Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Emphases added

Yes. We're still talking about this. From another Chronicle post about women in philosophy:
Changes in the way philosophy is taught may be alienating some women, says Brian R. Leiter [...] 
"Philosophy, in the English-speaking world, has migrated closer to the sciences, and places a high premium on technical skills, logic, and dividing problems into lots of small pieces," Mr. Leiter says. 
And while many science and mathematics disciplines have been working to attract women, "philosophy hasn't been particularly self-conscious in developing measures to counteract the problem," he says. 
Sally Haslanger, a professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the factors that may hold women back include "implicit associations linking philosophy with masculinity, both in the minds of instructors and students," not enough good mentoring, and "cold and alienating environments" in many philosophy departments.
Given the way it was reported, the obvious inference to draw (but keep reading) from BL's quote is: "Women can't do these hard things that philosophy has migrated towards. So, there's a gender problem." Of course, this is the exact inference that SH tries to block by calling our attention to "implicit assumptions linking philosophy with masculinity," which in turn lead to lack of "good mentoring," and "cold and alienating environments."

After noting the somewhat shoddy reporting at the CHE, BL makes efforts to block this inference too. He notes that:
My point also wasn't that changes to how philosophy is taught have driven women away, but rather that as philosophy migrated closer to the sciences in the Anglophone world over the last fifty years, it acquired the same kinds of problems those disciplines have had with gender equity--but unlike many of the science fields, philosophy has not, until recently, been particularly self-conscious about this or pro-active in remedying it. (As Ms. Mangan and I discussed, why the sciences had these problems is a topic unto itself--no doubt sexual harassment, gender stereotyping and other explicit and implicit biases have all played a role. But philosophy would do well to emulate what many science fields have done to try to rectify the inequities.)
BL's parenthetical remark is right, of course, and his story holds just as well for philosophy as it does for the sciences. I just wish he had said it more explicitly.

So let me clear up any confusion for readers of the CHE article who might not read BL's addendum. I'm going to try to be as clear as possible here, hence the caps:
Let's flesh out the story a bit more. I see a threefold problem the parts of which all sustain each other.

First, there has been a campaign or - less conspiratorially - a tendency to delegitimize sub-disciplines of philosophy that do not resemble or use the same tools/concepts as the so-called analytic "core." So, if you do something that's further away from - oh, why not just say it? - metaphysics and epistemology, (like, say, history of philosophy or care ethics or feminist philosophy or philosophy of race) you aren't doing REAL PHILOSOPHY. (To be fair, this isn't anything new. Do a little history and you'll quickly discover that if there's any characteristic definitive of philosophers it's a tendency to tell other people they aren't doing philosophy the right way.)

Second, these fields tend to draw a more diverse pool of philosophers than the "core." Because of this, those who do research at the peripherhy of REAL PHILOSOPHY (which looks like science) are assumed to not have the analytic chops to do REAL PHILOSOPHY. I mean, if they did have the chops, then obviously they'd do REAL PHILOSOPHY rather than whatever pseudo-philosophy they concern themselves with. (Hence comments like, "She does feminist epistemology (or history or ethics), but she's also a really good philosopher.")

Third, these two sociological facts feed our implicit and explicit associations between masculinity and the methods and problems of the so-called "core" of analytic philosophy. They feed the oft-unquestioned stereotype that there are girly (soft) ways of reasoning and girly (soft) problems that women love and men hate and manly (hard) ways of reasoning and manly (hard) problems that women hate and men love. And, it just so happens that the girly ways of reasoning are used in disciplines far away from the core of REAL PHILOSOPHY, which uses manly ways of reasoning.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

To reiterate: philosophy's gender problem is not due to the fact that it employs "technical skills, logic, and dividing problems into lots of pieces." Philosophy's gender problems has to do with "sexual harassment, gender stereotyping, and other explicit and implicit biases."

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

(Unrelated: A few of you have e-mailed me questions in the past week. I haven't forgot about them. I hope to post them soon.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. Very well said, Jaded PhD.

Anonymous said...

If your last paragraph is true, then why is it that the proportion of women in the very technical parts of philosophy is smaller than in other parts?

Are technical philosophers more likely to harass women?

I wonder if it's possible that *both* aspects of contemporary philosophy are to blame.

Anonymous said...


I know I can't really answer for all women, but here's a guess. The more difficult a particular type of problem seems, the more confidence you need to stick with it. If your confidence is being undermined, even subtly, by fellow students, professors, and by your own implicit acceptance that you're not really "good enough" (women graduate students are much more likely to be subject to "imposter syndrome" than men), then you're much more likely to gravitate towards the "easier" parts of the subject (though this association of easy and hard with parts of philosophy, I think, is generally flawed).

