Most Philosophers Favor Efforts To Broaden The Discipline


Last year, Valerie Tiberius, professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, conducted what she called “The Value of Philosophy Survey.” Over 2,500 philosophers responded to the survey, which asked 24 questions, and in her Presidential Address at the Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA) last month, Professor Tiberius discussed the results.

You can read the full text of Professor Tiberius’s address at the Blog of the APA, and some initial discussion of it at PEA Soup. It’s a wonderful piece in which she addresses the discipline of philosophy as a friend in need of assistance, and the survey as the start of a helpful conversation:

I started thinking… what if PHILOSOPHY were my friend?  I might worry.  Philosophy, what are you doing with your life?  You’re in the news, and not in a good way. As I would do if I were approaching an individual friend in need of help, I wanted to know: what are your values, philosophy?   

Her conclusion is that philosophy wants to “broaden and balance”:

After reviewing the data from the survey, I’m in the position of someone who has just finished a very long conversation with my struggling friend about her values.  I might venture to articulate a path forward.  So here’s my advice Philosophy: what I think you really want is to broaden, to open up, to become a more welcoming field, without losing what makes you you.  You don’t want a radical transformation; you want to be less isolated and narrow than you have been in the past, not by rejecting your past but by achieving a balance between valuing the old and the new.  That is the theme of the rest of the talk:  “broaden and balance”.  In short, the message of the talk is that our values will be fulfilled by broadening our community and our conception of what counts as philosophy, and by balancing our attention and rewards between traditional and non-traditional approaches to philosophy.

The survey results show overwhelming support for the idea that diversity is important to academic philosophy. On a scale of 1-7, mean ratings approving of various forms of diversity were well above 5:

An open-ended question on the survey asked respondents for further comments they had on diversity. Of the 580 who chose to provide comments, only 25 registered opposition to increased diversity in philosophy.

Public conversations, especially online, can sometimes give the impression that philosophers are divided over the importance of diversity in the profession. The survey results suggest that this impression is mistaken, the result of a tiny, if vocal, number of people. The often pseudonymous and anonymous (and so practically uncountable) commenters expressing opposition to diversity have a view that is very much in the minority.

Professor Tiberius notes that the survey results suggest that while diversity is among the values of the philosophy profession,

we tend to have somewhat less strong support for specific strategies for promoting our values than we do for the general idea that these values should be promoted.

It could be that disagreement over specific strategies also has served to obscure the more consistent support among philosophers for diversity in the discipline.

Another aspect of the “broadening” concerns philosophical subfields. Survey respondents most frequently identified the following fields “unjustly marginalized”:

  • African/Africana Philosophy
  • Arabic and Islamic Philosophy
  • Asian Philosophy
  • Native American Philosophy
  • Latin American Philosophy
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Race
  • Continental Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Gender
  • Aesthetics

Survey questions asked about both philosophical education and philosophical research. Professor Tiberius writes:

We found that the survey responses displayed a conspicuous pattern, with respondents more strongly in favor of traditional approaches when it came to education (both graduate and undergraduate) than in philosophical research.

On the following graph you can see that the mean responses express support for the ideas that philosophical research that is interdisciplinary is worthwhile, that philosophical research benefits when it incorporates the views and perspectives of philosophers who are members of underrepresented groups, and that the discipline should produce some philosophical research that is relevant to the concerns of society at large.

 

At the same time, that these were seen as relatively less important when it comes to educating students. In that domain, philosophers favored a greater emphasis on traditional subfields. Professor Tiberius writes,

Perhaps (and this was suggested in some of the open ended responses) these results are explained by philosophers thinking that we need a foundation of certain skills, distinctions, theories, and arguments before we should be encouraged to do creative work that engages other fields or challenges aspects of our tradition.

There were other topics covered by the survey which I may address in subsequent posts. You can read (and listen to) Professor Tiberius’s full presidential address here.

