Is Philosophy Too “Stupid” For Women? (updated)

Is Philosophy Too “Stupid” For Women? (updated)


Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change?, a collection of essays edited by Katrina Hutchison (Macquarie) and Fiona Jenkins (ANU), is reviewed by David Papineau (KCL, CUNY) in The Times Literary Supplement. Papineau reviews the book with the question in mind of why there are so few women in philosophy. Things are not as overtly sexist as they were in the bad old days, he notes, so he entertains various other explanations. One is that philosophy is more likely to seem like a waste of time to women:

To take an analogy – which I hasten to add is limited – consider professional snooker. Even though women are eligible to compete as professionals, none is ranked in the top hundred. The six-times world champion, Steve Davis, has no doubt about the reason. It is not that women are incapable of the highest levels of skill. It is rather that as a group they are disinclined to devote obsessive effort to “something that must be said is a complete waste of time – trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick”. As Davis sees it, “practising eight hours a day to get to world championship level” ranks high among the “stupid things to do with your life”.

Perhaps Davis has a rose-tinted view of his colleagues. It would be surprising if the world of professional snooker were uniformly welcoming to women aspirants. And no doubt a few successful role models would swell the number of women in the professional game. But suppose that there is something to Davis’s theory, and that, even if these problems were solved, the mind-numbing rigours of practice would still dissuade most women. Would this be bad? It is hard to see why. The rewards for the top snooker players are considerable. But, if they come at the cost of a lifetime spent hitting coloured balls, and if women are less ready to pay this price than men, then who is to say they are wrong?

In some sought-after areas of employment, membership of a disadvantaged group can itself be a qualification, alongside any other abilities candidates may have. 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.

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. The crucial question is whether the costs that are turning women away are essential to the philosophical enterprise. Hours of practice may be a sine qua non for high-level performance in snooker. But the hoops that women philosophers need to go through may be irrelevant to philosophical excellence, and be serving only to reduce the supply of able philosophers.

Papineau then discusses the research by Sarah-Jane Leslie and others regarding how philosophy and other disciplines in which “raw talent” is thought necessary to succeed have fewer women. He adds:

I wonder whether a yet further mechanism might not be doing most of the damage. Philosophy and economics are both distinguished from similar disciplines by a marked tendency towards scholasticism. Much work in both subjects focuses on technical minutiae whose relevance to larger issues even the experts are hard pressed to explain. Of course, serious academic work need not always be transparent to the general public, but much in philosophy and economics isn’t even of interest to those in adjacent sub-disciplines. One doesn’t have to be an enthusiast for “impact” to suspect that the main point of much of this technical work is to enable young scholars to display the kind of super-smartness that their elders so prize. Placing a premium on brilliance creates a pressure to work in a style that requires it.

This may turn women away from the brilliance-prizing disciplines, not because they can’t play the game, but because they won’t. Most young people come into philosophy and economics because they want to address important issues, not to make the next move in a technical exercise. When they discover that they need to dance on the head of a pin to get a job, women and men are likely to react differently. Where many men will relish the competitive challenge and enjoy the game for its own sake, many women will see it as the intellectual equivalent of putting balls in pockets with pointed sticks, and conclude that they could be doing something better with their lives.

If this is the right diagnosis for the scarcity of women in philosophy, it raises fundamental questions about the nature of the subject.

He sums up his view:

The first task is to deal with the easy issues, and make sure good women philosophers are not being turned away for bad reasons. Then there is the admittedly harder task of deciding which topics deserve sustained philosophical attention and which do not. But once these matters have been dealt with, there seems no further reason not to let the gender numbers fall where they may.

The whole review is here.

UPDATE (7/24/15): The TLS has published letters to the editor in response to Papineau’s review. One is from from Kate Manne (Cornell):

Sir, – I was disappointed by David Papineau’s review of Women in Philosophy: What needs to change? edited by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins (July 17). Papineau points out that women’s underrepresentation in our field may have a benign explanation. This is of course possible. But it is not very likely, as a glance at some of the recent feminist scholarship in this area would serve to indicate – including, notably, work in the very volume which Papineau was reviewing, much of which received a surprisingly cursory treatment from him.

