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Philosophers all have long, gray beards!
October 14, 2010 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Professional philosophers have long known that there are far fewer women in philosophy than there are men. (Some quick info.) Recently, this issue has taken center-stage in the philosophy blogosphere. First, a new study suggests that gender plays a role in what intuitions one has to philosophical thought experiments, such as the Gettier cases about knowledge, and The Trolley Problem related to ethics (via). Second, a new blog, What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?, has exploded in popularity as it shows the good, the bad, and the downright ugly involved in being a woman in the profession.

The "via" and "exploded" links are particularly included for the discussion in the comments there.
posted by meese (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let's face it: Men are better than women at talking the opposite sex into keeping up with the cooking and cleaning while they sit around and philosophize.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:32 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Relatedly, I thought this 2008 paper by Sally Haslanger was pretty great: Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone). (Link is to a .pdf.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 5:38 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related discussion from Ask Metafilter: Why the dearth of female philosophers?
posted by ghost dance beat at 5:42 PM on October 14, 2010


The Trolley results is where the data presented in the paper gets interesting.
posted by ifandonlyif at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2010


There is no dearth of female philosophers. Philosophy and academic 'philosophy' are not the same thing. Some of us who've tried both have the conviction that they're actually polar opposites.
posted by koeselitz at 5:55 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


There were a few other related issues I felt like bringing up, but I didn't want my post to be overwhelming with links (it already is!).

There's the recent passing of Philippa Foot, one of the most influential moral philosophers of the 20th century.

There's also this recent discussion about whether or not the ban on having interviews in hotel rooms should be lifted during the American Philosophical Association's meetings. The ban was put in place a couple decades ago (during the 80s, I think?), after the number of women in the profession grew enough for those in charge to realize how awkward a woman could be, being interviewed by a group of men who are lounging on or around a hotel bed. (Of course, I doubt this is the sort of thing that would only be awkward for women.)
posted by meese at 5:57 PM on October 14, 2010


There's also this recent discussion about whether or not the ban on having interviews in hotel rooms should be lifted during the American Philosophical Association's meetings. The ban was put in place a couple decades ago (during the 80s, I think?), after the number of women in the profession grew enough for those in charge to realize how awkward a woman could be, being interviewed by a group of men who are lounging on or around a hotel bed. (Of course, I doubt this is the sort of thing that would only be awkward for women.)

You know, i have wondered on occassion whether Americans are perhaps on too much of a hair trigger vis-a-vis freaking out about what could possibly be construed as sexual harassment at work ---- but for realkis? Are you serious with this? And now they're talking about rescinding the ban, because that got super un-awkward all of a sudden? Jesus Christ, y'all never got over Xanthippe. What a bunch of dumb bastards.
posted by Diablevert at 6:15 PM on October 14, 2010


if you look at the arguments Heloise made against marrying Abelard, she basically argues that its not for a philosopher to live the hurly-burly life of home and family, to be distracted by the crying of children etc., from the pursuit of pure philosophy. sorry I dont have a web source to cite right now (lots on my bookshelf though...)

the idea and ideal is/was the philosopher as pure mind and thinker unencumbered by the day-to-day distractions of dirty diapers and runny noses. traditionally (and still) its quite a bit easier for men to escape such burdens...

or, why were all the medieval female philosophers nuns?
posted by supermedusa at 7:07 PM on October 14, 2010


Agora is being released on video this week.
posted by ovvl at 7:47 PM on October 14, 2010


Within the last 5 years at a department meeting, my most senior colleague argued that we should not interview women candidates because our department was unable to recruit excellent women philosophers. No one said anything. Not a peep.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Selection bias, echo chamber, outright misogyny. It'll take a few more generations to clean the mess that is Western philosophy up, unless it just dies trying.

or, why were all the medieval female philosophers nuns?