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Em
Em
4 years ago

FN2: “For the purposes of making meaningful generalizations and comparisons, we grouped these sub-fields into 7 groups: ethics, history, logic/math, M&E, philosophy of science, social and political, and a category we called RIGS, which includes feminist theory, philosophy of race, and non-western philosophical traditions. ”

Out of curiosity (and re: its inclusion in the list of most marginalized subfields), where was “aesthetics” grouped in there?Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  Em
4 years ago

For purposes of making generalizations about the attitudes of people who identified themselves as being in certain sub-field, aesthetics was groupred in the Ethics group, which consisted of:
• Aesthetics
• Ethics
• Meta-Ethics
• Normative Ethics
• Philosophy of Religion
• Value Theory
In the question about unjustly marginalized sub-fields, the entire PhilJobs list was used and aesthetics was listed as its own sub-fields (not grouped with anything else).
I hope that helps!Report

Em
Em
Reply to  Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

Yup, thanks!Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
4 years ago

I can’t find the response rate in the APA post – is it known?Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

The response rate is not known, because we know neither the size of the sampling frame (how many philosophers we reached with the various survey announcements) nor the size of the whole population. Response rate is important mainly because it’s an indicator of how representative our results are of the views of the whole population. We say a few things about representativeness, mainly by comparing to the APA membership.

Another thing to note is how few differences there were between sub-groups of respondents (aside from women vs men). So if, say, more younger philosophers responded than older ones, that doesn’t matter to the representativeness of the results, because the young/old division isn’t one that matters.

However, of course, if pro-diversity people were for some reason more inclined to fill out the survey than anti-diversity people, then obviously that would matter. I don’t see any reason to think this is the case, though. You might think the APA membership is more pro-diversity than the general population of philosophers, but our sample was close to 60% APA members (so, over 40% non-members) and we did not see meaningful differences between these two groups. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

Thanks, that’s helpful.Report

JDRox
JDRox
4 years ago

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but people “support” or “want” all sorts of stuff in the abstract. The real question is about tradeoffs–what are people willing to give up to achieve this stuff they want or support. (https://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/want-like-want-want/) And there I strongly suspect the response would be rather different. Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  JDRox
4 years ago

Yes! This even shows up in the data — people are more likely to support interdisciplinary research in the abstract (for example) than they are to support specific strategies for increasing interdisciplinary research (such as rewarding papers published in non-philosophy journals in tenure cases). I discuss this at various points in the talk, but mostly at the end.
I suppose I’m optimistic enough to think that the views philosophers expressed in the survey (given the preamble, the instructions and the topic) were not mere idle wants like the desire to have a body like Matthew McConaughey (that was the example from the link in JDRox’s post). Even if that’s true, though, we don’t always prioritize the things we genuinely value. Part of the point of writing what I wrote, I suppose, was to motivate us to put our money where our mouths are. Call me a Debbie Do-Gooder (but I hope not to be a Deluded Debbie).Report

Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

I posted the following over in the APA blog comments. Given that this was supposed to be about the “well being of philosophy,” I found the whole thing rather amazing. Even more incredible is that the speech was given in *Missouri*, a state in which we are eating horrific budget cuts and are about to be given “campus carry”.

“For those of us who are teaching at non-R1, non-ranked programs — which, it should be mentioned, are the majority of the profession — the very existence of philosophy, as a major and even a minor, is being threatened, as the university turns into a system of mass education. Whether it’s budgetary cuts or conservative state legislators who perceive philosophy and the humanities more generally as being hopeless biased in a Left wing direction, and obsessed with race and gender and sexual orientation, we are in a fight for our very existence.

I see nothing in this statement that will alter that situation and much that will actually make it worse. Did you not notice the last election? Do you not know what is going on in most of the country? Do you not realize that the culture of New York and California is not the dominant culture in the US? Do you really think that just doubling and tripling down on diversity and all the rest is what’s going to save philosophy departments in Missouri or Oklahoma or Kansas or Arkansas?

The document reads like something conceived and written by very cocooned people. I can’t say that I’m surprised, but I am nonetheless disappointed.”Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

Speaking from Oklahoma, it is not at all obvious to me that the survey results are at odds with our needs. We too have horrible budget cuts, but we have not yet handed over the mission of the university to the state legislature, so we still aim to exercise our own judgments. My own sense is that steering the discipline toward what might please state legislatures would be a fool’s game unlikely to succeed. I don’t know what it will take to save threatened philosophy departments, but neither do I see how this makes things worse. If the worry is that “diversity” can be weaponized by conservative state legislatures to justify program elimination, I suppose it could. But I doubt there is *anything* we do in philosophy that cannot be so weaponized. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Amy Olberding
4 years ago

I disagree with you entirely. And that is not the only worry. The worry is that we are ignoring the very serious problem we have of a fading discipline, in which program after program is being eliminated, merged, having the major removed, etc. This is not just due to the perception that we are politically unbalanced — and it’s worth pointing out that in fact, we are extremely so, though this seems not to be a “diversity” anyone is very concerned about — but due to the transformation of the university into a system of mass education, which has been happening over the past several decades. Philosophy has to adjust to a new reality in which universities are essentially becoming white collar vo-techs, and going even further in the direction of identity studies is hardly going to help us on that front either. We need to figure out a way to keep ourselves in the university, not make ourselves even more irrelevant to the new realities.

