36 Answers to “What Is the Value of Philosophy?” (updated)
Friction, a philosophy channel featuring interviews of professional philosophers, recently released a supercut of three dozen thinkers answering the question “What is the value of philosophy?”
Included in the video are responses from Jonathan Schaffer (00:00), Timothy Williamson (01:34), Michael Slote (06:11), Alex Rosenberg (09:18), Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin (10:17), Susanna Siegel (14:36), Frank Jackson (18:08), Stanley Fish (21:45), Benj Hellie (25:33), Arif Ahmed (31:12), Joshua Rasmussen (33:57), Christopher Peacocke (35:58), Eric Sampson (36:42), Terence Horgan (27:52), Michael Huemer (41:08), Owen Flanagan (44:08), Brian Bix (46:33), Mark Balaguer (48:15), Paul Weirich (51:04), Roy Sorensen (52:35), Don Loeb (54:47), Michael Walzer (56:54), Alex Worsnip (1:00:22), Pete Mandik (1:04:24), Manuel Vargas (1:12:37), Tyler Burge (1:17:10), Linda Zagzebski (1:22:54), Christopher Kaczor (1:24:58), Avery Archer (1:26:09), Brian Skyrms (1:30:47), Herman Cappelen (1:31:38), Tim Maudlin (1:36:58), Barbara Partee (1:40:54), Manuel Garcia-Carpintero (1:47:59), Steven Pinker (1:58:10), and Kendall Walton (2:01:49).
You can support Friction’s interview work here.
UPDATE (12/3/22): In the comments below and elsewhere online there has been some criticism about the demographic make-up of this set of interviewees (mostly men, mostly white, mostly English-as-a-first-language, etc.) and criticism of me for not discussing the video’s lack of diversity in the original post. What happened is that I learned about this video, watched a little, thought it asked an interesting question of interesting people and that Daily Nous readers would agree with that assessment, and put it up on the site. I did this via my phone because the day before, I mysteriously got logged out of DN on my computer, could not log back into it on any computer, but strangely could still work on the site via my phone. You may not know this but for various reasons it takes me about 10 times longer to create posts on my phone than on a computer. In the realm of “stuff that when it comes down to it admittedly is not all that important,” it is really a sizable pain in the ass. Still, I put up four posts for you folks yesterday. [Pausing for a moment now until the applause dies down.] Anyway, now that I have (again, mysteriously) regained access to my site on my computer, I can respond to these criticisms. I have four words for my critics: holy shit, you’re right.
This video is full of fascinating answers to a question that’s important to philosophers. I think it’s great that someone conducted these interviews and put this supercut together, and it’s great that so many philosophers and others agreed to be interviewed. But between my excitement about it and my rushing against my technical problems, I missed the demographic imbalance. Had I noticed it, I still would have posted the video, but I would have included something like this, too: “I hope Friction’s interview series continues to grow and comes to includes a wider diversity of philosophers who can be featured in future editions of compilations like this one.” After all, as many readers know, I’m a fan of diversity in philosophy. So, thanks for the criticism, readers.
Fascinating! I love hearing the various answers that philosophers give to this question.Report
The guy who conducted the interviews, and cut the compilation, is an independent YouTube creator. He’s not a professional philosopher or some representative for the profession–just a guy who likes philosophy and likes talking to people with his interests in his spare time and recording it. He did the interviews he wanted and then had the cool idea to cut this excellent video. Good for him. He doesn’t owe any of you an apology.Report
Yes, but Justin ‘uncritically’ posted it. He should have at least added a trigger warning – I am still shacking with shock.Report
…”shaking”… It has even affected my spelling!Report
I can’t tell if you’re serious, but if Justin’s posting this video really is enough to cause you to _shake with shock_, that discredits you far more than it discredits Justin or the video.Report
Clarification: I do mean the first part about ‘uncriticially posting this video’. The rest is just me having fun.Report
Everyone has an axe to grind. If you stop grinding your own axe to help everyone grind theirs, you’ll have spent the day grindng axes and no time actually cutting. If you try to grind your own axe so that everyone’s happy with the grind you’ll have ground the axe down to nothing and again won’t have spent any time cutting.
The moral of the story is to grind your own axes and let other people figure out how to cut their own wood. There’s only so much time in a day. Report
I respond to some of the criticisms raised in the comments here in an update to the post, above.Report
@Justin Weinberg: Thanks for your thoughtful and gracious response!Report
I recognize the demographic imbalances on the channel. I also recognize similar demographic imbalances in English-speaking analytic philosophers. I’m not trying to represent philosophers broadly because I’m not equipped to do that. I reach out to people largely based on what sort of work they do, that I’m interested in and can engage the guest on. I still would prefer it to be more diverse than it is, and I will try to work toward that, but I would want people to recognize the background demographics of the population I’m targeting in my series – largely English-speaking analytic philosophers.Report
I think it’s cruel for people to criticize you for doing something you’re passionate about because your execution doesn’t satisfy their post hoc biases about what your project should have been.Report
One may well target the English-speaking analytic philosophers demographic, whilst also including more of them who do not speak English as their native language. There really are plenty of those.Report
The lack of demographic diversity in this video and the channel in general reveals something about the changes in our profession. These changes are fairly recent and have not yet made their way to lay/public philosophers. We’ve become much more committed to diversifying the profession in the past few years.
If I think about edited volumes published in say in 2005-2010, then it seems to me the editors were thinking that they were doing OK in terms of diversity if they had 1-2 women authors and a whole lot of white men (there are obviously many exceptions to this general impression). So, there was some aspiration for diversity in panels, edited volumes etc but this diversity was focused almost exclusively on gender, and it was much more token-y than it is today.
Now we have become aware of diversity, not just in terms of gender, but in many other dimensions (e.g., race, class, disability), and of course also of the fact that philosophers operate in the context of academia, which leaves out a lot of relevant people/ideas (cf Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s recent book).
In terms of value of philosophy, it might have been interesting to interview adjuncts who in spite of terrible conditions still stick with philosophy, people at teaching-intensive colleges, people who work as philosophers but not as academics (e.g., as ethical consultants in hospitals, in tech as software engineers). You would probably get a much richer picture of the value of our discipline than just asking people who have prestigious positions, have had lots of honors and awards, and who have low teaching loads. Report
Isn’t there room for both projects?
The person who took the time to make this video has devoted a great deal of energy to popularizing philosophy by finding some great philosophers to talk about the discipline and its relevance today. That’s a project we should all care about.
True, there are things the project doesn’t do. Clearly, there is considerable interest here in the comments in an alternative project for promoting philosophy that would not proceed with anything until an appropriate level of diversity could be achieved along all sorts of dimensions. Probably that number of dimensions would only increase as the project went along; and whenever such a project is completed, I feel confident that many people would immediately condemn it for not going far enough. Perhaps that would lead to more and more pefect versions of the project, or maybe those most apt to condemn it would be consulted before the video could be released so that it would never be shown until it had reached something close enough to perfection.
Why not celebrate and be grateful for both? We have this one now. It will probably get thousands of people excited about philosophy. If the people who don’t like this one want to make a different one, I feel sure that Justin Weinberg would also promote that one if it ever gets completed. Then we could see which one gets more people excited about doing philosophy and supporting our work.Report
“Why not celebrate and be grateful for both?”
The answer many will give is that this project will be (much?) more likely to excite those who are well represented in it than those who are not, and it is somewhat likely to discourage the latter from philosophy. If this answer is correct, the project will perpetuate the diversity problem. That would provide a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for it, I think you’ll agree.Report
I don’t agree, Jen.
There are all sorts of things taken for granted here (not just by you, but by nearly everyone who participates in these conversations).
There are demographic trends in the majors and careers people select.
Some of these are cultural: for instance, I’ve been told by students from Haiti, Pakistan, Taiwan, and other places that there are strong expectations in their subcultures that would make it very uncomfortable for them to take a philosophy degree or even a humanities degree.
Some of them have to do with financial obligations and opportunities. People from poor backgrounds who have made it to university have less of a pillow to fall back upon if their career plans don’t work out, and they often feel the need to go for careers with high salaries so that they can look after parents and other relatives who might not have the security that many of the rest of us have. For such people, it might be very reasonable to avoid a degree or career in philosophy, and it might be quite irresponsible of us to push that on them.
Then there are differences between the sexes. Yes, some fields (like Philosophy) have many more male than female students, but others (like Psychology, which has exactly the opposite ratios) have many more female than male students at all levels. Some, like Social Work and English, have even more pronounced differences than Philosophy, with vastly more women than men.
What is the reason for the sex differences in these different disciplines? I don’t feel that I know the answer. But there are currently far more women than men in postsecondary education, and on average they are outperforming men (just as girls are outperforming boys throughout the K-12 system). So the problem is not an overall shortage of women in universities, or general problems in the way of women’s success. Far from it.
Is it a problem that the sex (and other demographic) ratios within certain disciplines are not representative of the population at large, or the university population in general? If it is, then there are a number of solutions.
One solution could be to establish quotas for all majors and graduate programs, so that those who would tip the balance toward one demographic or another in some discipline are automatically shunted off toward a different discipline. That would greatly reduce free choice of majors and careers, but it would solve the ‘diversity problem’ immediately, if that’s the aim.
A less invasive possibility would be to just siphon off the excess males (etc.) in philosophy to other disciplines, like English, Psychology and Social Work, by working hard to make those disciplines more attractive to males. Thinning out the males in philosophy would have the same demographic effect. And yet, I have never seen this seriously proposed.
Another approach altogether, and the one I favor, involves respecting people as individuals, not as fungible representatives of demographics to be manipulated until we get the numbers right.
From this perspective, the lack of proportional diversity is a problem or not depending on whether it interferes with the life projects of these individuals. If there are people whose life project is to become philosophers, but who are hampered in doing so because of something bad that is happening in philosophy, then yes, that deserves our attention. But we can’t rightly assume from the lack of proportionality in itself (though it seems nearly everyone does) that there is a problem that needs to be solved.
And almost nobody seems to think that that is the right thing to do in general: I have never heard of the proportional lack of males (say) in strongly female-dominated disciplines as a ‘problem’ in those disciplines.
But even if our goal should be to balance out the demographics, it does not follow from the mere imbalance in demographics that people’s reactions to a video like the one under discussion will be influenced by all the demographic features alluded to. We are all far more complex beings than the simple identity-group machines that this worldview seems determined to portray us as. There are all sorts of factors that go into our feeling a sense of identity with certain philosophers.
In fact, just as I have found in my discussions with non-white, non-male, etc. students that they have all sorts of reasons for not wanting a career or major in philosophy desipte really enjoying it, I have also found that what primarily seems to excite them about philosophy is the same thing that excites me: the thrill of thinking about familiar things in a new, unexpected way. We seem capable of doing that regardless of whether we ‘look the same’ as the person we are hearing from or talking to.
Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you think the best thing to do at this point is to make a different video in which there are no white people or males, or what have you, in order to compensate for the one that was already made. Perhaps you feel sure that this would open up the gates to a huge influx of excited and more demographically diverse people.
I have my doubts, not least because I’ve heard from a few students that they have a sense of being pandered to insultingly by people who present them with things that tokenize people of their demographic in what they see as a crude attempt to win their interest, which they find insulting. These people are not idiots, and few of us like the feeling of being manipulated.