I'm guessing this was a joke, but that's because they were the only women who were taught how to write, which was a pretty rare skill in those days. Pretty much every medieval philosopher was either with the clergy or a person of extreme wealth.
posted by mek at 7:55 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anecdotal, but my favorite philosophy professor is a woman. I met her when I got recruited to fill out a Women in Philosophy class in order to save it. (We read The Second Sex, but damned if I recall a bit of it.) Anyway, she was absolutely encyclopediac in her knowledge of the field, perhaps because she had taught so many Intro I and II classes. But she had a hell of a time getting tenure, had to work as a lecturer forever and a day until a couple of old curmudgeons on the faculty who hated her retired.

Her area of interest is the social role of dance and sport. It's possible that her work was therefore regarded as trivial, and that held her back...our department had an almost obsessive focus on logic, to the point where one of my other professors had to wait until Irving Copi died to get his PhD because Copi didn't think his command of logic was sufficient.

The structure of academia allows biases, unconscious or otherwise, to be exercised without restraint. Crusty throwbacks who think women are unsuited to philosophy have the ability to affect the makeup of philosophy departments long after their deaths, simply because the process of getting to tenure takes so long, and there are so many points on the way that they can shake out those they don't care for.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:25 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it's slight horrifying in an ironic way that the google ads for the "ugly" example are all about how to attract men, and what keeps men from straying.
posted by Phalene at 9:01 PM on October 14, 2010


Heck, I've got at least a dozen women on my Facebook feed that are better philosophers than 95% of the professors I know. It's pretty clear women philosophers are doing just fine. The sad thing is that the academy is in such a sorry state. And frankly isn't not just entrenched sexism; it's money, too.
posted by koeselitz at 9:11 PM on October 14, 2010


Lest it get lost in my verbiage, I love this post, meese.

I find experimental philosophy is fascinating, but I don't believe that different pre-philosophical intuitions about the trolley problem or Gettier cases are an important explanation for the underrepresentation of women, at least not important relative to the egregious individual and institutional sexism described in the other links and elsewhere.

I'm also a bit skeptical of experimental philosophy because I'm not convinced that failing, to share "standard" intuitions is a problem, or should be at all surprising, given that the subjects were selected on the basis of their inexperience with academic philosophy. It would be very strange if everyone had the "standard" Gettier intuitions about knowledge prior to taking a philosophy course because the Gettier problem doesn't seem to be a problem unless one is using knowledge in a somewhat philosophically precise way (i.e. justified true belief). If the respondents don't have that philosophical background and have different social backgrounds--gender, race, income, country of origin, language, class, etc.--I fully expect they would have different interpretations of the fact pattern and the question.*

And I'm fine with that. Sure, some people will say things like, "This argument seems intuitively correct" as a claim about prima facie plausibility, but I always took the point of intuitions in thought experiments to be a means of identifying the facts a person unconsciously considered relevant, not about seeing who gets the right or consistent answer. In the trolley problem for example, I am told that more people will pull a lever to switch kill a worker than push a large man onto the tracks -- and that the numbers change if he is described as "fat" instead of "large." It isn't about the intuition being right, but about whether there's an argument for the facts being philosophically relevant. That's where the philosophy gets going, and I'd be more worried about diverge greater convergence of intuitions after examining those n of intuition themselves.

All that said, I wonder now if I'm just naive about the use of intuitions in classrooms. I've never seen non-standard intuitions treated as incorrect intuitions, but if students are being shamed for having them and fewer women have the standard intuitions than men,

*I believe there was a Metafilter post on the a similar thing happening with word problems producing different error rates than their mathematical equivalents, presumably because respondents weren't able to identify the mathematically relevant facts, even if they could perform the operations.

posted by Marty Marx at 9:24 PM on October 14, 2010


Eeh, apparently I cut and pasted things to pieces. Sorry about that.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:29 PM on October 14, 2010


the idea and ideal is/was the philosopher as pure mind and thinker unencumbered by the day-to-day distractions of dirty diapers and runny noses. traditionally (and still) its quite a bit easier for men to escape such burdens...

