Demographic Diversity is Good for Philosophy


In light of some recent discussions here and elsewhere about demographic diversity in philosophy, I thought it might be helpful to set out one argument in favor of it that I haven’t seen made explicit.

What follows is a brief presentation of just one of many arguments that could be made in support of demographic diversity. I offer it because it’s intended to be convincing to those in the philosophical community who aren’t moved by moral or political concerns to care much about such diversity, or those who think that caring about philosophy—either its development as a form of inquiry or as a professional academic discipline—means being less interested in such diversity.

(I don’t think the argument is particularly novel. It has been suggested by some of the comments of others, is in a way similar to some classic defenses, and I would bet has been made in writing by someone else somewhere—let me know if you know where).

1. The Argument

The first premise of the argument is

Growth: It is good for philosophy if new subjects are added to the set of subjects about which good philosophy is being done.

The second is

Constituency: An increase in demographic diversity is likely to provide the critical masses of philosophers needed for the emergence of good philosophy on new subjects.

We can conclude from Growth and Constituency that an increase in demographic diversity is likely to be good for philosophy.

I call this, boringly, the Growth Constituency Argument for greater diversity in philosophy. It holds that demographic diversity provides new constituencies that foster the growth of philosophy.

Before I discuss the specific premises let me make two general comments.

First, please note that the conclusion of this argument is not that an increase in philosophy’s demographic diversity is likely to be all things considered good for philosophy. I happen to think it is, but to come to that conclusion would require assessing whether, and if so, how, demographic diversity is bad for philosophy, which I do not do here in any detail.

Second, the argument is intended to apply to academic philosophy today, not to philosophy in any possible point in time or in any other possible set of circumstances. It may be that Growth and Constituency would be false were our circumstances different. But because of the intended scope of the argument, that they might be false under different circumstances is not relevant. What matters is whether they’re true or false here and now.

So are they true?

2. Growth

Let’s first look at Growth, which states “It is good for philosophy if there is good philosophy about more and more subjects.”

By “good for philosophy” I mean to be referring to two things: philosophy as a form of inquiry, and philosophy as the people and institutions that make up the academic discipline that goes by the name “philosophy”. (I think that more subjects being philosophized about well is good for both, but it being good for just one is sufficient for the premise to be true.)

The idea of something being good for a form of inquiry may sound odd, but it is a fairly normal way of talking. For example, we say that the discovery of subatomic particles was good for physics, or that the incorporation of findings from psychology into economics, which led to the development of behavioral economics, was good for economics, or that the increased recognition of the role of microbiota in human health has been good for biology and medicine.

In these examples, having new things to which to apply the methods of a field, as well as being able to make use of new things in order to develop new insights or methods, or revise earlier ideas, are understood to be good for that field. This seems as true of philosophy as it is of other disciplines.

The connection between an increase in what’s studied by philosophy and the flourishing of the people and institutions of the discipline of philosophy is perhaps easier to see: it could mean that more of those already involved in philosophy find topics they’re interested in pursuing, or that more people are hired, or more students find something in philosophy that really grabs them, or that an enhanced recognition of philosophy’s relevance strengthens the position of philosophy departments at their universities, or helps them counter threats to their survival, and so on.

3. Constituency

Now let’s turn to Constituency, which states that “an increase in demographic diversity is likely to provide the critical masses of philosophers needed for the emergence of good philosophy on new subjects.”

Constituency is one way to acknowledge that philosophy is social enterprise conducted by limited and imperfect human beings. Ideas do not magically receive attention in proportion to their merit. Rather, the distribution of attention is filtered through the operation of multiple and overlapping institutions maintained and run by other philosophers, and how much attention one’s ideas are getting depends in part on one’s successful navigation of those institutions. Philosophers are people, too, and so decisions regarding access to and use of these institutions, and assessment of the ideas circulating in them, will be influenced by all sorts of factors, not merely philosophical ones (however you conceive of “merely philosophical”).

For example, for philosophers to navigate philosophy’s institutions well, for their ideas to get attention, there have to be enough other philosophers who find what they’re saying interesting. Otherwise, their talks won’t get accepted for conferences, or if accepted, the sessions will be poorly attended; the journal editors will desk reject their articles, or be unable to find referees for them, or the referees will write reports that show they don’t really get it; search committees will take a pass; and so on. There is nothing necessarily nefarious about this. Different people find different things interesting.

Why might some philosophers, the “Incumbents,” fail to find the philosophical work of some other philosophers, the “Challengers”, interesting, and so fail to recognize that some work by the Challengers is good (however you understand that) and worthy of attention? There are so many plausible answers to that question, but let me just mention two possible reasons that I think are sometimes in play: the philosophical work of the Challengers is different from the kind of philosophical work the Incumbents do or the kind of philosophical work with which the Incumbents are familiar; and the philosophical work of the Challengers does not appear to be about anything having to do with the Incumbents.

There may have to be enough people open to doing, or familiar with, the kind of work the Challengers are doing, or enough people who recognize that the Challengers’ work has something to do with them, for it to get any professional uptake. Prior to the emergence of that constituency, professional pressures may lead most of the Challengers to be rather philosophically conservative and produce work that’s like the Incumbents, or that clearly is about something having to do with the typical Incumbent.

I’m not going to go into any detail about it here, but I think the history of women in analytic philosophy matches up with this. History is messy, and of course there will be exceptions, but generally, earlier work by women in analytic philosophy, when there were very few of them, matched up in important ways with what was mainstream at the time. And as more women came into philosophy, philosophy became more open to different kinds of philosophy (a variety of feminist approaches to philosophical topics, for example), and more open to certain new subjects as legitimate topics of philosophical inquiry (sexual consent, pregnancy, the significance of gender in scientific studies, for example).

The same is likely true of other forms of demographic diversification in philosophy. As more and more people with different experiences and perceptions of the world become philosophers, philosophy becomes a more fertile place for the development of new questions, research programs, and methods.