But of course, I could be wrong about this. If I am, why not just make whatever alterative video you’d like to see made? If it works, great.
But if instead we’re supposed to bemoan what is speculated to be the badness of the video that someone already took the time to make, well, count me out of that.
If there’s one thing that will help us all in our projects, it’s probably a greater appreciation for philosophy among students and the general public. Promoting that helps us all. Putting out a bunch of videos and generating a buzz, targeting whatever demographic groups you want to, seems like a good thing. Regardless of the demographics of the people this brings in, if they want to do philosophy, I’m thrilled to have them. But if our response to a video someone makes to promote the discipline is to badmouth it, so that the big reward for these promotional projects is to be called out for something, while nobody else wants to step up to the plate because there will always be something to get called out over, well, that just doesn’t sound that great to me.Report
All I said was it would be a good reason. Not that it would be sufficient reason. Do you really not think it would be a good reason? Do you believe it wouldn’t be a reason? Or that it would be a reason, but not a good one?
I’m not taking for granted these things you mention. Maybe you shouldn’t assume I am like “nearly everyone who participates in these conversations.” Haven’t you learned by now that I’m not like most other people?Report
tldr…from a philosopher. Now I’ve seen everything.Report
Which part was worth my time? I’ll go back to read it.Report
Jen you wouldn’t accept that rhetorical move from somone so I won’t accept it from you.Report
What rhetorical move? The “tldr” thing? I didn’t read it because it was too long and apparently doesn’t respond to my point. I’m not talking about demographic imbalances in general, nor am I talking about cultural differences. I’m talking about the project’s likelihood (if it had one) to encourage interest from the well represented and to discourage interest from the others.
My point was that the project’s tendency to contribute to the lack of diversity in philosophy (if it in fact were likely to do so in the way I described) would be a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for it. He said he doesn’t agree, but hasn’t said why. Instead, he talks about things irrelevant to my point: demographic imbalances in general, cultural differences, etc.Report
I’ll rephrase the point to prevent further misinterpretation or misunderstanding:
Many people believe:
1. Students can become interested in philosophy by perceiving that philosophy is for them.
2. One mechanism by which this can occur is students’ identifying with their philosophy professors, current or past philosophers, other students who are interested in philosophy, etc.
3. Students are more likely to identify with their professors, current and past…if they have things in common with them, such things as gender, race, etc.; and students are less likely to identify…if they fail to have such things in common.
4. As the likelihood of identifying increases, the likelihood of becoming interested in philosophy increases; and as the likelihood of identifying decreases, the likelihood of becoming disinterested increases.
Assuming those four things were true (even though I don’t know whether they are), it would also be true that:
5. If white men are well represented in the video in question, and other demographics are not, the video is likely to encourage interest in philosophy from white men but discourage interest from others, and it therefore tends to contribute to the lack of diversity in philosophy.
People have claimed that:
6. White men are well represented in the video, but others are not.
My point was that, assuming 1 through 4 were true:
7. The combination of 5 and 6 would give people a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video.
If you or anyone else disagrees with 7, tell people why. Saying that you disagree with 1-4 won’t do, because for the purposes of evaluating whether they help to give a good reason, we are assuming that they are true. Instead, tell us why 5 and 6 would not give a reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video, or why it would not give a reason that can reasonably count as good.Report
I figured Justin or Caligula’s Goat would have accepted my challenge by now. However, as of yet, no one has responded. So I’ll facilitate:
One approach is to say that there’s nothing to be said in favor of increasing diversity in philosophy or in favor of resisting philosophy’s lack of diversity. This way, there’s nothing to be said against the video, based on its tendency to contribute to philosophy’s lack of diversity. Accordingly, 5 and 6 wouldn’t give a reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video, much less a good reason.
Another approach is to accept that there’s something to be said in favor of increasing diversity in philosophy or in favor of resisting philosophy’s lack of diversity. But then, your response must allow that there could be something said against the video based on its tendency to contribute to philosophy’s lack of diversity, and so allow that there could be a reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video.
So if you wish to respond that 5 and 6 wouldn’t give people a reason, then you would need to explain why there’s nothing to be said against the video despite that (a) it has a tendency to contribute to philosophy’s lack of diversity, and (b) there’s something to be said in favor of increasing diversity or resisting the lack of diversity. That doesn’t appear to be a promising approach.
The final approach is more promising. It is to accept that there’s something to be said in favor of increasing diversity in philosophy or in favor of resisting philosophy’s lack of diversity, and to say that 5 and 6 would give people a reason, but not a good one. The task would be to explain why the reason it gives isn’t good. But it’s not obvious that a satisfying explanation could be given.Report
Of the 33 of you who liked Justin K.’s initial comment, none has taken up my challenge. (Not even Justin has, since he attacks a claim we are to assume to be true.) This, despite the fact that I laid out three approaches for you!?! Perhaps there’s nothing to be said for Justin’s claim that 5 and 6 wouldn’t be a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video. I had hoped that among you all, there would be a worthy adversary prepared to teach me something.Report
Jen, you said that you will think nothing of a response that rejects one of your assumptions, which you have numbered 1-4.
But that’s a very strange way of proceeding here.
Look, we can all do the same thing very easily to make any point we like. We just need to enumerate four propositions, at least one of which is false, and then draw some conclusion from them without permitting anyone to criticize those initial propositions.
I’m not disputing that, if you accept dubious or false propositions, you would in some sense be justified in inferring other dubious or false propositions. This is really a strange sort of straw man.Report
I wrote: “That would provide a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for [the video], I think you’ll agree.”
You wrote in disagreement: “I don’t agree, Jen.”
But you should have written in agreement: “Yes, that would be a good reason if the video were more likely to encourage interest from those who are well represented in it, and somewhat likely to discourage interest from those who aren’t.”
You could have then gone on to disagree with the antecedent: “…However, I disagree…” We could have then discussed the merits of your thoughts in a normal way.
Because you refused to acknowledge the correctness of my point and you instead said you didn’t agree, we have not had a normal, fruitful conversation. That’s slightly unfortunate.
This behavior of yours, if intentional, was rude. It was certainly disruptive of our conversation. Neither you nor those who like your comments seem willing to acknowledge this fact. Indeed, people like John and Caligula’s Goat allow your disruptiveness and likely rudeness to go unchecked while calling me out for my behavior. It’s foolishness.
The foolishness is what leads me to target you people. If you and others dislike my behavior, there’s a simple remedy: avoid your foolish behavior.Report
“I’m not disputing that, if you accept dubious or false propositions, you would in some sense be justified in inferring other dubious or false propositions.”
That’s true. You aren’t, because I’m not affirming anything like that. Rather, I’m saying that certain dubious claims can give those who accept them reasons against celebrating and being grateful for the video. I did so in response to your request for a reason (as you wrote “Why not celebrate and be grateful for both [videos]?”).
“This is really a strange sort of straw man.”
No, it’s just that you haven’t understood the dialectic.Report
Jen, there’s only so much of this sort of snarky, bad faith sophistry the rest of us can or should abide in what could be a serious discussion.
But I’ll reluctantly try once more, this time to address your point that I shouldn’t have agreed with you.
What you wrote was: “If this answer is correct, the project will perpetuate the diversity problem. That would provide a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for it, I think you’ll agree.”
Please note that what you wrote takes for granted the existence of a diversity problem. But as I explained immediately afterward in my response (though you then smugly boasted about not reading it, so you won’t know this), I haven’t yet seen good grounds for believing that there is such a problem. Hence, I disagree with what you said.Report
To be clearer, I should have said “lack of diversity” instead of “diversity problem.” This is something I changed in the clarificatory comment afterward. You should have realized by then.Report
And to be clear, the lack of diversity can be a problem without presupposing the popular opinion or the common hypothesis is true. It can be a problem simply because diversity of thought and experience tends to come with diversity more generally, so that the lack of diversity in philosophy brings with it the lack of diversity of thought and experience. You seem to fail to recognize this possibility.Report
I guess I should be glad that you now say I seem to fail to recognize things rather than that I fail to recognize them. That’s some improvement!
Anyway, it’s not that I and others haven’t caught up to you, Jen, and haven’t yet considered the possibility that a lack of diversity along the lines of sex, race, etc. could bring with it a lack of diversity of thought and experience. Far from it.
Rather, the general conversation has moved past that. The immediate response to that line of reasoning is that race, sex, etc. turn out to be not very good proxies for viewpoints. I could go to any elite high school and admit a bunch of graduates from there, taking care to pick out people with a broad mixture of races, sexes, sexual orientations, and gender identities. But they will probably have a very narrow range of viewpoints among them, relative to the breadth of viewpoints held by people just across this country.
If you want to put together a group of people whose viewpoints are diverse, the thing to do is just ask people what their opinions are and make sure that you get a good mix. Also, you should be especially tolerant and encouraging of people who hold views very different from those you and most of your peer group hold, so long as they’re prepared to argue for them, and less strident in brushing aside other points of view.
If you’re promoting a project like *that*, I’m very keen on helping move it forward.Report
I wrote that “the lack of diversity can be a problem without presupposing the popular opinion or the common hypothesis is true.” I then supported my claim with an example: “It can be a problem simply because diversity of thought and experience tends to come with diversity more generally, so that the lack of diversity in philosophy brings with it the lack of diversity of thought and experience.”
It is the initial possibility, the one I support with an example, that you seemed to have failed to recognize. I pointed out this possibility because my initial comment to you, in which I wrote of the “diversity problem,” was not intended to be about any specific diversity concern (such as the common hypothesis), which is why I clarified in my later clarificatory comment that my point was about contributing to the lack of diversity (which *can* raise various specific concerns). I’m not now, nor was I then, talking specifically about the specific problem I used to support my claim that the lack of diversity can be a problem without presupposing the popular opinion or the common hypothesis. For this reason, the following from you was inapt:
“Anyway, it’s not that I and others haven’t caught up to you, Jen, and haven’t yet considered the possibility that a lack of diversity along the lines of sex, race, etc. could bring with it a lack of diversity of thought and experience. Far from it.”Report
“Jen, there’s only so much of this sort of snarky, bad faith sophistry the rest of us can or should abide in what could be a serious discussion.”
I suppose you think that I don’t believe what I’m writing, and that I’m simply trying to avoid letting people see where I’ve made mistakes. I don’t know why you believe this. But your having come to believe this is consistent with my observations of your prior behavior…It seems you have trouble forming accurate beliefs.Report
Justin Kalef, for the love of all that is sacred, please stop feeding the troll!!!Report
Point taken! She just keeps dangling that low-hanging fruit, and I find it so hard to resist… thanks for your helpful nudge.Report
On the other hand, he knows that the plausibility of all my responses to him is obvious enough to anyone paying close enough attention. So he kniws that if he stops feeding me now, he will appear to many to have been mistaken all along. The only way to avoid that result, I suppose he thinks, is to continue trying to find some fault in me or what I write. Thus, he carries on… So far, he has been unsuccessful, and he will probably continue to be.Report
Sorry for not having written back earlier. I’ve been busy with other things and haven’t visited the blog for a few days.