How can someone dare call themselves a philosopher — a "lover of wisdom" — and reflect on life if they're not living? Now, I don't mean to equate having/raising children with living, but rather, all the rough and tumble that is dealing with humanity as an active participant, rather than "escaping from burdens". Why is there this fundamental, fallacious assumption that burdens subtract from, rather than add to, philosophy? Looking at crap from a distance and reading other critics-from-a-distance of crap and arguing about the meaning of crap and various appellations of crap while someone else does your laundry and cleans your toilet is hypocritical to say the least. Experience the effort; the sacrifice; feel the unexpected returns; reflect on them and recognize that, hey, my life may be full of crap, but gosh dang, there are an awful lot of us dealing with crap and finding meaning in that through relation with one another, and creating something living, whether that be friendship, family, business, non-profit orgs, political groups, whatever, that transcends that crap and transforms it into a thing of human, breathing, laughing, crying beauty in all its rainbow of difference and relation.
posted by fraula at 1:52 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Heck, I've got at least a dozen women on my Facebook feed that are better philosophers than 95% of the professors I know."

I don't know your friends and so I can't speak specifically to your experience, but I've known enough people who "are smarter than their professors" or (better yet) "too smart/creative/open minded for school/college" that I can't read this as anything but faint praise at best. As much as I'd like to believe that the public is teeming with untapped philosophical potential, virtually every experience I have ever had militates against such a belief.

"Why is there this fundamental, fallacious assumption that burdens subtract from, rather than add to, philosophy?"

Welcome to the Greek intellectual tradition, please check all finite experiences at the door!
posted by mister-o at 4:15 AM on October 15, 2010


"Women have but one problem, and the solution is pregnancy." - Nietzche. That kind of thing.

The group philosophy blog 'less wrong' is my favorite counter-example.
posted by eccnineten at 5:20 AM on October 15, 2010


mister-o: “I don't know your friends and so I can't speak specifically to your experience, but I've known enough people who "are smarter than their professors" or (better yet) "too smart/creative/open minded for school/college" that I can't read this as anything but faint praise at best. As much as I'd like to believe that the public is teeming with untapped philosophical potential, virtually every experience I have ever had militates against such a belief.”

Oh, absolutely. I agree. I don't think philosophy is democratic, and it's not just spread about hither and thither. The people I'm talking about studied philosophy by choice in college. Most of the people who study philosophy by choice, it should be noted, aren't allowed to become professors.

Although I disagree on one point: I do think the public is naturally more philosophically inclined than Professional Philosophy is. Heck, Athens was more philosophically inclined just after they killed Socrates than Professional Philosophy is now; at least Athens had the clarity of conviction to attempt to enact justice. And quite apart from the injustice of Professional Philosophy, the fact also remains that philosophy professors at large seem to be much more unintelligent than the public at large. That's not really helpful.

At this point, when people tell me they're interested in philosophy, I tell them to go to the library. There's not much else. Better that than spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars being handed bullshit by idiots who get paid to pretend they know what they're talking about when in fact they know less than nothing.
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 AM on October 15, 2010


koeselitz, I was wondering if you could say more about what you think philosophy is (as opposed to academic philosophy). I think I disagree with several of your points, but most of them center around that distinction, so I don't want to jump into it until that's clearer to me.

At this point, when people tell me they're interested in philosophy, I tell them to go to the library.

Is your point here that they should read the same material they would in a philosophy class, and they'll be just as well off (minus the college debt)? Some people might be able to do that, but I suspect the vast majority would benefit from the resources a professor can offer. Maybe I'm failing to completely put aside my academic bias, but I think the academics behind it is important. Which translations of Plato should they read? Einai (the Greek verb 'to be') has seven different senses. When Plato discusses the forms, he uses three different "be"-verb expressions: to on, to einai, and ousia. How these expressions are translated can impact the interpretation of Plato's theory of forms.

