Why are there so few women philosophers?

And what difference does it make?

The disparity in numbers might be because philosophy requires great upper body strength---far up in the brain department? I won't pursue this theory because there are obvious considerations against it: consider the Darwin Awards ---awards given to astounding feats of gene pool cleansing. Men overwhelmingly dominate the awards each year... And great intellectual ability is no assurance of "wisdom"---a now quaint idea it's still worth remembering philosophy is supposed to be a love of. Quaint I know because "successful" philosophers may do without it as we will see at the end of this writeup.

...

Statistics for women in mathematics, science and engineering:

computer science/engineering: below 30%
physical sciences and mathematics: below 40%
social and biosciences: at or above 50%
psychology: above 70%

philosophy?... around 30%, closer to 20% if we mean employed in philosophy. 

...

More plausibly, the low numbers of women philosophers is blamed on:

1. Garden variety sexism within the philosophical community, the kind that pops up wherever money, prestige, and power are in play. (Never mind that money, prestige, and power seldom consort with philosophy.)

2. Women have enough practical sense to know better than to invest in a difficult subject with little chance of material reward or clear practical effect. 

3. Something about the adversarial method common in the field puts them off---the aggressive criticism of every movement of thought, the seeming delight in finding fault with another's position, and the apparent, right off the bat, lack of emphasis on consensus seeking.

4. Something about the content of the subject itself puts women off---maybe they don't have "philosophical" problems of the sort that rise to the same level of urgency they seem to for many men. Perhaps they have different philosophical problems that men, who have largely developed the tradition, do not typically address. Thus women discount philosophy and seek answers to the problems of significance to them elsewhere, such as in the social or natural sciences or in the humanities.

Probably a confused combination of more than one of the above contribute, but the last two are the least discussed and the ones I want to call attention to since they are, if true, philosophically relevant, not merely sociological facts. If the method and content of the subject have been important obstacles, it suggests the character of the subject of philosophy is and will be changing fundamentally as more women enter the field and because of it. Moreover, it should given certain widely held assumptions about what philosophy pretends to be doing.

...

It's sometimes suggested that some fields naturally attract members of one sex more than others. But whatever might be the case about that, we can still ask does it matter? I think we can distinguish areas where:

1. Sex matters intrinsically to the qualifications of the participant because certain abilities are required to participate well: e.g., upper body strength to combat duty.

2. Sex is a matter of indifference as far as the field is concerned, e.g., civil engineering, astrophysics, geology. We don’t think bridges fall because they are designed by a member of one sex or the other or that rocks or stars reveal different aspects of themselves depending on the sex of the investigator. (Though perhaps it’s not beyond the pale to imagine it might be shown one day that women are ever so slightly more sensitive to subtle cues that give them milliseconds of advance warning over males in earthquake prediction. And it is curious that astrophysics and the geosciences do considerably better than physics at attracting women.)

3. Sex matters, but not to the qualifications of the participant, rather to the purpose and integrity of the area or subject matter itself. Sexual parity matters to covering the territory, so to speak. There is some reason to believe this might be true in medicine and the biosciences... And I will argue it is true in philosophy. In the latter case, the territory may quite literally change with the sex of the explorer.

The third possibility is most relevant for philosophy. Now the claim that there might be something wrong with sexual disparity is not just a matter of social justice. That concern is ever present, but a new factor enters the picture. The argument goes like this:

1. If the subject matter of philosophy is important; and

2. if its content, form, and methods are not independent of the typical features of a natural class of human investigators; and

3. if built into the subject is the ambition to be comprehensive—to have something authoritative to say about the whole of human experience, not merely this or that part; and

4. if human experience is significantly bifurcated by biological sex (in a more durable or irremediable way it is not, say, by race), then

5. representation from each side of the bifurcation, it seems, is an imperative—not a luxury or even just a matter of fairness.

The plausibility of the conclusion depends on the plausibility of the "if" statements. I think the "if" statements are more plausible than their denial, though each could be and has been denied. I really won't have much to say directly about first and third premises here. They could easily be topics all by themselves. But I think they are less controversial than 2 and 4, so I will mostly address them.

...