The material that you chose not to read in my response was a sort of preamble, since I think that some of your background beliefs might be responsible for your not seeing how there could be reasonable disagrement with you, and I wanted to question them.
I certainly agree with you that many of us are apt to get excited about something if we find that we can related to someone who is doing it.
However, I disagree with your apparent presumption (that I’ve heard from many others) that similarity of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. are the main things that make most people feel that sense of connection.
As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed in a few of my courses recently that a disproporitionately high number of my most avid students (relative both to the general population and to the demographics of my classes) are non-white, with black students being especially over-represented, relative to the base numbers, among those who stay after class or attend discussion days for which attendance is not taken or required, and who keep in touch with me after the course ends.
Now, why should this be? I’m not black, I also don’t belong to their generation or get any of their references to popular culture. So, they can’t relate to me on the basis of that sort of superficial identity.
I have a few guesses about the explanation, but I think they all have something to do with the fact that I present myself just as I am: as someone who finds himself standing outside from people doing things all around him and sincerely wonders about the presumptions everyone seems to be making.
I think that things like that — relating to someone’s sense of wonder and curiosity about things, etc. — are a much stronger hook for people who might become excited about philosophy than someone saying, “Hey, look at these people! They look just like you, and they’re philosophers, too!” That just seems flatly manipulative. If someone from another demographic tried to rope me in to some discipline or activity by pushing people in front of me who resemble me in such ways, I would feel offended and patronized and be unlikely to want anything to do with it. I’ve heard similar things from a number of members of the same demographics who are currently less commonly found in philosophy.
But, again, I realize that I might be wrong about this. If someone goes out and creates a special promotion for philosophy that targets people of specific demographics in this way, and it’s a smashing success at getting a bunch more people who love philosophy to take the major, I’ll take the idea more seriously.
If and when that video does get made, you won’t find me complaining about it. And that’s my point. I’m saying the solution here should be to make more videos if you don’t like the videos others have already made, not to sit around and snipe at those who have taken the time to create something positive. The internet is big enough for more than one promotional video for philosophy.Report
“However, I disagree with your apparent presumption (that I’ve heard from many others) that similarity of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. are the main things that make most people feel that sense of connection.”
My point doesn’t rely on the presumption that similarity of race, sex, etc. are the *main* things that make *most* people… It relies on the presumption that similarity of these race, sex, etc. are things that make some people… This is a weaker, more plausible claim.
“I think that things like that — relating to someone’s sense of wonder and curiosity about things, etc. — are a much stronger hook for people who might become excited about philosophy than someone saying, “Hey, look at these people! They look just like you, and they’re philosophers, too!””
This involves a caricature of the idea that identifying with a professor, past philosophers, etc. because of race or sex can help people become interested in philosophy. People are psychologically complex, with a variety of attitudes, sensibilities, levels of comfort in relating to others, etc. If a student has spent most of his developmental stage interacting with, learning from, and relating to people of a certain race/gender, it wouldn’t be surprising if he is more likely to identify with a professor of that race/gender–even when it comes to identifying partly because of the professor’s sense of wonder.
“If and when that video does get made, you won’t find me complaining about it. And that’s my point. I’m saying the solution here should be to make more videos if you don’t like the videos others have already made, not to sit around and snipe at those who have taken the time to create something positive.”
So in your initial comment, when you asked “Why not celebrate and be grateful for both [videos]?” you weren’t actually requesting reasons others might have for not celebrating and being grateful for the video in question? If not, I guess we’ve both wasted our time, for my initial response was to explain such a reason. You were, I guess, simply using the question as a rhetorical device to make the point that both videos would be good. But do you at least acknowledge that if others have the reason I explained, it is a good reason for them if their presumptions are correct?Report
No, I really did sincerely mean that I thought that we should celebrate both videos. I don’t understand why you’ve included otherwise.
If your position is not that being exposed to the right proportion of people with certain common demographic features is the main reason for low proportions of certain demographics, but rather that it *might* be *one* factor among many, but might not for all we know, then I agree that that view is more plausible. However, if you’re only making that much weaker claim (as you call it), then the case for criticizing the existing video is weaker, too.Report
At the risk of being called “nitpicky”:
“No, I really did sincerely mean that I thought that we should celebrate both videos. I don’t understand why you’ve included [sic] otherwise.”
You (and everyone else) can, without being incoherent, believe that R (given certain assumptions) would be a good reason against doing A, while also believing that we should do A. So when you asked for a reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video, and I explained that the video’s tendency to contribute to the lack of diversity (given certain assumptions) would be a good reason, you could’ve simply agreed without giving up your belief that we should celebrate and be grateful for the video. (What’s more, you could have done this without accepting that the relevant assumptions were true.) But you still seem unwilling to do this, which is odd.
You even seem unwilling to admit that, for those who accept that the relevant assumptions are true, the video’s tendency to…would be a reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video. This is even more odd.
It would seem that you reject the difference between (a) the belief that R would be a good reason against doing A and (b) the belief that we should not do A, or you reject that the former belief is compatible with the belief that we should do A.
“However, if you’re only making that much weaker claim (as you call it), then the case for criticizing the existing video is weaker, too.”
Or perhaps you just refuse to openly concede that you are incorrect.Report
Or, perhaps, at a certain point one sees that enough other people will have figured out what is going on in the conversation and that it should be left to speak for itself.Report
Please do tell us what is going on in the conversation. Don’t let it speak for itself.Report
I must thank you for drawing my attention to the importance of letting the conversation speak for itself! After reading through it once more, it spoke: Justin K has trouble forming accurate beliefs!!Report
“Sorry for not having written back earlier. I’ve been busy with other things and haven’t visited the blog for a few days.”
Haven’t visited the blog for a few days? Your comment here is a reply to a comment I posted the day before it, and my comment was a response to yours on the same day. So, you’ve visited this blog every day between your initial post and this one. Did you really think people would believe that you haven’t visitedthe blog for a few days? I guess they shouldn’t trust their lying eyes.Report
Jen’s ‘tldr’ is obviously rude.
Without weighing in on the merits of this debate, it’s worth noting that only one interlocutor–the rude one–is not using her full name. I wonder if she is this rude when she has to own it.
Justin’s response, however merited or flawed, deserves courtesy.Report
I agree that the response deserves courtesy. I don’t agree that my “tldr” response was obviously rude. Perhaps the expression is used rudely in most contexts–I don’t know. But there is obviously a straightforward, assertoric use according to which it is used to state that the comment was too long to be read and engaged.
Oh, and I’ll add: I’m exactly the same when people know my name (it’s not ‘Jen’), even in person. I’m also highly contumacious.Report
“But there is obviously a straightforward, assertoric use according to which it is used to state that the comment was too long to be read and engaged.”
And that’s rude: your interlocutor deserves the courtesy of being read/heard in response to your initial remarks. Assuming otherwise diminishes him, implying he is unworthy of your attention. It also assumes you can judge it is too long without reading it, implying you’re already one step ahead and his contributions are immaterial.
This is no different from obviously not listening when someone is responding to you in person, say at a conference (we’ve all seen philosophers do the wandering eyes thing when ‘listening’, that is, waiting for someone to finish because, perhaps, it’s all just too ‘tldl/r…).
You’ll nitpick. So I’ll leave it here. Report
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘nitpick’, so perhaps you’re right:
“And that’s rude: your interlocutor deserves the courtesy of being read/heard in response to your initial remarks. Assuming otherwise diminishes him, implying he is unworthy of your attention. It also assumes you can judge it is too long without reading it, implying you’re already one step ahead and his contributions are immaterial.”
I never assumed otherwise. I made a judgment: I read the initial paragraphs and briefly skimmed the rest because it was clear that his response missed the point. (Have you never had the experience that someone’s initial sentences make it clear he has missed the point? Or that reading or listening further is pointless?) Perhaps you think making the judgment and then proceeding to stop reading/listening is rude. I don’t.
Was that nitpicking according to you? I thought this was all relevant and important to undermining your point. Nothing unnecessary or unimportant about it.Report
I think it’s possible to still be grateful while acknowledging its flaws and limitations. Gratitude does not always have to override other considerations. Other considerations can co-exist with gratitude. It would be servile to always uncritically praise certain projects.Report
Lay people still have a very stereotypical view of academic philosophy. This is understandable seeing how for thousands of years it’s always been a “boys’ club”.
Some people say this video might encourage more people to be interested in philosophy. I have no doubts about people being interested since laypeople (women and men) often quote philosophers plenty of time.
But the worry is that young girls might feel like they’re not capable to pursue a career in it or that they believe it’s a boys’ discipline. Many people still operate in that kind of in-group and out-group mindset, unfortunately. Kristie Dotson’s paper “How is this Paper Philosophy?” recounts such an experience. The counselor said philosophy is a “white man’s game”.
From a psychoanalytical perspective, many young women and girls might feel and think the same way assuming it’s either 1) too difficult to be successful as a woman philosopher to even try, 2) philosophy is just what men do and it might make them less of a girl or woman if they pursue a career in it, or 3) their peers will think it’s a bad look on them.
There are many reasons why young women don’t pursue academic philosophy. Many of these reasons are psychological, economic, and sociological. But we shouldn’t take for granted that these sorts of videos may discourage them from pursuing a career in it.Report
May I give an opposing example, to see how you react to it?
Across the country, women make up 88.7% of majors in Social Work. (Remember: this is against the background of an education system in which girls and women are thriving compared with their male peers, and in which a comfortable majority of college and university students are female).
If proproportional demographic representation in each major is a desideratum, and if distance from that proportional representation is a problem, then wouldn’t it follow that Social Work has a big problem and needs to pull out all the stops in attracting males?
And yet, look at this list of 50 great US social workers, maintained by no less than the ‘Best Master’s Programs in Social Work’ website: https://www.bestmswprograms.com/great-american-social-workers/
There are hardly any males in sight. In fact, one has to scroll down to #14 before one finds a single male social worker among the ‘greats’.
Should everyone refrain from promoting this popularizing website, and should the list be criticized, on the grounds that young men may look at it and conclude that they have no place in social work?
Or, if some people really want to make changes and engineer a higher male/female ratio among social workers, should they maybe do something positive instead and make a special list promoting males in social work?
I’m trying to find the principles you and others are following here. They seem relevant.Report
I find this argument too often receives short shrift. It seems very relevant here.Report
Just to clarify what my own thoughts on this social work case are:
As I approach these things:
– It is perfectly fine for someone to compile a list of great US social workers without featuring men more prominently, even though there are far fewer men in social work (and in Social Work majors and graduate programs) than there would be if all demographics were proportionately represented in all disciplines;
– If someone came up with a hypothesis that the reason there are so few men in social work is that websites like this one show so few men, and decided that the best thing to do was to show more male social workers and display them prominently in an effort to get more men to take Social Work degrees, then that would be fine with me (though I don’t think it would be morally required, especially given how weak the evidence is that that’s the correct explanation; but
– I do not think that the people who put the social work website together deserve to be criticized for failing to include more men, nor do I think that it would be wrong for a blog about social work to promote it.
My views on the philosophy video are parallel.Report
“If proproportional demographic representation in each major is a desideratum, and if distance from that proportional representation is a problem, then wouldn’t it follow that Social Work has a big problem and needs to pull out all the stops in attracting males?”