4. An Objection and a Reply

I suspect that some of those in my target audience may be thinking that the kind of growth I’ve been discussing is not good for philosophy, because, they think, the kinds of philosophy such growth produces are low quality. Suppose that these people have gone through the kind of basic epistemic checklist we’d expect from those holding this opinion (e.g., “yes, I know thousands of smart and informed people think these areas of philosophical inquiry are worthwhile” “yes, I am aware that my thinking may be influenced by status quo bias, familiarity bias, self-serving bias, and other cognitive biases,” “yes, I understand I may, like most people, have some racist or sexist attitudes,” “yes, I’ve considered that I have not undergone some of the experiences that are the subject of this kind of philosophy, while the authors have,” etc.) and still hold it. Suppose someone thinks, for example, that feminist philosophy isn’t any good. What to say to them?

What could “feminist philosophy isn’t any good” mean? Not “no work of feminist philosophy is good”—I don’t want to strawman the opposition here. It more likely would mean something like “feminist philosophy, on average, isn’t good.” Leave aside how one might determine that; let’s just suppose it is true. Even if it is true, though, it doesn’t seem like a problem for my argument. Philosophy in general, on average, is probably not good. The question, rather, is “Is there good feminist philosophy?” The answer to that is: of course.

If we are interested in more good philosophy we have to take certain steps to allow for or encourage its development. Such steps might result in an increase in the production of philosophy that isn’t particularly good. But we get the good stuff, too. And that’s good.

Comments welcome.

Julie Mehretu, “A Universal History of Everything and Nothing”

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Thomas Mulligan
2 years ago

Three brief points.

First, one should not infer that a increase in demographic diversity will lead to “more and more people with different experiences and perceptions of the world becom[ing] philosophers”. It seems to me that just the opposite is true: The people who are most vocal in propounding diversity are strikingly homogeneous in their ideological outlook, their philosophical commitments, and their experiences (upper-middle/upper class upbringing–>high school–>college–>”top” graduate school–>the academy, and nothing else).

Second, I think there is a fundamental problem with arguments like the one you give. Namely, a push for demographic diversity violates a principle which many people, myself included, regard as the heart of justice: That no one should ever be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sexual tastes, or any other feature irrelevant from the point-of-view of merit. To say that we are going to take positive steps to change the demographic pattern of the profession means that we are going to give extra consideration to people who serve this end, and put extra burdens on those who do not.

All sorts of wonderful ends–including the production of better philosophy (also: the general welfare, the lot of the least-advantaged)–may be achieved by violating an anti-discrimination principle. So what? Most people aren’t consequentialists. Regular folk aren’t, and most philosophers aren’t either (see the Bourget/Chalmers study). So one might concede everything you say; point out that your position entails giving some people advantage on the basis of race, gender, sexual tastes (or whatever) and other people disadvantage on these bases; and thus regard the drive for diversity as unjust because it is discriminatory. That’s my position, anyway.

Third, I certainly agree with you that “ideas do not magically receive attention in proportion to their merit”. This happens only when people take merit seriously, refusing to allow considerations of pedigree, personal connections, race, gender, sexual tastes, appearance, etc., etc. to cloud their assessment of ideas (and, I hope, their assessment of people, too). That is the important moral lesson here.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Several philosophical approaches have also disappeared (more or less) in the last 50 years, e.g. the Davidsonian research program and ordinary language philosophy. On balance it’s not clear how much more diverse (in terms of approaches) philosophy is today as compared to 50 years ago.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Justin wrote:

“As for the homogeneity of “the people who are most vocal in propounding diversity,”– I’m not quite sure what to make of that. It’s not as if people working in philosophy of race, or feminist theory, or on gender issues, or whatever, all agree. ”

= = =

Politically and ideologically they certainly do, to a large degree. And that certainly affects the scholarship.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

”Dan, that you can find something that most people working in a subfield agree on is not surprising. ”

Sure, but Dan said something else. He said that people whho are most vocal on the diversity issue tend to agree politically and ideologically. Their common feature here is not that they work in the same subfield, but their view on a certain social justice issue, and that view seems to predict a lot of their political and ideological views in general.

I don’t find that surprising at all, but then I didn’t deny it. What would be interesting to see is how far that agreement reaches – e.g. does a favorable view towards increasing diversity makes it more likely you’ll espouse some particular view in epistemology (standpoint epistemology, to name one)?Report

Ray
Ray
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Are you really certain about this? Even a passing, but careful, glance at the literature in these areas, and I can think of a huge set of substantive philosophical disagreements within these disciplines, which actually translates to different political and ideological stances. Consider some feminist disagreements about pornography or sex work in feminist theory. And that’s just one disagreement. This disagreement isn’t even on the periphery, and it led to quite a few feminists becoming uncomfortable bedfellows with conservatives when they attempted to criminalize pornography. Or consider Glen Coulthard’s criticism of so-called “recognition” in “Red Skin, White Masks”, which is a significant challenge to quite a few theories floating around on race. Indeed, I was chatting with someone who was familiar with quite a lot of the literature in gender theory and race and they expressed an exactly opposite position and worry: that these subjects have too few instances of unification.Report

Endless
Endless
Reply to  Thomas Mulligan
2 years ago

This is silly. Firstly, wanting a more diverse pool doesn’t mean wanting more of the kind of people who want more diversity.

(upper-middle/upper class upbringing–>high school–>college–>”top” graduate school–>the academy, and nothing else).