Work which played an important role in inspiring the volume – and is cited repeatedly throughout, including in the second sentence of the introduction – also sheds some light here. In a now famous paper, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy” (2008), Sally Haslanger argues that women’s under-representation in philosophy is plausibly due partly to the fact that disciplinary norms and gender norms often put women at crosspurposes. For women have less social permission to engage in the kind of aggressive intellectual combat which remains (for better or, probably, worse) standard in our discipline. Women are implicitly expected to manage social dynamics, not to try to win arguments or show others to be mistaken.

Papineau opines that in philosophy, as in snooker, men will tend to “relish the competitive challenge and enjoy the game for its own sake”, whereas women will be drawn to pursuits with more instrumental value. False modesty about the worth of our discipline aside, Papineau ignores the fact that many women clearly want to play the game – or would do, were we not subject to hostile and punitive reactions in doing so. As a result, being a woman in philosophy is often stressful and unpleasant – as the experiences shared on the well-known blog “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” amply demonstrate.

The same sorts of mechanisms likely serve to exclude members of other historically subordinated social groups, e.g., non-white, nonaffluent people, from philosophy as well. (The number of black philosophers, especially working in anglophone departments is staggeringly low.) As Kristie Dotson has argued, in another influential paper, “How is this Paper Philosophy?” (2012), the culture of justification so prevalent in our discipline plausibly plays an important role in this too. It disproportionately disadvantages those who do not enJoy the presumption that they have something to say for themselves.

There is also the fact that disagreeing with, challenging and correcting people is an inherently hierarchical exercise. One is typically not supposed to break the ranks of gender, race, or class in doing so, in the course of ordinary social life. And in philosophy, more than in any other discipline, attempts at intellectual throw-down are routine, even required – as Papineau recognizes, in noting that philosophy is unusually adversarial among humanities disciplines. Unfortunately, he fails to subsequently notice that this gives philosophy the potential to be exceptionally liberating for members of non-privileged groups. It is one of the ways to gain the intellectual resources to criticize and reject bad ideology, and resist oppressive social norms, pr,actices and institutions. So it matters to those of us in the discipline that we are here. And it matters for the growth of progressive social movements. This obviates Papineau’s conclusion that the lack of a gender balance in philosophy is not in itself a problem.

The sooner we acknowledge that some people pay higher social costs than others for challenging intellectual authority figures – hint: it helps if you look like one – the sooner we will be able to make progress towards the egalitarian goal of enabling anyone to challenge anyone else, intellectually. This, in my view, is one of the main things that would need to change in order to attract and retain the philosophical talent of many non-privileged people we are currently losing. And it will be a shame for our discipline, and social justice, if we fail in this.

KATE MANNE
Department of Philosophy, Cornell University.

The other is from Amia Srinivasan (Oxford):

Sir, – David Papineau writes that “good practice in [politics, law and medicine] often demands familiarity with the problems of marginalized groups”, but that “this line of thought has no obvious application to philosophy”. This is news to me. I would have thought that theorizing well about, say, inequality, pornography or racial hate crimes – to take a few central topics of philosophical interest – might require one to know something about being poor, a woman, or non-white. Insofar as philosophy is in the business of getting the world right, it would seem useful to have more philosophers who are acquainted with some of its less savoury aspects.

AMIA SRINIVASAN
All Souls College, Oxford.

(image: detail of “Paar im Gespräch” by Simon Glücklich)

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Jonathan Ichikawa
6 years ago

I am a bit puzzled by Papineau’s treatment of the ‘genius’ hypothesis. His piece reads as if he is endorsing the thoughts of the ‘commentors on the blogsphere’ mentioned here: “However, commentators on the blogosphere were not slow to point out that there is a possible alternative explanation for the data. Perhaps men are getting the posts not because they are thought to be more brilliant but because they are more brilliant, at least by the time the jobs are handed out, and by the standards of the talent-requiring disciplines. In truth, the data presented in Leslie’s study did little to rule out this alternative explanation.”