Similar claims can presumably be made about psychology and sociology, and perhaps law and medicine as well (though these two to a lesser degree, likely).
I am not familiar with diversity advocates’ response to this claim. With such a disproportionate share of males to females in (say) social work (disproportionate to what sample? The general population? The population of the US? The state/province?), are there equally aggressive efforts to rectify this?
The question is partly rhetorical: anecdotally, my wife has an MSW, and saw/sees very little discussion of the paucity of males in her program and profession, unlike when she was in philosophy.
At the risk of being blocked from further commenting due to violation of general conversational norms:
Are the imbalances in social work, psychology, etc. believed to be explained by a culture within the relevant professions that is hostile to men? If not, this could partly explain the difference between the resistance to imbalance in philosophy and the resistance in the other professions. Do those in the other professions tend to be as obsessed as philosophers with the pursuit of understanding justice and truth? If not, this could partly explain the difference. I’m sure there are other possible factors, but I’ve said enough to help you recognize that your bewilderment might simply be due to a failure of imagination, rather than being due to an exceptional ability to question norms and confront difficult truths.Report
I think, instead, that much of the tension in this conversation is hidden in that phrase you use here: “Are the imbalances in social work, psychology, etc, believed to be explained by a culture within the relevant professions that is hostile to men?”
We have before us some observations: various academic disciplines and careers are quite far from 50-50 in the proportions of men and women pursuing them.
There are different theories that can be brought in to explain those observations. Among those theories are an ‘open hostility’ thesis, a ‘subconscious hostility’ hypothesis, etc.
You are right that, in our place and time, it has come to be utterly taken for granted that any such disparities must be indicative of a problem to be solved. Anyone who doubts that such a theory is correct is quickly tarred as a bad person. But for most people, the question does not even arise. They move without any intermediary steps from the observation to the theory that they feel sure explains the observation.
I clearly explained to you, Jen, my reasons for doubting that that popular theory is correct. I tried to explain it at some length so that you and others would not do what is so often done, and conclude that I doubt these theories because I don’t care about the people certain approaches are meant to help.
I had to explain that it is just the opposite: that I am bothered by unanswered questions like, “Is it really to the benefit of members of proportionally underrepresented groups, qua people or qua group members, for us to try to push them into philosophy when their initial reluctance might be due to the fact that their lives are not always as easy as our own?”
And what was your response to that, Jen? What did you say in response to my taking the time to explain to you why I choose to step back from the popular opinions you have never yet questioned, and question them?
Your response was, “tl;dr” and then an explantion that I had missed your point. But I did not miss it at all. I was taking the time to explain to you why your question to me presumed the truth of something that is very much in question, and that I prefer not to be swayed by the force of popular opinion.
And now, after arrogantly dismissing my attempt to get this across to you, you have the further gall to portray me as having a failure of imagination, even though you have so far (as so often) shown yourself to lack not only the curiosity to wonder whether the popular opinion on a subect is correct, but even to wonder what I had to say to you in my response.
Truly laughable, or lamentable, or both. But if you decide to go back and read what you initially found to be too long and would like to respond to it, perhaps there will be some point in continuing this discussion.Report
“But for most people, the question does not even arise. They move without any intermediary steps from the observation to the theory that they feel sure explains the observation.”
This seems true.
“I clearly explained to you, Jen, my reasons for doubting that that popular theory is correct. I tried to explain it at some length…”
What you don’t seem to want to acknowledge is that the question of whether the theory is in fact true was irrelevant to my point. If someone has justification for believing the theory, and believes it on those grounds, his belief can contribute to his having a good reason for action. This can be true even if their belief is in fact false. This was part of my point, and you miss it when you respond by disputing the truth of the relevant belief.
Further, my point doesn’t rely on this specific point about belief in the theory. When someone has justification for the beliefs that there is something to be said in favor of more diversity in philosophy, and that the video will likely contribute to the lack of diversity, he has enough to have a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video. So, he doesn’t need to hold any belief in one of the potentially false theories you mention. So, again, you miss my point when you respond to dispute the truth of the belief in one of the theories.
“I was taking the time to explain to you why your question to me presumed the truth of something that is very much in question…”
It should be obvious by now that my point did *not* presume the truth of any theory you mentioned.
“And now, after arrogantly dismissing my attempt to get this across to you, you have the further gall to portray me as having a failure of imagination…”
You have now shown (above) that you do lack imagination, as you failed to imagine that someone can have a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video, without belief in any theory you mentioned.
“…you have so far (as so often) shown yourself to lack not only the curiosity to wonder whether the popular opinion on a subect is correct…”
Nothing I’ve ever written presupposes the truth of popular opinion or of the theories you mentioned. You, however, always seem to assume that I believe popular opinion or some such theory, or that I assume these are true. You seem to reject the possibility that someone (such as myself) who withholds belief in some such claim or theory might still respond to criticize the claims of someone who disagrees with the claim or theory.
“But if you decide to go back and read what you initially found to be too long and would like to respond to it, perhaps there will be some point in continuing this discussion.”
You should realize by now that there is still no point in reading your initial response to me, much less replying to it. It misses my point.Report
“What did you say in response to my taking the time to explain to you why I choose to step back from the popular opinions you have never yet questioned, and question them?”
That I have never questioned? A foolish assumption underlies the question.Report
Let’s look at what’s at issue between us. It’s not whether, unlike other disciplines in which women are the strong majority, women (and other demographics) make up the minority of philosophers. We agree on that. It’s not whetheer the video in question shows many more male philosophers than female philosophers. I have taken for granted that that is the case. And finally, it’s not whether people generally believe that the proportional underrepresentation of women in such videos, on syllabi, etc. is the cause (or at least an important cause) of the underrepresentation of women in the discipline. I fully agree that that is believed to be the case.
The main issue between us is this:
Is the common hypothesis — that the underrepresentation of certain demographics in videos and syllabi causes the underrepresentation of certain demographics — true?
You seem very confident that it is true. And yet, as far as I know, it has never been established, and nothing close to it has ever been established.
To establish it, one needs to do more than just point to the underrepresentation of women in the discipline and in the video and say that one must be the cause of the other (that would be the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy) or point to the fact that the causal relation is generally believed to be established, even though those who believe that it is strong have no more evidence than you or I do for thinking that it has been established (that would be the appeal to popularity fallacy).
In my comment that you admitted — no, practically boasted — about reading because you thought it was too long and irrelevant to the point at issue, I suggested a number of other causes that could fully explain the phenomena — causes we have good grounds for accepting.
You cannot, without having grounds for dismissing those alternative causal explanations or providing strong evidence for your preferred causal explanation, be justified in continuing to assume that your explanation is correct. And yet, that is what you persist in doing.
Anyway, perhaps we should leave this for now so that Tim Maudlin and others can get this discussion back on track after this long detour that began with the first comment of all.Report
“You seem very confident that [the common hypothesis] is true.”
How did you come to believe this? Is it because I’ve never denied the hypothesis? It’s odd. Look my comments.
Consider the first I made in response to yours. I wrote:
“The answer many will give [to the question ‘why not celebrate and be grateful for the video] is that this project will be (much?) more likely to excite those who are well represented in it than those who are not, and it is somewhat likely to discourage the latter from philosophy. If this answer is correct, the project will perpetuate the diversity problem. That would provide a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for it, I think you’ll agree.”
In it, I’m not reporting my belief about the effects of the video. I do acknowledge that some people have some such belief. However, I don’t say their belief is correct. I also don’t say it’s false. Nowhere in any comment have I reported my belief regarding the video’s effects. Nothing I’ve written is even close to implying that I believe the common hypothesis. (I have doubts about it, but since I don’t have much evidence for or against, I withhold belief.)
To this, you responded to dispute the hypothesis. It would appear that from my mere acknowledgment that others hold a belief, you have come to believe that I *seem very confident* that underrepresentation in videos and syllabi causes underrepresentation in the discipline. Or is it not just my acknowledgment, but instead the combination of my acknowledgment and my identifying something that, given others’ beliefs, would be a good reason against celebrating and being grateful for the video? Either way, your belief was foolishly formed. This is consistent with many other of my observations of your behavior.
I wonder what people tend to think of someone who regularly forms beliefs this way. Are they less like Socrates, more like mediocrity? (By pursuing this question, perhaps I will finally exhibit, to your satisfaction, the intellectual virtues of curiousity and wonder.)Report
I am not really advocating for a general principle. If there was a video about the value of social work, psychology, etc. there should be an effort made to include a fair amount of men and women. The issue is media representation generally. I think there’s plenty of male social workers who would like to be interviewed as well. I think it’s good to include more male representation because more boys may be interested in it but again might feel like it’s a “girl’s job” and so may opt-out of it.
Ideally, society as a whole will benefit greatly if men and women occupy most (all?) occupations in a fair amount. But of course, the “battle of the sexes” mindset still permeates society due to patriarchy so it’s an uphill battle.
But when individuals do have control over their own media choices, they should try to be fair in their representation and not tokenize minorities whether those minorities are men or women.Report
Though I no longer give much credence to the ‘patriarchy’ hypothesis, especially as a catch-all (but seemingly unfalsifiable) explanation, I think I agree with much else that you say.
My own position at present, again, is that our aim should not be to make everything equal, but rather to prevent obstacles that keep people who love philosophy from doing philosophy (and the same for other disciplines and activities).
Are there people out there who don’t fit in with a certain demographic who would love to join in to these things if only they saw a higher percentage of other people sharing those surface demographic features doing it? I think from the discussion so far that we both agree that that’s an unproven speculation, but that it might (for all we know) have some truth to it.
To me, it follows from that that it would be *worth trying* to put together special promotional materials to bring in members of minorities within the disciplines: women, etc. in philosophy, and men in social work. If that works, then we should be happy and perhaps try more in that direction.
However, it seems to me that such things, especially when promoted by a private individual, are supererogatory, or at least imperfect duties. We might thank or support people who do them, or do them ourselves; but it really doesn’t seem warranted to me to blame people who take the time to make videos without pursuing that goal, let alone to criticize people like Justin Weinberg merely for putting them up on his blog. That takes things too far, especially since the causal connection here is, as I think we both agree now, merely speculative.Report
“However, it seems to me that such things, especially when promoted by a private individual, are supererogatory, or at least imperfect duties. We might thank or support people who do them, or do them ourselves; but it really doesn’t seem warranted to me to blame people who take the time to make videos without pursuing that goal, let alone to criticize people like Justin Weinberg merely for putting them up on his blog. That takes things too far, especially since the causal connection here is, as I think we both agree now, merely speculative.”
Most of the criticisms here were directed towards the product and not the creator. Even if I said, “I wish there was more women in this video” I doubt such a statement qualifies as being unreasonable or irrational. We criticize films and artwork all the time even when we appreciate their existence. Why is this case the exception? Isn’t the Millian response to welcome constructive criticism since such a criticism did generate YOUR response and suggestion?
While I agree that it’s good to have alternative videos, criticism also functions to incentivize or make the original creators improve their products as well (assuming we value them as a brand and hope to continue our relation with them into the foreseeable future) and not necessarily to generate more alternatives.Report
People are free to have the reactions they do to other people’s work, of course; but whether the criticisms have much merit, or any, seems to depend in this case on whether it is clear that the person who made this video did something he shouldn’t have. And despite what you say here, Redundant, it seems pretty clear that many of these comments were or implied criticisms of the person who made the video.
