Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Dearth of Women in Philosophy

Martha Nussbaum in 2008

Women occupy 25 per cent of the posts in university philosophy departments across the United Kingdom. The figures are similar throughout the anglophone world. In the United States the proportion is 21 per cent, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have fewer than 30 per cent women philosophers. This makes philosophy an outlier among humanities subjects. Half a century ago, all university departments employed far fewer women than men. But this kind of imbalance has all but disappeared from areas such as English literature and history, and is nowadays largely restricted to the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Philosophy stands out in continuing to appoint about three times as many men as women to academic posts.

What is the explanation for this peculiarity, and should it be a matter of concern? These two questions are interlinked. How far philosophy’s gender imbalance is bad depends on its causes. If it were the result of simple discrimination against women, for instance, then it would not only be unjust, but it would also be preventing some of the best-suited people from working as philosophers. But it is not obvious that discrimination is the right explanation, and it should not be taken for granted that any other causes for the imbalance would be similarly unacceptable.

There certainly was a time when prejudice kept women out of philosophy. When I was a student in Cambridge at the end of the 1960s, we agitated for various academic changes, including the replacement of unseen examinations by assessed coursework. The suave senior philosopher deputed to serve on our reform committee was sympathetic, but felt that there was no way round what he was pleased to dub the “boyfriend problem” – what was to stop some female undergraduate getting her cleverer male companion to write her papers for her? Another of our teachers was blunter. “Women are no good at philosophy”, he told one of my female friends, who understandably left the field to forge a career as a distinguished journalist.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Philosophy Professors on "Irrational Man"

"Irrational Man" is a movie, directed by Woody Allen, about a despondent philosophy professor who takes a position at a small-town college where he finds "the will to live.” Films featuring philosophy professors are rare, and though the movie is getting mixed reviews, it may signal a growing interest in philosophy. One can hope!

The Daily Nous has a post on what some philosophy professors think about a movie. Marcus Hedahl (US Naval Academy), Kristina Meshelski (CSU Northridge), James South (Marquette), and Daniel Weinstock (McGill) share thoughts about the movie. If you haven't seen it yet, beware! There are a few spoilers.

Read the conversation here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

University of KY's Philosophy Summer Camp

By Rachel Lorch

(July, 28, 2015) - Students participating in the Department of Philosophy’s inaugural summer camp tackled a wide range of topics including the differences between animals and people, ethics and the self and the nature of change.

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and supported by the College of Arts and Sciences, the week-long camp was run by four Ph.D. students passionate about the field and eager to share their love for philosophy with others. The camp drew a group of students ranging from 11 to 17-years-old who possessed a variety of backgrounds.

Caroline Buchanan, a Ph.D. student in the UK Department of Philosophy, spearheaded the camp’s creation. Outlining her main goals for the camp, Buchanan stated that she wanted to expose kids to the field, to show them what philosophy does and what questions it asks. Buchanan was also interested in giving students a chance to dig in and do a little philosophy of their own, bringing their questions and perspectives to the table.

“We encouraged them on the first day to think of a question that had been bothering them, a question about anything at all that they were just kind of stuck on, or that they thought was interesting and would like to try to figure out,” Buchanan said.

Read it all here.

What a terrific idea!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gender Bias in Academic Philosophy?

Elizabeth Anscombe

This appeared in The Guardian
25 July 2015

Only 25% of philosophy posts in UK universities are occupied by women. So what, if anything, should be done to redress the balance?
Does philosophy have a problem with women?

Mary Warnock, philosopher and writer
This question has been debated by women and men in philosophy for years, and last week became the cover story in the Times Literary Supplement. Of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members. Why should this be? How can the balance be redressed? On the whole I am very much against intervention, by quotas or otherwise, to increase women’s chances of employment, whatever the field, and there is nothing intrinsically harmful about this imbalance. I certainly don’t believe it shows a conscious bias against women. Nor that it can be explained by the supposition that, philosophy being concerned above all with arguments, women are naturally less adept in the field.

There may be some women who think emotionally rather than rationally; but, heaven knows, there are some men who do as well. Nor do I think that women dislike the idea of philosophy because of its supposedly adversarial style, its devotion to winning an argument rather than seeking truth or consensus. For I don’t think this style, when adopted in academic dispute, is peculiar to philosophy. No, I think that academic philosophy has become an extraordinarily inward-looking subject, devoted not to exposing and examining the implications of the way we think about the world, but to exposing instead deficiencies in the arguments of other philosophers. If you pick up a professional journal now, you find little but nitpicking responses to previous articles. Women tend to get more easily bored with this than men. Philosophy seems to stop being interesting just when it starts to be professional.