From there he moves on to speculate that the unrelated explanation mentioned in this post plays the key explanatory role. It seems to me remarkable that Papineau never even entertains the question as to whether the idea that this kind of raw talent is essential to philosophy is correct (it seems to me both dubious and harmful), and I don’t know what his point is in even mentioning the idea that maybe there just aren’t many brilliant women, unless he’s lending it significant credence.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
6 years ago

If the work we do as philosophers isn’t useful, that’s grounds to change what we do, whether it attracts more women or not. If the work we do is useful but not perceived as such by women, we need to do a better job of explaining ourselves to the public. I disagree that the need to include under-represented groups has “no application in philosophy.” In political philosophy and ethics, the lack of women could be highly important, while in feminist philosophy, the lack of males is an obvious problem.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Is it just me, or is anyone else a bit puzzled by Jonathan Ichikawa’s puzzlement? If you say that evidence E supports hypothesis H1, and I reply that E equally well supports H2, I just don’t see how you can read me as endorsing H2.Report

Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse
6 years ago

It’s not at all clear that philosophy needs to be useful. Some things have value independently of their instrumental value. Despite Papineau’s comments, I for one am glad to live in a world where there are some people who work hard to be world-class snooker players. I am even happier to live in a world where people work hard to be world-class experts in the semantics of plural quantification. I am very, very happy to not live in a world where we all have to be philosophers who only care about politics and political change. Frankly, I think we could use with a lot fewer of those characters.

And to add: there is no way to predict what intellectual endeavors may prove useful in the future even if they were not when people were in the midst of them. So even to the extent we value the usefulness of philosophy, we still don’t have very strong grounds to try to hope people don’t pursue a wide range of interests, many of which have no apparent practical value.Report

Jonathan Westphal
6 years ago

There is an intermediate view similar to Davis’ that deserves to be considered. Perhaps it is not that philosophy is too trivial or silly for many women to take an interest in it, but that philosophy _as it is currently practiced_ is too silly for many women to take an interest. There is no comparable view that can be advanced for snooker, because snooker as practiced is the only sort of snooker there could be. It will always be a time-wasting affair, played with lots of red balls and some coloured ones, and having no important consequence, except the pleasure given by the sport and the fun the professionals have mastering it. Is philosophy leaving out important topics?Report

Philosopotamus
Philosopotamus
6 years ago

The claim isn’t so much about whether philosophy should be *useful”, it is that it some practices (philosophy in particular) needn’t be familiar with the problems of marginalized groups. He writes: “Good practice in these areas [like law and medicine] 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.”

This seems to me to be fairly tone-deaf, indicative of the underlying problem, and pretty much false. Certainly in ethics, political philosophy, and social epistemology, as well as other fields, familiarity with the perspectives of marginalized groups (I won’t call them “problems of marginalized groups” since they are *everyone’s* problems) are essential to doing good philosophy. For instance, I have always found it passing strange how very confident we are that when it comes to, say, theories of justice the most trusted, and really the only relevant, perspective we need is the one emanating from white men.Report

Becko Copenhaver
Becko Copenhaver
6 years ago

This raises an interesting question about the role that our characterizations of what philosophy is and how it is practiced plays in how our students and the community see us, and the effect of such characterizations on people’s willingness to engage philosophy. If we characterize it in a way that focuses on the present, and focuses on the qualities that describe a subset of what we do, people are likely to take us at our word. Philosophy has sometimes been Scholastic, sometimes not. Philosophy as it is practiced today is sometimes forbiddingly technical, sometimes not. Philosophy is valuable (set aside whether it is useful) and almost always rigorous. But it has been done and is done in lots of different ways. We should be proud of that. It may be that the problem is not so much how philosophy is practiced (as though that is and was a monolithic thing) but what ways of practicing it we feel the need to promote in our self-image and the image we project to our students and the community.Report

Demonax
Demonax
6 years ago

If Philosophy wasn’t too stupid for women before Papineau’s review, perhaps it is now that he’s put it out there. Wonder what he would make of another, perhaps related problem: why are there so few tenured and tenure-track professors of philosophy in philosophy? Has philosophy become too stupid…for philosophers?Report

mhl
mhl
6 years ago

According to http://www.collegeatlas.org/top-degrees-by-gender.html, women are more likely to major in social work, education, and nursing than men. These are majors which 1) have an easy-to-see link with helping others, and 2) will probably always be in demand.

