CFA: Reconsidering the Philosophical Canon (Duquesne)

April 23, 2016
Duquesne University

Keynote Speaker: Penelope Deutscher, Professor of Philosophy, Northwestern University

Duquesne Women in Philosophy (D-WiP) and the Duquesne chapter of Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) invite philosophical papers on the question of reconsidering the philosophical canon. Given the recent discussions on the limitations of the philosophical canon, we aim to facilitate a discussion on the future directions of philosophy, how we may reconsider our reading of the history of philosophy and the question of canonicity. Papers are welcome from historical perspectives as well as from within contemporary philosophical discourse. We invite abstract submissions of maximum 500 words to by March 7, 2016. Allotted presentation time will be 20 minutes.

Possible areas of exploration include:

  • women in the history of philosophy
  • philosophy done from minority perspective in the history of philosophy
  • intersection of race and gender in the history of philosophy
  • attempts in contemporary philosophy of reformulating the North American and European philosophical canon
  • historical or critical approaches to the modernity in terms of canonization of philosophical texts
  • feminist writings on the philosophical canon
  • problems of race and racism in Modern philosophy

This conference is generously sponsored by Minorities and Philosophy (MAP), Duquesne Programming Council (DPC), and the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy

An anonymous guest post:


Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.


But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.


Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.


For the survivors:


The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.


It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.


For the speculators:


Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.


So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.


It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

So You Want To Be Inclusive

A reader is asking for guidance on creating inclusive events.  Their problem?  Not every attempt to be inclusive works.  So for those with experience, what strategies have proven reliable?  What can you do if your ideal conference line-up all decline the invitation?  What do you say if the colleague organizing this year’s colloquium series has pulled together a rather marginalizing list, despite your suggestions?  How do you translate the aspiration to be inclusive into actual inclusion?

A female colleague recently reached out to me about a lack of inclusivity in an academic setting. This got us talking about a variety of things. One thing was strategies for making conference/colloquium schedules more inclusive. I asked her for advice about this. She recommended that I reach out to you (all).

Context: We were talking about how there are a variety of ways in which even progressive departments and conferences (i.e., ones run by progressive people) fail to be inclusive. E.g., one otherwise inclusive department’s colloquium schedule does not feature any non-white non-male (etc.) speakers.

My own experience: Some of my attempts to be inclusive don’t pan out. And many of my second, third, etc. attempts don’t pan out either. In the moment, I felt like I am going out of my way to be inclusive and somehow not succeeding — I am sure there was more to it than this, as will become clear in a moment.

I am interested in brainstorming ways to be inclusive when putting together, say, conferences and colloquium schedules: anything that involves inviting scholars to participate in something, really. I have searched through this blog and gathered some ideas — I particularly enjoyed reading “I Dreamt Of An Inclusive Conference,” by the way. One idea is for conferences to be held online, eliminating some of the difficulties associated with attending a conference and thereby making it easier for people who might not otherwise be able to participate. Still, I imagine that there are all sorts of things that have not even occurred to me. (And in my more anxious moments, I worry about how I might be clueless to the fact that I am the (or part of the) problem).

Any guidance/correction/resources/etc. would be very much appreciated.

It seems to me that there are at least four separate stages worth considering:

  1. How are conference funds and organizing duties distributed within a department?  Who is making invitation decisions?  Are they responsive to criticism?
  2. If you have the opportunity to organize an event yourself, how should a desire to be inclusive affect the planning stages: the conception of the topic, the kind of event and how it will convene, the keynote selection, etc.?
  3. Once the event is in the works, how do you ensure representative participation?  Where and how do you advertise the CFA/CFP?  How are you evaluating the submissions you get?  Where and how do you announce the event to encourage outside attendance?  Should you engage in outreach?  Should some funds be reserved to facilitate attendance by those for whom attendance is difficult?
  4. As the event approaches, and as it’s underway, what should you do (and what resources should you set aside) to ensure that attendees are able to participate fully?  What instructions should chairs be given on managing the queue?  What can you do if the tenor of Q&A or discussion turns exclusive?

And a difficult question raised by the reader’s concern: what constitutes a good faith effort?  What should you do if attempts to be inclusive fail?  Can you reach a point where you’ve done all you can?

Thoughts?  Suggestions?

CHE: Why getting rid of predatory faculty can be so hard: addition

Tenure and the reactions of faculty peers can be a significant part of the problem, according to the CHE (in an artcle unfortunately behind a firewall):

Even a professor who is the subject of regular misconduct complaints often cannot be easily removed from a campus. Tenure protects many professors from quick dismissal. Their faculty peers, who are often charged with assessing whether an accused colleague bears responsibility, may view the cases as attacks on tenure. College leaders, who often don’t have the power to terminate a professor without consulting the faculty, may fear damage to their institution’s reputation. Students who experience harassment may not file complaints if they feel they have little chance of being taken seriously.


