In his first work, published in 1747, Immanuel Kant cites the ideas of another philosopher: a scholar of Newton, religion, science, and mathematics. The philosopher, whose work had been translated into several languages, is Émilie Du Châtelet.
Yet despite her powerhouse accomplishments—and the shout-out from no less a luminary than Kant—her work won’t be found in the 1,000-plus pages of the new edition of The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. In the anthology, which claims to trace 2,400 years of philosophy, the first female philosopher doesn’t appear until the section on writing from the mid-20th century. Or in any of the other leading anthologies used in university classrooms, scholars say.
Also absent are these 17th-century English thinkers: Margaret Cavendish, a prolific writer and natural philosopher; Anne Conway, who discusses the philosophy of Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza in The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (which is influenced by the Kabbalah); and “Lady” Damaris Masham—the daughter of a Cambridge Platonist and a close friend of John Locke who published several works and debated ideas in letters she exchanged with the German mathematician and philosopher G.W. Leibniz.
Despite the spread of feminism and multiculturalism, and their impact on fields from literature to anthropology, it is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.
Andrew Janiak, an associate professor of philosophy at Duke University, was a graduate student in the 1990s when he came across Kant’s startling reference to Madame Du Châtelet. “I remember thinking: Did he really mean Madame?” Janiak said. “It was the only time I’d seen a philosopher refer to the ideas of a woman.”
Now, Janiak and a team of Duke students and researchers, along with colleagues at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have launched a site that features the forgotten voices of women philosophers, giving academics and students a rare opportunity to study and promote their work.
More on reclaiming the role of women in the canon May 14, 2015
McGinn, Miami, Harassment, and Institutional Betrayal April 28, 2015
Many of you will have already seen this story, published earlier today by the Miami New Times, on the University of Miami’s handling of accusations of harassment against Colin McGinn. As the article notes, the New Times reviewed hundreds of messages between McGinn and the student who was subject to his advances while researching the story. What they found reveals a familiar pattern in universities’ handling of sexual misconduct—institutional betrayal. (Note: Miami has also been in the news recently for giving a student found responsible for sexual assault merely a one semester suspension as a sanction.) The story paints a picture of a woman not only harmed by being subject to excruciatingly inappropriate sexual advances by someone who she hoped might be her mentor and the beginning of a strong professional network, but further by her university seeking to expeditiously extract itself from a difficult situation without consideration for their responsibilities to her nor for the effects their way of handling it would have on her wellbeing and her future. The university chose to ask McGinn to resign for violating their consensual relationship policies—sidestepping a more complicated process—while the student contends there was nothing consensual about it:
Claire’s big break came two days before the end of her first semester, on the afternoon of December 12, 2011, when she received an email from McGinn. “I want you to be my official research assistant (with pay! but not much),” he wrote.
That was at 1:36 p.m. She quickly responded: “I would be absolutely delighted…! It would be great to work with you. I really enjoy our conversations.”
For the rest of the afternoon, Claire’s thoughts raced. She pictured herself cowriting books and papers with McGinn. Careers in philosophy are hard to come by, but with such a mentor, everything seemed within reach — especially when McGinn said he would turn her into a genius.
Claire couldn’t wait. That evening, she began finger-painting. Around 7 p.m., she emailed her new boss, relating the art to their research. “I have started a painting of some hands,” she wrote. “More like I am painting the hand using the hand as a tool.”
The response came as a shock: “I would love to see your paintings and your messy hands. It sounds somewhat erotic (I have a wide definition of the erotic).”
The word “erotic” glared at her from the laptop screen. The twinge of unease would deepen during the next nine months. In hundreds of messages reviewed by New Times, the illustrious, 63-year-old, married professor repeatedly used terms like “slight erection,” “handjob,” and “Lolita,” which he said was his favorite book. He even asked Claire to have sex with him — “three times over the summer when no one is around.”
Claire contends she tried to deflect McGinn’s advances by steering conversation to their research. But McGinn wouldn’t let up, she says. She lost weight from the stress. Her passion for philosophy waned, and for the first time, she began turning in assignments late.