Look at the very first comment posted: “Of course, one of the values of studying philosophy is that it can help us recognize that it is seriously problematic to produce a video featuring responses to the question “What is the value of philosophy?” by more than thirty thinkers only three or four of whom do not present as men. (Thanks for this. I am going to be even more careful going forward to make sure I don’t make this same mistake as I put together syllabi.)” [Boldface mine.]
For your work to be called ‘seriously problematic’ is awfully harsh. The swaggering term ‘recognize’ here — which implies that there is no room for a fair difference of opninion on whether the video is not just suboptimal but in fact ‘problematic’ and even ‘seriously problematic’ — really grinds it in. The video could not be defensible: it’s a ‘mistake’ caused by a culpable ignorance or inattention. Wow.
Things quickly got so intense that Justin Weinberg apparently felt he had to add an apologetic statement for having posted a link to the video at all!
In saying that this lays it on pretty thickly, I’m not saying that nobody should have criticized it. I don’t think the criticism was merited, but that’s another story.
But there are critics who say that they would have made a movie differently or that it fails to achieve certain cinematic ends, and then there are critics who ride in with a moralizing tone, condemning the movie not only as subpar but making the owner of the cinema that ran a trailer for the movie come out and apologize to the movie-goers for ever having thought that such a thing was morally permissible, etc.Report
From the way you wrote your earlier responses, many would interpret your words to imply that we shouldn’t say anything negative about it and instead just make an alternative video. But I’m glad you made your points, position, and target of critique more clearly and focused this time.Report
There are two separate questions here, Redundant:
1. Should people be free to make criticisms about the video if they want to?
I think the answer is yes, on the grounds that it is good for people to be free to make criticisms about things they don’t like, whether or not those criticisms have merit.
2. Is it fair to the maker of the video, and beneficial to philosophy, for the video to be publicly criticized in the way this one has here?
I think the answer is no, and that it shows something unfortunate about where things have gone in academia and elsewhere that the response to a project like this is not to add something new that one would like even better, but for people to sit around and trash what someone else has made, pushing things so far that the owner of a blog that initially mentions the video feels compelled to apologize for doing so.Report
The “unfairness” or unfair response we see is (unfortunately) a reflection of the constant under-representation of women in philosophy and also the lack of new and updated information about academic philosophy trickling to laypeople.
In regards to adding anything new. The questions “Why study philosophy?”, “What is the value of philosophy?”, and “Is philosophy valuable?” have been debated and answered plenty of times already.
Personally, I didn’t add anything new simply because I’ve heard all these answers both during my undergraduate years and now here and there. Every few months we have this debate and it’s filled with the same arguments, counter-arguments, and counter-counter arguments all over again.
If one has spent a good time doing meta-philosophy, it can get boring and repetitive just rehashing the same debate that isn’t new. It seems like a no brainer at this point to say that there is *some* value in doing or studying philosophy even if such value isn’t as novel or unique as we wish it to be.Report
Redundant, you say: “The “unfairness” or unfair response we see is (unfortunately) a reflection of the constant under-representation of women in philosophy…”
But please note that the big objection here (as is being explored elsewhere in this thread) is why we should conclude from the portional underrepresentation that there is a problem in philosophy, when we don’t do the same thing in psychology, social work, English, etc.
If you’re interested in engaging with that, perhaps we should continue this exchange in those threads instead.Report
Because underrepresented men aren’t drawing attention to it compared to women and because many men aren’t being vocal about their representation in these jobs less people know about it. In other words, men are often bad at sounding the alarm than women. We’re more exposed of women being dissatisfied with being underrepresented than men being underrepresented in certain jobs and we’re more likely to focus on that.
When women are underrepresented they tend to work hard to encourage other women and young girls to pursue that job. When men are underrepresented they tend to keep to themselves. That’s just what I personally notice. I men in general just suck at helping other men and boys compared to women helping other women and girls.Report
One example here is a field in which women dominate in both money and representation: fashion modeling.
When asked if he holds any grudges or frustrations between the pay gap, Sean O’Pry said, “Hey, I don’t have to wear high heels and bikinis. More power to them. Good for you Gisele. Good for y’all. Y’all are beautiful. Keeping doing what you’re doing”.
It’s interesting that when men are underrepresented they don’t really talk about it much or they just accept it. Maybe men just seem to care more about their own personal lives and not about the larger trends and patterns of the industry they occupy.
I wonder if anyone finds it curious or worthy of note that in this entire comment thread—as far as I can tell—there is not a single comment about the actual content of any of the answers offered to the question about the value of philosophy. Just no engagement at all with the question.
That seems a little unbalanced, doesn’t it? A little out of focus?Report
Not surprising. The first comment was a criticism based on diversity concerns. In my experience, this sort of thing depresses excitement about the thing criticized. People tend not to want to be seen as less than sympathetic to the criticism.Report
In the video, you say you don’t think there is a general answer to the question, “what is the value of philosophy?” Your reason was that the various philosophical projects from the various philosophy departments don’t necessarily have deep connections. Plausible enough.
However, you seem to acknowledge one sort of deep connection as you discuss the work done in foundational physics, as you admit that an ability to identify ambiguity and to avoid conceptual pitfalls comes with training in philosophy. So why not say that the general answer to the question of philosophy’s value is something like “philosophy confers the benefit of a peculiar sort of clear thinking or insight”?Report
Yes, of course one could say that philosophy trains certain intellectual virtues in terms of being sensitive to and careful of nuances of meaning, or unstated premises in arguments that sometimes play an essential role, etc. I think that is true. But it is also true that some people in other disciplines acquire those abilities as well, and are very good at deploying them. In fact, I think a lot of what I said is echoed in what Barbara Partee said, recounting the exciting interaction between philosophers and linguists at a certain historical moment, where the interaction allowed both to make progress.
One would also like to say that philosophy trains people to listen closely to opposing views, even ones opposed to one’s own, with a level of sympathy in an attempt to make sense of them. And at a different level, I could have sincerely quoted Plato’s Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being”, which I believe but hasn’t got much to do with the particular things I spend my time on professionally.
But what I really had in mind was not what I said, but (for example) the very contrary sorts of things that Tyler Burge said (which are also true), that philosophy can actually be destructive in certain ways. Sometimes people treat it all as a game, where the point is just to win a debate irrespective of the reasonableness of the view they are defending (Plato also has a lot to say about this). Realistically, the effects of philosophical training are not all sweetness and light, and it is worth our while to reflect on the good and the bad. I think the video provides some opportunity to do that due to the variety of views expressed.
I should also say—for those who didn’t know—that it is not as if the project was to go ask a bunch of people this question. Rather, the idea was to have a much longer and detailed interview about the work that someone is doing, and this question was just sort of thrown on at the end. Collecting together the answers was not meant to be an exercise in the sociology of the profession, as if there is something the “average” or “typical” philosopher (or non-philosopher) thinks: rather, it was just a collection of views collected as a by-product of doing something else, and which might provoke some reflection on the question. I think it would be best to take it in that spirit, and just consider the variety of motivations and perceived strengths and weakness of philosophy. Because—again—the unexamined life is not worthy of a human being.Report
Thanks for the response. I agree, and I especially appreciate the points about listening to opposing views and the unworthiness of an unexamined life.Report
I’m going to be a bit nitpicky:
I agree that many of the benefits we get from academic philosophy are also present in other disciplines. But the question the author asked was broader. He didn’t ask, “What value or benefit is *unique to* philosophy?”. That question may be more difficult to answer for the reasons you mentioned.
But it is also difficult to answer simply because much of modern academic disciplines were influenced by philosophy in the first place via Plato’s Academy. I do think that philosophers do certain things significantly *more* than other academic professionals.Report
Yes, of course. That’s why everybody gets a PhD: a Doctor of Philosophy. All of academia, one would hope, is motivated at some level by a love of wisdom.
But I assume the real motivation is to address a question like “why study philosophy?”, and to address that one does have to consider what philosophy (as a present-day discipline) offers that other fields don’t, or at least not in such a focussed way.Report
As an outsider looking in, I think that if someone asked me why aren’t more students interested in going into philosophy, I would point them to this comment thread.Report
You m’am, or sir, have won the internet todayReport
It is regrettable that the conversation was again sucked into the vortex of debate over the proportional representation of women in philosophy, without any apparent recognition of the social-science research on differences in gender/sex representation across the professions. There’s a substantial body of evidence, generated across a number of research traditions (some of them run by philosophers), that questions some of the assumptions made in this thread. It would be good for the profession if the people inclined to have these conversations did more to incorporate this data.
There’s a widely established research paradigm in the social sciences that operates under the slogan “women prefer to work with people, men prefer to work with things” (this is a generic claim, of course, and not a universal one). This difference in preferences ranges across cultures, socio-economic position, education, and age. And the countries where we see some of the most egalitarian social policies, like Scandinavia, have some of the most unequal distributions in gender/sex across the professions, whereas places with less female empowerment tend to show more equal distributions. Here’s the abstract from an essay published in PLOS One in January of this year (“Sex Differences in Adolescents’ Occupational Aspirations: Variations Across Time and Place”, emphasis added):
Or consider toy preferences in children. From 18 months of age, male human infants tend to prefer to play with trucks while females tend to prefer to play with dolls (remember the things/people distinction). Now you might think this is all the more reason to get anti-patriarchy education into the home. Perhaps the state should subsidize regular interventions beginning at birth. But this preference has also been found in chimpanzees and bonobos (there’s a youtube clip from a BBC investigation where dolls and trucks were interspersed in a primate enclosure; despite the presenter’s incredulity when discussing the research, the dolls were only played with by females and the trucks were only played with by males).
This research suggests that when we let people do what they want, men and women tend to want different things. And that’s something social scientists have been aware of for decades.
To be clear (and please don’t ignore this paragraph if you choose to reply to what I say here), insofar as women want to pursue a profession like philosophy or engineering, or men want to pursue a profession like social work or nursing, they ought to be encouraged to do so. And insofar as there’s a boys’-club culture in professions like philosophy or engineering (or a girls’-club culture in social work or nursing), and this dissuades women (men) who are otherwise interested in those professions from pursuing them, then we have reason to try to change those cultures. Furthermore, perhaps we should be trying to change the profession of philosophy so that more women prefer to be philosophers. If a proposal like that was raised, we could at least consider it. For what it’s worth, I’m running an after-school program at a local high school in the Czech Republic right now, and far more girls attend than boys (although there’s a potential confounder in differences in English language proficiency).
Either way, the patriarchy explanation for the differences in gender/sex representation across the professions doesn’t have much to say for it when we look at the data that’s available. And some of this data concerns philosophy in particular. The research from Thompson and colleagues, from Nieswandt and Hlobil, and from Jennings’ project suggests that while women are more likely to receive tenure-track jobs (to the point where your odds of getting a TT job are improved more by being a woman than by graduating from a top program), women are less interested in philosophy from their first undergraduate course, and they are dissuaded by the financial and familial instability that comes with a career in philosophy.