Professors often have good reason for the books that they choose, even at the 100 level, but oftentimes those reasons are missed by the students. And while it is important, book selection is just one aspect of teaching a course. Professors pick readings that are significant historically, set the context for those readings, explain the often complex arguments, and teach students critical thinking skills.

the fact also remains that philosophy professors at large seem to be much more unintelligent than the public at large

Look at GRE scores based on field of study. While not a perfect test of intelligence, it may be the best we have right now, and I think they help dispel the myth about philosophers. Students who take the GRE and plan on entering a philosophy program rank #1 in the verbal section and in the top 10 in quantitative reasoning (behind math and engineering sciences). Their overall scores are in the top 1-2. So by that metric, they are near the top entering grad school. Unlike those in math and science fields that are above them in quantitative reasoning, the top philosophy grads usually don't go into "industry," but become professors.
posted by chndrcks at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2010


chndrcks: “koeselitz, I was wondering if you could say more about what you think philosophy is (as opposed to academic philosophy). I think I disagree with several of your points, but most of them center around that distinction, so I don't want to jump into it until that's clearer to me.”

Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Success in academic philosophy generally requires the opposite impulse. That's my point.

me: “At this point, when people tell me they're interested in philosophy, I tell them to go to the library.”

chndrcks: “Is your point here that they should read the same material they would in a philosophy class, and they'll be just as well off (minus the college debt)? Some people might be able to do that, but I suspect the vast majority would benefit from the resources a professor can offer. Maybe I'm failing to completely put aside my academic bias, but I think the academics behind it is important. Which translations of Plato should they read? Einai (the Greek verb 'to be') has seven different senses. When Plato discusses the forms, he uses three different "be"-verb expressions: to on, to einai, and ousia. How these expressions are translated can impact the interpretation of Plato's theory of forms.”

I have no idea what philosophy professors you're talking about. Most of the philosophy professors I've met (even the supposed experts on Plato) couldn't read Greek at all, and yet I'm the one who's sitting here running database queries for a living. You can talk about 'academics,' but 'academics' doesn't actually mean thoughtfulness and intellectual rigor – it's a political game whereby you're required to impress the people with the most power. Thoughtfulness and intellectual rigor actually get in the way of playing that game, so really good students are likely to fail at professional philosophy. And I don't mean that you can learn everything you need from books – I don't believe philosophy is an activity you can do while you're reading, at least not in the simplest sense – but I do believe that you're more likely to find that thoughtfulness and intellectual rigor outside of a philosophy department than in it.

“Look at GRE scores based on field of study. While not a perfect test of intelligence, it may be the best we have right now, and I think they help dispel the myth about philosophers. Students who take the GRE and plan on entering a philosophy program rank #1 in the verbal section and in the top 10 in quantitative reasoning (behind math and engineering sciences). Their overall scores are in the top 1-2. So by that metric, they are near the top entering grad school. Unlike those in math and science fields that are above them in quantitative reasoning, the top philosophy grads usually don't go into "industry," but become professors.”

Leaving aside the utter inanity of using a commercial scam like the GRE scores as a test of intelligence, I'll note the central flaw in your reasoning here: a pretty facile and unfortunate misapprehension about who the "top philosophy grads" are. The philosophy grads that succeed are those most able to impress the idiots that taught them. That doesn't mean much, aside from indicating that most of the students who really care about what they're doing simply fail and end up doing something else.

And anybody who wants to learn philosophy is better off seeking those people out and conversing with them. Yes, they're harder to find; but you sure as hell won't find them in a university.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2010


You're making some pretty large claims without much behind them, koeselitz. You think that traits necessary to be a good philosopher (thoughtfulness and rigor) get in the way of avoiding failure as an academic philosopher. Okay, but that, on its own, doesn't mean that you're more likely to find thoughtfulness and rigor outside of a philosophy dept than in. To get there, the impediment thoughtfulness and rigor present would need to present such an impediment at every level of thoughtfulness and rigor that there would be no level within natural human bounds at which more than half of the potential professional philosophers at that level would not have the requisite level of skills necessary merely not to fail as a professional philosopher.

That's a really big empirical claim, without even much anecdata to back it up. I mean, it isn't even clear why you think thoughtfulness and rigor present this sort of impediment despite widespread ostensible endorsement of those qualities by professional philosophers. I'm skeptical that thoughtfulness and intellectual rigor get in the way of avoiding failure as a professional philosopher at all, though I'd be open to the (much weaker) argument that they are not sufficient to avoid failure. But that wouldn't support your conclusions, specifically the ones about the percentage of academic philosophers who are also good philosophers.