It is worth saying one more thing, however, regarding the political issue. Many of our institutions are public, and it is worth asking oneself whether we should push our values so much that we become so far out of line with the values of the public we are serving and who are paying the bills. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot and humanities departments were super Right wing. Would you be happy about your tax dollars going to pay for them? I bet you wouldn’t.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

One problem I have with how you’re constructing this is that you are describing what looks to me like a caricature of the regions to which you seek to draw attention. It is not my experience, as both current resident and native, that we are nearly so monolithic as you describe. First, these regions have plenty of students of “diverse” identities along all of the vectors of identity we typically invoke in these discussions. Second, the ones you describe below as reactionary conservatives, evangelical Christian students, are not a monolith either. My department has evangelical students and they simply are not the opponents of diverse inquiry that you caricature, much less people forming their judgments based on cheap cinematic representations of academia. If you’re going to school the profession on what flyover country is like and critique the application of purportedly coastal values, then don’t invoke a host of tired stereotypes about us. Its inaccurate and it doesn’t help. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Amy Olberding
4 years ago

Look, I am simply describing my actual experience after teaching here some 20 years. You can call it a caricature if you like, but the fact remains that these are my experiences. And yes, the Sorbo film hurt us a lot, regardless of your views of its merits.

You seem to be personalizing what to me was simply a critique based on my experience teaching at a very typical, unfancy university in the middle of the country. I am hardly the first to observe that our profession doesn’t focus very much attention on such places or their concerns, despite the fact that they constitute the places at which a majority of American students get their educations.

Sorry to have upset you. That was not at all my intention. I am genuinely concerned about what is happening at institutions like ours and do not believe that our leadership is doing much if anything to address it.Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

My question was about what it would be for philosophy to flourish, given our values. It’s possible that the current political climate makes flourishing impossible for individuals as well as for institutions. That said, I don’t think the suggestions I’ve made are so obtuse. First, on diversity: fears about “doubling or tripling down” make it sound like we’ve already worked effectively to increase diversity and that these efforts may even be responsible for the threat philosophy departments are under. But this isn’t true. The representation of women in philosophy is almost unchanged since I entered graduate school 27 years ago.

Second, diversity is just one of the values that I talk about, though it’s the one that Justin focuses on in his original post. I also talk about the values of interdisciplinarity and various forms of engagement. I think living up to our values suggests changing our culture so that we recognize and reward the contributions of philosophers who demonstrate the importance of philosophy to our larger communities. This strikes me as the kind of change that could be helpful to any department (though as I said above there are surely some circumstances where nothing will help). Elite institutions are more likely to be protected from having to do this kind of self-justifying work, and I think it is partly because the norms of the profession are set by elite programs that we tend not to reward this work. Interdisciplinarity may help philosophy survive because being isolated leaves us without advocates within our universities. This is a point emphasized in the recent article in the Chronicle “How to Help Your Department Avoid the Ax”.

Third, it’s worth noting that the survey turned up very little in the way of differences in the perceptions and attitudes of philosophers employed at different types of institutions. The responses of philosophers at graduate institutions, for instance, were quite similar to those of philosophers at non-graduate institutions, as were the responses from public and private institutions. (Details available on request.) So I don’t think the results reported here represent the blinkered views of an out-of-touch elite.