Julian Baggini, philosopher and writer

I agree there is little or no conscious discrimination against women in philosophy. But that is not to say there isn’t a great deal of unconscious bias. The puzzle is why this should be stronger in philosophy than in other disciplines. The answer, I think, is to be found in philosophy’s self-image. Philosophers have tended to have an inflated sense of their ability to “follow the argument wherever it leads”, as Plato’s old saw has it. What matters is the argument, not the arguer, which means there is no need even to think about gender or ethnicity. Philosophers have thus felt immune to the distorting effects of gender bias. Logic is gender-neutral, philosophy is logical, ergo philosophy is gender-neutral. I suspect this has led to complacency, a blindness towards all the ways in which, in fact, gender bias does creep in. It is a well-established finding in psychology that believing you are an objective judge actually makes your judgments less objective, and I’m sure philosophy suffers from this. I admit that this explanation for at least part of the under-representation of women in philosophy is somewhat speculative, but I would be interested to hear what you make of it.

Read it all here. The comments are interesting.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Popularity of Philosophy in Germany

In Germany, Philosophy appears to be gaining popularity. It is taught in high schools (Gymnasia) so many who choose to study it later already have had a positive experience.

According to this 2015 report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the enrollments in Philosophy courses at Tübingen increased by nearly one-third, to 1,600, in the past three years. The philosophy departments at Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, now have to impose limits on enrollments in Philosophy classes.

At the German universities it is not the norm to major in Philosophy alone. Students usually have at least one other major.

Another factor is the free education at the universities. This means there is less pressure to major in subjects that will help pay back student loans.

The German media also appears to be more sympathetic to philosophy, perhaps in recognition of the great contribution Germans have made in Philosophy.

These factors make the study of philosophy much more attractive to German students. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Reflections on America

"Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot."-- Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville’s four-volume Democracy in America (1835–1840) is commonly said to be among the greatest works of 19th-century political writing. Its daring conjectures, elegant prose, formidable length and narrative complexity certainly make it a masterpiece, yet exactly those qualities have together ensured, through time, that opinions greatly differ about the roots of its greatness.

Some observers cautiously mine the text for its fresh insights on such perennial themes as liberty of the press, the tyranny of the majority and civil society; or they focus on such topics as why it is that modern democracies are vulnerable to “commercial panics” and why they simultaneously value equality, reduce the threat of revolution and grow complacent.

Some readers of the text treat its author as a “classical liberal” who loved parliamentary government and loathed the extremes of democracy. More often, the text is treated as a brilliant grand commentary on the decisive historical significance for old Europe of the rise of the new American republic, which was soon to become a world empire.

Some observers, very often American, push this interpretation to the limit. They think of Democracy in America in almost nationalist terms: for them, it is a lavish hymn to the United States, a celebration of its emerging authority in the world, an ode to its 19th-century greatness and future 20th-century global dominance.

How should we make sense of these conflicting interpretations?
Read it all here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Philosophers Discuss Supreme Court Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges reveals a lack of clarity as to what marriage is. The Court's language suggests that the equality of civil unions requires calling two distinct things by the same name: marriage.

Civil partnerships of same-sex couples and male-female marriage are now on the same legal footing in all 50 states. That does not mean they are the same thing, however. We have yet to see how the courts, U.S. corporations, the media, etc. will hold these distinct entities in balance. Will the balance tilt toward the equality of unequal pigs described by George Orwell?

The Supreme Court decision breaks with international precedent. Other countries call the same-sex legal arrangement a "partnership" or a "pact" and in these nations the issue was resolved much more quickly and justly. There was never the confusion about how marriage is properly defined.

Norway has had "registered partnerships" since 1993.

Sweden has called them "registered partnerships" since 1994.

Hungary and Iceland have had "registered partnerships" since 1996.

France has called them “civil solidarity pacts” since 1999.

In Denmark “registered partnerships” were first recognized in 1998 as an alternative to marriage and an option for heterosexual couples. Adoption by homosexual couples was approved in 2000.

The Netherlands, Finland and Germany have had "registered partnerships" since 2001.

It is clear that gay and lesbian couples deserve spousal benefits. The majority of Americans are for fairness. However, the legal waters are muddy and there will be more law suits.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that hundreds of public officials in Texas were seeking guidance on how to implement what he called a flawed decision by an "activist" court. Thousands of county clerks in Texas who object to gay marriage can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because while the Supreme Court justices had "fabricated" a new constitutional right, they did not in Paxton's legal opinion diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

County clerks are elected officials. Many will refuse to issue licenses out of respect for the views of those who put them in office. Some will refuse on religious grounds to issue "marriage" licenses for same-sex couples. There will be more law suits.

The following philosophers have written brief comments about the Supreme Court decision:

Elizabeth Brake (Arizona State)
Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State)
Clare Chambers (Cambridge)
John Corvino (Wayne State)
Brook Sadler (South Florida)
Edward Stein (Cardozo)
Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green).

Read what these philosophers have to say here.

Related reading:  Native American Tribes Ban Gay Marriage