Interview with Charles Mills by George Yancy

In The Stone. A snippet:

C.M.: [. . .] Here in the United States, for example, we have the absurd situation of a huge philosophical literature on social justice in which racial injustice — the most salient of American injustices — is barely mentioned.

G.Y.: In your 1997 book, “The Racial Contract,” you discuss the concept of an “epistemology of ignorance,” a term which I believe you actually coined. What is meant by that term? And how do you account for the complete thematic marginalization of racial justice? Does an epistemology of ignorance help to explain it?

C.M.: Yes, I believe it does help to explain it, but first let me say something about the term. The phrasing (“epistemology of ignorance”) was calculatedly designed by me to be attention-getting through appearing to be oxymoronic. I was trying to capture the idea of norms of cognition that so function as to workagainst successful cognition. Systems of domination affect us not merely in terms of material advantage and disadvantage, but also in terms of likelihoods of getting things right or wrong, since unfair social privilege reproduces itself in part through people learning to see and feel about the world in ways that accommodate injustice. “Ignorance” is actively reproduced and is resistant to elimination. This is, of course, an old insight of the left tradition with respect to class. I was just translating it into a different vocabulary and applying it to race. So one can see the idea (and my later work on “white ignorance”) as my attempt to contribute to the new “social epistemology,” which breaks with traditional Cartesian epistemological individualism, but in my opinion needs to focus more on social oppression than it currently does.

Ignorance as a subject worthy of investigation in its own right has, by the way, become so academically important that next year Routledge is publishing a big reference volume on the topic, the “Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies,” edited by Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. The book covers numerous varieties of ignorance over a wide range of different areas and divergent etiologies, but my own invited contribution (“Global White Ignorance”) appears in the section on ignorance and social oppression. In this chapter, I argue that modernity is cognitively marked by a broad pattern in which whites generally endorse racist views (one type of ignorance) in the period of formal global white domination, and then (roughly from the post-World War II, decolonial period onward) shift to the endorsement of views that nominally decry racism, but downplay the impact of the racist past on the present configuration of wealth and opportunities (another type of ignorance). So remedial measures of racial justice are not necessary, and white privilege from illicit structural advantage, historic and ongoing, can remain intact and unthreatened. Insofar as mainstream “white” American political philosophy ignores these realities (and there are, of course, praiseworthy exceptions, like Elizabeth Anderson’s “The Imperative of Integration”), it can be judged, in my opinion, to be maintaining this tradition.

Upcoming training for the site visit program

The training for the site visit program will provide you with important information on assessing departmental climate, including legal issue.  Do consider signing up!

A second Site Visit Training Workshop will be held May 31, 2015 immediately following the Diversity in Philosophy Conference to be held at Villanova University, May 28-30, 2015.  To apply to participate in this workshop, please email Peggy DesAutels ( with a paragraph describing your interest in being trained as a site visitor and an attached CV.  Spaces in the workshop are limited.

Information about the training and the program is available here.  Note the comment from the University of Miami.


The APA Newsletter on Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies

The APA Newsletter on Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies has a new issue out.   Considering it must have gone to press some time ago, it may seem amazing that the topics are so up-to-the-minute.  However, more realistically, it illustrates that urgent current topics are also long-standing ones.


Here are some of the highlights:

Carole Lee’s article has tables calculating the relative representation of different demographic groups in philosophy and religious studies majors and humanities phd’s in the U.S.  It also discusses the possibility of a gender/race/ethnicity hierarchy in philosophy (in section 2), with Asian Americans being a “model minority.”

Samantha Brennan’s article talks about micro-inequities and Asian Americans.

Molly Paxton’s article distinguishes between structural and intellectual diversity in academic and the implications of this difference for instituting change.

“Eugene Park Was Right: Academic Philosophy Is Failing Its Cosmopolitan Values”

Bharath Vallabha has a post here about philosophical traditions, cosmopolitanism, and universality.

“The power of philosophy is that, by raising abstract questions about human beings, it generates inquiry to which any person can contribute, irrespective of their local, contingent situation. Universality is intrinsic to philosophy, and most philosophy classes in the Anglo-American tradition are taught with this aim of universality firmly in mind. How can ignorance of non-Western philosophy be compatible with this universal impulse of philosophy? How can Anglo-American philosophers claim to seek universal philosophical truths and concede that they are only aware of the Western philosophical tradition?”

“If most Anglo-American philosophers have “no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it,” then in what sense can they speak about philosophy itself, rather than just about Western philosophy?”

“So why are most Anglo-American philosophers content to just continue the debates they inherited from their teachers, who inherited them from their teachers, and so on? Park articulated the urgent need to bring Western and non-Western philosophers into dialogue. Where is the urgency to do that on the part of most Anglo-American philosophers, not for the sake of minorities, but for the sake of their own growth as philosophers and world citizens?”