Last, a little about me. I do teach at an R-1, but I teach in a purple state (Minnesota). We are doing fairly well at the moment, but during my time here we have had severe budget cuts and furloughs, and all of our humanities departments have shrunk (and most continue to be) below the size of our peers’. All of my education has been in public schools and I have spent very little time in New York or California. In my last three years as department chair, and in my service on APA boards and committees, the difficulties currently facing philosophy departments, the humanities, and liberal education generally have been constant topics of conversation and concern; I may not know how to solve these problems, but I’m hardly unaware of them.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

The point was not that *you* are from New York or California. The point is that the values you are talking about promoting are essentially coastal/cosmopolitan values. Values that are precisely at odds with those of the enormous swathe of the country that lies in between. This matters, not only because of conservative local legislators, but because the students we serve are themselves from very conservative, commonly evangelical families. When Kevin Sorbo’s miserable film “God is Not Dead” came out, we saw a serious decline in our enrollments. If we go even farther in the direction you want us to go, it will hurt us, no question. Personally, I am *for* everything you talk about in the report. But we have to be smart about it and not assume that it is a message everyone is going to find welcome. Indeed, quite the opposite.

But this was only part of the point of my comment. The larger issue is that in an address which purports to address the question of the health of the discipline, the biggest, most important threat to us was pretty much entirely ignored. I read the entire report, and from where I sit, at an unranked, unrated, regional public institution in the lower Midwest — the kind of institution that *most* students in America get their college educations — it read like a report from a different planet. I saw nothing that will help us explain to our administrators and local and state legislators why they should think philosophy — and humanities more generally — should still be considered essential. And without doing that, our discipline will continue to disappear from such institutions and thus, from the educations of most Americans. Our classics department was closed. Our foreign language departments are on life support. We are only being allowed to replace retiring tenured faculty with instructors.

So yes, I’m afraid that the report looks a bit like fiddling while Rome burns.
Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

“The point is that the values you are talking about promoting are essentially coastal/cosmopolitan values.”

But this is precisely what earlier commenters are disputing, using their own experience as an example.

I grew up and attended public school (including a public university) in the American south. For the earliest part of my childhood, I lived in a (“single-wide”) mobile home on a dirt road. My interest in philosophy was sparked at a young age and encouraged by both my parents. My mother was from a working class Catholic family, but ended up a devoted, nondenomintional Christian as a result of her own personal journey for truth and meaning. My dad was born to a single mother and spent most of his childhood taking care of his younger siblings in a house without running water. He went through his own religious soul searching and ended up an agnostic enamored with the work of Bertrand Russell among other philosophers.

These values we’re talking about are my values, and they are not values that were implanted in my by my graduate education. They are the values that, in part, drew me to the the study of philosophy. And they’re not just my values – they’re the values of the family members who inspired and encouraged my love of learning. But on your account that means me and my parents were really just cocooned coastal elites all along. That certainly would have been news to us.

“Our classics department was closed.”

Presumably this is because of the widespread cultural association of classics with left-wing identity politics. If only they had stuck to their traditional focus on the literature, history, and language of ancient Greek and Rome they could have avoided the ax. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Derek Bowman
4 years ago

You can say whatever you like about “your values” but they clearly are a minority in the region that you — and I — occupy, as is demonstrable not just from polling but from actual elections. To deny this just seems disingenuous. And the effort to personalize is just a way of avoiding what seems to me a difficult conversation that we all need to have, unless we want philosophy only to exist as an academic subject in the R1s and other elite places in the country. That I am getting the reaction I am only confirms my point and makes it quite evident that our profession is not willing to have that conversation. Whether that is because we are hopelessly partisan or because our leadership just doesn’t care very much about what happens at podunk-U is impossible to tell, though I suspect it is due to a little bit of both.

And your last point is correct. But notice that’s not what the document in question is suggesting we do.

Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

Daniel,

If you keep getting the same reaction, and it’s not the reaction you want, perhaps you should consider the way you’re presenting your point. Isn’t that exactly the advice you’re trying to give to the profession?

My reaction was not an attempt to deny the reality of your experience as a teacher, nor to deny that there is a large segment of the population (including, by the way, a significant minority of people in blue states on the coasts) who have negative views of academia and the humanities in general, and of calls of ‘diversity’ in particular.

What I reacted to was your claim that values like diversity, inclusion, and social justice are “essentially” coastal values. It seems to me that this was also the source of the responses of Amy and Valerie above. Our comments were personal only because they used our own personal experiences as evidence against this clearly false claim.

And my final point was a satirical reductio – there is no popular association of classics with left-wing identity politics, and most of the anti-humanities legislators you’re worried about aren’t big boosters of the study of dead languages or the finer points of ancient culture. Thus, the causes of your classics department closing likely have nothing to do with the issues of diversity and identity politics that you’ve been focusing on. Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

Hi Valerie,

thanks for this work. You wrote: “In the question about unjustly marginalized sub-fields, the entire PhilJobs list was used and aesthetics was listed as its own sub-fields (not grouped with anything else).”

I notice that Philosophy of Disability is not listed as a potentially marginalized sub-field, though it surely is. Do you think this is a problem with the survey? Do you think this is a problem with PhilJobs?

Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

That’s a very good point, Shelley. I don’t envy anyone the job of coming up with a list of sub-fields in philosophy, but at some point PhilJobs will want to make some revisions. Moral psychology is another sub-field that is missing from PhilJobs. I don’t think the reliance on a list of sub-fields that leaves some things out undermines the results of the survey, though. I think it means we don’t have some information it would be good to have, but not that the information we do have is unreliable. (Also, it’s worth noting that there was almost always an “other” option that allowed people to write something in). Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
Reply to  Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

Hi Valerie,

thanks very much for your response. I agree that the task of compiling a list of subfields would be daunting. However, the analogy between Philosophy of Disability and moral psychology doesn’t seem apt to me. First, moral psychology may be omitted from PhilJobs, but does not seem to be a marginalized subfield in philosophy, the list from the survey about which I inquired. Second, Philosophy of Disability is directly associated with an underrepresented group in philosophy and moral psychology is not; most of the other subfields listed in the section on marginalized subfields are, like Philosophy of Disability, associated with underrepresented groups. A significant number of the philosophers who work in the subfield are disabled and, like most disabled people, they are underemployed or unemployed. I think, therefore, that it should be regarded as disconcerting that PhilJobs does not include a category that fosters employment opportunities for disabled philosophers; I think that efforts to increase diversity should avoid replicating this omission (unfortunately, a number of such efforts have replicated it). Frankly, attention to disability and disabled philosophers elsewhere in the survey makes it seem odd to me that Philosophy of Disability would be omitted from this section of the survey, especially given the inclusion of other subfields associated with other underrepresented groups.

Was there an “Other” section for the question about marginalized subfields? I think that Philosophy of Disability is marginalized to such an extent that it likely doesn’t even come to mind for most philosophers, not even when they are asked to identify subfields that have been omitted from a list of marginalized subfields.

Thanks again for your response to my previous comment,
Shelley TremainReport

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

Thanks for the reply, Shelley. You’re quite right — I didn’t mean to suggest that philosophy of disability and moral psychology are comparable in terms of marginalization. My point was just that the PhilJobs list has other problems (and I received quite a few complaints about the omission of moral psychology).

There was an “other” category in the question about marginalized sub-fields, but the results here didn’t turn up anything significant. (Probably for just the reason you mention — that people don’t think of it. Of course, it was a question about people’s perceptions, not about what is actually unjustly marginalized).Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
4 years ago

I just want to thank you very much for generating that really interesting data. I don’t know of other attempts of such scope to understand the attitudes of those in the profession concerning diversity. Those who want to speak for the profession now have to study your data. Thank you!Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
4 years ago

I want to thank Valerie Tiberius for her work on this important project. Just to highlight some points from the talk and survey results which also offer some responses to Daniel Kaufman’s (and perhaps others’) concerns:

1. “Diversity” may be a trigger word for some of the conservative politicians that are cutting university funding. But:
a. Those state legislators are not paying fine-grained attention to whether philosophy is aiming to diversify in the ways Valerie suggests (as bolstered by the vast majority of survey respondents) . They are just cutting funds for higher education (yes, motivated as well by the belief that universities are liberal propaganda centers). The people making the more fine-grained decisions about which departments get cut (provosts, deans, etc.) are, in my experience, very concerned about the diversity of department faculty and students. They will appreciate efforts to recruit and retain more women and minorities.
b. Note that the survey also found that most philosophers want more diversity of political orientation and religion too.

2. The suggestion from Valerie (and the survey results) that philosophy should aim for more (and more productive) interdisciplinarity is likely to help departments survive. Consider my department, which, among other initiatives, houses an interdisciplinary Ethics Center, has an MA/JD degee, initiated and leads a new PPE program, and has programs in neurophilosophy and neuroethics. Because we have taken the lead on these programs, any hits our department takes will likely also influence the Law School, Poli Sci, Economics, Psychology, and Neuroscience. Those departments will have our back, just as we will have their back because we need them for these initiatives to thrive. So, the intrinsic worthiness of these interdisciplinary efforts (and the many others available to our discipline) should also help strengthen and protect philosophy departments.

3. The suggestion from Valerie (and the survey results) that philosophers should engage in and be rewarded for producing more public, popular, relevant work is definitely likely going to help, since administrators love pointing to such work (e.g., our university sends out monthly emails listed media references to faculty). True, if this work starts looking too political (i.e., liberal, progressive, atheist, etc.), it could backfire–that is, it could make the politicians pay more fine-grained attention to philosophy (see 1a). But especially if we have some diverse views in the public sphere (see 1b), I think the overall impact of public philosophy will help us survive and flourish.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
4 years ago

I agree with the point re: interdisciplinarity, in the sense that you describe it. I designed my Aesthetics course in such a way that it enrolls over 50% Art and Design majors. Eventually, I was able to negotiate with the department head over there that they should give elective credit for it, for the BFA and MFA. As a result, the course always fully enrolls. Our Global Ethics course is part of the curriculum for the Global Studies major. Our Bioethics course is required for Nursing students, of whom there are *a lot*. So, yes, the extent to which we can show that we are crucial to other programs, which have very large numbers of majors, we protect ourselves from the ax.

My criticisms were really focused on two issues:

(1) That if we are speaking about the well-being of our discipline, then front-and-center needs to be a discussion of what to do in the relatively new “white collar, vo-tech U.” Interdisciplinarity, in the sense mentioned above, is *part* of that discussion, but only one part. It may save us, in terms of (a) enrollments and (b) avoiding the total axing of our departments, but it will not save our Major. That will require a very different sort of approach, one that I’ve heard leadership say little to nothing about.

(2) Furthermore, if we are speaking about the well-being of our discipline, *across the country* then we need to take seriously the perception in much of the land that we are hopelessly biased in a left wing direction. This is not just dogging philosophy, but all of the humanities and liberal arts, and it does not help simply to dismiss these people as a bunch of mouth breathers who “don’t share our values.” For one thing, the perception has a basis in reality, as surveys over the last several decades have shown. And for another, to the extent that the institutions we are talking about are public, it is not all that surprising that people resent being taxed to support programs that don’t share *their values* and that local and state politicians are going to capitalize on that fact and go after the humanities and liberal arts, when the budgetary ax is being waved around. The point is not to simply pander shamelessly to these populations, but rather to be smart about how we do things. After all, the worst thing that could happen, from a *liberal* perspective — and that happens to be my own — is that philosophy disappear from the curriculum precisely from *these sorts of places*.
Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

The sorts of interdisciplinary classes that you and Eddy are talking about won’t, on their own, save the philosophy major. But they help, just as getting philosophy classes into the GenEd core as much as we can does. That’s because almost all U.S. students come into college having little or no idea about what philosophy is, and it’s only by getting people to take philosophy classes for largely extrinsic reasons that we’re able to expose them to philosophy and have a least a few of them decide that they want to major.Report

Alex Howe
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

Professor Kaufman,

I’m sympathetic to much of what you’re pressing, perhaps because I am relatively active in campus and state developments here at Mizzou. I wanted to dig into a couple things you raised in this last comment.

1) You mentioned that recruiting more majors will require more than just the sort of interdisciplinarity discussed above. What sort of things do you have in mind? Are these things perhaps already served by other endeavors of the APA that should be more clearly tied to or integrated into this report (e.g., P4C seems to be a promising pipeline strategy), or are they things that fall in a total blindspot for the APA to-date? Also, do you think APA should discuss strategies for generating new *traditional* majors or strategies for creating *new interdisciplinary majors* jointly housed by multiple departments (which is an increasing trend inspired by a “research clusters” model, I think).

2) The public perception issue is real in states like ours. But we need to be really tight in formulating what the problem(s) is before we can discuss interventions that might help. For example, if the problem is slashing public funding for higher ed, how much of that is it reasonable to put on philosophers qua philosophers to fix…particularly if the granularity of those cuts is quite coarse. For example: Should instead our efforts be focused on satisfying values held more locally by our deans/provosts/chancellors who control the more granular cuts? (Of course, the higher we go up the ladder, the more overlap there will be between the values of the public/the legislators/the admin.) Anyway, for the sake of my understanding: Is your critique here that a report focused on the well-being of our discipline should discuss topics such as forming Ethics Institutes, philosophy in prison programs, Ethics Bowls, programs that integrate with local high schools and churches, etc.? Do you think the APA should help us develop new strategies such as these, or rather provided practical resources for how to implement programs such as the ones we’ve already developed?

Lastly–please consider me a potential collaborator in these sorts of issues as they pertain to Missouri if you ever want to brainstorm! Report

Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

Thanks very much for writing this, Eddy! It’s helpful to have examples of what’s worked in particular departments. Also helpful to have you emphasize that diversity is just one of the values I talk about. Report

Perplexed Grad Student
Perplexed Grad Student
4 years ago

This might be naive: but from my perspective – which very well may be mistaken – feminist philosophy does not seem to be marginalized. At least in the sense that philosophers (again from my perspective) are pressured to be feminists – it’s not good to say you aren’t one. And, more relevantly, it seems that there is pressure to recognize that feminist philosophy is very important. I hold these views just based off of conversations at conferences, so I could very well be wrong. But: Am I way off here? Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
Reply to  Perplexed Grad Student
4 years ago

I am a bit unclear about this as well. As far as I can tell, very few people openly admit to not being feminists, almost if not literally nobody untenured criticizes feminism as such, and when I was on the market, I badly wished I could have said that I could teach feminism. There were loads of jobs for that (and several for feminism as an AOS), and even in my small department we were really trying to get someone who could teach feminism. And I’ve got no problem with that at all! I just don’t see how feminism as such is marginalized, at least as compared to very many other fields (for example, the philosophy of propaganda is basically not even a thing; I never saw a single ad wanting anyone to teach it in 5 years on the market, despite the fact that understanding propaganda is very plausibly essential to understanding and coping with the modern world). Ok, I’m out.Report

Ben Almassi
Ben Almassi
Reply to  Eric Campbell
4 years ago

Eric, isn’t it fair to say that there’s quite a lot of distance between not-openly-admitting-to-not-being-feminist and having expertise in feminist philosophy? I take it that your post here reflects that, given your desire to have been able to say you could teach feminism and your actual teaching competency in the subject. So let’s not take clearing the lowest of these bars (public repudiation) as sufficient for ruling out marginalization.Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
Reply to  Ben Almassi
4 years ago

Hi Ben,
I guess I’m wondering why I should think it’s marginalized to any significant degree, or perhaps at all. That isn’t saying it isn’t, only wondering why I should think that. It doesn’t seem that way to me, but I’m listening if you have some reason to think it is significantly marginalized. The point I made about nobody openly admitting to not being a feminist or criticizing feminism (or not caring about feminism, or not thinking it important) is only one thing I said, and admittedly is consistent with feminism nevertheless being marginalized. But if, as it seems to me, feminism gets a very large amount of positive attention in the academy, and if almost nobody openly criticizes it, and if there are loads of jobs for teaching feminism, and if there are even a fair number of jobs (relatively speaking) for feminism as an AOS, then isn’t it fair to wonder whether it rightly belongs among the marginalized subfields? I just said I was a bit unclear about it. In my view, it doesn’t seem like it belongs in the same category as most of the other members of that list (and other things do belong there that aren’t there). If someone wants to clear it up for me, I’m listening. At some point, is it fair to wonder if some people will consider it “unjustly marginalized” if it’s not dominant? These seem to me like worthwhile things to wonder aloud.

P.S. This is not coming from someone who wants to preserve academic philosophy as it is–far from it. Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
4 years ago

I think Valerie has done very valuable work here and I sincerely thank her for it. But I respectfully suggest that this sort of thinking be re-thought:

“Moral outrage motivates and unites people, and we are (sadly) in a moment of outrage that will help to bolster commitments to the values of diversity, relevance and engagement.”

Outrage motivates and unites not only those who are outraged, but it motivates and unites, at least as powerfully, those at whom one directs one’s outrage. There was no shortage of outrage in the run-up to the latest election. Slate magazine had 2014 as the Year of Outrage. As I recall it, the levels of outrage were quite prevalent in the progressive community, and to me at least, painfully evident among academic philosophers, all the way from then until the election. And the forces against which the outrage was directed…won. Many of these people may be “incorrigibles”, but many used the wrong words or pronouns or were not hip to the kind of things that the directors of outrage were hip to. They had beliefs that might have been wrong, but instead of being engaged productively, they were subject to outrage, which unites and motivates in part by signaling one’s membership to a righteous community. For those not (allowed into) the community, it unites and motivates them too.