While I think this is a reasonable general explanation, maybe some women are just pragmatists - it's much easier to get a job in the "easy" parts of philosophy than, say, in logic or phil language.

Anonymous said...

Well said. But still, why do women only make up about 20% of the Philosophical Gourmet advisory board? Seems like there's an easy fix for this.

Anonymous said...

Is it not simply an empirical question (that has not to my knowledge been studied) whether or not there are some skills/aptitudes/interests that contemporary philosophy requires that more men have than women have? If so, that might go part of the way to explain the gender gap. This is especially true in light of the obnoxious attitude often found that demands even the most banal philosophy be couched in the most technical jargon.
If said disparity is not found, despite inspection, then it is worth looking at bias, explicit or otherwise and study that (though I have yet to be convinced that implicit bias has yet been properly studied).
In light of a comment above it may also be worth considering if women are more sensitive to criticism than men, on the whole. If they are, it also explains why in a field where criticism is so valued, and often done by people with Asperger's-like sensitivity to the feelings of others, that women are less confident and shy away from harder problems. Perhaps, of course, there is simply more criticism by men directed at women. In that case, many men need to learn some chivalry, or at least manners.
Or perhaps we can ignore the possibility that there are gross disparities between men and women and just pretend that in all good things we are the same, but in things like sexual harassment and discrimination men are far more likely to perpetrate such things than women are.

Can I add, while I am on this topic, that I find it creepy that a whole generation of male philosophers who have evidently been sexually harassing women are now doing everything they can to make sure that the new faculty in their departments who have to suck up to them until they get tenure are young women.

However you look at it, the system is broke.

Anonymous said...


You seem to assume that, if women avoid technical areas of philosophy because of some fact about them as a group, the immediate upshot must be that women are naturally opposed to such things.

That's just silly and the entire second wave was devoted to showing how women, or anyone for that matter, are induced to assume certain characteristics due to the culture in which they live.

Our culture convinces women that they do/should think in a soft empathic manner. Given this, is it any surprise that thy flock to psychology instead of philosophy?

While sexual harassment is a major problem, the problem of women in philosophy, mathematics, and the hard sciences is systemic to our culture as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Second, these fields tend to draw a more diverse pool of philosophers than the "core." And, by implication, the "core" draws a less diverse pool. This is the core of the inequality issue that needs explaining, since the other two parts of the problem depend more on this, than this on them.

Perhaps the explanation of 5:06 is part of it - I dunno. But how does expicit and implicit biases and gender stereotyping explain the tendency to draw more or less diverse pools? That the pools have a tendency to be drawn to x or y, it sounds like self-selection. I am not arguing for a conclusion, just asking how the bias explanation is supposed to work throughout the philosopher-generation process.

Anonymous said...


Even though you register your skepticism about claiming that the core analytic areas of philosophy are "harder" than the "easy" areas of feminism, etc., it seems that your explanation relies on the truth of that assessment. Why else would it take more confidence to succeed in those areas?

Also, what's the evidence that it's easier to get a job in feminism, phil of race, etc.? I'm always a little suspicious of those claims, because they sound a lot like the "women and minorities now have the advantage" line, which actually isn't supported by the evidence. If women and minorities have such an easy time, why are there still so few of them in the profession?

Here's an alternative explanation: Groups that face social oppression are more likely to develop an interest in theoretical understanding of systems of oppression and their remedies, ala feminism, phil of race, and the other "easy" sub-disciplines. Groups who don't are more likely to develop an interest in asocial, ahistorical subdisciplines like Metaphysics and Epistemology.

But even so, I'm not sure why people (not you 5:06, but there is a tendency to think this way in the profession) think that people doing feminism, phil of race, etc., aren't doing metaphysics and epistemology in a different context. The best work in those areas (in my opinion) not only draws from M & E, but furthers it in significant ways. Look at Appiah, Mills, Haslanger, Alcoff, Glasgow, etc.

Anonymous said...

huh. I thought jaded's post sort of answered 4:22's question already, even if only implicitly and through sarcasm. There are implicit biases or stereotypes that make it harder for people to associate skill in the "technical" parts of philosophy with being female than with being male. The stereotypes involved with "skill in technical fields" clash with the stereotypes involved with being a female, simply because the stereotypical person with "skill in technical fields" is a male (a white or asian male, usually). This makes it harder for women to be perceived as skilled in these parts of philosophy, with predictable consequences in employment statistics in these fields.

What am I missing, 4:22?

Anonymous said...

The two sociological facts you cite (1. mainstream analytic M/E/Logic folks marginalize people working in other areas; and 2. people working in those other areas are more likely to be non-white males) are key.