But before doing that---concerning the possible reasons for the fact that fewer than a quarter of professional philosophers are female:


Sexism

This explains some of it, no doubt. But there are a couple problems with placing too much blame here. First, if other arts, humanities, social, and natural sciences can overcome sexism to a much greater degree (leaving out physics and engineering but not so much mathematics), why hasn't philosophy? (Does philosophy have something in common with physics and engineering?)

The situation is made more acute by the fact that sexism and feminism are themselves philosophical characterizations and the latter, at least, is a philosophy in its own right. These notions were identified or invented by philosophers, not all of them women, and, second, no other field of intellectual inquiry prides itself on getting at the real, all-things-considered, "objective" truth of any fundamental matter more than philosophy. Philosophers like to believe that when it comes to being careful about what they think, nobody beats them. So either they are being careful and women just aren't suited to this kind of endeavor, or what women think, as distinct from what men do, is part of the truth and philosophers have an inconsistency to explain which any philosopher worth their salt should take seriously as a matter of intellectual integrity. It has been a kind of undefended assumption that the sex of the investigator should not matter in philosophy since, after all, we philosophize for generic "human beings." The suggestion seems to be that since the sex of the investigator doesn't matter to the subject, we should be fine with men doing the lion's share of it if they want to. But if sex doesn't matter, why are men the ones doing most of it? We are not talking arm wrestling here.

I will be generous and say that few male philosophers are open advocates of ordinary sexism. And as for being unconsciously biased or afflicted with "implicit bias," this doesn't jive well with one very ancient and core imperative of philosophy: Socrates' watchword, "know thyself." Not to be aware of something about themselves that could have major moral import or blind them to aspects of reality that they supposedly want to philosophize comprehensively about is no small handicap for a philosopher. Not to be aware of something important that you could be aware of is worse for a philosopher than for almost anyone else. Non-philosophers aren't as much in the business of making authoritative pronouncements on the legitimacy of the thinkings and doings of others. Not to put too fine a point on it, but traditionally male (i.e, most) philosophers (with a few notable exceptions) while theorizing about ethics, or knowledge, or what there is in the world, etc. have typically not said we are philosophizing for men, the kind with external genitalia. They have either intended or allowed it to be inferred they were talking about "people" in general, irrespective of sex.

So, if, either in their methods or the problems they address, they are not taking into account essential and philosophical differences of experience and perspective between women and men, that should spell trouble for their conclusions. Unless, of course, there are no very deep philosophical differences between women and men. Whether that is true, I think, is worth discussing.

I am not aware of anyone putting it so starkly but I think suspicions that there are, indeed, such deep differences are motivating slow but noticeable changes in the philosophical establishment. Why has it taken so long? And more importantly what will it mean to the future of philosophy? I'll return to those questions later.

In short, I don't think sexism, even unconscious sexism, is all that is going on here but, next, we have to consider...


The impracticality of philosophy

Probably the hardest subject to convince anyone (who doesn't already get it) is worthwhile and relevant is philosophy. Other than helping us to win arguments in a context where the disputants are semi-rational as in law courts, it's not obvious what useful skill specifically philosophy offers that couldn't be gotten more directly. Successful scientists, lawyers, and engineers, etc. or those in pretty much any profession or occupation must be good not only at thinking straight but about picking out what is relevant and what to do with this information. They might benefit from philosophical training, but it is hardly a requirement. Because of the demand it places on clear writing, argumentation, and critical skills (and ought to place on ferreting out, and strenuous reflection on, what matters, i.e., is of ultimate value), philosophy should be useful for any number of careers and there is some empirical data to support this. But again one could acquire these skills more directly than by asking after the questions that have been bandied about for millennia by philosophers with little to show in the way of settled "information you can use" (what there is really in the world, what knowledge is, what the good is, what the right way to live is, etc.).

But if the interest is otherwise there, it's not clear that impracticality stops people from doing things. People who voluntarily devote themselves to playing sports or studying art and music seriously in school are repeated bombarded with the advice that these activities are not, statistically speaking, likely to lead a given individual to material success. Yet, at least as many women as men engage in them. Most of the social as opposed to the physical sciences pay less yet are dominated by women.