So on September 14, 2012, Claire did what she calls “one of the most difficult things I have done.” She accused the most famous philosopher in the department of sexual harassment. She submitted his offensive emails to Wilhemena Black, the coordinator who oversees the university’s compliance with Title IX, a landmark federal statute that prohibits schools receiving financial aid from the Department of Education from discriminating by gender or allowing sexual harassment.
Thirty-five days later, UM officials ruled there was insufficient evidence. Instead, they accused McGinn of the more tepid “failure to disclose a consensual romantic relationship.”
McGinn didn’t tarry. He resigned before he could be found officially responsible for anything, then took to the internet to proclaim his innocence. This spurred a spate of high-profile stories about the case from Slate, the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. Claire — whom New Times has given a pseudonym because she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment — declined their requests for comment but spoke to New Times for the first time.
“I never slept with him or had sexual contact with him. I never even kissed him. So how was his obsession consensual or romantic?” Claire says. “I came to UM to learn and grow as a philosopher, not to have my professor tell me he had an erection when he thought about me and found me a stimulating mental construct to masturbate to.”
Far too often universities approach sexual misconduct as if the primary concern is risk management for their own brand, rather than as a matter of community justice and equal educational opportunity, and it seems (unsurprisingly, but nonetheless, wrongly) that’s what happened here. The handling described by the New Times is precisely the kind of response that can severely exacerbate trauma and discourage victims from reporting–it also raises serious questions about Miami’s compliance with the law.
Three (!) new articles on Women in Philosophy March 10, 2015
Check them out!
Why Do Female Students Leave Philosophy? The Story from Sydney
Tom Dougherty, Samuel Baron andKristie Miller
The Stereotype Threat Hypothesis: An Assessment from the Philosopher’s Armchair, for the Philosopher’s Classroom
Good for Duke and Project vox March 9, 2015
Project Vox seeks to recover the lost voices of women who have been ignored in standard narratives of the history of modern philosophy. We aim to change those narratives, thereby changing what students around the world learn about philosophy’s history.
H/T Charlotte Witt on Facebook.
The table of contents is here, and the following is from the introduction:
The editors are convinced that work on the history of women philosophers is integral to the development of philosophy as a discipline. As women have become better represented in the academy, they have turned to issues of relevance to women. But philosophy has lagged behind other humanities disciplines in appointing women. There is disagreement over the reasons for this, but it is arguable that philosophy’s own self-image continues to be tainted by a conception of objectivity that universalises men’s perspectives. Forty years ago, when feminists first fought to include feminist theory as an area of teaching and research within philosophy, feminism was opposed as not ‘objective.’ In reaction to this, works such as Lloyd’s The Man of Reason and the papers in Harding and Hintikka’s Discovering Reality, among many others, challenged simplistic notions of ‘objective reason’. The results were, however, not entirely positive for the inclusion of women within philosophy, but encouraged the abandonment of philosophy in favour of literature, or women’s studies, where methods were apparently less ‘masculine.’
The very fact that a journal like The Monist is now publishing an issue on the history of women’s contributions to philosophy is evidence that much has changed in the past forty years. As Waithe, Hutton, and Hagengruber demonstrate in their contributions, a growing number of women are now recognised as having engaged with philosophical problems in the past, some have left works which have been the object of contemporary scholarship, and some of these have been re-edited in contemporary editions. All this should facilitate the ongoing integration of their works into the canon. Moreover, work on historical women philosophers has important implications for our understanding of the history of our culture, what counts, or should count, as philosophy, the shape that the canon ought to take, and the criteria for truth and reason in a nonsexist society. Jonathan Rée concluded his early discussion, “Women Philosophers and the Canon,” with the comment that integrating women philosophers into the history of philosophy would “require a reconfiguration of philosophical inquiry itself and a systematic reworking of its relations to its future and its past.” We agree.
The papers we present here manifest some of the differing approaches that might be taken to the history of women’s contribution to philosophy.
Jennifer Saul on women in philosophy in phil magazine February 28, 2015
In the latest issue of Philosopher’s Magazine Jennifer Saul describes the dearth of women in philosophy, lists a number of causes and describes some remedial steps. The result is a great introduction to a very serious problen in the philosophy profession. It’s also a quick refresher course for those who’ve pick up this material in bits and pieces.