I'll offer an alternative view: there are very few positions for academic philosophers compared to the number of people qualified to hold those positions. Whatever the quality of the people who are awarded those positions, there will be qualified people who are not awarded any position. The method of selecting people to be awarded those positions is not meritocratic--the exclusion and harassment of women is evidence enough of this before we even get to race and income--and so the people who are awarded those positions are not necessarily (though may nevertheless be by accident) the most qualified, though the distribution of quality may be such that the absence of meritocracy would be consistent with meeting minimum standards of quality.

That's a pretty rank injustice that calls for reform, but it's a different account than the inversion of values that you propose, and requires different responses. In other words, the problem isn't that academic philosophers just hate thoughtfulness and rigor and the people who aren't awarded positions are just too good, but that the pipeline and retention aspects of the institution are discriminatory. We need to change that discrimination, not just hire the opposite of whomever a search committee selects.
posted by Marty Marx at 5:37 PM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Too many negations. That should be "at that level would have the requisite level of skills necessary."
posted by Marty Marx at 5:39 PM on October 15, 2010


I don't know what to say except that I've had pretty much the exact opposite experience.

I have no idea what philosophy professors you're talking about.

My experience is with professors at top-50 philosophy programs (although these rankings are by academic philosophers, so make of that what you will).

Most of the philosophy professors I've met (even the supposed experts on Plato) couldn't read Greek at all

In my program you have to take a foreign language related to your specialization. If you study ancient, you take Greek; if you study Nietzsche, you take German, there's no way around it. With the amount of competition for jobs right now, I can't imagine anyone with an AOS in Ancient being hired if they couldn't read Greek.

You can talk about 'academics,' but 'academics' doesn't actually mean thoughtfulness and intellectual rigor – it's a political game whereby you're required to impress the people with the most power.

Again, this is just something I haven't seen. I'm used to defending philosophy against the charge of being too intellectual. I would consider intellectual rigor to be the one constant in philosophy. A view can fly in the face of common sense so long as it has a good argument behind it.

From freshman level courses up to graduate seminars (well over 100 credit hours in Philosophy), I've never seen a view shouted down or penalized, so long as it had an argument behind it. If the argument is bad, the argument may get picked apart, but that's different. If you told someone at an interview that you were a neo-Meinongian, they wouldn't throw you out (we don't want their kind here!), they'd want to see your proof.

Again, I may be too corrupted from having been in the system so long, but in my philosophical experience intellectual rigor is at the heart of philosophy. I don't know of any field that questions its own assumptions and methodologies as much as philosophy does. There are metaphysicians who think most metaphysical debates are merely linguistic disputes. There are philosophers of mind who think philosophy of mind has been supplanted by neuroscience. There are philosophers writing books on meta-philosophy.

To be perfectly honest, if you asked me what separated academic philosophy from the common conception of philosophy (e.g. Family Guy's "Why?"; Mel Brooks' "Bullshitter"; etc.) I would say "intellectual rigor."

Leaving aside the utter inanity of using a commercial scam like the GRE scores as a test of intelligence

I admitted it wasn't a perfect metric, but it's at least a starting point. You claimed that "philosophy professors at large seem to be much more unintelligent than the public at large" without giving any evidence. What's your definition of "intelligence" by which most philosophy professors fail to measure up to the general public?

Now I'm off to memail the other philosophers around here to find out if I've had a sheltered philosophical life
posted by chndrcks at 5:57 PM on October 15, 2010


I meant to add this: I don't mean to imply that the system is perfect and only the best of the best of the best philosophers get all the jobs. Certainly there is room for improvement at all levels: from teaching to hiring.
posted by chndrcks at 6:03 PM on October 15, 2010


I think one of the largest problems facing academic philosophy these days is oversensitivity to outside criticism.