On the other hand, it is debatable whether philosophy is going to directly contribute to the well-being of human kind. And it is not debatable that landing a job as a professional philosopher ain’t easy.

So this is an issue of pragmatism. Men seem more willing to take risks than women; they are more likely to be seen at poker tables and in billiard halls, and are also more likely to choose a major without great prospects.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Just a small remark, but the Leslie et al. data concerning the gender gap in different fields is far better explained by quantitative GRE scores than by perceptions of ‘raw talent’. Details here:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/24/perceptions-of-required-ability-act-as-a-proxy-for-actual-required-ability-in-explaining-the-gender-gap/

The relevant passage:

“There is a correlation of r = -0.82 (p = 0.0003) between average GRE Quantitative score and percent women in a discipline. This is among the strongest correlations I have ever seen in social science data. It is much larger than Leslie et al’s correlation with perceived innate ability.
Despite its surprising size this is not a fluke. It’s very similar to what other people have found when attempting the same project. There’s a paper from 2002, Templer and Tomeo, that tries the same thing and finds r = 0.76, p < 0.001. Randal Olson tried a very similar project on his blog a while back and got r = 0.86. My finding is right in the middle.
A friendly statistician went beyond my pay grade and did a sequential ANOVA on these results and Leslie et al’s perceived-innate-ability results. They found that they could reject the hypothesis that the effect of actual innate ability was entirely mediated by perceived innate ability (p = 0.002), but could not reject the hypothesis that the effect of perceived-innate-ability was entirely mediated by actual-innate ability (p = 0.36).
In other words, we find no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of innate ability after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual innate ability, in much the same way we would expect to see no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of smoking on lung cancer after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual smoking"

See the link for sources and discussion. Philosophy is still an outlier in this dataset, so the underlying question remains, but the ‘perception of raw talent’ hypothesis doesn’t have much going for it at this point.Report

Entitled Undergrad
Entitled Undergrad
6 years ago

I’m just going to very bluntly ask why a man feels it necessary to qualify why *women* turn away from philosophy with his hypothetical thoughts using irrelevant hodgepodge about the profession’s perception to outsiders…instead of actually asking women on the inside who’ve made it through, or women going into the inside of philosophy about what they think.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
6 years ago

If we are going to be taking money for philosophical research, we had better be doing something useful. It is absolutely true that we can’t tell ahead of time what is going to be useful. For this reason, I am all for funding esoteric research that lacks any obvious applications. But if we forget that the point is being useful, we are liable to forget to try to make our work useful. If there is a perception that we are not interested in being useful, that might certainly keep women (and many men) from wanting to join the profession–perhaps rightly so.Report

Lucia
Lucia
6 years ago

This is just like if women were told “It’s not you, it’s me”, sorry but Papineau is being sexist. First, there’s a huge mistake: There are women in philosophy, so philosophy is not boring for women, women want to be philosophers, so that cannot be the reason.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Replying to 11:

1) if members of group X tend to be put off philosophy, those members of group X who are not put off philosophy are atypical of group X in the salient respect, so asking them isn’t necessarily going to answer the intended question.
2) People don’t have infallible introspective access to their reasons for making life choices. (I have a *reasonable* idea as to why I ended up doing what I’m doing, but my account doesn’t automatically trump the theorising of informed observers.)Report

Surprised bystander
Surprised bystander
6 years ago

The review is written by a single male author, whereas the contributions to the book come from many female authors.
Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this ‘review’, which consists mainly of the author’s own thoughts on the subject, gets so much more attention than the actual book?Report

Katherine Hawley
Katherine Hawley
6 years ago

Pleasingly, on the cover of the print version of the TLS this review is illustrated by a picture of a gigantic lonely ball, brilliantly illuminated from above.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I’m a female PG, and sadly I’m more and more seeing the truth in what Papineau has said. I went into philosophy because I care about the big questions. I do not care for being involved in a battle of egos, ‘networking’, and getting bogged down in ridiculous technicalities in order to compete in a game of ‘who is most clever’ rather than trying to find out the truth. I love philosophy but I often get depressed at the fact that (it appears) you literally do have to dance on the head of a pin to stay in academia.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