“According to Leiter, minorities should go beyond their traditions and engage with Western philosophy, but the only thing Western philosophers have to do is to continue on with the internal momentum of Western philosophy. In fact, they must guard it from being corrupted by the “consumer demands” of minorities.”

“It is understandable that Descartes and Kant in the 17th and 18th centuries did not engage with non-Western philosophy; after all, they wrote within a culture of colonialism. But what is the excuse for contemporary Anglo-American philosophers? Especially now that advances in civil rights, immigration, and technology have made our society more open than ever? Enlightenment philosophers stood ahead of their culture, prodding their contemporaries to look beyond their local traditions to a global world.

Contemporary Anglo-American philosophers, however, are lagging behind their culture, even as our global society hungers for new ideas.”

Help Fund PIKSI!

For nine years, PIKSI, or the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute, has been helping students from underrepresented groups develop the skills, confidence, and community needed to pursue graduate study in philosophy. Our students include women, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and people from economically disadvantaged communities.

But PIKSI now needs financial help.

PIKSI has traditionally received two sources of funding. The program is housed at the Pennsylvania State University’s Rock Ethics Institute, who together with Pennsylvania State University School of Liberal Arts, have pledged to continue their partial financing of PIKSI, conditional upon funding from a partner organization. Until recently the American Philosophical Association (APA) has co-funded PIKSI, but beginning 2014, this is no longer funding we can count on.

Go here to help!

Chris Lebron Interviewed at 3:AM: “The Colour of Our Shame”

You can read the interview here.

“Chris Lebron is a philosopher who asks deep questions about theories of justice appropriate for race. He thinks about bridging the gap between abstraction and lived experiences, about American democracy and racial inequality, marginalisation and oppression, about the idea of character and how it helps explain racial inequality, about the problem of social value, about why Rawls isn’t enough, about ‘white power’, about despair and blame, about perfectionism and egalitarianism, about soulcraft politics, about three principles of racial justice and about the lamentable number of black philosophers currently working in the Academy. Give this one the time of day to sink in, then reboot…”

Important observations on (lack of) diversity and boundary policing in philosophy

From Eric Schliesser and Bryce Huebner.


Blacks make up just 1.32 percent of the total number of people professionally affiliated (as grad students or faculty) with U.S. philosophy departments.
Approximately 0.88 percent of U.S. philosophy Ph.D. students are black.
Approximately 4.3 percent of U.S. tenured philosophy professors are black.
Of black philosophy Ph.D. students in the U.S., half are female. That is about double the rate of the U.S. philosophy Ph.D. student population as a whole.
The distribution of black female Ph.D. students across philosophy Ph.D. programs is much lower than black males. Specifically, 69 percent of black female Ph.D. students are at Penn State.
The top areas of specialization for U.S. black philosophers are (1) Africana, (2) Race, (3) Social and Political, (4) Ethics, and (5) Continental philosophy…every time we treat the LEMM as the CORE parts of philosophy (recall) and every time we mock SPEP-style Continental philosophy, we are, in effect, also (further) marginalizing (insulting, demeaning, etc.) the majority of BIPs. Every time you are a bystander to this, you are very likely complicit to making matters worse when it comes to the status of BIPs. –


The kinds of critical race theory and the kind of continental philosophy that are commonly taught at Penn State are precisely the kinds of philosophy that tend to be dismissed, rejected, and marginalized by philosophers working at fancier institutions. Assuming that there is a stable practice of treating this kind of work as “not really philosophy,” we should expect these judgments to serve a gatekeeping function, keeping Black women out of academic philosophy, or at least keeping them from getting jobs at the ‘best’ PhD granting institutions.

What is the State of Blacks in Philosophy in the US?

A very important study.

This research note is meant to introduce into philosophical discussion the preliminary results of an empirical study on the state of blacks in philosophy, which is a joint effort of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Black Philosophers (APA CSBP) and the Society of Young Black Philosophers (SYBP). The study is intended to settle factual issues in furtherance of contributing to dialogues surrounding at least two philosophical questions: What, if anything, is the philosophical value of demographic diversity in professional philosophy? And what is philosophy? The empirical goals of the study are (1) to identify and enumerate U.S. blacks in philosophy, (2) to determine the distribution of blacks in philosophy across career stages, (3) to determine correlates to the success of blacks in philosophy at different career stages, and (4) to compare and contrast results internally and externally to explain any career stage gaps and determine any other disparities.

A philosophy conference so diverse it merited a news story

The Diverse Lineages of Existentialism meeting was a far cry from a typical philosophy conference. In a discipline dominated by white men, this conference hosted as many women as men and a large number of people of color along with white participants. In a discipline often characterized by its esoteric isolation from public and politics, instead there was outpouring of conversations about social justice and lived human experience. Given the recent public and professional conversations about the lack of diversity in philosophy, the Diverse Lineages of Existentialism (DLE) conference is a hopeful glance into the future of the discipline – one that is long overdue and necessary if philosophy is to continue as a viable and relevant living and growing field, both in the academy and in the public imagination.

More here.