I think we are truer to our core values, including protecting vulnerable populations, if we focus much more on love and understanding and engagement than on outrage. The former way worked pretty well for MLK and Mandela, and the other way has not worked well for us. MLK talked about strengthening love over blame, and warned against the “ethic of midnight” telling us that it is permissible to hate if we dress that hate up as love (e.g., as concern for the oppressed). If Academic Philosophy were my friend, I would recommend reading Strength to Love by MLK, and taking some time to reflect on whether the way It is attempting to promote the forms of diversity related to social justice is either as beautiful or productive as his.Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  Eric Campbell
4 years ago

Eric,
This is a really good point. I was looking at some of the outrage being expressed toward the new administration as a hopeful sign — and that might have been motivated by a desire to assuage my fears. There might be some cases of outrage that are fairly unifying, though. I’ve noticed in my own department that the reports about sexual harassment and assault in philosophy departments have motivated all of my colleagues to want to take climate issues seriously. Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
Reply to  Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

Thanks Valerie. I think you’re right that they can be unifying, as you say. For me, it’s important to separate two things. One is the value of anger, outrage, etc. where it is a genuine or authentic response. There I think it’s a somewhat mixed bag, with lots of great, powerful unifying and motivating effects, like you say, but also with the potential to unite and motivate opponents. Another and more insidious downside (class of downsides, really) is that displays of anger and outrage have a very large potential for attracting and reinforcing various forms of inauthenticity, self-deception and counter-productiveness. This isn’t the place to talk about this at length, but by contrast I’m impressed with and increasingly interested in Buddhistic and related traditions that emphasize the dangers of reaction and the value of self-awareness, self-mastery, equanimity and compassion. In my view, all of these virtues are at least in strong tension with anger and outrage. And I speak as someone overly prone to the latter. Thanks again for your work and your comment!Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
4 years ago

Related to my last comment, it seems to me that we can bag two birds at once by focusing much more than we are wont to do on the value of increasing socio-moral-political diversity. This is something that can only help (I don’t say how much or with what likelihood) with public perception, and it should come at absolutely no cost at all to our values. In fact, we have very good reasons, in terms of our own values, for promoting this far more than we have done. Assuming we value truth in the socio-moral-political domain, then we must seek it with some real appreciation of the intensely groupish, marginalizing (and often even more punitive) nature of socio-moral thought and interaction. We know (or, it is known) that socio-moral thought and judgment and interaction is driven overwhelmingly by such forces, and more generally by forces that are not truth-seeking. In fact, they are often actively truth-avoiding, as anyone can see in the cases they regard as pathological.

We have decisive reason to think that as individuals, we need others to help correct our biases. We have just as much reason to think that we need this as groups as well, and nowhere more than in the socio-moral-political domain. It is hard to see, much less keep in mind the disturbing fact: no socio-moral-political group is inclined to think that their values, or the way they live, is pathological. The more self-righteous a group, the less capable they will be of seeing themselves as embodying pathologies (many Nazis were *very* proud of themselves!). More generally, socio-moral groups tend to punish their members for any serious internal critiques. Therefore, if we have pathologies as a group, we will not be inclined to see them (in a real sense, we are not allowed to see them). We sometimes need those quite different from us to help us see them, and we need to have a commitment to avoid aggressive moralizing at the first sight of deep disagreement, since that is so destructive to this project, is so easy to fall into, and which we have of course largely fallen into already.

Focusing on the issue of encouraging more “conservative” philosophers to join our ranks, and being genuinely committed to respecting those we have (each group should try to respect the other, which is hard to do and easily unravels), should be high on our list for improving our well-being both in terms of our common values as philosophers and of being able to speak honestly and powerfully about the kind of value we bring to the broader community. Report

Jim
Jim
4 years ago

As a reader from a different discipline (with some overlap) I am astonished we haven’t done this sort of work in our own – and all – academic fields. Sense of self in our disciplines comes from a small number of perceived and, likely, idiosyncratic key figures. This is necessary and crucial work. Valerie, help us do it in other fields!
Report

Valerie Tiberius
Reply to  Jim
4 years ago

Perhaps I should quit philosophy and open a consulting firm! 🙂Report

Nicky Drake
Nicky Drake
Reply to  Valerie Tiberius
4 years ago

Don’t you dare do either. Report