Nor, as the last sentence suggests, is the victim usually keen to file charges. As Mr Isicoff, the lawyer defending the University in the McGinn case, is quoted as saying, “you’re walking in with the odds largely stacked against you,” as a student.

Part of the solution may consist in steps taken before hiring, as the philosopher Heidi Lockwood said.

…Ms. Lockwood sees it. She said colleges can take clear steps to improve how they handle claims of misbehavior by professors. She recommended, among other changes, that colleges conduct harassment-specific background checks before hiring professors.

Added: I’ve just noticed that the article is utterly silent about the role – or lack of roles – for bystanders. I’m unhappy that I didn’t notice this right away and think we might put some effort into reminding ourselves we should be thinking of taking action. In the Macy case, for example, the situation was well known to a lot of people before formal complaints were made.

Getting our sh*t together

In light of today’s news of the lawsuit against Miami, and in light of Eric Schliesser’s post from a few days ago, I wanted to open a thread in the hopes of encouraging a conversation about what we can do better as a discipline in responding to problems of equity in our community. Conversations about sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination more broadly in philosophy are difficult. They are difficult because none of us are perfect. They are difficult because the subject matter is painful. They are difficult because social dynamics are such that some feel they cannot even public offer affirmation or support for victims without inviting retaliation or scrutiny upon themselves. They are difficult because some people who want to say something don’t know what to say. They are difficult because many still do not believe there is even much of a problem to discuss in the first place. They are difficult because some of us who want to be part of the solution have been problems ourselves. They are difficult because it feels like we have the same conversations over and over and don’t get very far. But I think it’s important to keep talking because, to be blunt, we need to get our sh*t together.

(I will moderate this thread — but I do invite conversation and reflection on the issues raised by Eric’s post mentioned above, affirmations of support for victims in philosophy, queries about how one can contribute to cultivating a healthier professional dynamic in the discipline, or suggestions.)

Reflections on running a women-only summer school in philosophy

Really interesting reflections from the organisers of the MCMP Summer School in Mathematical Philosophy.

Organizing such a summer school two years in a row does not yet allow us to draw conclusions about the impact this event has on the issue of female underrepresentation. However, we collected some data to address the more general question of how female students perceive philosophy as an academic discipline and themselves within that discipline. One striking result that seems to emerge from our data is that while female students do not necessarily see the immediate need and advantage of female-only events in advance, experiencing the event and being exposed to interaction and discussion with only female studies has a positive impact on them. While they initially consider the status quo as the ‘norm’ and acceptable, being exposed to a female-only event gives them a wholly new idea of how the experience of academia could be different. The experience allows them to compare such an environment to the status quo they encounter in their everyday university setting, which makes them see things differently. Female students who have experienced such a female-only environment can make their needs and worries explicit and voice concrete suggestions about how they think the academic environment should change to make it accommodating and comfortable for them.

Papineau v. Manne on Twitter

The snapshot below of the twitter exchange is pretty self explanatory. It might help to know that Papineau is referring to a letter from Manne that the TLS printed, with unfortunately one sentence ommitted that’s unfortunate because the ommitted sentence, as I underrstood it, went into some specifics about how philosophical combat works against women. This missing material is brought up in the exchange.

Part of Manne letter is copied here.

There was quite a bit more to the twitter exchange. I’m putting it up because it vivdly illustrates how a senior philosopher with a great deal of experience of academia, can be quite clueless about a powerful negative feature women face.

And I’d love to hear what you all think.

Unfortunately the links on the snapshot don’t work.


Yup, definitely being taken over by women

Over the last year, we have heard a lot about the feminist/women’s (there are different versions) takeover of philosophy. That line of thought is nicely put in perspective by the various other similar claims discussed here.

The idea of a gender perception gap is borne out by studies in other areas. In one study on gender parity in the workforce, sent my way by colleague Flavia Dzodan, it was found that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”

How do you give men the impression of a female majority? Show them a female minority, and let that minority do some talking. This is how 15 minutes of Fey and Poehler becomes three hours of non-stop “estrogen,” how a Congress that’s less than 19 percent female becomes a “feminized” and male-intolerant political environment, and how one viable female Presidential candidate becomes an unstoppable, man-squashing Godzilla. Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented; it follows that, as we approach actual parity, men (and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, for some reason) will increasingly believe that we are entering an era of female domination.