But what we have to recognize as a field is that this does mean that we *do* have a content problem. The content problem is that we, as a collective field, do too much mainstream analytic M/E/Logic and not enough stuff that more people care about. Furthermore, this is tied closely to our problem with gender and racial under-representation.

Look. Those last two sentences I wrote are what all analytic philosophers who recognize the under-representation problem bend over backwards to avoid acknowledging. But they're wrong.

It has nothing to do with women not being able to do "technical" philosophy. It has everything to do with the fact that women are just, ceteris paribus, less likely to be interested in spending their lives doing it. Furthermore, the field is saturated with it. We have lots of interesting and diverse topics that really, really need more researchers. How many more Ph.D.s do we need working on disembodied theories of epistemic justification. Honestly. Don't we have enough people working on those issues?

Anonymous said...

Are we seriously debating whether an explanation of the dearth of women must be either X v Y when clearly it's false that X --> ~Y and if Y --> ~X (for the ladies, insert smiley faces, twirls, swishes, or hearts as you feel the need).

I mean, really, can we get some lambda abstraction and set operation symbols on this fucking blog already? My ability to communicate is seriously being hampered here.

Dr. Free-Ride said...

The more difficult a particular type of problem seems ...

Anecdata from my personal experience in two male-dominated academic milieu (a very analytic philosophy department, and before that a chemistry department): the very fact that a woman has taken on a particular problem and made headway with it is frequently enough that her male peers will decide that it was not very difficult -- doubly so if she makes short work of it.

Anonymous said...

An addendum to your first part of the problem:

Philosophy departments design their curricula in such a way as to emphasize "real philosophy," and hire faculty specifically for that purpose. Often, philosophy of race, or gender, etc., are represented by token hires, offering elective courses. So long as PhD-granting institutions emphasize "real philosophy" in their curricular and hiring decisions, there will always be fewer graduate students working outside of "real philosophy," publishing less work, and filling fewer tenure track positions.

Imagine what the field would look like if top programs had half a dozen people working in feminist ethics and another half dozen in the philosophy of race, and only one each in philosophy of science and metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the problem of the low number of women in philosophy, it is worth paying attention to where the drop in numbers occurs. And, as I understand it, the largest drop by far occurs at the undergraduate level, between intro-level and upper-level classes. From the numbers I've seen, there isn't much of a drop off between the number of women majors, the number of women graduate students, the number of women PhDs, and the number of women getting jobs. (This is NOT to say that there are no problems after women decide to major -- there most certainly are. And these problems lead to further reductions in numbers, although not nearly as large. And of course problems concerning sexual harassment, etc., are serious problems that we should all be very concerned with, whatever their effect on the number of women in philosophy.)

If the bulk of the drop away from having around 50% women comes fairly early on, though, I doubt it has much to do with the tendency to delegitimize sub-disciplines of philosophy. It could, but that seems like something that kicks in a bit later.

4:22 said...

5:06, the first part is very plausible. The last paragraph doesn’t ring true to me, in that I don’t believe women are more pragmatic than men.

7:49, I agree almost completely. But look, Alcoff and Haslanger do epistemology and metaphysics. They are counted when it’s time to count up the metaphysicians and epistemologists who are women. So the tendency you mention does not seem to explain the differential proportions in the technical areas.

8:07, I may have misunderstood. The explanation you are suggesting, I think, is that (i) there is implicit bias associating more technical disciplines with males, and (ii) much of philosophy now is quite technical. I agree, this is a good explanation. I thought Jaded was denying that (ii) was part of the explanation, and excoriating Leiter for implying that it is.


Anonymous said...

5:06 here. I don't think my hypothesis (again, not meant to explain everything) requires it to be true that phil language, for example, is actually harder than ethics or history, say. The point was meant to be that sticking with any problem that's difficult takes confidence that you will make some progress on a question - and perceived difficulty (in a non-factive sense of "perceived", of course) can prevent you from sticking with a particular problem, and instead to move to a problem that is perceived to be "easier".

And the pragmatics comment was, of course, meant to be more about contrasting language and logic with ethics and history - feminist philosophy and philosophy of race are unfortunately not that easy to get jobs in (as an AOC it is easier, but some philosophers unfortunately think that a necessary and sufficient condition of being able to teach feminist philosophy is that one is a female philosopher - grrr). I agree, 7:49, that we ought to think of these fields as answering important questions in metaphysics and epistemology and also putting forward serious criticisms of these fields.

By the way, I'm working in metaphysics, epistemology, and feminist philosophy, published in very good journals, and have a good start to my career. I've had it pretty good in comparison to other women as I have chosen institutions that are highly supportive of women and minorities in philosophy, and where feminist philosophy is valued. That said, I have been told by a disgruntled young philosopher that I only got my job because I'm a woman.

