regarding the recent essay and guest post by Shen-yi Liao over at Daily Nous. Some details, first.
Professor Liao posted an essay describing his recent efforts to create a novel introduction to philosophy course, one that engaged students in much recent work on biases, silencing, slurs, and a cluster of related issues. Liao detailed some of the responses from students he received and was moved to post about it in part because he took these responses as evidence that pre-college assumptions about what philosophy is and can do are strong – indeed, that students may arrive at college with assumptions about the discipline that work to promote less interest in demographically underrepresented students. So, the post had a twofold purpose: Share some creative pedagogy and query how intro courses might shake loose assumptions that discourage participation by a broader range of students.
This morning I was excited to see a posting regarding a new anthology in my field, Chinese philosophy. But then I looked through the table of contents only to have one more of those too-familiar moments of deep discouragement.
In my area of philosophy, it remains commonplace for women scholars to be underrepresented in the typical fora of scholarly conversation. Edited volumes, conferences, and such will often include a woman, but too often it is just that: a woman, one woman among a roster full of men. That by itself is discouraging given the number of talented women philosophers and scholars in the field, but what I want to address here is something I have found far more discouraging. Some conferences and edited volumes with this pattern or low representation of women also include a particular man – David Tien – whose presence among the “elect” selected for these projects something that renders the scarcity of women not just discouraging but an affront.
Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be a philosopher and awaking today to read a couple of philosophers making the news in defense of Roy Moore, this is just going to be one of those days. Roy Moore is of course a candidate for the US Senate from Alabama. He has been accused by multiple women of having sexually harassed or assaulted them in the 1970s – at the time of the reported incidents Moore was in his 30s and the women in their teens, one as young as 14. Some philosophers are unconflicted about how this ought impact Moore’s chance at election – they want him to win anyway.Read More »
The most recent installment of “What is it like to be a philosopher?” features Rebecca Tuvel. In it, she describes her development as a feminist philosopher and her experience of the controversy surrounding her article on transracialism in Hypatia. Read it here.
With fall semester approaching, remember the new teaching resource, The Deviant Philosopher. If you’re looking for ways to liven up your courses with work from diverse philosophical sources, check out some of the possibilities included there. Even better, as you’re preparing your courses, if you have “deviant” approaches already in play, consider submitting them to The Deviant Philosopher – share your strategies with others!
Everything you need to know and a contact tab for any questions can be found here. Submitting work is easy and, since you’re already preparing, you should share your wealth!
Some highlights from the existing database:
A spectrum of possibilities for teaching women philosophers in Greek philosophy from Jerry Green.
Ways to enhance your class on Modern philosophy with Modern women from Liz Goodnick.
A full unit from Robin Zheng on teaching sexual preferences.
A creative approach to setting students onto diverse research paths from Kate Norlock.
Teaching Marilyn Frye’s “Oppression” as a critique of hedonism from Emily McRae.
There’s much more there and we hope you’ll submit more!
Brian Leiter has posted my name on a list of people he claims tried to “destroy” Hypatia. I write here under a pseudonym but I am Amy Olberding. I’ve outed myself before, also under provocation from Leiter, and I now do so again for two reasons.
First, I protest Leiter’s characterization of me and want to provide people an opportunity to judge for themselves. Because I do blog under a pseudonym, I have no idea if Leiter’s accusations about my role in Hypatia using my name will associate for many with who I am on this blog – i.e., “Prof Manners.” So, for the record, all of my public comments on the Hypatia situation are here, here, and here. In them, my consistent plea was for greater calm and kindness to all involved. Moreover, for clarity, I made no social media posts or otherwise communicated about the issue other than what you see in these public statements – i.e., my private conduct is reflected in the public statements.
Second and far more importantly, I do not wish to talk here about Hypatia. I want to talk about Brian Leiter. Upon my posting the “Have Mercy” entry (second link above), he sent me an email with the subject heading “your latest dishonesty.” Since I was unaware of having any earlier “dishonesty” to which he could refer, this came as some shock, as did his remarks about my “general rudeness.” I did not reply. However, now I find that he has included me by name on a list of bad actors he says tried to “destroy” Hypatia and I am not content to forego reply.
The crisis at Hypatia is just the latest occasion to have people in philosophy attesting to being fearful. Fear has become a driver in philosophical discourse, particularly online. The proliferation of pseudonymous participation, anonymous participation, and the entire logic of the various metablog phenomena speak to this. People want to talk but are uneasy and fearful of doing so with their names attached. People also shy away altogether, participating only as readers and, presumably, fleeing philosophy’s online spaces altogether. With the crisis at Hypatia, fear is re-fueled and amplified. People now attest to fear not just of participating in online spaces but of having their work itself exposed to others. Many worry that one effect of the Hypatia situation is that less diverse work will appear in journals because authors won’t be confident writing it and journal editors won’t be confident publishing it. Fear will contract the field yet more.