If you think this is the route of people who are pro-diversity you are falling for a lie. The more middle/upper class the more people oppose diversity. It’s a propagandist claim that it’s just ‘bourgeois, bored privileged kids’ that support diversity. But it’s obviously not true

Trade Unions support diversity. The obvious truth is that the rich kids are less likely to support diversity movements. I was a working class student at St Andrews, and then at Glasgow – if you think it was the wealthy fighting for inclusion, diverstiy, justice etc., you’re just wrong. THe largest societies at St Andrews were the Conservatives and (for structural reasons) the Catholics.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Endless
2 years ago

This seems to suggest otherwise. Or at least, complicate the narrative you are advancing substantially.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/large-majorities-dislike-political-correctness/572581/Report

JDRox
JDRox
2 years ago

Interesting argument. However, I think it’s a little misleading to say that demographic diversity is likely to be good for philosophy, but perhaps not good all things considered. I mean, lots of things would be good for philosophy in at least some way, while being bad overall. So merely showing that demographic diversity would be good for philosophy in some way, or even some significant way, without addressing whether it’d be good overall seems like a huge lacuna.

This might be another way of putting the same point, but I’m not sure about the reasoning behind Growth. Maybe the simplest way to put the point is that for there to be a healthy discipline/profession of philosophy, there have to be some very widely shared epistemic values, methods of inquiry, topics etc. If philosophy grew by taking over anthropology and biology and economics, it wouldn’t be good for philosophy, since it’d simply cease to be a discipline.

I’m not claiming that expanding philosophy in the ways that many people want to would have these sorts of negative effects (or any negative effects!), but I do think that that’s one of the things that worries people who oppose efforts to expand philosophy. So what you’ve said in defense of Growth doesn’t seem like it will help (many of) the people who oppose trying to increase demographic diversity.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

”If people want to argue that diversity is, in more ways, or more significant ways, bad (and not just by imagining how merely possible but highly unlikely forms of philosophy’s growth would be bad), we can see how that badness stacks up against the good.”

We’ll probably end up disagreeing on that.

Example: supporting Diversity would lead to significantly more topics being researched, but on a moderate level of quality (I stipulate this for the scenario). On the other hand, supporting Merit-and-nothing-else would lead to fewer topics being researched than in the Diversity scenario, but with a much higher level of detail and quality overall.

I can easily see someone thinking that Diversity is better for society in general, but that Merit-and-nothing-else is better for philosophy.Report

John Turi
2 years ago

Thanks for a thoughtful post, Justin. Two questions occurred to me on my reading.

First, in order to assess the argument, I think it would help if you said something explicit about how to demarcate the demographics you’re concerned with. It’s easy to come up with demographic categories for which your second premise is almost certainly false (e.g. sixth-generation immigrants). It’s also easy to come up with examples for which it is almost certainly true (e.g. not excluding the female half of the population).

Second, you speak of what’s good for philosophy, both in an abstract and an institutional sense. And you’re careful to note limitations of your conclusion (e.g. not all-things-considered). But this differs, as I expect you’d agree, from what’s good for individual people. In light of the fact that you grant that philosophical research tends to be not good, do you think that it tends to be good *for people* (from whichever demographic categories you wish to focus on) to enter philosophy? Most intellectual aspirations can be pursued in multiple fields (unsurprisingly, since disciplinary boundaries are to a large extent arbitrary).Report

EHZ
EHZ
2 years ago

When I applied to graduate school not too long ago, I had to fill in ‘race’ in every application form. Born and raised in the Middle East, and belonging to a minority in my home country due to that fact that both my parents are immigrants from North Africa, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that in North America, at least as far as the application form is concerned, I’m just another White person.

This is just to point out that it may not be obvious, to me at least, what features are included when talking about diversity.Report

Joseph Rachiele
Joseph Rachiele
2 years ago

Thanks for this, Justin. I found it helpful. It’s interesting that if we replace “viewpoint diversity” for “demographic diversity” in Constituency, we get the Growth Constituency Argument for greater viewpoint diversity. I wonder what people make of the plausibility of this alternative version of Constituency.Report

Erik H
Erik H
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

None of your criteria apply to demographics per se; you are mostly doing the common trick of using demographic diversity as a proxy for “viewpoint and interest diversity.” But if you think that we have enough viewpoint diversity already, what are you trying to accomplish with a call for demographics?Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Justin, can you at least admit it *looks* inconsistent to say on the one hand, philosophers writing on gender and race issues have “plenty of disagreement” and shouldn’t be thought of as homogeneous in their outlook, but on the other hand say “philosophy is already viewpoint diverse” ie we don’t need to make special efforts to improve the participation (say) conservatives, even though they’re very underrepresented compared to the general population and make up at least 40% of the population? It kind of sounds like you’re saying they’re sufficiently homogeneous so we don’t need to pay attention to them. It kind of *looks* like you’ve gerrymandered the concept of ‘growth’ to simply refer to philosophy produced by groups you like. E.g. a new account of gender identity is a taken to be new philosophy (regardless of how well the concept coheres with important work in philosophy of language and metaphysics) , but a new account of libertarianism is taken to be an increase in the number of views on an existing subject.

I can think of a good test to see whether this appearance is in fact the case. Even if the average member of those groups “typically of concern” are more *likely* to produce ‘growth ‘in philosophy than the average non-member of these groups, the fact there are many more of those non-members could mean targeting non-members might still be more conducive to ‘growth’ overall (i.e. we have lower probability per attempt, but more attempts overall). If some empirical studies came to light showing this is the case, would you now accept this (highly qualified, pro tanto) argument favours improving viewpoint diversity over other forms of diversity? It seems like you ought to, but I doubt many people supportive of ‘more diverse philosophy’ would.Report

RadicalTraditionalist
Reply to  Edward Teach
2 years ago

Sorry to pick on this comment in particular, and sorry for the tone of this, but you conservatives (whoever you are, whoever it is that’s always replying to this blog) always make this pleading case on the basis of diversity for the inclusion of your views, as if regardless of the merit of those views, those views, and those who espouse them, deserve equal representation in the academy. But, I had always thought, you stand against diversity as an end in itself. Why are you playing the modern liberal game of inclusion, then? You think the views of gender theorists and race theorists are rubbish, and that they’re only getting by because of diversity, and yet you want your own views to get the same treatment. I’ve never understood this – are all the views on the same ground? Are the liberals right about their insistence on diversity (at any cost)? And you’re just left out of the game? Because it feels like a naked hypocritical political stance to play this rhetorical game otherwise. (again not directed at you personally – this is against this entire species of comment)Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Edward Teach
2 years ago

Hi RadicalTraditionalist, I (and I feel many others like me) are not trying to get more conservative views for conservative views’ sake. People who argue for more diverse views purport to do so on the grounds of fairness or justice, but when it’s pointed out these arguments apply equally well to other groups, those proponents take a very different tone. This makes people like myself think that fairness and justice aren’t really what’s motivating them, but rather ideological bias, tribalism, and out-group hostility. This in turn is not healthy for philosophical work, not healthy for interpersonal dynamics, and is the kind of thing which leads to people supporting people like Jordan Peterson. So the charge of hypocrisy goes the other way, if anything.

I also think there are very good instrumental epistemic reasons to include more conservative people, not because of their values, but because of the internet and echo chambers means many people are not exposed to relevant facts about many social issues, and understanding these is very necessary if you want to identify which methods of improving outcomes for various groups will be effective or what the costs to certain proposals will be. In my experience, many liberal people in the humanities simply do not have the training to assess the empirical work that bears on a social or political issues e.g. ‘under-represented’ and ‘unjustly excluded’ seem to be regularly equivocated. They instead rely on heuristics like how well x seems to be accepted by the people around them and what talks they see, without hearing alternative (note: and well-supported by evidence) takes on issue. They hear only the worst arguments with cherry-picked statistics from the conservative side, and conclude that there really is nothing to be said for that view. This leads to a false sense of certainty and demonisation of disagreement, and this has negative flow on effects to how we engage in public discourse and with students. I think Haidt’s work on things like this is especially revealing, and making efforts to include more conservative people is a good way to ensure more people are exposed to these facts and arguments than they otherwise wouldn’t. Yes, this argument applies to women and minorities too. But there are currently many efforts to include such people at many levels, and as far as I can tell there isn’t any empirical work demonstrating the existence of e.g. a ‘man echo chamber’ and a ‘woman echo chamber’ in higher education on par with that of the liberal/conservative one.

And for what it’s worth, I’m about as liberal as they come.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Edward Teach
2 years ago

Thanks Justin, I took the implication to be not that conservative thought is sufficiently homogeneous, but that people who incline conservative / non liberal (I should have said non-liberal in earlier comments, which is what I think ‘viewpoint diversity’ is best understood as a euphemism for) are sufficiently homogeneous that making special efforts to boost their numbers won’t improve Growth. You make good points in response to Avalonian, but I guess since I’m thinking of non-liberals as such a large group, I’m not imagining their contributions being predominantly in political thought, because as you point out, many would see it’s pretty well trodden, and start looking for other areas they find also sufficiently interesting.

It wasn’t intended as a gotcha, so much as having on the table some testable commitments – you’re being consistent in accepting this kind of result but I think many others wouldn’t. We can already get some good proxy predictions from current statistics. Self-identified conservatives make up about 20% of university freshman, non-liberals about 62%, black students* about 8% (CIRP). If we had to pick between a measure that encouraged more non-liberals to take philosophy, and a measure that encouraged e.g. black students to study philosophy, all else being equal, the average black student would have to be 2.5 times more likely to contribute to Growth than the average conservative student, and 7.75 times more likely to contribute to Growth than the average non-liberal to justify picking the latter measure. Of course it’s not all as simple as this, but I think this gives us some reason to temper our assumptions about the ineffectiveness of viewpoint diversity on Growth.

* Perhaps the relevant reference class is ‘ethnic minorities’ but I’m wary of painting so many groups with the same brush / seems unlikely a single measure will appeal to such different groups. This also isn’t to say there aren’t *other* Very Good Reasons for improving the participation of minorities, but I think it’s important to have a clear idea of what remedies will actually work and what our justifications are.Report

Larry Rosenthal
Larry Rosenthal
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

And, ahah.
Justin’s qualitative objective may actually relate far more to the field’s membership than its content. And that’s actually a sounder footing. But it’s not the consequential thrust of the proposition.
Let the status quo be the counterfactual. Membership homogeneity is easily problematized. Insufficient intellectual variety in the field is harder to configure as an ill to be remedied.
So why this conjecture? Why is membership-diversity demoted to the status of an instrumentality, rather than elevated as a moral end unto itself?
These questions attend not only Justin’s interesting and provocative post but every diversity conversation I’ve ever been part of as well. To justify the pursuit of demographic diversity, it as to *do* something. Why?Report

Avalonian
2 years ago

Hi Justin, I don’t think your reply to Joseph above works, in particular as a reply to the claim that more conservative viewpoints are needed in philosophy. Your initial argument doesn’t merely make reference to the *number* of issues, questions or positions being pursued in the field. If that were so, then philosophy would already have achieved the “growth” you seek (since people *are* studying African, Classical Indian and First Nations philosophy, for example). Rather, your claim is about “more subjects being philosophized about well”, which obviously requires, as you say, a “critical mass” achieved within the mainstream.

I’m all for Growth i this sense. But you know, I just ran down the program for the upcoming Eastern APA. I invite you to do the same. After going through the first full two days, I had counted twenty-four distinct symposia which either dealt with issues of race/gender/sexuality/etc. or with philosophy from non-western traditions (an even split). The number of symposia on recognizably conservative (or non-progressive political) topics was, at most, two: a panel on religion and one featuring a discussion of political libertarianism.

How insanely skewed do ratios like this have to get before we admit that this is not a critical mass in your sense? And why do we continue to resist the idea that this is a problematic lack of diversity? I wish people were more self-reflective and honest on this question instead of leaping straight to post-hoc rationalizations. If you are honest with yourself, you might find that some kind of deep emotional aversion (or, to use Haslanger’s idea, a *schema*) is preventing you from seeing this phenomenon for what it is. If we continue to display blatant inconsistency on this issue, we will just confirm what the anti-diversity folks are already saying, namely, that this isn’t about fairness, it’s just a kind of cultural warfare. (and hey, maybe, in the age of Trump, warfare is what we need, even with all the associated casualties. But let’s call it what it is.)Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

OK, so instead of doing my research tonight I’ve compiled the list of explicitly political symposia on my blog, grouping them into categories. Though I have to say that I’m very surprised that anyone would expect any result other than the insane skew I found: https://theavalonian.com/2018/10/27/the-apa-and-viewpoint-diversity/

In addition, let’s not pretend that when left-wing authors do “meets critics” symposium at an APA, that *any* of their critics are going to voice even moderately conservative viewpoints (i.e. at a session on feminism, no-one will say “women are indeed oppressed in many ways, but might the wage gap have at least something to do with biology and freely chosen life paths?”.. that claim, which could of course be totally wrong, has nonetheless been pre-defined as sexist ideological speech by prominent feminists in philosophy.)

Now, I don’t doubt that some considerations potentially weigh against including more conservative voices, though your (b) feels like a bit of straw-grasping, given that MLK, Gloria Steinem and the suffragettes would all count as conservative in a great many respects by today’s standards. “Conservative” and “left-wing” are relative terms. But some considerations also count against the measures designed to increase demographic diversity (i.e. they often violate the law, they often violate widely shared moral principles that people at least *claim* to hold, they lead to the exclusion of perfectly qualified individuals). So I don’t see where that gets us.

Finally, I’d personally like to see critical symposia on Von Mises, Jordan Peterson, Hayek, Friedman, Thomas Sowell or Haidt (on free speech), sessions where it’s required of at least some of the speakers to claim that these thinkers are right about some things. But I don’t suppose that my tastes exhaust the possibilities here. We can do better than this.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

I’m not clear on why you count all those different sessions as “political symposia”? The majority of ones on that list look like they are about issues in language or epistemology, or other areas that aren’t really about political thought. Some of these seem to have been coded as “left-wing” just because of the mere mention of race, gender, or disability, and not because of any connection to traditionally left-wing ideas about social class and politics.

It’s also notable that a large fraction of the sessions coded as “left-wing” are from the group sessions, and not the main meeting program.

I think it would be great to have a session on Hayek (whether on the political work, the epistemology, or anything else). But it’s notable that both Marx and Keynes also have zero sessions here – the sort of political-economy topics that these thinkers are on about don’t seem to be directly addressed from any side of political debates (apart from the session on anarchism, which sounds like it has at least one explicitly leftist paper, but likely others that wouldn’t naturally be classified on a left-right spectrum).Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
2 years ago

I will continue to respond to this line of questioning even though I have to say, I’m becoming increasingly unable to make sense of the impulse to pick at these particular nits. If you look at the sessions that, as you say, “merely mention” race or gender, or those that are on supposedly “non-political” topics you will of course see that the talks do not merely mention these topics, rather, they address issues of oppression and power. “Race and Language” isn’t traditional philosophy of language, it’s explicitly *politicized* philosophy of language featuring talks like “An Illocutionary Model of Discursive Injustice”. And that’s great, I’m sure the session will be illuminating and interesting, and I’m all for inquiry into the interactions between language and power. But I don’t know why I have to argue that it is an explicitly left-wing session!

And I do wonder why it is at all “notable” that many of the sessions are group meetings rather than symposia. That observation can only support my point, since along multiple dimensions we have nothing approaching intellectual diversity in the field, as Justin defines it. Or was there something that this was supposed to indicate that I’m missing?Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

I appreciate and share your frustration with these conversations. I also appreciate your sticking it out and remaining civil and calm.Report

Benjamin L.S. Nelson
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

Hello all, much like Dr. Easwaran, I think it is worthwhile to get clear about the standards being used to parse what counts as “left-wing” or otherwise. If we decide to play it so fast and loose with our criteria that, e.g., the mere discussion of violence makes a symposium left-wing when viewed from 40,000 feet, then similarly loose criteria should mandate that the mere discussion of the philosophy of religion, Hegel, or Heidegger ought to count as ‘right-wing’ from the airplane’s point of view.

As an aside, I was also surprised to find that affiliate group meetings and colloquia were being coded at all, given that the point of the exercise (both here and on the blog) was to count symposia. This is a verbal point, I guess, but notable (for me) because it led to confusion when trying to understand the sorting exercise.

Best wishes to all.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Benjamin L.S. Nelson
2 years ago

I had no trouble at all understanding what he meant when he characterized them as “left wing.” I suspect most ordinary people wouldn’t either.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

One issue with viewpoint diversity is that (increasingly, as the US – regrettably – sorts itself socially by political affiliation), being conservative functions as a demographic category as much as it does a viewpoint.

To take a similar example with a different political valence: Justin identifies “religious background” as a category to which his argument applies. Presumably that’s not because theist perspectives are underrepresented in philosophy; it’s because religious background often functions as a demographic category, correlating with a huge number of other features. Perhaps the right way to put the concern about underrepresentation of conservatives is to talk about “political background” rather than “political views”.Report

Rick
Rick
2 years ago

I don’t think you addressed this in the post, apologies if you did. A different sort of worry might be raised: assuming that philosophy as a professional field will not get substantially larger anytime soon (which seems reasonable), initiation of good work on some new subjects means, of necessity, cessation of work on some old subjects. Maybe that’s good (in some cases it very likely is), but I could see a reasonable objection to this argument on that basis.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Rick
2 years ago

Despite some effort, I haven’t thought of any objection on these grounds that doesn’t make a dubious assumption. So I haven’t thought of any such reasonable objection. Do you mind saying what reasonable objection you can see?Report

Rick
Rick
Reply to  Jen
2 years ago

My point was that philosophical attention *by trained philosophers* is zero sum. There are only so many slots in “professional” (or quasi-professional) philosophy for people to work. If those people collectively start paying attention to new topics (perhaps because a given slot is occupied by a new person), then they will naturally be paying less attention to old topics. In other words: if I put my research resources into question Y, they are no longer available for question X. If one thinks that question X is important, or at least more important than Y, one might consider that an unfortunate research choice.