Susan Smith said...

Oh please. Logic is the easiest thing one can do in philosophy. It all makes wonderful sense, for the most part follows rules that are easy to learn, and so forth. One of the most bizarre myths in this profession is that there's something deeply difficult about logic; I suspect this has much more to do with philosophers fondly wanting to think they are just as "hard core" as mathematicians and physicists as it does with anything about logic. Abstract math is also one of the easier math courses, as it happens.

Is anything about ethics so neat and cut and dried as symbolic logic? Ethics is a mess! It's terribly difficult to sort out, and evaluation of some of the claims involved requires a certain weight of life experience. Ethics makes us ask some uncomfortable questions about ourselves, too, while we can work glibly away in logic without doing anything like that.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

7:04 says: You seem to assume that, if women avoid technical areas of philosophy because of some fact about them as a group, the immediate upshot must be that women are naturally opposed to such things.

Nope. I don't assume that. Read on.

4:22 and 8:07: I *am* denying that the supposed "technicality" or "difficulty" of "core" philosophy (or the ALLEGED fact that it tries to ape science) is an explanation for why it isn't more diverse.

First, just because it requires careful analysis and maybe, sometimes, knowledge of logic or set theory, "core" philosophy isn't the only difficult discipline of philosophy. History of Philosophy is really fucking difficult too: learn a new language (sometimes a dead one), wade through copious amounts of secondary literature, and try to be creative so you can see primary texts with fresh eyes. OMG, WHAT AN EASY PHILOSOPHICAL DISCIPLINE; NO LOGIC!

Let's be clear: DIFFICULTY AND TECHNICALITY DOES NOT EXPLAIN WHY "CORE" PHILOSOPHY DOES NOT ATTRACT A DIVERSE GROUP OF PEOPLE. Philosophy - full-stop; all of it - is difficult and especially difficult to do well. That's why we aren't all TT at Pitt.

Now, harassment isn't the only possible explanation for why "core" philosophy doesn't attract a more diverse pool. It could just be that more and more people aren't gripped by the problems in that field. Maybe it's a content problem. But, here's the rub, we sometimes confuse not being gripped by problems with inability (rather than lack of interest) to do "core" philosophy BECAUSE OF IMPLICIT BIASES AND ASSUMPTIONS, which then creates a cold environment for the more diverse people who do enter the field.

Second, as friends of the blog have pointed out in conversation with me, it's not even clear that "core" philosophy is trying to ape the sciences in any sort of relevant way (except, as a friend put it, in terms of being hostile toward women). Certainly, BL's short characterization of technical philosophy doesn't make this point: it reads like the 4-step method in Descartes' Discourse (or as a friend pointed, Russell's programmatic comments 100 years ago)!

Third, 9:50 wins the comment of the year.

Anonymous said...

Here's an alternative explanation: Groups that face social oppression are more likely to develop an interest in theoretical understanding of systems of oppression and their remedies, ala feminism, phil of race, and the other "easy" sub-disciplines. Groups who don't are more likely to develop an interest in asocial, ahistorical subdisciplines like Metaphysics and Epistemology.


Jaded, Ph.D. said...

First, 7:49 has some insightful things to say.

Second, sorry, 7:04, my comment didn't answer your point. Here's what I should have said.

To be sure, women and minorities aren't naturally opposed to M & E because of some, real objective or biological or inevitable fact about them as a group. That women or minorities might not be interested in M & E is due to the fact that socially ingrained implicit biases and assumptions about what women and minorities can and cannot do push them away from these fields.

So, the thought that women and minorities are naturally opposed to M & E is, roughly, a social construction. And, following Hacking (and I think Haslanger's recent stuff), the point of calling it a social construction is to deny the inevitability of the fact to try to undermine its systemic influence.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

One more thing:

I think that people who work on topics that are supposedly at the periphery of "core" philosophy suffer from something like the "Twice as good, half as [X]" problem.

For example, it's far more common for an historian or an applied ethicist or a feminist philosopher or philosopher of race to be asked: "How is this philosophy?" than it is for someone doing M & E is to be asked a similar question. It's not acceptable for someone doing work in applied areas to not have some acquaintance with the "core," but it is acceptable for those working in the "core" to ignore and dismiss wide swaths of philosophy: "Just say no to history of philosophy!"

In fact, prominent philosophers in some of these fields have told me that one way to gain legitimacy and block these questions is to do a bit of "core" philosophy.

But again, "Twice as good, half as [X]."

Anonymous said...