The Nieswandt and Hlobil research, for instance, uses an “inferential-statistical” model that compares students in philosophy and psychology (which have opposite valences of gender/sex representation) along a number of dimensions. For their dataset, preference and true belief seem to explain why women are more interested in psychology over philosophy. For they found that undergraduates tend to perceive philosophy to be more systematic than empathetic when compared to psychology (well-established concepts in social-psychological research), and to be a profession that is less likely to offer financial security and the ability to start a family. They also found that women tend to prefer empathetic over systematic professions, and to favor financial security and the ability to start a family. Thompson and colleagues found something similar: the significant dropoff in women’s representation in philosophy occurs after the first course, and it doesn’t appear to be mitigated by the gender/sex of either the instructor or the authors on the course reading lists.
(Caveat lector: this is a blog comment and I’m not up to date on the current research in this area, so I’m open to corrections if I’m in error anywhere.)
So maybe things like the OP’s video are “seriously problematic” by causally contributing to the stereotype, and perhaps this influences women to avoid philosophy, while things like the social work website that Justin Kalef calls attention to are “seriously problematic” for influencing men to avoid social work. But so far we have not been given good reason to think that’s an important part of the explanation for the different representations of men and women in fields like social work, nursing, art history, engineering, mathematics, physics, and philosophy. And given the evidence we have about differences in what men and women tend to prefer for their lives, the suggestion that there’s an injustice evident simply in differences in gender/sex representation is likely to perpetuate erroneous stereotypes about men, women, and professional life.
Finally, I want to highlight the fact that I’m probably taking a professional gamble by contributing to the conversation with a set of comments like this. I’m aware of that. I hope the fact that I’m posting under my own name goes some way toward establishing that I’m speaking in good faith, I hope that what I’ve said has helped illuminate some of the regions of the debate that many philosophers seem to be unaware of, and I trust that eventually we’ll all come to a better view about (and so plan for) what’s going on.Report
Thanks, Preston. Really helpful contribution.
It strikes me that this is the logical crux of your post:
“ But so far we have not been given good reason to think that’s an important part of the explanation for the different representations of men and women in fields like social work, nursing, art history, engineering, mathematics, physics, and philosophy. And  given the evidence we have about differences in what men and women tend to prefer for their lives, the suggestion that there’s an injustice evident simply in differences in gender/sex representation is likely to perpetuate erroneous stereotypes about men, women, and professional life.”
I agree with (1), and above I understood Justin K. to go further and give some compelling reasons not to believe things like OP’s video are “seriously problematic” because they reinforce inequities in the profession. So not only is the claim under-supported; it’s also dubious if Justin K. is right.
I also agree with (2), so long as the data showing preferential differences along sex/gender lines is credible But, as you note, replication of these data in non-human primates, as well as across cultures, suggests that any culturally-bound sociological explanation, like the existence of a patriarchy, does not get at the heart of the matter. This does not mean these explanations are irrelevant. It means they are not fundamental.
(2) is important for another reason: you’ve used data to take the discussion out of mere logical manipulation of competing hypotheses. I think these data help show that my (and possibly Justin K.’s) consideration of other programs with inverted gender distributions, like social work and psychology, was intended as a reductio: I do not find these distributions problematic because I do not believe they systematically result from injustices–and, tellingly, I don’t think most diversity advocates think they do, either. I think this ~q forces us to consider (an appropriately refined version of) ~p.Report
Hi John. I agree that the considerations in (2) mean that the patriarchy-explanation is at least not fundamental, and that it may be relevant in other contexts. I’ve learned a lot from feminist thought, and I wouldn’t want to dismiss it entirely. But I agree that the considerations in (2) do suggest that the appeal to the patriarchy-explanation concerning gender/sex representations across the professions is liable to be doing more harm than good at this point.Report
“I think these data help show that my (and possibly Justin K.’s) consideration of other programs with inverted gender distributions, like social work and psychology, was intended as a reductio: I do not find these distributions problematic because I do not believe they systematically result from injustices…”
I take it that the reductio is intended as follows:
1. Suppose: the imbalance in philosophy must be eliminated.
2. If the imbalance in philosophy must be eliminated, the imbalance in social work must be eliminated.
3. The imbalance in social work must be eliminated. (Because 1, 2)
4. It’s not the case that the imbalance in social work must be eliminated. (Because research shows preference explains the imbalance)
5. Contradiction (Because 3, 4)
6. It’s not the case that the imbalance in philosophy must be eliminated. (By reductio)
How is 2 supported? Two has support if the imbalances in philosophy and social work are explained by one and the same thing. If they are not, it’s possible that the antecedent of 2 is true, but the consequent false. It would then be false, and your “reductio” would fail.
You, I take it, want to say that supporters of diversity justify 2 with the claim that the imbalances are explained by injustice. However, they need not. Some of them might in fact, but some might not. Some might instead accept that injustice (hostility to women, say) explains the imbalance in philosophy, without accepting that hostility explains the imbalance in social work. This is what you might have failed to imagine before posting your prior comment. You certainly did not take it into account then or now, for otherwise you would have realized that your “reductio” fails. A lack of imagination appears to account for the failure.Report
“How is 2 supported? Two has support if the imbalances in philosophy and social work are explained by one and the same thing”
“This research suggests that when we let people do what they want, men and women tend to want different things. And that’s something social scientists have been aware of for decades.”Report
I don’t believe the research will do the work you want it to do in the reductio. I’ll explain.
I have yet to look into the research cited. (Since you’re referencing Preston instead of the research, I guess you haven’t either.) But I’m inclined to believe that the research is based on data that allow for various explanations of the phenomena, explanations relevant to this discussion.
One such possible explanation, e.g., is that the preferences (say) of girls for “working with people” are determined by cultural factors that go unaccounted for in the studies, such as their prior experience of being dismissed and mistreated by those who are more disposed to analytical thinking and a “cold” demeanor. Having such prior experiences could make them prefer to help others and do things that allow them to avoid people similar to those with whom they’ve had poor experiences.
With such preferences, once they’ve had sufficient experience within the philosophy classroom, we should probably expect them to prefer to avoid philosophy; once they learn about social work, we should expect them to prefer it. This, if it were so, could explain the imbalance in philosophy and social work, while being consistent with the research. Further, it would still allow the diversity advocates their preferred explanation of 2 (if the imbalance in philosophy must be eliminated, then the imbalance in social work must be eliminated). So, supporting 2 with the research wouldn’t work.
Notice, this might even be consistent with their pursuing their *intrinsic interests*, depending on which definition of this is used in the research (if any).Report
“ One such possible explanation, e.g., is that the preferences (say) of girls for “working with people” are determined by cultural factors that go unaccounted for in the studies…”
Yet, II wrote:
“ But, as you note, replication of these data in non-human primates, as well as across cultures, suggests that any culturally-bound sociological explanation…does not get at the heart of the matter. This does not mean these explanations are irrelevant. It means they are not fundamental.”Report
I thought it would be fairly obvious, but I guess not. I’ll be more explicit:
The possible explanation I mentioned would very likely work for other cultures, and can be slightly modified to account for the relevant differences between cultures, professions, etc., without a loss of explanatory power. The explanation can also work for non-human primates. Chimps, e.g., have experiences, with males being more disposed to dominate and to violence, etc. Admittedly, it would seem less plausible without knowing the details found in the research. But the research on non-human primates is very likely less probative anyway because of the differences between them and humans, and because we likely won’t know how those primates from the study might have been treated by the humans with whom they interacted throughout their lives. To be more confident, of course, we would need to consult the research.
All this is to suggest that the cross-culture and cross-species findings likely won’t do much to help you. They likely won’t support the idea that the actual explanation is any more fundamental than what I’m suggesting.
You seem to think that the evidence will provide some grounds for fundamental psychological differences between male and female primates in general. If that were true, the actual explanation would be more fundamental than what I’m suggesting. But that’s likely not the most plausible interpretation of the data. It’s also likely not what the researchers had in mind when mentioning ‘intrinsic Interests’. But I wouldn’t know, I haven’t read looked into the research.Report
This is an interesting and carefully constructed comment critical of certain diversity concerns. Critical comments in a forum like this are typically unworthy of serious attention. Yours is unlike those in a number of ways. I appreciate this.
My habit, when scientific research is cited, is to look into the research and then expose and criticize its faults. I currently only have time to expose foolishness in the comments, but I’ll try to make some time to seriously engage the research you cite. (However, I’ll admit, the brief descriptions of the research don’t make me confident that it’ll be highly probative.)Report
You wrote: “Either way, the patriarchy explanation for the differences in gender/sex representation across the professions doesn’t have much to say for it when we look at the data that’s available.”
On an atemporal and ahistorical interpretation of these data, it does suggest that patriarchy plays a very minor role and non-existent for the extreme skeptics.
But the problem with scientific data and their interpretations is that they often don’t provide a historical analysis of such phenomenons. The data suggests that girls and women prefer stable family, empathy, and human-centered type jobs. But why or how? The research does not say.
Some people might say: “We don’t know why. They just do.” But I doubt such a skeptical response is convincing when we look into the literature of gender sociology and history in general. But I also suspect that such a response may serve to brush under the rug what a lot of women and girls already know themselves: that they have been taught and socialized to value family, empathy, and caregiving more so than their male peers from very young ages that it became a habitual response.
We should not be too hasty to dismiss patriarchy and its legacy considering that it was responsible for enforcing gendered divisions of labor and socialization for thousands of years to begin with. A good feminist philosophy, sociology, and history class can teach us these things.Report
Hi Redundant. I’m an advocate of dialogical or social-practice accounts of human cognition, on which our rational faculties are best understood in terms of the roles they play in conversational practices of communication and coordination over what to think and do. Consequently, I hope that those who are convinced by the patriarchy-explanation of the underrepresentation of women in disciplines like engineering, physics, mathematics, and philosophy will continue to develop their accounts. So long as there is constructive engagement with those accounts when they are propounded in fora like this, and so long as their development is responsive to data of the sort I sketched above, I’m sure that will be all to the good, at least in the long run.
Furthermore, regardless of what one thinks about the patriarchy-explanation for different gender/sex representations across the professions, I do not doubt that the concept of the patriarchy has an illuminating role to play in the sort of consciousness raising that comes with, for instance, reading de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, or reflecting on the details of marriage practices and control over female reproductive rights across human history. My point concerns the narrow use to which the patriarchy-explanation has been put in conversations like this. As I said above, I worry that it is leading to erroneous stereotypes about men, women, and professional life.
The problem is, as this thread amply illustrates once again, the patriarchy-explanation is regularly advanced by philosophers with no apparent uptake of the substantial body of social-scientific data, from a variety of research programs, that undercut that explanation. And it is undercut in favor of the hypothesis that men and women tend to have (generally) different preferences, and beliefs about how to satisfy those preferences, that make (generally) different life choices rational, and which better explains the representations of men and women in different professions. Consider the three such bodies of research I sketched above.
The existence of greater gender/sex disparity in professional life in countries with more female empowerment is not something the patriarchy-explanation would predict. And this result has been established across a number of datasets, ranging across country, class, age, and education, some of which — including the one I cited above — contain hundreds of thousands of datapoints. It was very surprising when it was discovered, but it’s been widely documented for over a decade.