Brian Leiter has now posted a list of the names of the signatories to the petition to Hypatia regarding Rebecca Tuvel’s article. He characterizes the petition as outrageous and invites them to either explain themselves or retract.
I would like to enjoin the profession as a whole to cease with these degrading displays. Shot through far too much of these debates is an eagerness to treat other people as shiny objects we can publicly display for the comment and opinion of others. And each new presentation of a shiny object detracts from long overdue attention to systemic issues in the profession, indulging instead in treating individuals as culpable for collective action problems and challenges associated with our unhappy professional culture. Aside from the offensive futility in managing our problems in this way, there is something deeply disingenuous in characterizing one group of people as a mob and then holding them up to mob reaction. If you don’t like “mobbing,” then don’t contribute to this and don’t invite it.
More generally, surely there can be more than the comically simplistic presentation of two sides here. The tendency to present these complex systemic (systemic!!!) issues as bifurcating into nameable good guys and bad guys insults us all, and some far more than others. We do not need to create demons when they haunt us all via the long legacies of awful in our profession. It is possible to feel great concern and humanity for all who have been affected by this. It is possible to see all of the issues raised here as incredibly vexed and radically difficult to address. It is possible not to want anyone involved to suffer more or to be held up to further opprobium. None of these possibilities will be realized if we don’t stop looking for shiny objects to sully and start talking about the systemic issues involved.
I’ve watched the last few days as philosophy social media and now blogs lit up with the crisis at Hypatia over Rebecca Tuvel’s article on transracialism. (Summary of some of the commentary here.) Throughout, I have been dismayed by the way that people I respect or whose work I admire have taken out after each other, engaging in pugilistic, hostile, sneering interactions that now apparently pass for debate. Along the way I acquired a more current insult vocabulary by osmosis. I learned that calling someone “Becky” is an insult, among other things.
There are a host of thorny and complex issues attached to the debates raging on social media and blogs elsewhere. I do not want to engage those here. But here is something I do want to say, a plea, if you will… And, given the heat that surrounds all of this, I feel obliged to render explicit that I here speak only for myself, not for any other bloggers on this site.
The profession of philosophy has a host of problems that are amply in evidence in all of these debates. This list would, in my opinion, include: a long history of exclusionary practices coupled with free theorizing about lives utterly unlike those led by people allowed into the professional guild; self-serving myths about quality control and the quality of arguments, a set of standards we regularly fail to fulfill even as we suspiciously trot them out whenever something new (to “us”) comes down the pike; demographic narrowness that should provoke serious worry that our efforts to address philosophical issues is compromised by homogenous experiences, epistemic patterns, and social situation; journal practices that are sub-optimal in more ways than can readily be summarized; quasi-professional spaces – social media and blogs – that operate like the wild west and leave many misanthropic and alienated, and too often target the vulnerable; failures to address or acknowledge how philosophy and activism can intersect or, at the very least, how philosophical commitments and activism legitimately operate in a recursive loop for at least some philosophers; how dubious gate-keeping practices are a perennial phenomenon within the profession and one we too often refrain from analyzing carefully, much less address coherently; a climate in which philosophers across the spectrum of values and identities attest to be fearful of the ire and contempt of peers, of being subject to conversational and professional practices that savage; and… there is more.
Here, then, is my plea: Please stop symbolically conscripting Rebecca Tuvel into the role of personifying all of these systemic issues that attach to the profession at large. I here do not wish to weigh in on the quality of Tuvel’s scholarship; what I want is to urge that we cease treating her article and her as the personification of issues that are all over the discipline. I here issue no judgment of Tuvel’s work but ask that we all recognize this: Even if you judge Tuvel to have done all of the things that have been laid at her door, she would not be unique in any of them. The problems that have been attached to her, that she has come to singularly personify in all these debates, are ones that her own critics would, I think, freely acknowledge exist all over the discipline. Yet she has been uniquely singled out for public opprobrium.
Behaving as if solving the “Tuvel problem” will alter the deep problems we have conscripted her into personifying is, I believe, to wrong her. But even if you disagree with me about that and imagine that what she has likely endured the last few days is wholly warranted by what she wrote, consider the litany of problems above, consider the litany of systemic problems we have conscripted her into personifying and ask whether addressing her solves any of those problems. I don’t think it does. Worse, it risks certifying as acceptable laying the mountain of our profession’s problems on one untenured scholar. To be clear, we heap burdens on scholars in inequitable ways with a disturbing frequency – our professional gate-keeping is one iteration of how we do this. Treating one scholar, one untenured woman scholar, as the symbolic personification of the profession’s ills – raising petitions against her work, engaging in public insult of her (see: Becky), and so forth – will not fix what ails us. It is a symptom of what ails us. And what ails us is legion.