I get that your comment is tongue-in-cheek, but you do realize that X v Y is true when both X and Y are true, right?

<3 A Lady.

4:22 said...

Huh? I didn’t say or imply that the difficulty of one field or another has anything to do with the explanation for the dearth of women.

You then say, “It could just be that more and more people aren't gripped by the problems in that field.” But that’s not an explanation of why the proportion of women is smaller than in other fields, so I don’t see your point.


Anonymous said...

Jaded, the trouble with what you say at 9:16 (I'm 8:21 from yesterday, by the way) is that women are disproportionately *less likely* to be interested in the mainstream Metaphysics and Epistemology issues they're encountering in introductory courses. Implicit bias is a problem, but no amount of leveling of the playing field is going to make women as interested as men in the topics we're covering in Intro.

See Figdor, et al.'s recent article on the pipeline problem in Hypatia. The pipeline is at its "leakiest" when moving from introductory undergraduate philosophy courses to advanced undergraduate courses.

Here's a perfectly reasonable hypothesis: the reason the pipeline leaks at this point is because women are far more likely to be bored to tears by the mainstream M&E they're reading intro courses. If we all diversify our syllabi and mix in more interesting topics, I'll bet you anything that we solve most of the pipeline problem.

Anonymous said...

"Here's a perfectly reasonable hypothesis: the reason the pipeline leaks at this point is because women are far more likely to be bored to tears by the mainstream M&E they're reading intro courses. If we all diversify our syllabi and mix in more interesting topics, I'll bet you anything that we solve most of the pipeline problem."


So you're saying that, in order to get more women into M&E, we need to teach less of it and more of the other stuff they're already statistically inclined towards?

I'm fond of counterintuitive propositions, but that one is a bridge too far.

Also, might I add that as a (admittedly male) philosopher who does work in M&E as well as feminist philosophy and philosophy of race, there is simply no way to meaningfully maintain that the latter are just as conceptually difficult as the former. Anyone who says that is either an idiot, has no experience with M&E, or is an instance of the Bradley effect. This is not to deprecate the latter, but they are easier fields of research...no way around it.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...


Yeah. Things are probably a lot more complicated than how I'm glossing them, of course.

I was just riled up by the claim that somehow because philosophy is technical that it drives people away.

In my haste to combat that perception, I probably missed some of yours and 4:22's points.

Discuss away! I'm going back to job apps!

Anonymous said...


9:20PM Here. Ugh. I hate your suggestion. Actually, I loathe it.

Yeah let's mix in some philosophy of the vagina and women will find philosophy more interesting. Yes, let's recruit women by luring them into different areas of philosophy that are more girly. Let's not ask why women seem less interested in M&E.

BL is certainly onto something when he suggests that we think about the problem in M&E along the lines of the problem with the sciences. Should we do math of the vagina? I think not.

So, in addition to diversifying the canon, let's figure out how to get more women interested in M&E, shall we? I'm not saying we shouldn't do other kinds of philosophy, but let's encourage that for everyone and not just women or to get more women into philosophy. We probably do need more feminist philosophers, but we certainly don't need more female feminist philosophers, do we?

Anonymous said...


I either did a lousy job of getting my point across, or you're reading me in the most uncharitable manner imaginable.

Here's what I meant:

As a profession, we value traditional analytic M&E over other areas. I obviously don't have the exact definition of "traditional M&E," but I'm excluding from it areas of feminist philosophy and philosophy of race that are also topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology. That's a pretty obvious point, I would think.

The trouble is that women and racial/ethnic minorities are simply less likely to be interested in those topics.

Our core problem is not, as you described, to get more women and racial/ethnic minorities to do traditional M&E. I'm taking it that our *goal* is to get more women and racial/ethnic minorities to do *philosophy*, period, irrespective of the subfield into which they enter the profession.

So, it seems to be pretty plausible that the way to do this, given the nature of the pipeline problem, is to teach relatively less traditional M&E (e.g. - the stuff that people aren't interested in) and relatively more feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, applied ethics, political philosophy, and related topics.

Is that a better formulation?

Anonymous said...

Uh. Nope. And if you can't see why, I give up. You just reiterated your previous point. All that pandering to interests that are not, by the way, innate is to reinforce the gendered divisions we see already within areas of research. I repeat, we do not NEED more representation of women in feminist philosophy. No we shouldn't just try to get women into philosophy without some cognizance of which topics they are funnelled into.

Susan Smith said...