Or consider toy preferences for dolls and trucks in human infants, and in chimpanzees and bonobos. Again, if the patriarchy-explanation for differential gender/sex representations in professions is viable, then we should expect to see infants and non-human primates exhibiting more equal representations in their preferences, insofar as the patriarchy either hasn’t had the time yet to affect (for infants) or isn’t affecting at all (for chimps and bonobos) these preferences. But that’s exactly what we don’t see.
Finally, the data about philosophy in particular, collected from Jennings et al., Thompson et al., and Nieswandt and Hlobil, all points in one direction: despite having an advantage on the job market (to the point where your odds of getting a tenure track job appear to be more improved by being a woman than by graduating from a top program), women are less interested in philosophy from their first course, this effect does not appear to be mitigated by the presence of female instructors or more female authors in syllabi, and when we compare women’s preferences concerning philosophy and psychology in particular (which have opposite gender/sex distributions), women perceive philosophy to be more systematic than empathetic, and less likely to afford financial security and the ability to start a family, while they prefer empathetic over systematic professions, and they favor financial stability and the ability to start a family more than do men. Insofar as philosophy as compared to psychology is more systematic than empathetic (social-scientific concepts that are widely used in research), then, and is less likely to allow one to have financial stability and a family, one explanation supported by this data is that the different gender/sex representations in philosophy and psychology are the result (at least in part) of preference and true belief. That is to say, it is rational for women to pick psychology over philosophy.
Again, maybe we should be trying to change philosophy so that it is more empathetic than systematic. And maybe we should be trying to convince women, against what they themselves (generally) say they want, that philosophy would be a better career for them than what they might otherwise prefer. If either of those proposals were explicitly mooted, we could at least talk about them. I am not aware of either proposal ever being entertained, however. Instead, it appears that people simply accept the disparity in representation as good evidence of injustice, and they target the disparity itself for intervention. But if that disparity is not good evidence of injustice, then such interventions are liable to be introducing genuine injustices into our professional lives.
At any rate, these datapoints arise in three different research programs, and they each appear to undercut the appeal to unjust patriarchal forces as an explanation for why different professions have the gender/sex distributions they do. Collectively, they present a strong case that the advocates of the patriarchy-explanation have more work to do. And sure, in principle the patriarchy-explanation could be salvaged to make sense of this data. And once the advocates of that explanation begin to take note of the data, then we can consider whether the salvaged explanation is still viable — I’m an advocate of dialogical/social-practice accounts of human cognition, after all. So let a hundred flowers bloom. But so far as I know, there is no reliable data supporting the patriarchy-explanation, and plenty of data that undercuts it.
(Once again: Caveat Lector, it’s a blog comment, I’m willing to be corrected if I’m in error about any of the details, and please be sure to bear in mind the bold and italicized remark made in my comment above.)Report
Crystal clear post detailing a controversial position without a pseudonym, and without lacing the discussion with invective, dialectical bravado and gamesmanship.Report
You write: “The existence of greater gender/sex disparity in professional life in countries with more female empowerment is not something the patriarchy-explanation would predict“
I don’t dispute that fact since I’m quite familiar with it already. If by “patriarchy” you mean men actively oppressing women from getting rights and jobs, then perhaps that data does poke a hole in the patriarchy explanation.
However, feminists have written about how patriarchy not just involves political and economic oppression but enforcement, encouragement, and dissemination of *socialization* via. values and stereotypes of people both men and women. This is the *symbolic* power of patriarchy and not just its political, disciplinary, and economic power. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has written on this. He calls this “habitus”.
Many feminists and theorists also understand that many of the oppressed still cling on certain values and meanings that patriarchy prescribed for them in the first place. Some of these values, meanings, and symbolic things we hold on to aren’t necessarily bad. But we should acknowledge where they came from and be aware of when and who we’re unintentionally prescribing it onto. Most of us go through our lives in a haze and autopilot with very rare moments of self-reflection and questioning. Symbolic power of patriarchy is one area that many people often overlook.
In conclusion, patriarchy not just enforced gendered division of labor onto people but also what I would call “gendered division of values or expectations”. That’s my original take for this discussion.Report
Hi Redundant. If a proposed socialization-mechanism is to be accepted as a support for shoring up the patriarchy-explanation, in the face of the widespread and well-established body of evidence concerning differences in what men and women generally prefer for their lives, it should have something to say about the fact that the disparity increases in countries with more egalitarian policies, and more empowerment for women in particular, as in Scandinavia. This is particularly pressing given that the patriarchy-explanation would seem to predict the opposite: namely, that putatively unjust distributions of men and women across the professions would decrease as societies move toward more egalitarian policies and female empowerment. So far, we’ve been given no good reason for thinking that the patriarchy is somehow stronger, along this dimension of what you call “symbolic power”, in Scandinavia than in North Korea.
So sure, maybe the patriarchy-explanation can be shored up. And I’d certainly entertain a shoring-up if it was proposed (dialogical accounts of cognition, etc.). But a “what if” about socialization, without addressing the objection in question, doesn’t shore anything up.
Finally, I’ll note that the data on differential representations across the professions is only one of three kinds of evidence I discussed, and it’s much less clear how the socialization-mechanism would explain toy preferences in human infants and non-human primates, or whether it has a bearing on the general preference women show for empathic careers.Report
You write: “If a proposed socialization-mechanism is to be accepted as a support for shoring up the patriarchy-explanation, in the face of the widespread and well-established body of evidence concerning differences in what men and women generally prefer for their lives, it should have something to say about the fact that the disparity increases in countries with more egalitarian policies, and more empowerment for women in particular, as in Scandinavia.”
My explanation would be that some countries or communities are more susceptible to patriarchy’s symbolic power than others. Why? Humans are complex. Cultures are different. Population size are also different. Us Americans are more loud, outspoken, and not as shy as those Scandinavians. There’s less pressure to conform.
In general, I’m not a reductionist when it comes to these sorts of explanations. There can be multiple causes. But I’m skeptical when people are skeptical of patriarchy’s legacy and contribution though.Report
That’s not an explanation. That’s a placeholder for an explanation. We’ve been given no reason to think that what you call “patriarchy’s symbolic power” is stronger in Scandinavia than in the United States or North Korea. If the patriarchy-explanation is to be accepted, it needs to account for this massive, widespread body of evidence about what happens when societies move toward more egalitarian policies with female empowerment. And that’s without touching on whether “patriarchy’s symbolic power” is at all plausible as an explanation for toy preferences in chimps and bonobos.
Furthermore, given that this evidence is something that the patriarchy-explanation would have predicted the negation of, as it stands this data is evidence that the patriarchy-explanation for gender/sex differences across the professions is wrong in at least some of its details. So from where I sit, we have good reason to be skeptical of the patriarchy-explanation for the different representations of men and women across the professions.Report
I grant that there could well be something in what you say, and want to address it. But first, I want to explain why I don’t think that invoking ‘the patriarchy’ is helpful here, and is apt to confuse the issue.
An old friend of mine used to refer to God, as a proffered explanation in the context of the cosmological or teleological argument, as “an adequate but otherwise unspecified X-explainer.” The point is that it becomes very easy to overlook the failures of one’s research program if one is permitted to constantly avoid any possibility of falsification by saying, “Well, yes, that’s just how X operates” whenever people call X into question. ‘The patriarchy’ seems to me to be just such an amorphous-but-convenient element.
So let’s please dispense with patriarchy-talk and instead just look at the facts and the plausible explanations without the theoretical jargon of patriarchy theory.
The fact, as it seems we all agree, is that women are proportionally underrepresented in philosophy, though they are proportionally overrepresented in many other disciplines and as university students as a whole.
And one plausible explanation (among many others, including the one Preston suggest and supports with some evidence) is that there are social factors that, from a very young age, shape girls into developing a narrow range of interests that ultimately makes them more apt to major in psychology, social work, or English (in which it is men who are underrepresented, often by an even higher degree) than philosophy.
I grant you that this is a possibility. I will also grant you here the assumption that there is something undesirable about this.
But if the problem, on this hypothesis, stems from the early socialization of girls and boys, then shouldn’t _that_ be the main target of our efforts? Shouldn’t we try to persuade parents, early childhood educators, and toy manufacturers to stop doing whatever we think they might plausibly be doing to push young children into these gender roles, if that’s the problem?
I support that. In fact, in shopping for birthday and Christmas gifts for the young children of my family and friends, I make a point of seeking out toys, books, and games requiring logical thinking to give to the girls.
What I don’t see is how these possibilities lead to the conclusion that we should object to the video this person has put together; or, if for some reason we think that the representation of women (and members of other proportionally underrepresented groups) is a big factor, why a better solution wouldn’t just be the creation of alternative videos with whatever demographics others want.
I think the reasoning you’re engaging in here might make sense if we grant the existence of this unfalsifiable ‘patriarchy’ sneaking invisibly around our social world and doing the Devil’s work, but that it ceases to make much sense if we dispense with that speculative theoretical framework and just look at the plain facts.Report
You write: “But if the problem, on this hypothesis, stems from the early socialization of girls and boys, then shouldn’t _that_ be the main target of our efforts? Shouldn’t we try to persuade parents, early childhood educators, and toy manufacturers to stop doing whatever we think they might plausibly be doing to push young children into these gender roles, if that’s the problem?”
That would be to derail the conversation. I was just pointing to an explanation not give much thought on solutions.
Comparing the phenomenon of patriarchy to God is a reach when many scholars often define patriarchy as a kind of *system* of beliefs and habits historically created by men that were prescribed onto people that they subsequently accept and prescribe onto themselves and others, generally speaking.Report
I don’t see why it would derail the conversation even more than it was already derailed. As Tim Maudlin pointed out earlier, the original topic of conversation was the relevance of philosophy today, and then it got derailed into whether the video should be criticized and whether Justin W. was culpable in posting it.
It seems relevant, now that we’re talking about those new things, to wonder whether this criticism is a reasonable reply given the alternatives, even assuming that there’s a problem of the sort indicated.
I’m not sure you’ve got the point of the God comparison. The point is that invoking God as an explanation for things is suspect in science because it isn’t clear what, if anything, would count as a falsification test for such an explanation, and prevents us from taking our examinations further while giving us a superficial sense of successful explanation.
Sure, you can define ‘patriarchy’ as “a kind of *system* of beliefs and habits historically created by men that were prescribed onto people that they subsequently accept and prescribe onto themselves and others, generally speaking.” But one could also define ‘God’ as “the ultimate, all-powerful and purposeful explanation to everything, as revealed in part to the founders of my religion.” In either case, that’s not enough to make the background theoretical construct falsifiable, so it would not be appropriate for us to treat the notions (God or the patriarchy) as entities, perhaps unless we are clear that we are talking here about religious commitment rather than what has been rationally established.Report
You wrote: “As Tim Maudlin pointed out earlier, the original topic of conversation was the relevance of philosophy today, and then it got derailed into whether the video should be criticized and whether Justin W. was culpable in posting it.”
1) I’ve given you my rationale as to why I did not even engage in that topic in another post or did you forget? In other words, I have nothing new or novel to contribute in that realm. Just being honest.
2) I was responding to Preston’s words here. But you want us to talk about something else.
“Sure, you can define ‘patriarchy’ as “a kind of *system* of beliefs and habits historically created by men that were prescribed onto people that they subsequently accept and prescribe onto themselves and others, generally speaking.” But one could also define ‘God’ as “the ultimate, all-powerful and purposeful explanation to everything, as revealed in part to the founders of my religion.”
It seems to me that you don’t believe patriarchy is a real phenomenon. If so, and to avoid talking pass each other, I would like to know what you think ‘patriarchy’ is.Report
I didn’t forget your rationale, Redundant: I was just pointing out that it isn’t clear why the move you flagged as possibly ‘derailing the conversation’ would be that.
As for the ‘patriarchy’: it’s not exactly that I don’t think it’s a real phenomenon, but rather that the term seems to be a very vaguely-defined and (hence) unfalsifiable catch-all that gives the impression of an explanation and hence is often seen as rationally confirming a suite of sociopolitical positions and moral judgments, but in fact is so amorphous that it can do no such thing.
You ask me to give a definition of ‘patriarchy’, as I understand it.
The literal definition of a patriarchy is a system in which the male head of a family has full power to make all decisions about the lives of family members, in some cases even including the authority to autonomously pass the death sentence over household members, and in which this power is passed from father to (usually eldest) son.
But feminist theorists of course aren’t using that literal definition: instead, they (and those who follow them in accepting their patriarchy theory) use the term in a metaphorical way. But what exactly does the metaphorical sense entail? That’s just what I’m saying is so unclear as to make it the source of an unlimited array of unfalsifiable claims, which give us the veneer of knowing what we’re talking about when we don’t.
My best offhand attempt at that definition of the term ‘patriarchy’ is: ‘a system of social organization in which males are often at the top of a social heirarchy, but which is somehow also to blame for any ways in which males are disadvantaged, and which is also implicated in any other hierarchies of which the speaker disapproves, and which also at times allows women to be at the top of local or even national hierarchies if and only if they manifest traits associated in some way with being male in the patriarchy, and which moreover influences everyone’s thinking within a patriarchal society so that they perpetuate the patriarchy both consciously and unconsciously in an unlimited range of ways in ways that need not be clearly explained but can be reliably identified by those who have had their eyes open to the existence of the patriarchy in all things.’Report
“it’s not exactly that I don’t think it’s a real phenomenon, but rather that the term seems to be a very vaguely-defined and (hence) unfalsifiable catch-all that gives the impression of an explanation and hence is often seen as rationally confirming a suite of sociopolitical positions and moral judgments, but in fact is so amorphous that it can do no such thing.”
But you can say this about most abstract concepts like justice, morality, love, rights, etc. Research into these abstract concepts would be futile as well seeing how they mean different things to different people.Report
I’m not just saying that the patriarchy (in the modern sense) is difficult to define because it’s abstract. I’m saying it’s a highly unclear concept that may well refer to nothing, and that as far as I can tell serves the purpose of attributing badness to people, institutions, practices, and society as a whole while giving the impression of objectivity and understanding.
I’m not saying that first-order users of the term ‘patriarchy’ do that deliberately, but rather that they have entered a realm of discourse that is prone to create the impression of knowledge and causality where, quite possibly, none exists, all the while shoring up a range of sociopolitical views that thereby go without question.
The term is not on a par with justice, morality, or rights, which it would be difficult to use to posit causal explanations for things. Instead, it’s on a par with supernatural beings: it can be used to attribute agency and evil intentions to invisible but seemingly untestable forces.
Therefore, I think it is always better to discuss phenomena and their causes without this sort of theoretically-laden baggage.Report
“The term is not on a par with justice, morality, or rights,”
Why not? I’m trying to understanding what’s so substantial about justice, morality, and rights that is not present in the term ‘patriarchy’.
When I use “patriarchy” I’m using in a more academic way. Not in pejorative way. Although I do grant that some (lay)people can be essentialist about its effects.Report
Two things seem to me to be different between ‘patriarchy’ and ‘morality’, say.
First, ‘morality’ (like ‘rights’ and ‘justice’) is a term used to refer to something normative, not causally explanatory. When one uses one of those terms in a normal way, one doesn’t normally posit the causal influence of some unseen (or seen) force. One does, however, when one talks of such things as electrical current, the Evil Eye, or the patriarchy. Such terms, and the entities or properties they refer to, should be left out of discussions where they are controversial and where they have not passed (or could not conceivably pass) reasonable falsification tests.
Second, morality and justice are pretheoretic concepts that we can theorize about but that are at least prima facie plausible to most people. But the patriarchy is not. It’s a theoretical construct that promises to explain a range of phenomena.Report
“Second, morality and justice are pretheoretic concepts that we can theorize about but that are at least prima facie plausible to most people. But the patriarchy is not. It’s a theoretical construct that promises to explain a range of phenomena.“
Most people in the world believe that God exists and that God’s existence is prima facie plausible. Wouldn’t this contradict your earlier analogy about God?
I’m skeptical whether a phenomenon being prima facie plausible to most people is always a good reason or metric to determine the concrete existence of such a phenomenon/concept. The majority can be wrong after all.Report
Perhaps you’re right, Redundant, though I’m not sure that there’s no way to specify the notion of a pretheoretial concept that would allow God to count as a theoretical concept.
What I’m trying to get at is probably easier to explain by two things I was talking about before: falsifiability and explanation.
Compare: Someone says, “This person was killed by an electrical current.” We know how electrical currents work, and how they don’t, and we can test the power of that explanation by looking to see whether the signs on the person’s body, the clues we have from the environment, etc. are consistent with the electrical current hypothesis. Moreover, there are all sorts of things we might find that would falsify the claim that the cause of death is electrical current, which is necessary for any explanation worth taking seriously.
By contrast, if I say, “This person was killed by the Evil Eye,” there are no such falsification conditions. The Evil Eye is just an evil influence that causes bad things to happen. There can be shelves and shelves of books on theory about the Evil Eye, but if they were all written by believers in the Evil Eye who didn’t seriously engage with critics who sought to explained the Evil Eye events in some other way, then we can’t rightly trust their claims about the Evil Eye and its influence, or even their claims that such a thing exists. With no clear and limited set of ways in which the Evil Eye has its influence on the world, there can be no chance of falsification: the Evil Eye can always find new ways to exert its sinister influence, and for that very reason it is not legitimate to invoke that as an explanation.
The Patriarchy seems to work very much like the Evil Eye. Where something seemingly bad has happened, one points to the Patriarchy as the cause. But there seems to be no set of conceivable circumstances in which a devotee of patriarchy theory could discover that something could not have been caused by the Patriarchy at all. The Patriarchy’s evil work seems to be done by all sorts of nefarious and subtle means, and there is always room for some more discriminating patriarchy theorist to arrive on the scene and point to a new and deeply hidden way in which the Patriarchy exerts its corrupting influence. When that happens, the other Patriarchy believers don’t resist that explanation until the hypothesis can be tested: they hail the new thinker as more subtle and as revealing a yet deeper truth about the ways the Patriarchy ruins everything.
And yet, one never hears about important new work that shows that a certain range of phenomena that were once thought to be caused by the Patriarchy are in fact not caused by the Patriarchy.
What I’m suggesting is actually very simple: we should keep talking about harmful influences that cause sex disparities or sexism, but we should just stop invoking the Patriarchy as an explanation.
It would avoid all those problems if we just said, for instance, that the socialization of children in their early years predisposes them to accept certain assumptions about gender roles, and that in turn might be a significant explanation for the domination of women in social work but not in philosophy. We can also talk about whether and to what extent we should fight against that, and how we should try to do it, without invoking the Patriarchy, which just seems to make careful inquiry more difficult.Report
Then what would you call the historical and present oppression of women by men? You seem unsatisfied with the word “patriarchy”, so what word is a better alternative for you?Report
Let me turn your question on its head, Redundant: what would you call the historical and present oppression of men by women, as seen for instance in departments of psychology and social work?
The problem with both your question and the one I have just given, as I think you could see immediately as you read the above question, is that they presume what is controversial. It is far from obvious that women oppress men and that this is the explanation for women’s dominance in a number of academic disciplines, etc.
If some people believe that oppression is the explanation of some set of phenomena, then of course they should be free to posit that explanation and make a case for it, and the rest of us should consider it. But we can’t be justified in accepting the oppression hypothesis until we’ve critically examined it in comparison with its alternatives.
The problem I have with everyone just using a term like ‘the Patriarchy’ or ‘the Matriarchy’ or ‘the Evil Eye’ , (all of which assumes the truth of one explanatory framework over another in these cases) is not the term itself, but the very use of such a term without any indication that it presupposes a theory, since it makes it more difficult for people to remember that we are in the realm of controversial theoretical speculation.
If girls who are socialized one way rather than another are more apt to be interested in philosophy, that’s useful information that we can gather without the theoretical apparatus of patriarchy theory. We can also reason about the moral obligation to intervene in that socialization, etc., without importing speculative theories of oppression at all.
Conversely, if the question at hand is whether the general state of affairs can be properly described as oppressive, with one demographic clearly oppressing the other, then I’m not sure how we could justifiably resolve that matter without a fair and open exploration of the evidence and arguments on both sides by people who do not face powerful social pressure to see things one way or another. I don’t think that anything close to that has happened over that question, so I think we need to take all these theories with the proverbial grain of salt and be wary of relying on their theoretical apparatus.Report
If you read carefully, I was talking about historical and present oppression in a *general* terms. I was not even talking about departments at all. Clearly women are oppressed in some countries today.
Your question: “what would you call the historical and present oppression of men by women, as seen for instance in departments of psychology and social work?” misses the point. My thesis has always been weaker throughout this discussion. The fact that you even asked me that question shows you believe oppression exists (whether from men or women) which contradicts what you just wrote.Report
No, I was asking the question about what you would call that as a way of showing you that such questions — questions of the form ‘What would you call the such-and-such’ when the existence of such-and-such is in not yet established but is presumed illegitimately by one side — is unhelpful.
It would be as though a skeptic about witchcraft during the witch persecutions in the Salem witch frenzy were to be asked, “Fine — if you don’t want us to resort to talking about ‘witches’, then tell us what term you’d like us to use for the people who conjure up the Devil to cast spells on others, invade people’s bedrooms in spirit form in the dead of night, etc.” The problem is not the choice of word, but rather the introduction of these unfalsifiable and controversial explanations into the discussion.
If what you want to talk about is the possibility that various social influences make philosophy a less appealing discipline for women than for men, it seems more enlightening to discuss that directly, without filtering it through patriarchy theory. And then we can ask how we ought to think of sex disparities in other disciplines, like psychology, which point in the other direction — it seems that parallel reasoning should apply. But if one approaches discussion with the lens of patriarchy theory already in place, one is apt to ignore the most straightforward possibilities and go down unhelpful paths.
It _might_ turn out that the best explanation for why women are proportionally underrepresented in philosophy and engineering but men are proportionally underrepresented in psychology and English is that men oppress women. But the form of that oppression will have to be spelled out before we can assess that hypothesis. And since far more women than men attend university and also thrive there, an ‘oppression’ hypothesis (however the details and mechanics are spelled out, as they must be) seems prima facie implausible. And yet, patriarchy-talk makes it seem as though it is not only plausible but also beyond question, which makes it harder to see what the most likely explanation really is and what to do.Report