In the UK, women are 46% of undergraduate students in philosophy, but only 24% of permanent staff. Women are approximately 21% of professional philosophers in the US, but only 17% of those employed full-time. These figures are very unlike those for most fields of the humanities, in which women tend to be near or above parity with men. Indeed, they more closely resemble mathematics and physical sciences (biological sciences are much closer to parity). One recent study by Kieran Healy showed philosophy to be more male than mathematics, with only computer science, physics and engineering showing lower percentages of women.
We’re recognized a number of times in this blog that there are other features that can provoke discriminatory reactions in philosophy: disability, race, not having English as your first language, class and being in the glbt community. And no doubt more my memory is not bringing to the fore. O, and then there’s ageism, which I think we don’t discuss much. You are welcome to take note of any of these in discussion.
BPA/SWIP Good Practice Scheme February 19, 2015
Readers may recall that the BPA and SWIP jointly rolled out a set of good practice guidelines for women in philosophy. Departments were invited to consider signing up for them in full or in part. I’m very pleased to say that Helen Beebee has just posted an initial list of departments that have signed up to the guidelines so far! A few of these have links to their own pages on how they have implemented the policies. More links are coming soon, as they are sent to us. And anecdotally I’ve heard great reports of really productive discussions taking place across the country as the guidelines are being considered.
Civility v. Freedom? Or something else? February 7, 2015
Daily Nous reported that Marquette University is seeking to fire McAdams, and discusses academic freedom in a separate post here. Further discussion of these events is taking place at the Academe Blog (the blog of the AAUP, though its bloggers note the posts may not represent the official position of the organization):
Competence and integrity “in the current case,” as Holz puts it, demand that McAdams refrain from “sham[ing] and intimidat[ing] [a graduate student teacher] with an Internet story that was incompetent, inaccurate, and lacking in integrity, respect for other’s opinions, and appropriate restraint.” In Holz’s telling, McAdams need not exercise appropriate restraint because doing so would foster a more civil discourse—that would be the deeply problematic civility narrative. Rather, he needs to do so because this is how you help graduate students develop as teachers, a key part of faculty members’ jobs at a university: “it is vital for our university and our profession that graduate student instructors learn their craft as teachers of sometimes challenging and difficult students.” Whenever faculty choose to take an interest in graduate students’ teaching, those student instructors have a reasonable expectation of “appropriate and constructive feedback in order to improve their teaching skills.” McAdams made no effort to offer constructive feedback before or after condemning Abbate as a teacher, by name, on his public blog.
After listing several incidents of a similar flavor, Holz concludes that “with this latest example of unprofessional and irresponsible conduct [Marquette has] no confidence that [McAdams] will live up to any additional assurances . . . that [he] will take seriously [his] duties to respect and protect [Marquette] students, including [Marquette] graduate student instructors.”
. . . Academic freedom is a license to say whatever one please in one’s research and non-institutional, extramural communications. It needs to remain such, as this license guarantees the very possibility of inquiry. And there are of course grey areas, where the limits of academic freedom are unclear. The AAUP often intervenes in these areas in the service of protecting speech rights—and rightly so. Defending faculty speech rights makes the project of a modern university possible. But so does helping students develop.
It is true that, as a matter of principle, the academic freedom central to the very idea of a university trumps civility. But McAdams’ is not a case of academic freedom under siege. His is a case of an abusive professor persistently, up to the present day, refusing to acknowledge any special obligation to the development of a graduate student at his university.
We only harm ourselves in working to add this sorry story to the record of CIVILITY v.FREEDOM.
A question for philosophy and its teaching February 4, 2015
I found the following video through a link to an issue of Nautilus on beauty and creativity on Daily Nous. It has long worried me that philosophy classes so often value the polished analytic answer, while creativity might not direct us there at first, or perhaps ever.
One example of the sort of thing that worries me. In some reading group, I think at Rutgers, someone said that Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism contained no good arguments. I think most people agreed, though one would be hard put to deny that it is full of important and highly influential ideas. Do we manage to teach, and to convey, that in philosophy ideas may be at least as important as good arguments and perhaps even more so? I wondered this just recently as I saw a group of young philosophers espousing working all the time on philosophy.
Anjan Chatterjee, the speaker in the video below, has recently published The Aesthetic Brain He holds a degree in philosophy, but he is head of Neurology at the U of Pennsylvania’s Hospital.
Anyway, see what you think: