The Denigration of Black Women Philosophers and “Fields People of Color Specialize In”


Anita L. Allen, the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law, professor of philosophy, and vice provost of faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, and the next president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, speaks about her experiences as a black woman philosopher in an interview in The New York Times.

The interviewer, philosopher George Yancy (Emory), asks:

I recall asking [Adrian Piper] about some of the obstacles that black women face in philosophy, and she was rightly critical of what she saw as a racist and sexist perception of black women in philosophy as “maids or prostitutes.” Do black women in philosophy continue to be stereotyped in such denigrating ways?

Professor Allen responds:

Adrian Piper and I were colleagues at Georgetown University in the late 1980s and close friends for longer. I shared with her my stories of denigration, which may have contributed to what she said to you.

My dissertation chairman was Richard Brandt. Once after I had earned the doctorate and was meeting with him, he stood over me, lifted my chin toward him and remarked that I looked like a maid his family once employed. Around the same time, early in the Ronald Reagan administration, an effort was made to rid Washington of the sex trade and shops that flourished along the 14th Street corridor a few blocks from the White House. I worked in nearby McPherson Square at the National Endowment for the Humanities and, as a volunteer at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. One day I was walking near my office with a white male friend, a philosopher at an Ivy League university. We were stopped by the police, who profiled us as a hooker and john. I had to answer questions and show ID.

Is the denigration of black women philosophers a thing of decades past? Are we beyond being asked to fetch coffee for department chairs and worse? Regrettably, no. In October 2017 a very senior Harvard-educated white male philosopher, whose wife is also an academic, wrote to me seeking feedback on an op-ed he hoped to submit to The New York Times or The Washington Post. He did not like my feedback. He ended an email lamenting his failure to get anything more than “duncical shit” as feedback on his work by letting me know that he had recently imagined seeing my face in the photographs he used in masturbation! Incredible, right? I wrote back to explain why I was offended and to sever ties. I assume that if such a thing could happen to me, some very, very serious harassment and racism must be happening to young women in the field…

This happened right about the time Harvey Weinstein fell from grace. It was the last straw. For years I put up with demeaning comments from this individual. I should have communicated my true feelings and kept a distance. Ironically, although he came to me for help, when I was an assistant professor he had discouraged me from philosophy, doubting to my face that I had “enough candle power (i.e., intellect) for philosophy” but opining that I had “too much juice (i.e., sensuality) for philosophy.”

Unable to achieve intellectual domination, he attempted sexual domination to preserve the upper hand. The lack of respect for me and my marriage was infuriating. The lack of respect for his own marriage disturbed me, too. Cunning and disloyal, he had copied his wife and another senior woman philosopher on the original email asking for my help, but did not copy them on the defeated email in which he referenced his masturbation practice.

In another part of the interview, Professor Yancy asks about what philosophy departments can do to recruit and retain African-American women. Yancy says, “To do so, it seems to me… requires a shift in philosophical themes that reflect many of the social and political realities of black women. I think that this is what my African-American undergraduate female students are getting at regarding the desire for black feminist thought appearing more on the philosophical syllabus, as it were.”

Professor Allen replies:

Philosophy departments can become more inclusive if they take time to learn about emerging and emergent trends, advertise positions for fields people of color specialize in, and expand curricula to incorporate what black philosophers do. During the past 60 years, new fields of specialization have emerged—philosophy of race, African-American philosophy, Africana philosophy, black feminist/womanist thought, and so on. These have appeared in tandem with an increase in the number of professionally trained philosophers of black descent. Among the A.P.A.’s estimated 10,000 Ph.D-trained philosophers in the United States today, an estimated 125 are black, 38 are black women. Twenty-five years ago, Adrian Piper and I attempted to invite the Ph.D-trained black women in philosophy to join a professional association. We identified about eight eligible philosophers.

Back when I was a graduate student teaching assistant, a black student approached me and asked why I didn’t teach black philosophy. I gave the then standard answer that philosophy addresses universal themes applicable to everyone. But it has proven really hard for undergrads to see why Plato’s allegory of the cave, or Leibniz’s windowless monads or even Rawls’s theory of liberal justice matter enough to make philosophy their majors or life’s work….

Most contemporary African-American philosophers write about topics directly related to race or other aspects of the African-American experience. Indeed, at some point in their careers, most African-American philosophers seem to have found themselves deeply engaged in “social analysis” that deals with what M. L. King, as he sat in jail in Birmingham, referred to as “the hard, brutal facts of the case.” 

I am curious to hear what others—especially people of color who are professors or graduate students working in philosophy—think about this part of the interview.

Professor Allen is certainly right about the increase in racial and gender diversity in the profession. I have no reason to doubt her when she says that “most contemporary African-American philosophers write about topics directly related to race or other aspects of the African-American experience” and that “fields people of color specialize in” picks out a distinctive subset of philosophical fields—those she lists. Still, there are questions about how departments should make use of this information, if at all, in their admissions, curricula, and hiring, and I’d welcome opinions on this matter.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m of the opinion that these topics and areas are philosophically important and fruitful and that the increased amount of attention to them by more and more people in the profession is a welcome evolution of the discipline.For the purposes of keeping the discussion here from being derailed, I’m asking commenters to refrain from debating that point. Thank you. (If you disagree with it, you can just refrain from commenting on this post, or you can stipulate it for the sake of argument. Also, please, no discussion of this request. No buts. Thanks.)

Relatedly, four years ago, I posted a query from a reader looking for suggestions of “topics that are more likely to be of interest to women than other topics.” The response was not favorable, to put it mildly—check out the comments—and I put up an apology for posting it the way I did. “Philosophical topics of interest to women: Philosophical topics of interest,” ran a common type of reply.

So there’s at least the appearance of a tension between attitudes towards the acceptability or accuracy or usefulness of the kinds of generalizations Professor Allen offers, and attitudes towards the acceptability or accuracy or usefulness of the kinds of generalizations my curious reader sought. It could be that there really is no puzzle there—that there are relevant differences between the kinds of generalizations, or that I have a skewed perception of people’s attitudes about them—but if someone wants to take a crack at explaining how to think about all of this, I’m all ears. Thank you.

*I’m also aware that some readers will find this declaration extremely annoying because they will see it as condescending, while other readers will find it extremely annoying because they will see it as virtue signaling. I’m glad my writing can have such a unifying effect in this age of increased polarization.

Julie Mehretu, “Dispersion”

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Keisha
Keisha
2 years ago

I didn’t start off working on race related issues in bioethics but after some time I found it impossible not to work on these issues. I think it’s like Dr. Allen said with the King reference, the reality smacks you in the face. But also the profession, in many ways forces you to do it. Whether it’s when you’re being interviewed about topics completely unrelated to race and the hiring committee or interviewer asks you for your take on a race issue in academic philosophy or in popular media or when editors contact you and ask you to write an op-ed on race, assuming that you have the skills to do so because you’re black. Eventually you get the point. Or like the situation I found myself in, these important topics of race are not being written or not written enough, or not written by philosophers for popular consumption so you do it because if not, it may never get written or shared with communities outside of philosophy. Grateful to Dr. Allen for sharing her experiences. Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
2 years ago

“But it has proven really hard for undergrads to see why Plato’s allegory of the cave, or Leibniz’s windowless monads or even Rawls’s theory of liberal justice matter enough to make philosophy their majors or life’s work….”

It saddens me that an academic philosopher of her prominence (next president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association) could say something like this. Leave out Rawls and Leibniz for the moment, but how can anyone philosopher worth the name be unable to relate how Plato’s cave “matters” to the lives of the people who read it–it’s about human nature and education, and ultimately, about freeing oneself from our own dogmatic tendencies that bind us, unthinkingly and uncritically, to take the truth-content of our education for granted; i.e., it is the western tradition’s archetypal image of the philosophical journey itself. If one cared about freedom, humanity, or truth, what *could* matter more…? Yikes!Report

T
T
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

I don’t think she was advocating for it, but was simply sharing an anecdote about the receipt of a philosophical education by undergrads. Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  T
2 years ago

Indeed, I agree, and I didn’t intend to imply that she’s advocating for not teaching those thinkers. My point is more that I find it a weak capitulation, perhaps even a sort of abnegation of responsibility, for a philosopher to speak of how a typical student “receives” philosophical lessons–isn’t it our job to teach our students these lessons, i.e., to help students see how and why the Cave is relevant in their lives?

I would tell any professor of philosophy the same thing I tell my Phil 101 students–if, reading Plato, you do not find ideas that are immediately relevant to your life, as you are living it, the problem is with you, not with Plato.

There are countless important philosophical writings that are difficult, if not impossible, to make “come alive” for students, of course! But Plato–and especially the Cave!–would seem to constitute the direct antithesis of that category, at least in my estimation.

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T
T
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

“I would tell any professor of philosophy the same thing I tell my Phil 101 students–if, reading Plato, you do not find ideas that are immediately relevant to your life, as you are living it, the problem is with you, not with Plato.”
Isn’t that precisely what Professor Allen is saying, though? That there is a problem with undergrads in general in seeing the meaning of Plato’s Cave? Seems you’re both agreeing on this point.Report

Chronos
Chronos
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

Would it help to note to the undergrads that MLK took Socrates to be an example of someone who fought for justice? King himself relates that he learned from Socrates about civil disobedience (Socrates’ trial) and its role in replying to oppressive majorities (the Greek Senators). This isn’t to mention the role played by Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, and other philosophers King mentions. King also held an objectivist theory of ethics and this seems relevant to a range of concerns students have today. Report

Danny Weltman
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

It may be that a number of undergrads hold philosophy to a higher standard than merely being about broad topics of universal concern. I suspect the sort of lack of engagement that Allen is reporting probably isn’t driven by undergraduates failing to realize that Plato is talking about “freeing oneself from our own dogmatic tendencies that bind us, unthinkingly and uncritically, to take the truth-content of our education for granted” but rather their impression that the allegory of the cave doesn’t say anything particularly surprising or relevant on this point in the context of their actual lives in the actual world right now.

Since Plato’s message there ends up bottoming out more or less in “let’s put the philosophers in charge of everything,” one might think that, to an undergraduate, this looks rather suspiciously self-serving (not to mention all the metaphysical baggage it comes loaded down with). It’s possible that philosophy written by a slaveowner, the upshot of which is that he and his buddies should run a eugenics-driven state that engages in widespread censorship, might strike some undergraduates who care about “freedom, humanity, or truth” as not super relevant to the sorts of concerns that animate their lives.

Like T, I don’t read Allen as saying that none of these things matter, just as saying that undergraduates have a tough time seeing how they matter. And I think if one puts oneself in an undergraduate’s position, it can be quite easy to understand why they might have trouble seeing this. A lot of undergraduates don’t have the luxury of abstracting from various topical issues in their actual lives, because they are constantly confronted with injustice visited upon them. Expecting them to do this abstraction for the sake of philosophy, promising all the while that there will be a payoff way down the line when, having understood Plato and Leibniz and Rawls (all of whom say little that is directly about anything of particular concern in the real world right now), they can FINALLY draw some informed conclusions about the injustices they face every day… well, if anything calls for a “Yikes!” it might be that!

(And this is all without realizing that the point about “those who purport fairly and objectively to judge and legislate concerning blacks while having ‘absolutely no idea’ about the depth of African-American deprivation and vulnerability” applies, I take it, to a lot of classic philosophy in ways that make undergraduates concerned about these issues inclined to reject philosophy as a major or as a life’s work, especially considering lots of other disciplines tend to do a better job in terms of at least trying to be live to these concerns.)

And anyways, the suggestion as I understand it isn’t to stop teaching Plato, Leibniz, and Rawls. The suggestion is rather to also teach some African-American philosophy (for example). That is the sort of thing that could perhaps help an undergraduate understand the relevance of philosophy enough to major in it or make it their life’s work. And in doing so, they can also learn Plato, Leibniz, and Rawls! So everybody wins.Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  Danny Weltman
2 years ago

I simply disagree that reading Plato’s Cave is a “luxury of abstracting” from life. As I said in my original post, the Cave is about human nature and the universal human condition to passively ingest one’s cultural and social education uncritically; but let’s go further. Philosophy is the activity of “waking up” to this fact, for Plato, and living a philosophical life becomes, then, the lifelong struggle to free oneself from one’s conditioning, i.e., to become truly free–in thought and character (would this not be something relevant for African Amercians?). When one is truly free in this sense, then one can think for oneself, and think clearly, and only *then* put the state in order rationally and justly (nor this?).

THAT is why philosophers should rule–not because of some Foucauldian-smelling idea that Plato was only seemingly writing about truth, but deep down was only interested in power! Some of us teach students, erroneously, to reduce great thinkers to these base motives, but that is a modern (or postmodern?) prejudice. If anything, Plato’s denial of his aristocratic “privilege,” in order to follow Socrates and pursue philosophy (of all things!), would seem to speak in favor of Plato acting against his immediate “power” interests… Report

Danny Weltman
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the message Plato is communicating with the cave metaphor, and I also agree that if students were missing this and thinking the cave metaphor were about something else, it would be a real shame to just let them continue to miss it and on this basis replace Plato with something that they don’t misunderstand as readily merely for the sake of appealing to them. My point wasn’t really about that, though. My point instead was that perhaps some undergraduates don’t need to be told that they shouldn’t passively ingest their cultural and social education uncritically (perhaps because their cultural and social education is directly responsible for the racism that they face every day). Perhaps it has been obvious to them since before they entered college that one ought not to just gulp down the doxa without a second thought, and perhaps now as college students they already hold rather radical opinions on a number of social matters (more radical even than their philosophy professors!).

So, coming to them and waxing rhapsodic about the fact that Plato has a whole metaphor explaining why one ought not to simply unquestionably accept whatever gets thrown at you is, I take it, not always going to blow someone’s mind. It will blow many people’s minds, yes. But many other people don’t need a lesson in waking up from society’s brainwashing. They’re forcefully woken up every day when they face bigotry and intolerance. For students like this, it might take more than pointing out that Plato said “look to the truth, not to appearances” to get them interested in philosophy.

Or, to put it another way, although it’s true that “to become truly free – in thought and character” is something that is just as “relevant” for African American students as it is for anyone else, it might be worth considering whether some of your students (including some of your African American students) are already more free than you might have expected. They might not all be slavish pawns of the system waiting for a philosopher to wake them from their dogmatic slumber by giving them permission to think differently. They might already think very differently. They might be more interested in a rigorous examination of present-day issues that they are already concerned with, from the unique and searching perspective that philosophy offers. It would be a real shame to weed out those students by making sure most philosophy courses focus only on the old dead great people who don’t offer those sorts of examinations.Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

I don’t think it is fair to say that Plato’s Cave bottoms out in the idea that philosophers should be put in charge of everything. The allegory in my view has many subtle and important takeaways, such as that learning is not putting information into people but rather questioning everything, and that “commonsense” is systematically wrong both about what is true and what matters (worldly success and power, as opposed to goodness of soul). Many of my students seem to find all of this surprising, important, and directly relevant to their lives. At least they have said as much. Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Marcus Arvan
2 years ago

I should also add that many of my students seem to find Socrates’ implied skepticism about achieving justice surprising and important too—you know, the part (not only in the Republic but also Gorgias) where Socrates suggests the philosophers will be laughed at and persecuted (foreshadowing his own fate, of course).Report

RJB
RJB
2 years ago

I’ll take a shot at how to think about this, and particularly the challenge of encouraging the field to be more inclusive of topics that interest people of color and/or women, while not being essentializing or patronizing.

I think you ran into trouble on your last post because you proposed particular topics you thought women would/should be interested in (essentializing), and many of those were topics about women (patronizing). I suspect this post will fare better in the comments because this time you let Prof. Allen do that.

As others chime in, hopefully we will have a lengthy list of some topics that people of color and/or women find interesting. While some of those will be topics lots of white men are also keenly interested in, some will not. Here I think is where the hard work begins: making sure the latter topics are treated appropriately by the gatekeepers (editors, conference organizers, workshop inviters, etc.). This has been a problem in my field of accounting, because gatekeepers are prone to say “this doesn’t interest me, so it isn’t interesting in some inherent way, and therefore I won’t publish it or invite the author as a speaker.”

This can look like a purely Kuhnian type of bias, where the gatekeepers are saying “our journal/conference/school adopts paradigms A through M, but the question you are asking and the way you are answering it comes from paradigm N, so no dice”. But it is hard to disentangle choice of paradigm from racial or gender bias. As Rebecca Copenhaver said in a comment on the post on topics of interest to women, “if you want to make sure that a philosophical area will virtually disappear, manufacture an association between it and women.” There is a lot of evidence for this dynamic in academia and the workplace–when a topic or job becomes popular among women, it loses popularity among men, loses prestige, and gets closed out of key outlets.

This is a hard nut to crack, but we start by encouraging gatekeepers to rethink their judgments about paradigms, and taking a second (and third!) look before excluding some question or method because it isn’t “interesting”–especially if there is evidence that it is interesting to a group that has been traditionally excluded from the field. Report

Colin McGinn
Colin McGinn
2 years ago

I’d be interested in topics of interest to black athletes, male and female. We philosophers don’t pay enough attention to sport, not generally being very athletic. Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
2 years ago

I really enjoyed the interview with Prof. Allen. FWIW, I typically start my intro course with MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and The Apology and Cave allegory and/or Euthyphro, and the students really like it and see the connections, some of which MLK makes himself. Report

Yolonda Wilson
2 years ago

Philosophy departments can show greater openness to topics connected to race without assuming that every student who is a woman and/or of color wants race/gender to be his/her/their AOS. Philosophy departments can also understand that it is good for EVERYONE to have some familiarity with topics in race, rather than believing that race is something that only students of color could or should care about. I’m tired of the, “How can *we* (I never assume that I’m part of the “we” in question) make philosophy departments more welcoming to women and/or people of color?” question because the question feels disingenuous. I say this for two reasons. 1. As long as “race/gender topics” in philosophy are viewed by a critical mass of our colleagues as “less serious,” as not “real” philosophy, and as glorified diary-writing, then the scholars who work in those areas will face a steeper climb having race/gender work regarded with the seriousness it deserves. 2. As Allen notes, recruitment and retention of student and faculty women and/or racial minorities is important. It is very easy to hide behind vague notions like “fit” to justify bypassing interesting candidates. However, it is just as important to think about retention. I hope that few people would endorse the kinds of egregious behaviors Allen recounts in the interview. However, there are other ways that departments let everyone know who is welcome, whose work will be valued, and whose “talent” will be nurtured (or who is presumed to have “talent” in the first place). I’ve written about this: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/hypa.12353 Report

Michelle Bastian
Michelle Bastian
2 years ago

Perhaps what would be helpful here are the arguments from Kristie Dotson’s article ‘How is this paper philosophy?’ where she argues against the ‘culture of justification’ within philosophy. She points out the strong tendency for border policing in philosophy about what counts and what doesn’t. The onus is on those looking at non-traditional topics to prove their congruence and legitimacy within philosophy, rather than philosophy seeing noncongruity positively e.g. as creative, innovative, expansive etc.

What this suggests is the problem is not necessarily the need to identify specific topics, though I agree that a much wider range of philosophies should be taught. At issue is what happens when someone feels the imperative to research/study a particular topic and is then met with a chorus of boundary keepers saying ‘that is not philosophy’. Often the reason for this is that the topic does not appear as ‘universal’. Dotson quotes Carlos Sanchez as saying: “if a thinking situates itself, embodies itself,or historicizes itself, then it is not profound, and worse, not philosophy”. However as Dotson argues, in common with many feminist, antirascist, etc philosophers, “the practice of rationality always has a location. There is a where-from and a whereto for every attempt to be rational.”. So when commentators like Philosophy? above want to claim that Plato’s allegory of the cave is ‘universal’, I think it’s important to situate their practice of rationality, what makes them think they can claim this as an issue for everyone, indeed directly in the face of people telling them that in fact they *don’t* find this allegory universal or of particular consequence to them. Who gets to claim that the issues they are interested in are ‘universal’, and who doesn’t?

Tldr; the issue might not be so much in identifying particular topics, as developing a better understanding of what philosophers in positions of power do when they are confronted by a topic they don’t recognise as ‘philosophical’, and how to support a more open approach to which issues philosophy can address.

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Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Michelle Bastian
2 years ago

I’m really curious about how, exactly, this strategy (and Dotson’s) can be consistent with any reasonable struggle for the survival of philosophy within the university.

For that purpose, and many others, what philosophy desperately needs is a clear and consistent response to administrators and members of the lay public who ask, “Why exactly do we need to preserve your department? It seems much more cost-effective to just roll you in with a more general ‘cultural studies’ or similar department.” Without the ability to reply, for instance, “We may at times cover similar topics to those dealt with in comparative literature, etc., but we practice and teach rigorous philosophical analysis. These are useful skills for such-and-such reasons,” the profession seems doomed. It comes as no surprise to me that those who care least about the threat of philosophy’s disintegration in higher education (particularly in non-elite institutions) tend to be exactly those who are already doing interdisciplinary work, are the most likely to find a comfortable home in a non-philosophical department, and have the least personal and professional commitment to the preservation of the discipline.

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Michelle Bastian
Michelle Bastian
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Personally I think this strategy would strongly benefit philosophy departments. As is said more widely, about countries, businesses, etc – diversity gives strength. I’m continually disappointed to see undergraduate programmes at so many universities, often the ‘elite’ ones you talk about, introducing UGs to the most narrow definition of philosophy, with no effort to teach feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, indigenous philosophies, continental philosophy, asian philosophy, african philosophy, pragmatism, etc etc. Students should be introduced to the wonderful profusion of ways of thinking and grow their love for the discipline in ways that speak to them and their experiences. Hanging onto an identity politics that seeks purity and utilises boundary policing will only narrow the reach of philosophers and the students that are interested in learning from them. I was lucky enough to study at ANU where I took courses on ‘Contemporary Metaphysics’ (analytic) as well as others such as ‘Love, Death and Freedom’, and ‘Identity and Desire’. If I had only options within one philosophical approach I would not have continued to do honours and then a PhD in the discipline. If I have ended up becoming more interdisciplinary since then it is perhaps in part because I was forced to realise that the dominant stream of the discipline has no committment to me or to the kind of work I want to do. For example, I was asked by a referee for OUP to address the question of whether a woman has the rational capacity to be a philosopher. The editor thought it was okay to pass this along without comment! So while some do try and stay and fight to be heard and recognised as legitimate, others feel they aren’t up for this and go elsewhere. These are the philosophers of the future that the discipline continues to lose because of the narrowness of the culture of justification. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Michelle Bastian
2 years ago

I wish I could agree with you that this would help Philosophy survive in the academy, but that has not been our experience. The kinds of classes you mention routinely fail to enroll sufficiently and are canceled. It’s the classics that students seem to want — the Plato, Aristotle, Descartes. There is a bit more room in Applied Ethics, and our global ethics class is a consistent enroller. Most of the area-studies classes however have very little draw.Report

Matt
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Honest question, Dan – how far do you think the situation you mention is particular to the location you’re in – the local demographics and sort of university? It seems not unreasonable to me to think that, even if what you say is completely right for Springfield MO, it might well be strongly off for, say, Chico California or Queens, NY or El Paso TX or other places like that. Does it seem plausible to you? Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Matt
2 years ago

Yes, I agree with you. I was under the impression that Dr. Bastian thought this a general remedy for some of philosophy’s poor fortunes. My point was simply that his dies not seem to be the case. That it might be a remedy in *some* places, I don’t doubt for a moment.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Matt
2 years ago

Sorry for the typos. “that this does not seem to be the case.”Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
2 years ago

“,,,how can anyone philosopher worth the name be unable to relate how Plato’s cave “matters” to the lives of the people who read it–it’s about human nature and education, and ultimately, about freeing oneself from our own dogmatic tendencies that bind us, unthinkingly and uncritically, to take the truth-content of our education for granted; i.e., it is the western tradition’s archetypal image of the philosophical journey itself. If one cared about freedom, humanity, or truth, what *could* matter more…? Yikes!…”
If the average tenured philosopher had a fraction of the intellectual honesty, contrite self-reflectiveness, courage and willingness to explore unfashionable opinions displayed by Socrates in Plato’s depiction of him, I would be more sympathetic to this argument.
Those of our profession whose kowtowing to powers that be is thoroughly entrenched, and ability to appreciate and participate in honest communication correspondingly withered, often forget that students and other young people can spot hypocrisy a mile away, and find it very off-putting. Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Perhaps this interview was meant to mainly focus on black, woman philosophers. I get that. No issues with that. But as the president of the Eastern APA, it would be great if Professor Allen gave another, or if someone else interviews her, on the problems facing all members of the Eastern APA, irrespective of race, gender and so on.

Thesis: universalism as a prop for white supremacy.
Anti-thesis: giving up universalism to focus on philosophical problems rooted in particular identities.
Synthesis: universalism as a way to understand our common humanity, which incorporates diverse traditions and perspectives, such that a black woman student can find her thoughts in Rawls and a white male student can find his thoughts in Professor Allen’s work.

I imagine Professor Allen is in a great position to lead not just to the antithesis stage, but beyond it to the synthesis stage. I hope so. That would be amazing.Report

Jacob Stone
Jacob Stone
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Prof Vallabha,
beautifully stated.Report