In snooker, it is clear what one needs to do to win. In philosophy, it is not so clear, and what counts as successful philosophy often seems dependent on what the most powerful people in the profession say. It’s not just the lack of instrumental value, but that it is all merely a bunch of well-off white men learning to speak the right things in the right tones into each other’s ears. Since the rules aren’t publicly available, to an outsider it not only seems useless but also completely arbitrary. If you say it is just people being obsessed with instrumental value then you are missing the point.Report

Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

Is the gender breakdown different in continental philosophy than in analytic philosophy? Given that continental philosophers care less for puzzle-solving (“sudoku philosophy” as I call it), one would expect a higher percentage of women in continental philosophy, if Papineau’s hypothesis is correct.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
6 years ago

Papineau says “There certainly was a time when prejudice kept women out of philosophy” and then goes on to the part of his argument that Justin summarizes by saying “things are not as bad as they were in the bad old days.”
But there’s a lot of room for things not to be as bad as they were in the bad old days and for prejudice still to be keeping women out of philosophy. And he gives too short shrift to the possibility that the reason philosophy has a greater gender imbalance than history or English is that professors of philosophy are, in fact, more sexist as a group than professors of history or English.

[email protected]: “women are more likely to major in social work, education, and nursing than men. These are majors which 1) have an easy-to-see link with helping others, and 2) will probably always be in demand.”

I don’t think we need to speculate about these factors here–longstanding institutional sexism is enough to explain them. Nursing and education were some of the few professions that women were allowed to enter for an extremely long time, since before the feminist revolutions of the 60s-70s and even before women were allowed to vote. So if women tend to gravitate toward those professions now, maybe it’s because these are professions that are stereotyped as women’s jobs, rather than because women only want to do things with an easy-to-see link to helping others and that will probably be in demand?

If philosophers say “Well women want to do things that obviously help others like teaching and nursing, so philosophy isn’t going to be attractive to them,” without paying attention to the way that women’s attraction to teaching and nursing rather than philosophy has been shaped by a history (at the very least! not claiming it’s not ongoing) of blatant sexism, we are letting ourselves off the hook far too easily.

[I’m definitely doing potted history here–I don’t claim to be an expert on the history of women in nursing and education–but I also think it’s kind of well-known and obvious.]Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I think the fact of women’s being kept out of philosophy is simply overdetermined. I think Matt W highlights some important reasons, as does Papineau, along with others on this thread. (And FWIW, I know this doesn’t just apply to women – I have a number of male friends who’ve been put off of a career in philosophy for the same reasons.)Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

*sorry should have said: lack of women in philosophy is overdeterminedReport

Bravo on the art
Bravo on the art
6 years ago

Simon Glücklich’s, “Paar im Gespräch?” I think we call it “man-splaining” now, and I am glad we have Papinaeu to do it for us. Justin, you should have a caption-writing contest for the painting.

On a more serious note, I am a mid-career female who has “made it through” in philosophy, in M&E but also philosophy pedagogy, at a mid-sized state university. It was very difficult to jump through all the hoops as an outsider–not at an R1, not into snooker or philosophy as blood sport–but I did it. Now I will ride out my career doing things I enjoy (I hope) and see value in, namely teaching intro level courses that develop CT in undergrads and doing university service to promote and protect the institution of higher learning.

While I care about social issues, feminist issues, etc., I am not interested in doing philosophy in those areas. I resent being told that M&E is not interesting, as I was recently, and that we should be teaching things that more people care about. I agree that many areas in philosophy are so specialized that they are inaccessible even to philosophers in other sub-fields, as Papineau points out, but I don’t think that those people in more accessible areas have some greater insight into what we ought to be doing as philosophers. At the same time, I don’t think I the work I do in intro-level classes, in philosophy pedagogy, philosophy for children, and public philosophy, is of lesser value than what I might do in M&E, as I was once told by a colleague. I see value both in “philosophy for philosophers” and “philosophy for everyone else,” as Russell once described it.