There are so. many. people out there who just don't know what philosophy is, but that doesn't stop them from having opinions about the value and worth of academic philosophy. Of course philosophers have horrendously thin skins, because they can't even tell the random acquaintance what they do for a living without getting into some confused, ignorant defense of their profession -- as an undergraduate getting a philosophy degree, I once got forced to listen to a guy whine about he was "too logical" to take philosophy seriously. (Many philosophers can't even talk to their family members about it without some sort of grumbling about how they should get a job that "does something." And, when there's actually an outsider who doesn't seem to disparage philosophy, they either are so ignorant about what philosophy actually is that they're likely to discuss the healing powers of crystals, or they put the entire endeavor of philosophy on a pedestal of "gee, you must be so smart.") So, philosophers already have their shields up, when someone who actually knows what they're talking about raises a complaint. Add to this the general demeanor of philosophic conversation ("Off the top of my head, here are five reasons why you're wrong, and a sixth reason why your entire project is misguided!"), and it's incredibly hard to start an honest and open discussion of how philosophy is flawed.

I think Koeselitz has something of a good point, although I'm also reading a lot of anger in his posts without seeing the cause for it. Koeselitz framed his point as, "This is why professional philosophy sucks and all professional philosophers are stupid." Then, anyone who feels connected to professional philosophy sees that and feels attacked the same way they do anytime their job, their lifestyle, and even their very personality is brought up in conversation. Now, instead of a dialogue about what the real problem is in professional philosophy and how it might be corrected, we're instead fighting over whether academic philosophy deserves to exist. There's no ground to be won in such a fight.

(That's something you can ask a lot about professional philosophy these days, especially on the analytic side: what ground can be won in this fight?)

We see the same thing in a lot of responses male philosophers give to complaints about women's underrepresentation in the field. Often, the point just is, "if women are underrepresented, then an important point of view is being ignored -- we will fail to appreciate worthwhile paths to wisdom, and the problem will be self-perpetuating." Male philosophers, however, are too likely to read this complaint as, "Because women are underrepresented, the work you, a male, do is valueless and you shouldn't be doing it." So, in response, we see a lot of attacks on the idea that underrepresentation of women is a problem ("If we're just trying to find truth, that should be equally available to me, a man, as it would be to a woman!") and support for the value of philosophy in general ("What I am doing is too valuable! It doesn't matter that I'm male!"). The real issue gets lost, and the fight again gets refocused on whether academic philosophy deserves to exist.
posted by meese at 7:54 PM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


meese: “I think Koeselitz has something of a good point, although I'm also reading a lot of anger in his posts without seeing the cause for it.”

I should say that everything I said above is somewhat colored by who I am: the guy who loves philosophy, both as a practice and as a profession, and failed utterly to find a way to make it financially or practically possible for himself. I know ancient Greek, I've read more Aristotle than you can shake a stick at, I was lucky enough to study at Boston College, but that doesn't mean shit. I'm still a guy who runs database queries for a living.

The saddest part of it all is that one of these days I'll have to figure out how to get back to academia. And then I'll have to rethink all the bile I've spewed at academics. But yes: this is personal for me. Sorry for not making that clear. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who feels this way. It isn't exactly easy for the more qualified people to find jobs in academia.
posted by koeselitz at 8:19 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, meese, koeslitz actually is saying professional philosophers are stupid, claiming that you're more likely to find thoughtfulness and rigor outside of philosophy departments than inside because thoughtfulness and rigor are impediments to being an academic philosopher, that "professional philosophers at large seem to be much more unintelligent than the public at large," that studying philosophy professionally entails "being handed bullshit by idiots who get paid to pretend they know what they're talking about when in fact they know less than nothing." and so on.

That's a problem because, I suspect, the real issue under koeslitz's comments is the low value society places on the study of philosophy that results in job scarcity and low pay. (The exploitative nature of some graduate programs and all adjunct arrangements is a separate, but related issue of injustice). FWIW, I'm looking down the barrel of the same gun. But unsupportable claims about the bullshittery of professional philosophy only reinforce popular prejudices that it's all a scam and professional philosophers are just con-artists trying to sound profound. That just makes it harder to convince people that academic philosophy really is worthwhile, which makes it harder to get funding for jobs. So there is something to be won in pointing out that these claims are unsupportable, and that's, I suspect, the same thing koeslitz wants: a public that values academic philosophy more than it does now.