(Thanks, L!)

Papineau on Women in philosophy.

I am very grateful for the help various members of the blog provided.  I’ll try to list them tomorrow.

David Papineau has written a review of Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change? a collection of essays edited by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins for the TLS.  I think it is exceptionally difficult to review adequately an extended examination of biases and other obstacles encountered by a disadvantaged group if one is not a member of that group.  This problem is particularly severe when the examination reflects a number of viewpoints from members of the group which are elaborated with some exquisite detail.  So why did the TLS ask Papineau to write the review?  He does not have a history of distinguished contributions to the field of feminist philosophy, sociological treatments of bias and discrimination, and so on.

Well, who knows their actual reasons?  It might, however, be because they thought he’d write a thoughtful and fair review, as indeed I think he has.  Here his review contrasts markedly with recent discussions of microaggression, which are discussed below.  This was not my first impression, however, and so when I mention complaints, do remember that his task was actually exceptionally difficult.  Indeed, it isn’t clear to me he realized how difficult it was.

Let me first say that readers may want to pay particular attention to his discussion, both for the information conveyed and for the model of discourse that is presented.  Among other things, Papineau’s discussion reveals he has listened seriously to those invoking empirical research on implicit bias and stereotype threat.  He is critical of the role of aggressive discourse.  Perhaps most remarkably, he considers whether the typical topics of philosophical discourse should be enlarged to consider issues about, for example, power and gender.  Papineau’s comments argue an unusual ability to expand one’s imagination.

To take a more critical view: I will mention two problematic areas in his discussion:  1.  His view of the place of the excellence required by philosophy, and 2.  Two assumptions he makes about women in relation to philosophy.

The first:  Carol Dweck was one of the early theorists who saw a difference between two approaches to academic excellence.  One view is that achieving excellent is a matter of utilizing a talent existing independently of one’s training.  The other view is that the crucial factor is sustained long-term effort.  Which view one takes may not reflect any fundamental feature of the field.  If we take this idea to Sarah Jane Leslie’s thesis that philosophy’s image of itself has it requiring some sort of given brilliance, we can notice that the idea of inborn excellence may be a conceit of a field, but that does not mean it is true.  Indeed, I was extremely surprised to see blog discussions asserting that our field does require a high level of pre-existing intelligence. Papineau, who discusses Leslie, appears to take a realist’s view.   Such a view invites us to take biased pictures of the likely embodiment of such brilliance.  One would not be surprise if  most instances are male.

2.   The first:  the supposedly distinctive traits of women:  It doesn’t really matter whether or not in the end there turns out to be any real difference between women and men. The problem with positing that there is is that this is a claim that has been made so many times in ways that harm women’s interests that it ought to be handled with extreme caution. Papineau doesn’t show the caution needed.   Of course this doesn’t make his point malicious or sexist, but the assumption that women are relevantly different can be a huge distraction in solving the problem of women’s low participation.

The second assumption:  the problems of marginalised groups:  Papineau says,  “There are obvious reasons for wanting political institutions to include a suitable proportion of women and other under-represented groups. A similar case for affirmative action can be argued more widely, even for such technical professions as law and medicine. Good practice in these areas often demands familiarity with the problems of marginalized groups, as well as purely theoretical expertise. However, this line of thought has no obvious application to philosophy, or to snooker for that matter. On the face of things, neither profession has the function of representing particular groups.”   A contrary view is that philosophy is a valuable enterprise and its value lies in the way it helps us make sense of complex and troubling aspects of human existence and experience, and not just those problems shared by men of European origin.  [See comments 1 & 2 below]. Some time ago Lorraine Code observed that the concentration in epistemology on “S knows that P” abstracts epistemology from all the issues about why knowledge is important.  The progress fueled by her work and that of others shows how important a very wide array of viewpoints can be.  Similar points have recently been made against the idealizations so standardly employed in ethics, political philosophy or philosophy of science, at least until recently.

These two hypotheses together lead Papineau to say: ‘Even if we assume that women are voluntarily selecting themselves out of philosophy, as in snooker, and that there is no special social need that warrants affirmative action, as there may be in law and medicine, it does not yet follow that philosophy’s gender imbalance is benign.’  Such mere assumptions made in the context of a philosophical argument or an article of this sort may not be neatly confined to their context. They often spill over to subsequent debates. The thought of having to spend more time than is already necessary explaining to people why one shouldn’t assume that women are just less interested in philosophy and arguing that familiarity with the problems of the marginalized is important for doing good philosophy fills one with dismay.  That his review could have this outcome is unfortunate, given that it contains so many good points.