Is it the cost/benefit calculation? Philosophy taken seriously is just too hard given the opportunities lost in making it a target of devotion. Better to pursue a path that allows for modest reward but also a more modest outlay of devotion. Pursue a path that affords a more well-rounded experience of life? Being a mother requires vast amounts of devotion for little pay or likelihood of pay. Maybe philosophy is like motherhood for men? Not capable of giving birth themselves, the next best thing for men might be: help someone else give birth (out of their heads, Zeus-like)? So, perhaps, this is why Socrates took himself be a midwife (unpaid, of course). This may explain some of the attraction to males but not their ambition to be generically representative of humanity in pursuing it, nor its relative lack of attraction for women.


Methods

Perhaps, to many women, the endless hair-splitting may seem fundamentally misguided? Suppose they are right. Then men shouldn't be wasting their time with it either.

The endless hairsplitting again. It is not even openly cooperative. The basic method seems to be  contest. Set down rules, master those rules, lay down a claim, attack or defend it (doesn't seem to matter which). Then invite your colleagues to have at it until someone comes out looking good---for awhile, until some still craftier philosopher steals your thunder. Rinse and repeat.

Supposedly, philosophy is about the ultimate assumptions behind every important human pursuit: art, science, religion, politics, morals, etc... It asks questions about the beginning and end of life and all the worthwhile stuff that happens between. It's hard to believe women aren't interested in these questions.

Maybe it is about style then. The dominant style of doing philosophy was invented by men. It is not native to women. Problem solving, or at least troubleshooting, can be done in different ways that utilize different native capacities and insights. Can't there be more than one style of doing philosophy without its advocates walling themselves off from the partisans of another style? The walling off itself takes on the guise of a philosophy and that says something. One might say that's how analytic ("taking apart") philosophy was born.

After all, unless one identifies style with substance, isn't the object of philosophy better understanding of every aspect of experienced reality for all who experience reality as they in fact experience it?


Philosophy tastes bad

Maybe most women just don't like philosophy? Little about it is intrinsically interesting to them. If so, what does that say about the nature of philosophy, about the relevance of its claims?

Unless men get something out of it that women don't? But if that were the case, wouldn't that very fact be ripe for philosophical questioning? What is it between women and men that so fundamentally splits their experience of being conscious in the world? And if there is a difference, what is it that male philosophers have been doing these past two thousand years? Have they just been doing "male philosophy" all along, "philosophy by males about males for males," all the while thinking they were doing generic, unisex, "human philosophy"?

To a philosopher, that would be nice to know.


Flavors of freedom

But maybe it is the character or the content of philosophy that tends to put women off? Perhaps the kinds of questions about human experience that natively engage them are different from those that dominate the tradition? Or maybe they recognize different concerns in the very same questions and concepts of that tradition? As one example of a sex-inflected concept, I will address the moral and political notion of "freedom."

There are sexed understandings of what is important about the concept of freedom and they are critical to understanding the centrality we, in western society, place on autonomy---it is, for example taken as the place from which to judge the well-being of individuals and whole societies. Wars get fought over the idea. Fried potatoes get renamed...

The notion variously referred to as "liberty," "freedom," or "autonomy" in political philosophy and ethics is given two radically different takes. Two distinct understandings of what freedom is have been identified (most explicitly in recent times by Isaiah Berlin): we might call them the prepositional freedoms:

1. Freedom from outside interference in one's pursuits. This premises personal autonomy in isolation from other persons. I can only find my ultimate happiness and fulfillment by not being hemmed in by others in my choices and opportunities. I am free so long as no one bothers me without overriding justification (and that can only be that I am infringing on someone else's autonomy). The starting point is the ideal of not being bothered at all in what I want to do. This is stipulated as a supreme political good. Other political goods will be measured by how they impact this one. This is also sometimes called "negative freedom." We might also call it the "leave me alone" theory of freedom.

2. Freedom to participate in something larger than oneself. Here the priority is a perceived good that comes from being connected to others. The idea seems to be that what has value in life comes from connection with others and anything that stands in the way of establishing and nurturing that connection is undesirable. Here, happiness and fulfillment necessarily involves connection with others and conflicting interests that threaten that connection are to be addressed and settled to mutual advantage. Relationship comes first. Any other value including negative freedom is good but only to the extent it makes for more fulfilling relationships between individuals. This view premises a wider circle than the individual as what the idea of freedom is supposed to serve. What blocks opportunities to engage is the opposite of freedom. What's valuable about liberty has everything to do with the context in which it is exercised.