Science has something of an analogous issue, which was well-presented in Mooney’s _Unscientific America_. Much of science is very specialized and inaccessible to laypeople, hence laypeople are sliding into scientific illiteracy. He makes a case for popular science not unlike what some people are doing for public philosophy. When philosophers disagree about what we should be doing, we need to keep in mind these two very different aims of philosophy. They need not be in competition with each other.Report

I know nothing
I know nothing
6 years ago

Just a quick question, are there many works from existing female philosophers which don’t deal with gender or perhaps, philosophies as they relate directly to being female? I am, myself, quite interested in philosophy from a more egalitarian perspective, I suppose, and most major and accepted works I’ve found from female philosophers work from an often stated female bias. Are there male philosophers who write from an often stated male bias. That is, as there is feminist philosophy, is there also a ‘maleinist’ philosophy?Report

Surprised bystander
Surprised bystander
6 years ago

CAPTION CONTEST:
“I will now explain to you why women do not thrive in philosophy.”Report

Surprised bystander
Surprised bystander
6 years ago

The suggestion by Anon on 18 seems to be in contrast with the suggestion by HDC in 19:
in ‘sudoku philosophy’ it is much clearer where the pockets are (just solve the puzzle), yet there are assumed to be fewer women in this subfield (as well as in related fields such as mathematics).Report

Liam
Liam
6 years ago

Just providing some background for any that is interested. There is some debate among crowds interested in the demographics of philosophy between proponents of a proceduralist and proponents of a substantialist approach to reform. (There is of course a position available that no especial reform is needed with regard to changing the demographics of our profession, but however widely this is believed, apart from Tooley I do not know of this being much defended in writing) Proceduralists tend to think that if we debias and anonymise recruitment and evaluation procedures we may then let the demographic chips fall where they may. Substantialists tend to want, in addition, some conscious reform of the topics and texts philosophy focuses on, believing that presently an arbitrary skew in what is considered prestigious or worth focusing on introduces or exacerbates the demographic skew. In the piece under discussion Papineau comes out for the substantialists, and I think it likely that his intended dialectical target are those folk who believe that procedural change is enough.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
6 years ago

“are there many works from existing female philosophers which don’t deal with gender or perhaps, philosophies as they relate directly to being female?”

Tons. Far too many to even begin listing. Here is a directory of (some) “existing female philosophers”; you could use it as a resource for beginning to investigate their work.Report

Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse
6 years ago

The number of responses here claiming that men should not have thoughts about issues involving women is amazing. One would think that professional philosophers would be capable of doing better than the denizens of Tumbler and Jezebel.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
6 years ago

Matt Wiener is entirely correct, that are, in addition, many works “not related to being female” by women who are sadly no longer with us.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
6 years ago

I agree with Matt Weiner and Margaret Atherton.

At the same time, it’s interesting that some people would have the impression that female philosophers are primarily concerned with issues involving women. I don’t know if many people have that impression (I sure didn’t!), but that would be an unfortunate and unfairly reductive picture of women philosophers to have out there. Could the misimpression arise in part because female philosophers selected for syllabi are sometimes also expected to do double duty by representing “the women’s perspective”?Report

Langdon
Langdon
6 years ago

“If we are going to be taking money for philosophical research, we had better be doing something useful. […] But if we forget that the point is being useful, we are liable to forget to try to make our work useful.”

I’m quite glad to have forgotten “the point”. In fact, I don’t think I ever learned it in the first place. My practical end is the good; my theoretical end is the true. Only an instrument has utility as an end.Report

grad student
grad student
6 years ago

Danger Mouse, that’s a fairly uncharitable reading of comments gesturing towards ” ‘mansplaining.'” While you might find the word itself obnoxious (it does reek of a certain kind of immature social justice jargon), people using it have in mind cases where an uninformed man’s opinion is given more attention and weight than an expert woman’s. In this case, I think commenters are signaling the fact that we’re giving the floor to Papineau’s op ed–and I don’t know that Papineau has thought about or really studied much about demographics in philosophy, gender, or much else of relevance–instead of to the thoughts of the authors of the volume in questions–authors who have devoted a lot of time and energy into thinking about this problem and who (if you bother to read the book) actually do address some of Papineau and other commentator’s objections head in on the book.Report

Philosopotamus
Philosopotamus
6 years ago

This review and this thread take a lot of things for granted regarding the binary of gender. Should we really be so comfortable with arguments based on the strength of such premises as, “men are like this” and “women are like that”? I am a woman in philosophy and despite my cis-gendered status (and even having used my uterus for procreation purposes) I still love problem solving, and I am still comfortable with the head-to-head combat of adversarial philosophical interactions … *when it is productive.* But sometimes it is not productive and while I don’t think the ability to recognize what makes it productive is a gendered ability, I do wonder if sometimes the gendered expectations of what it is to be a man in philosophy encourages some folks to participate (argue vociferously/ engage on minutiae/ denigrate other’s views) when it is not fruitful to do so.