In response to the person who wrote, that "M&E" are more "conceptually difficult" than feminist philosophy and philosophy of race, and that anyone who says otherwise, "is either an idiot, has no experience with M&E, or is an instance of the Bradley effect."
I would love to see your research in feminist philosophy, given this reply--it must be quite something! I'm also wondering what on earth you take the "Bradley effect" to be, such that it's relevant in this instance. "M&E" are not easy subjects, but they're also not so much more challenging or profound than other areas of philosophy, including the two you mention. That philosophers think otherwise is a bizarre case of self-congratulation and convenient justification for de-valuing things they had already determined to de-value.

My own theory about why women are turned off from philosophy, and perhaps especially once they get into upper-level coursework, is captured neatly in the following quote from Tom Baldwin, editor of Mind: "I think there are plenty of younger women who have entered the profession in the last ten years who are just as punchy, if I can put it like that, as the young men who entered." Where "punchy" = "the only way of being Good", you will find fewer women interested. Not less capable, certainly, but less interested. This has nothing to do with the content of the sub-field itself, but with an entirely optional style that has become de rigueur. Whatever the mysterious reasons for it, women on average seem less interested in being aggressive jerks, and less interested in scenes where people are rewarded for such behavior.

Anonymous said...

8:21/11:13 here,

I think we simply disagree about what's important to philosophy. Look, maybe there's some kind of way you can continually try to pound into the heads of women and racial/ethnic minorities that they should be interested in traditional M&E. Maybe. Good luck to you. Maybe you can keep explaining that these are the "difficult" and more legitimate areas of philosophy. And maybe eliminating implicit bias will help aid that project. And, if your view of philosophy (that traditional M&E is what's most important) is right, then I guess that's what you have to do.

But I just don't accept that view of philosophy. My own view of the field (if it matters, I'm a white male who does work in social philosophy and feminist philosophy) is that those areas aren't the most important, and that most of the groundbreaking work in philosophy is being done in areas outside those areas. So by teaching less traditional M&E, we're not only attracting a more diverse body of students, we're actually improving the field by including some of its most interesting and compelling issues.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...I didn't say that we shouldn't value other kinds of philosophy. In fact, I said that I'm all for diversifying the canon, but not for the sake of attracting women, just on its own merits! And again, if we want women to finally be REPRESENTED in philosophy then they need to be represented in all of the subfields. Likewise for men. I don't see where the disagreement could be here?

Anonymous said...


11:13 here. (The one you were addressing, not the other person claiming to be me above)

I made very clear in my comment that I did not think feminist philosophy or the philosophy of race were of lesser profundity or not "real philosophy", only that such areas are conceptually less difficult as compared to M&E.

You take this judgment as a mark against my work. Fine. I take your straw man of it as a mark against your reading comprehension.

Anyway, I would say that I'm sorry to have offended you, but you seem like the type who enjoys taking offense, so...you're welcome.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe you can keep explaining that these are the "difficult" and more legitimate areas of philosophy."

Difficult does not imply more legitimate. They are entirely independent and separable notions.

This is a red herring you all keep trotting out to delegitimize M&E, but it only makes you look silly.

Susan Smith said...

To the Anonymous person above who accused me of lacking reading comprehension:

You stated that people who didn't agree with your assessment of the lesser relative "conceptual difficulty" of feminist philosophy and philosophy of race were "idiots" or otherwise (still wondering how the Bradley effect is relevant here) to be dismissed. Now you've moved on from simple name-calling to suggesting that I'm too easily offended and lack reading comprehension. Yes, these are surely the classic hallmarks of feminist analysis.

I did not accuse you of saying that philosophies of race and gender were not "real philosophy". Somewhere in this is a moral about glass houses and stones.

I am interested in hearing any actual argument for the position that the supposedly more "technical" subjects in philosophy are more conceptually difficult or complex than some others. How is that to be defined and measured, exactly? You'd think for all this expertise in such tricky areas, we would see a rather more precise claim formulated.

Anonymous said...

Look, maybe there's some kind of way you can continually try to pound into the heads of women and racial/ethnic minorities that they should be interested in traditional M&E. Maybe. Good luck to you.

Why would anyone have to continually pound that into the heads of women and racial/ethnic minorities? That makes no sense. Do I also have to pound it into the heads of women and ethnic minorities that they should be interested in number theory, cosmology, and geology? Or (as I think) would women be a lot more likely to enter these fields if the stereotype threats removed from them?

FH said...

Dear Susan,

The Bradley Effect is a tendency for experimental philosophers to underestimate the support that feminist programs have when pitted against British idealist approaches, because so many philosophers feel that it would be politically incorrect to report to the experimenters their true feelings about British idealism.

I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

"I am interested in hearing any actual argument for the position that the supposedly more "technical" subjects in philosophy are more conceptually difficult or complex than some others. How is that to be defined and measured, exactly? You'd think for all this expertise in such tricky areas, we would see a rather more precise claim formulated."