Now, one might very well not like the current distribution of attention on philosophical topics. If one does like the current distribution, however, then shifting focus to a host of new topics may seem bad (or sub-optimal—let’s assume the optimal situation for philosophy is “enough philosophers for every topic!”).Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Rick
2 years ago

Thanks for responding. I just figured that by ‘reasonable objection’, you meant something more substantive than a reaction like “I don’t like that my favorite topics are being marginalized!”Report

Rick
Rick
Reply to  Jen
2 years ago

“We’ll get new topics, and that’s good” is the argument on offer. “The current topics are just fine” is neither more nor less substantive. Both have “I don’t like that my favorite topics are being marginalized” as a foundational motivation, or—framed with an eye toward the validity of differing preferences—both depend on the advocate’s preference for some topics receiving philosophical attention rather than others.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Rick
2 years ago

“‘We’ll get new topics, and that’s good’ is the argument on offer. ‘The current topics are just fine’ is neither more nor less substantive. Both have ‘I don’t like that my favorite topics are being marginalized’ as a foundational motivation…”

Your interpretation of the argument on offer involves either an extreme oversimplification or a serious misunderstanding of the argument. The argument involves, among other things, an analogy between philosophy and other disciplines meant to support the idea that philosophy is likely to benefit overall from adding new subjects. It is a mistake to think that “The topics are fine” or “I don’t like that my topics won’t get enough attention!” are *substantive* objections to the argument, because these “objections” do not engage the substance of the argument on offer.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
2 years ago

Here’s a bit of a different concern, which is whether diversity and constituency are just “too cheap” to be meaningful. Everything’s diverse from everything else in some sense, and constituencies can be fine-grained away. So you might be thinking something like this–not to put words in your mouth, just as a conceptual option:

1. It’d be cool if more African philosophy got plugged into the profession. Certain constituencies would be better or worse at getting that done, so let’s find the ones that do well at it. But then:

2. My brother-in-law is from Wyoming, and he sure looks at the world differently from the rest of us. Like, you know, guns in schools because of bears and all that. So let’s get some of that “Wyoming philosophy” in there, too (yay diversity!) and figure out whatever constituency would be good at that. Maybe people who live there, maybe other people, whatever. (N.B., he isn’t really–actually don’t have one.)

Then repeat (2) with a lot of other stuff, like being politically conservative (cf., underrepresented; yay diversity!) or being tall (boo airplanes!) or being Celiac (boo wheat subsidies!) and so on. Diversity’s everywhere, and it’s too easy to find. Same with constituencies. If this argument is going to track any of the diversities people generally care about (roughly, non-White male), you need more pieces to get there. But Idk, just a thought; thanks for posting this!Report

Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

I see no way for the argument to work, without the presumption that interests attach to race and sex in a significant way. Otherwise, there is no reason to think that having more women or minorities in a field will lead to new avenues of investigation.

The trouble, of course, is that this presumption, on other occasions, is cause for much gnashing of the teeth and even, sometimes, employment terminations. If the argument is going to be credible going into the future, this will have to be resolved in some way.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

There needn’t be any such presumption for the argument to work. In place of such a presumption, there merely needs to be some reason or evidence for thinking that many who are not WMs will bring new experiences, perspectives, questions, research programs, or methods. Obviously, interest in new experiences, perspectives, programs, etc. comes with these people. With such evidence or reason, there is no need for any presumption that interests attach to race and sex in a significant way.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Jen
2 years ago

I’m afraid that strikes me as a distinction without a relevant difference.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

You can presume that p, without reasons or evidence for thinking that p. So there’s certainly is a relevant difference. Perhaps by ‘presumption’ you meant “evidence” or “reason,” but that wasn’t clear.Report

ConfusedPerson
ConfusedPerson
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Isn’t it just a distinction between assuming P and having a reason to believe P? You think that giving reasons for believing P is the same as merely assuming it? I’m very confused.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

No problem!Report

On the Market
On the Market
2 years ago

My two cents: I agree with many of the ideas in the post, but I wonder whether they really supports the sort of diversification of philosophy that the post is taken to be supporting, rather than something else entirely.
Many commentators here (some enthusiastic, other less so) take the post to be in support of the current “diversity” initiatives. But I take that these diversity concerns are aimed at targeting under-represented groups qua discriminated groups.
Now, there are a number of under-represented demographics that would do help with Growth and Constituency, and that presumably aren’t unfairly discriminated. In fact, some of these demographic groups would presumably help with Growth and Constituency more than members of (presumably) discriminated under-represented groups. Example: would’t a straight white male from Eastern Europe, or Brazil, bring more diversity of perspective than an American woman? I suspect he would. Many philosophers trained in continental Europe have a very good acquaintance with both the analytic and continental traditions, and are often conversant in more than one European language. They come from countries that differ in many ways from one another. Their “diversity” is in many ways much greater than that of an American upper/middle-class members of an underrepresented ethnic group.
If it’s discrimination one wants to target, one might still want to go for the underrepresented ethnic group (or gender). But the strategy presented here offers reason other than the fight against discrimination: it grounds diversification of demographics on its contribution to the diversification of points of view/interests. I think that this strongly undermines the current diversification practices, which aim at “surface” diversity markers and actually promote the hiring of people who are remarkably alike in education, worldview, and social class.Report

KL
KL
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

I am sorry but it sounds *very* disingenuous to say we have more “vocal philosophers” from Eastern Europe or Brazil than we have women or those from minority background? Maybe it’s just me I can’t think of any from that previous category but plenty from the latter. Even if that’s not true, one can easily change “Eastern Europe” to some more specific demographics. You probably can’t have it both way: on the one hand saying we have seen increased interest in areas like philosophy of race/gender, and on the other hand deny that there are more areas that we have not seen an increased interest in.

Also, it’s not true that “it is not a problem for my argument that it gives us a reason to think demographic diversity of a broader kind than typically envisioned is good. Nor is it the case that my argument is incompatible with (or “undermines”) other arguments for demographic diversity. The various arguments in favor of demographic diversity, taken together, I think make a fairly strong case.” Suppose there are various ends A, B and C we aim to achieve. And A can be best achieve by group 1, followed by group 2, and then group 4. Similarly, B (2,1,4); C(3,2,4). Then it’s not true to say these ends “taken together” in itself make the case for group 4 .Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

”Maybe, though there are some rather vocal philosophers from both of these groups that you mention.”

I’m pretty sure there are vocal philosohers from some of the groups you see as prime examples of underrepresented groups your argument is about.Report

J. Bogart
2 years ago

Absent a comparison of the development of new topics in philosophy (perhaps including new methodologies) over time, e.g., comparison of1930 to 1970 with 1970 to 2010, adjusted for relevant population changes, and demographic changes in (presumably) full-time faculty and/or publications in the discipline, is there sufficient reason to accept the Constituency premise? The gloss of Incumbents and Challengers is likely a roundabout way of talking (inadvertently) about either age or relative academic position, which are not the right demographic differentiation.Report

Tristian
Tristian
2 years ago

Interesting post and discussion. It seems to me a couple of crucial ambiguities have emerged. One of these has to do with what Justin calls “subjects.” That the introduction of new philosophical subjects doesn’t mean more disagreement within an established focus seems right. But I don’t think “viewpoints” is what we’re necessarily talking about either if that’s the level at which we distinguish liberal and conservative philosophers—a department might easily have a conservative virtue ethicist working along side a liberal virtue ethicist. So “viewpoint diversity” probably points to a different question. I take it “subjects” are more like things that might show up as an AOS on someone’s vita—various iterations of Philosophy of.…, or qualified ethics, as in feminist or Christian ethics, or a focus on a non-Western tradition or some part thereof, etc.

With that, we need to distinguish diversity in demographics from diversity in philosophical subjects. Daniel Kaufmann flags an assumption that obscures the difference, and if it’s ultimately subjects that we want to diversify, demographics are indeed being used as a proxy. In any case, they are distinct axes of diversity and homogeneity. A department increasing its diversity by hiring a black woman who does analytic philosophy of language is one thing, and another who does so by hiring a white man who does philosophy of race is another. This suggests some different senses in which someone might advocate for, or be skeptical of advocacy for, more diversity in philosophy.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
2 years ago

“It is good for philosophy if there is good philosophy about more and more subjects… we say that the discovery of subatomic particles was good for physics, or that the incorporation of findings from psychology into economics, which led to the development of behavioral economics, was good for economics, or that the increased recognition of the role of microbiota in human health has been good for biology and medicine.
In these examples, having new things to which to apply the methods of a field, as well as being able to make use of new things in order to develop new insights or methods, or revise earlier ideas, are understood to be good for that field. This seems as true of philosophy as it is of other disciplines.”

I think this is ambiguous, and on the relevant disjunct isn’t obviously true. I can see three ways of making sense of it:

1) “It is good for philosophy when we discover more entities falling under its ambit.” I take it that’s what’s meant by the particle-physics or microbiota examples. But those aren’t good because they grow the number of things studied; they’re good because they advance our understanding of the discipline. It was good for physics when Einstein eliminated the aether, even though that reduced the number of things physicists could study; in the (really unlikely) event that “dark matter” turns out to a mistake due to getting the theory of gravity wrong, that will be great for physics even though it would be an 80% decrease in the amount of stuff physicists study.

2) “It is good for philosophy when we expand the range of philosophical subjects being studied, without decreasing the resources going into existing areas of study.” That strikes me as pretty plausible, ceteris paribus, but also not relevant to our current situation.

3) “It is good for philosophy when we expand the range of philosophical subjects being studied, even as we keep total resources constant.” That isn’t automatically true; it depends sensitively on whether the new areas being studied are more worthwhile than existing areas. To take a non-philosophy example, in physics hardly anyone was studying string theory until 35 years ago; now it has a major place in theoretical physics. Physics as a whole has not expanded in the last 35 years, so string theory has crowded out other subjects. Whether you think that’s good or not depends on your relative assessment of string theory and the subjects it displaced; it can’t be answered on general grounds that growth is good.

This isn’t an argument against the conclusion of the thesis. As it happens I’m inclined to agree that at least in some areas of philosophy, diversity has given, and is likely to continue to give, new perspectives that improve the quality of our understanding (albeit I might draw the boundaries of what counts as ‘diversity’ somewhat more widely). But I’m not sure the argument as stated quite gets at the heart of the issue.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

I think I understood your points.

First, if understood in line with your first point, Justin’s Growth premise might be true, though not because more entities bring goodness with them. Rather, it might be true because more entities bring an advanced understanding of the discipline.

Second, Growth would be irrelevant if understood in line with your second point. But since it can be understood in line with your first or third points, there’s no problem here.