Also, in response to Danger Mouse at 30. First, i don’t think there are very many responses in this thread saying that men should not have thoughts about women in philosophy. Second, if the tables were turned and the women of philosophy started expounding upon what it’s like to be a man in philosophy would that be problematic? It seems a little presumptuous, no? Wouldn’t we be better served to just address the gendered expectations that are on-going in the discipline and respect the reporting of each person’s experiences in trying to meet those expectations?Report

CW
CW
6 years ago

Caption: “For fuck’s sake, Jim, I know what ‘cogito’ means.”Report

I know nothing
I know nothing
6 years ago

Fantastic, Matt. Thanks kindly.
(Umm, except I didn’t see a section for ‘ginger’? 😉 )Report

I know nothing
I know nothing
6 years ago

I can only respond anecdotally, but as a non-academic, the majority of material I’ve found in non-academia in regards to female philosophers has had to do with feminist or female centric philosophy.

The resource provided by Matt in an earlier comment was exactly what I was looking for. Here ( http://www.theupdirectory.com/ ) again for convenience. When I casually began a curiosity around finding female philosophers, a google search along the lines of ‘Female Philosophers’ brings up pages and pages of hits involving Simone/Ayn, sites espousing ‘Here are 10 feminist philosophers who prove girls aren’t stupid and weak and boys are smelly and gross’ or segregated faculties for female philosophy departments. As a bit of an unscientific test, I just did the same search. I had to go more than 10 pages in the results before I got to The Up Directory.

At most of the local book stores, the philosophy section will have about 10% female philosophers, but again, Simone and Ayn are prominent. Any other female philosophers which come up in searches or staff recommendations were in the Feminist or Self Help sections and might be called philosophy more in a pop-culture sense.

So, perhaps that is part of what keeps women from taking an initial interest and/or keeping that interest once in a philosophy class? The populous view of western female philosophy might be the misconception that it is simply feminism with fancy words? Some women may want that and some may not. When you think there is only one item on the menu of philosophy, whether you like the offering or not, you always have the option of going to another restaurant with a wider variety of meals.Report

I know nothing
I know nothing
6 years ago

“I do wonder if sometimes the gendered expectations of what it is to be a man in philosophy encourages some folks to participate (argue vociferously/ engage on minutiae/ denigrate other’s views) when it is not fruitful to do so. ”
Philosopotamus, How was this done in the past? From my meager understanding of pre 20th century philosophical argument, the goal was to seek the truth through argument while using intellectual honesty, regardless of gender. Although one can find there are jabs and barbs taken by authors against other philosophers, there doesn’t seem to be the modern American tendency to ‘win at all costs’ or ‘If you’re not with us then you’re against us’. Has intellectual honesty been lost? Is it now used as a weapon in an ad hominem attack?
‘You’re being intellectually dishonest!’
‘No! You are!’
etc..Report

Pretty much staying out of it
Pretty much staying out of it
6 years ago

Agreed. And I’d hasten to add that David Papineau’s opinions have been shaped by talking to women inside and outside of the profession.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

@I know nothing @38: I’m unsurprised that a google search for “female philosophers” brings up what you found. Similarly, a google search for “blue-eyed philosophers” or “philosophers with long hair” doesn’t bring up any of my work, because none of it is work I did qua blue-eyed person or long-haired person.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
6 years ago

But now I think the observation by I know [email protected] is on to something. I think there does tend to be a running together of philosophy by women with philosophy about women. I was a little disappointed,for example, that the collection of articles that Taylor and Francis is making available free online is squeezed in just such a fashion .Report

anonymous17
anonymous17
6 years ago

How about the caption: “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about plural quantification—that’s boring guy stuff!”Report

