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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.

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