Bias, Subjectivity, and Superficiality in Philosophy

The philosophy profession in the United States is overwhelmingly male and white. What explains this? In an essay in The Los Angeles Times, Myisha Cherry (UI Chicago) and Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) offer an explanation:

One of the main causes of homogeneity in philosophy, we believe, is subjectivity and bias in the evaluation of philosophical quality.

They say that unlike math and science, in which certain external standards are imposed, philosophy is different:

Philosophy… is partly about challenging existing standards. We admire philosophers whose central arguments are nearly impossible to understand, or who speak in paradoxes, who accept seemingly bizarre views, or who display dazzling skill with formal logical structures of no practical significance…

It’s almost aesthetic, the assessment of philosophical quality. And like aesthetic judgments, it’s shaped by a huge range of factors—how well the view fits with your hopes and preconceptions, whether it’s argued with confidence and flair, how clever or wise the author seems, how much other people admire the author…

To a substantial extent, what we assess is whether the person who is expressing the ideas in question sounds smart. If you’re going to convince someone to take your perplexing, paradoxical ideas seriously, or if you’re going to convince them that your impenetrable prose is worth the struggle, you had better first convince them that you’re wicked smart.

Being good at seeming smart is perhaps the central disciplinary skill for philosophers. [!]

[And in comparison to women and people of color,] white men have better command of the cultural apparatus of seeming smart.

The whole article is here. Discussion welcome.

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(Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog)


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