And all of that is different again from the folks who deny the need for radical changes to redress the overwhelming maleness and whiteness (and straightness, and wealthiness, etc.) of academic philosophy. Misguided personal sensitivity to criticism or no, by denying the need for changes, they perpetuate the the inequities they can't, or won't, acknowledge.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:01 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and Hypatia had to deal with that same problem in the movie.
posted by ovvl at 9:21 PM on October 15, 2010


Maybe academia is the wrong place for professional philosophers. Heaven knows philosophy existed outside of academia for centures – particularly in the Arab world.
posted by koeselitz at 10:15 PM on October 15, 2010


Philosophy is the love of wisdom.

If you don't see the problem with this sentence, then you didn't learn a thing in any of your philosophy classes. Everything other point you make is hung on that rotten peg.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:00 PM on October 16, 2010


I don't see what you think is wrong with saying "philosophy is the love of wisdom." It's a truism, given the origins of the word.
posted by meese at 4:20 PM on October 16, 2010


The problem lies in the definition of "wisdom." And what we mean when we say something is a central concern of philosophy, so basing an argument on a fuzzy claim like that casts some doubt on how much you learned in your philosophy classes.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:54 PM on October 16, 2010


Insulting someone's education instead of providing a reasoned and polite response to their points could also cast some doubt on how much, or what, one has learned in one's philosophy classes.

I don't really mean for that to sound like I want to start a pissing match, and I also wouldn't be commenting so much in my own thread if it weren't already mostly dead. You may be right that the truism, "philosophy is the love of wisdom," is flawed, but you haven't done anything to show so. Instead, all you have succeeded in doing is sounding antagonistic.

If we want to make philosophy a more inclusive environment, the first step is not being mean.
posted by meese at 7:32 PM on October 16, 2010


Philosophy isn't polite. Sorry.

I didn't have the patience for a full takedown, especially when the initial premise was so shoddy. I wanted to let it pass, too, especially since k. admitted that he was more bitter than anything else, but every time I read it it galled me. I had some professors that I felt were less than stellar, but I also had more than one who inspired me. There are some leading philosophers who are doing important work (Honderich and Rorty (RIP) come to mind immediately). Sturgeon's Law states that 90% of everything is crap, and that applies to academic philosophy as much as anything else, but there's a baby in that bathwater. Even if there are a bunch of sexist attitudes swilling around in it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:52 PM on October 16, 2010


I don't see what you think is wrong with saying "philosophy is the love of wisdom." It's a truism, given the origins of the word.

So are you saying that the current meaning of a word is determined by its historical origin? If so, then I think just about every linguist and philosopher of language would beg to differ with you there.
posted by klausness at 8:14 AM on October 17, 2010


I don't really think that's a charitable way to read that comment of mine. I certainly didn't mean it that way. All I really meant is that accepting "philosophy is the love of wisdom" as a worthwhile or valuable statement about the purpose and nature of philosophic study is in no way evidence that one's education has been flawed. (I don't think it's the most straightforward or clear way of trying to express what philosophy is or what philosophers should do, and if koeselitz had been offering a philosophic treatise on the nature of philosophy, I think he would have been remiss to depend on such an unclear description of philosophy.... But he wasn't offering a philosophic treatise, he was writing a casual comment on the internets, and behaving like he should have used the same rigor and precision as would be required for one during the other isn't very charitable, either.)

But that's all a side-issue. This is really what I care about:

Philosophy isn't polite. Sorry.

Philosophy can be polite. And, in my own opinion, it is best when it's polite. I think far too many people bent towards the enjoyment of philosophy are happy to conflate cruelty or downright meanness with philosophic insight. This is a mistake. Most of the time, when someone behaves impolitely when trying to make a philosophic point, it's a way of disguising their own laziness, imprecision, or (in Jimmy Havok's own case) impatience. This is a claim I'll stand by: in a philosophic setting, being mean is a way of disguising one's own flaws. It's best to admit those flaws, confront them, and try to come up with a better philosophic point, rather than let cruelty mask them.

I try to live by that. I fail, sometimes.
posted by meese at 8:58 AM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


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