Well I suppose I could appeal to my own phenomenological experience. I do work in feminism and race both because of its inherent interest, but also because it provides a nice break from my other area of work, the metaphysics of modality, which is too taxing to spend all my time on.

This isn't much of an argument, so let me try something else. When I was a grad student, I could give a paper at our dept conferences on feminism or something in ethics or political philosophy and most of the other students would follow along just fine and have lots of questions and comments. When I gave a paper on Aristotle's analysis of the future sea-battle, few people had any idea what I was talking about and there were almost no questions. I doubt this is because I'm a super genius, but rather that the former topics are more open and less technical than the latter, such that nonspecialists are able to follow along and engage the argument.

But maybe I'm wrong and the one just seems more difficult when really that's just me. Still, it seems odd that so many other people are under the same impression.

Also, I did not mean to single out feminism and race. I think (most) ethics and political philosophy are conceptually easier than M&E. I also think anthropology is conceptually easier than, say, synthetic chemistry, but that has nothing to do with the value of the science.

So yes, my idiot remark was inappropriate, but I was reacting to the grating tendency that always comes up when this topic is being discussed where people start lobbing around "Sexist!" accusations at the slightest disagreement.

Women are discouraged implicitly or explicitly from pursuing technical and conceptually difficult studies, and this, in my opinion, accounts for their underrepresentstion in certain areas of philosophy and the sciences. And this is a problem and it needs to be fixed, not denied with feel good pablum.

Ben A. said...

Dear 5:05,

Based on context, I take it that you are 11:13. If not, I apologize for the confusion.

Do you honestly regard the reasons you articulate in your most recent comment as sufficient evidence to warrant any of the following?

1. belief in the proposition that M&E is conceptually more difficult than feminist phil & phil-race
2. assertion of this proposition
3. assertion that anyone denying this proposition must be an idiot, inexperienced with M&E, or disengenuous

I cannot help but suspect that you are holding yourself to far weaker epistemic standards than you and I would expect in good epistemology.

Ben A. said...

Consider, for instance, how your own relationship to these fields might be adversely affecting your assessments of comparative difficulty. Is it possible that the fact that feminist phil and phil-race function for you as welcome changes-of-pace from what you regard as your main work is explanatorily significant?

Why extrapolate so extensively from your personal experiences in presenting graduate level work on these various subjects? Surely withholding judgment would be the more prudent course here.

Susan Smith said...

Anonymous, I appreciate your willingness to be nice and give some arguments in favor of the claim. I take it you have three main points, and I think a lot of philosophers would agree. I take one of your points to be just that: most people seem to recognize that certain topics are more technically demanding than others. However, I'm not much swayed by what most people think in this area, because the negative stereotypes that might influence these matters gain traction when most people agree with them, and I think some myths in this area could use debunking. Unfortunately, this means I'd have a harder time convincing people that my view is more accurate, as they might consider it counterintuitive.

The second point you make has to do with your own personal experience. Mine is the opposite. I teach logic and peruse articles in that area for enjoyment. I consider ethics the most difficult area, since one can go astray in a million ways, and the issues are so terribly complicated. Logic is much more reassuring and sensible. My own research is in the "M&E" area, with a little phil mind on the side, and I guess one of the reasons I don't do ethics is precisely that it's hard for me to make any sensible and helpful contribution.

The final point has to do with what you said about some topics being "more open and less technical than the latter, such that nonspecialists are able to follow along and engage the argument." Here I would simply observe that it's one thing to engage with something readily, and another to do good work in the area. Almost anyone has a ready opinion about most ethical or political questions you might toss out--it's easy to get discussion going among undergrads for this reason. To come up with carefully reasoned or defended insights in this area is a lot more difficult. You may not stir up as many immediate reactions to the sea battle example, but that may be because people aren't sure how to map it onto what they've already heard about problems with determinism, or they don't have as much of a stake in how that problem is resolved as they do in other "less technical" areas. Ably defending a position on that matter is not terribly difficult, though, and doesn't require a great deal of technical mastery.

In some ways this problem reminds me of what happens when people decide that they simply cannot do math, even though they certainly can. Maths! Numbers! So terribly hard! We build a ridiculous mythology around this, and it causes real problems. We also have a tendency to assume that because we find a problem interesting, other people will too. Yet the subjects that seem--on the surface, perhaps--more remote from everyday human concerns are also the subjects people consider more difficult or technical, whether or not it's truly so. Give people a reason to care about their position on whether claims about that sea battle are true, or necessarily true, and suddenly it's more interesting and accessible.

Anonymous said...