Third, if understood in line with your third point, Growth might be false: if adding subjects will lead subjects that are more worthwhile to suffer from decreased resources, then Growth is false. But this is not clearly true. A decrease in resources of one sort sometimes leads to, and sometimes is induced by, increases in resources of another sort. For this reason, a decrease in resources can be very good for a subject. So, even if a subject suffers a decrease in resources of one sort, it might benefit overall, and thus philosophy might benefit overall. Given this, your third point doesn’t pose a serious problem for Growth.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jen
2 years ago

But Growth isn’t supposed to be “philosophy might benefit overall from growth” (which I’m happy to concede, but which is pretty trivial). It’s supposed to be “philosophy will benefit overall from growth”.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

I completely agree. But if my point that philosophy might benefit overall from growth, so is your third point, which amounts to “philosophy might not benefit overall from growth.” So as I said, your third point doesn’t pose a serious problem for Growth.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Jen
2 years ago

Typo: It should read, “But if my point that philosophy might benefit overall from growth is trivial, so is your third point…”Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jen
2 years ago

Maybe we’re at cross purposes. But Justin’s argument has as a premise that philosophy will (not might) benefit from growth. I’m arguing that hasn’t been established.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

It seems to me that you merely attempted to discredit *some* of Justin’s support for Growth. But let’s set aside this point. I wonder whether there is a misunderstanding between us. Let’s see.

How does your third point support the conclusion that Growth has not been established? To answer this, I propose we consider the following:

1. Your third point shows that Growth is false.

2. It shows that Growth is likely false.

3. It undermines all of Justin’s support for Growth.

4. It undermines part of Justin’s support for Growth.

With which of these do you agree? The only one that seems plausible is 4. So, I take it that you agree only with 4. If you do, then I wonder about which of the following do you agree with:

5. Your third point shows that some of Justin’s claims in support of Growth are false.

6. It shows that some of those claims are likely false.

7. It shows that some of those claims are not adequately supported.

I take it that you agree only with 7. The relevant support for Growth comes by way of an analogy with other disciplines: if other disciplines have benefited overall from adding subjects, then philosophy is likely to benefit overall from adding subjects. To undermine this claim, you need to show that there is a relevant difference between philosophy and the other disciplines mentioned. But your third point does not appear to do this. It amounts to the claim that philosophy might not benefit overall (since worthwhile subjects of philosophy might suffer from a decrease in resources). To take this point seriously–i.e., to understand it as undermining Justin’s support–it has to be understood as offering a reason for thinking that there is a relevant difference that can explain why worthwhile subjects of philosophy will suffer from a decrease in resources, one such that if there is such a difference, then those subjects will suffer. Against this, I pointed out a reason for thinking that those subjects will not suffer, even though there is such a difference. (The point was roughly: “diminishing resources can be beneficial.”)

This is when you correctly identified my point as trivial. I agreed, but pointed out that your point was just as trivial. My point is trivial because it relies on the epistemic possibility that the difference in question does not rule out a beneficial decrease in resources. Your point is trivial because it relies on the epistemic possibility that the difference in question does rule out a beneficial decrease in resources.

Is this how you understand the discussion between us? If not, then perhaps there is a misunderstanding between us.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

(4) and (7), yes, with the added point that it is not at all obvious that growth in the range of subjects studied has always been good for other disciplines when it’s happened against a backdrop of fixed resources; cf my string theory example. (As it happens *I* think string theory has been a good development, but I know many physicists who’d disagree.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

Yes, thanks for the discussion.Report

IGS
IGS
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

David’s post is excellent, but I would add to the third category, “It is good for philosophy when we expand the range of philosophical subjects being studied, even as we keep total resources constant.”. This growth will add to philosophy overall if the marginal contribution of a new philosopher in new areas is higher than a marginal philosopher in the area that is being crowded out. This could follow from the new area being less valuable overall, but it could also follow from one area being valuable but saturated, so that the overall value is high but the marginal value is low.

Another interesting question is whether areas need a quorum of at least some x number of philosophers to .e maximally marginally productive. If we need x philosophers to have effective peer review, conferences, etc. in any particular area, then areas may be increasingly marginally productive up to x. This could speak against growth if new areas crowd out existing areas so that one or both has fewer than x philosophers.

Of course, these only add to the possibility that one area is more or less productive on its own. Either way, it does not support the idea that growth is good without examining controversial empirical and value-based questions.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
2 years ago

Here’s an important point that I don’t think anyone has made: Given the reliance of philosophy on “considered judgments”, “intuitions,” “pre-reflective commitments” or whatever fancy word you want to call them philosophers are ultimately going to have to appeal to what “we think.” But we ought to worry a lot that the “we” there might be very narrow and “what we think” might often amount to little more than “what people like me” think. More diversity in the sorts of people in philosophy might help to assuage that worry. So even when it comes to very well established fields like ethics, political philosophy, or even epistemology we might do better if the circle of people involved in the conversation were bigger.
I also wonder if maybe we shouldn’t be having a deeper conversation about how to make philosophy more diverse. All too often “diversity” just means putting fingers on the scale to create some kind of balance we think is good. But I think there are a lot structural factors that make philosophy fairly homogenous that we ought to take a look at. For one, consider our obsession with “talent” or “genius” and the way we as a field laud those attributes and denigrate hard work. (I’ll never forget one discussion of journals I saw where some snotty jerk dismissed a journal as a venue for “try hard grad students” rather than the “truly talented,” as though effort were something to be ashamed of!) There’s pretty good evidence that a perception that a field emphasizing genius or inborn talent over hard work will make it less diverse in terms of race and gender (see for instance: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6219/262). And then there’s the deeper problem that “talent” like “merit” is so ill-defined as to be virtually meaningless, but I suppose that’s an issue for another day.Report

Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Justin: There are no more reply buttons, so I will just say here that there isn’t a single comment that I’ve made in this thread that is properly characterized as “complaining,” and a number of them seem to have received quite a lot of agreement from readers. As for the rest, I’ll just leave it. You are free to think whatever you like about what I know and don’t know.Report