Philosopotamus
Philosopotamus
6 years ago

Well, I think that’s a pretty rosy gloss on pre-20th Century philosophical argument. First, and I am not sure why this time-frame is the relevant measure but, when you say they sought truth “regardless of gender” I don’t think you mean that philosophy was done by all people and in a gender-neutral manner. You mean it was done by men (mostly White Europeans) claiming to seek the truths for all “mankind,” while assuming that other perspectives, such as those of women in their own society or of members of uncivilized or “primitive” cultures were irrelevant. So when you say “regardless of gender,” I think you mean in disregard (and oftentimes in denigration) of the other gender. Second, if you mean that in the history of white male-dominated philosophy the participants were decent, respectful, and intellectually honest with one another– well, that is a matter for the historians of philosophy. I can’t say for sure one way or another whether philosophy is more vicious now than it was in the past, but I think that we think that it is.

My point above, was merely responding to the claim that one possible explanation for why there are not more women in philosophy is that they find the adversarial, combative nature of the discourse unappealing. And I think that is not the case, in part because it relies too much on a sort of claim that says “women are more (____ ) than men” that I find to be specious. But also, that there is no reason to see this as a problem of “women” failing at certain expectations, if the assumption that philosophy is, by its nature, a combative pursuit is just wrong. (And really, why should it have to be?) Finally, if you are right, if philosophy was not always this way, then one wonders why there is this perception of it now? Could it be a recent development–one that has emerged since more women have begun to pursue the field in earnest (and been told it was not for them)?Report

Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse
6 years ago

It isn’t the least bit uncharitable. When someone makes a claim, even a claim regarding a class of people X, pointing out that the person is or isn’t a member of class X is irrelevant and people who do it should be ashamed. Philosophy is awash in people who forget what the genetic fallacy is the second they talk about political subjects, and for a great deal many philosophers these days there is nothing else they talk about.Report

Meena Krishnamurthy
6 years ago

I organize a blog called “Philosop-her” (http://politicalphilosopher.net) which features work by women in philosophy. Many women do work in philosophy that does not depend on taking up a “female perspective.” Though, there is nothing wrong with taking up such a perspective, it is in accurate to assume that all of women’s work in philosophy takes such a perspective up.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
6 years ago

I guess I’m not so sure what is meant by a “female perspective” in philosophy. I can’t think of any philosophical view that women but not men hold, or vice versa. I understand what an empiricist, consequentialist or feminist perspective amounts to, roughly speaking, though each of these things can be a wide range of views. But being female or male doesn’t even commit one to a range of views. More strongly, if I were told about some stranger nothing more than that she is female, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable betting five dollars against twenty on guessing the stranger’s perspective on any issue, unless I would make the same bet if the stranger were a man.Report

Alex Leibowitz
6 years ago

I don’t think the explanation he gives of why women don’t become professional snooker players is the only possible explanation. I think it needn’t necessarily be a matter of being disinclined to put the time into playing snooker as much as not having the time to put into snooker. Playing sports like snooker is a typical “bachelor” activity, and it’s easy to see how social expectations, traditional division of labor, and socialization would discourage women from putting a large amount of their time into these activities, regardless of whether, under different circumstances, they would be so inclined. This very well can be related to injustice, since men are given opportunities, through the leisure society allows them to enjoy, that women lack. Just because, then, women as a group are disinclined to do something because it doesn’t appeal to them, doesn’t mean that the reason it doesn’t appeal to them isn’t rooted in unfair social conditions.Report

starwefter
1 year ago

I’ll admit right off the top that I haven’t read all the article or comments because I came here looking for information of the artist and date of the picture that was attached, not on this subject (though I think this picture is a perfect example of mansplaining, and perhaps is fitting for this article as such).

I did read enough of the start though that I think the comparison with snooker and why women aren’t playing it falls apart because it occurs to me that women have been willing to put in the so called wasted time and effort to compete in a number of other sports, including tennis, gymnastics. ice skating and skiing and they have been willing to do this for decades. There must be other underlying causes keeping women out of the field than this.Report