This is getting embarrassing. 1. All philosophy is difficult. 2. Women don't seem to be better or worse than men when it comes to any area of philosophy. Nevertheless, 3. There are fewer women than men doing philosophy.

I take 1-3 to be uncontroversial. However, any armchair explanation of 3 is probably going to be a waste of time. Please stop with the ignorance.

Anonymous said...

You know what else? Tennis is completely harder than marathon running, in my experience, because marathon running involves continued repitition of the same activities, and playing tennis requires the ability to intuitively utilize physics and geometry in very small amounts of time to anticipate what will happen and to execute one's responses.

Marathons are obviously for sissies. And tennis is obviously for tough guys. That's why no women want to play tennis, ever, and so many women want to run marathons successfully all the time.

Anonymous said...

I'd be real interested to see a comparison of gender diversity between departments that emphasize the history of philosophy and departments that emphasize analytic and technical philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that some of the explanation for why women find philosophy departments hostile and unfriendly is that women are more disposed to find certain things hostile and unfriendly? Notice I’m not denying that women are, in fact, sometimes treated in a hostile and unfriendly way. Instead, I’m asking whether there is reason to believe that men and women, in general, tend to differ in their dispositions in this regard. If so, if that difference is significant enough, and if philosophy is a discipline that tends to favor critical engagement, this might offer *some* explanation for why women are not well represented in philosophy.

Notice that an affirmative answer to the above question does not yet commit one to anything with regard to why those differences in disposition are present. It could be that society plays a big role in shaping them, and so we would not thereby be committed to the claim that the difference relevant for a partial answer to the question as to why women are underrepresented in philosophy is an innate difference or part of the biological tendencies of women. At any rate, it seems to me an empirical question whether women in fact, in general, tend to be more disposed to respond to things as if they were hostile or unfriendly.

But is the mere suggestion of this idea hostile or unfriendly? If so, why?

Random Passerby said...

Thanks, 4:39, that made me guffaw.

Anonymous said...

The best explanation for both the relative lack of women in philosophy and for the leakiest section of the pipeline is the following.

The skills that lend themselves to philosophy (eg. analytical and linguistic) also lend themselves to branches of English, linguistics, and psychology. In each of those fields, young women more readily find female professors and female role models. Thus, faced with equal prospects of success in philosophy and one of the aforementioned fields, they choose the latter.

So, young women are being disenfranchised qua young philosophers, but this doesn't entail the more worrisome claim that they are being disenfranchised qua young academics. Should we worry about the first claim?

As philosophers, yes. Our discipline is losing bright young folk to those fiendish psychologists and to those devilish English scholars.

It's not as clear that we should worry qua academics, or even qua private citizens. The gender imbalance is equally bad in English and worse in psychology. And yet it is no great cause for worry there (read this claim descriptively, not prescriptively).

This, of course, isn't to say that sexual harassment isn't a problem in philosophy. It is. And this isn't to say that sexual harassment problems adversely and unjustly impact the participation rate of women in our field. But it is to say there is warrant for looking critically at measures to increase female participation rates in philosophy that go beyond punishing harassers, which is, of course, of paramount important.

I don't know if this is true of others, my less-than-total support for some measures meant to increase female participation in our field (e.g., the original NewAPPs petition, linked below) and related lines of argument stems from the preceding considerations.


Mr. Zero said...

I accidentally deleted some comments this evening--clicked "select all" and then hit the wrong button. I'm not sure which threads they were for. Sorry about that. If you're looking for your comment and don't see it, feel free to repost if you want.

Anonymous said...

I am always struck by the radically unphilosophical way in which philosophers approach these kinds of issues. In our discipline, it's considered reasonable and worthwhile to question the belief that the external world exists, or that modus ponens is valid. But when we address the under-representation of women (or racial minorities) lots of philosophers will make these very strong assertions -- with lots of emotion, in all-caps -- that don't seem to be founded in any serious evidence.

I'm pretty sure that there is such a thing as implicit bias, and that it has sometimes affected women. (Certainly that seems to have been true until pretty recently.) But might it be that the bias exists because it is the accumulated wisdom of mankind that women (even female philosophers) tend to have different orientations and gifts than men? And might it be that that wisdom is the way it is because women really do tend, by nature, to be that way, and so people took note of this fact? Of course it would be hard to establish any of this conclusively, but it is not obviously false. More to the point, I don't think any serious evidence has ever been presented for the conclusion that so-called "gender differences" are entirely or largely the result of acculturation. It's just one of those things you're supposed to believe, if you value your standing in respectable society. One of those things philosophers are supposed to be somewhat skeptical and critical about, that is. And yet that attitude is notably absent when the topic is something that really matters, and could get you in trouble.