Of course, both of these conceptions of freedom probably matter to nearly everyone. But when push comes to shove and trade offs have to be made, people divide between which one should be secured first. And that seems to make a huge difference in one's political priorities.

Negative freedom was classically articulated in the 19th century by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty; and to this day his superior ranking of negative freedom over the positive sort still dominates western political philosophy.

And you can guess which of these conceptions of freedom is most likely to natively appeal to women and which to men. Overwhelmingly, most female political philosophers lean toward prioritizing the "freedom to" conception. (And they did so long before Berlin made the distinction.)

It will be said that there are women and men on both sides of this divide. But my claim is not that women and men will automatically come to different practical conclusions on any philosophical point but that even when they come out apparently in the same place there remain differences that should matter to a fuller understanding of what is going on. It should matter to philosophers, in particular, because the differences may explain apparent anomalies.


Rand and Mill

To sharpen my point, I will take a well known woman philosopher who at first blush defended a conception of negative freedom, Ayn Rand, and suggest that even though she and Mill, its most famous defender, may seem to be on the same side, at a certain fundamental level, this is not clear at all. I deliberately choose two philosophers on the same (arguably) conservative end of the political spectrum. (The case is too easy if I pick thinkers at opposite ends. The point is the bifurcation cuts across political lines---or just about any other line of importance you care to draw.)

Mill's ultimate justification for placing his notion of negative liberty so high on a pedestal is that it is the most fruitful way to insure that we harness people's natural selfish tendencies so they serve best the good of all. Innovation, new ideas, creativity, etc., which redound to the benefit of society as a whole, will benefit from the full exercise of the passion with which people pursue their own ends if we give them as much elbow room as possible. (Never mind that the flood gates are open to costly idiotic ideas as well... they are supposed costs of doing right by the big picture.) From individuals exercising their liberty we all benefit (in the scheme of things). But Mill is also a founder (along with Bentham) of  utilitarianism (he coined the term, in fact), the moral theory which claims that the happiness of the greatest number is what justifies an act with moral consequences. Maximum liberty is a means to an end for Mill. Utilitarianism can be very demanding in that it isn't ever about maximizing one's own personal good but that of the larger community. How valuable liberty is will depend on its usefulness, the good it results in for the greatest number. It's important to realize that, for Mill, as wonderful as maximum liberty is, it is only as good as its results are in the aggregate.

For Rand, freedom seems more like the end itself, but not quite... It is about the leeway to maximize the only happiness we stand any chance of maximizing: our own. She argued for a form of ethical egoism, a view that not only do we as a matter of fact always seek our own good (normal healthy individuals are set up that way), we ought to if we are rational. Ethical views that promote self-sacrifice (as utilitarianism and deontology may) presuppose "a nightmare view of existence" in which we are asked to do what we cannot in fact possibly do and then held responsible for our failure. She claims we cannot really be altruistic. When we think we are, we are just being selfish in a roundabout, insincere way. What we really do is voluntarily adopt the happiness of another as instrumental to our own, and then call that being unselfish. But it is not. It may be a more enlightened selfishness (perhaps), but still selfish. If it really matters to you that someone suffers and you seek to relieve it, it is because it makes you suffer and that bothers you: you may have chosen to enlarge your conception of self (or you can't help enlarging it) but you have not stopped being selfish.

Notice that the separateness of individuals is nowhere here posited or prized. If anything, it is not something to treasure but to divest from. Freedom exists not to enhance isolation or "moral islandhood" but to offer opportunities to transcend it. (Rand is not alone among women moral theorists. Even "care ethics" theorists---superficially, quite opposed to Randian politics---share this prioritization of opportunity for connection.)

It is important to note that Ayn Rand takes it for granted that we can and do enlarge our selves and, unless socially insane, cannot help doing so. We care about ourselves first, then those close to us, then others as they come to matter to us. There is no ought here as in we ought to enlarge our conception of self. Rather, we will enlarge the conception because that's what we do. And those that don't? Well they can't very well do the impossible, that is, what they can't. Fortunately, most of us can and will. Most of us are rational and moral without needing to be heroic about it, she seems to be saying. She takes that as a given.

Who is she talking about?

Notice that Rand's argument is quite optimistic about our natural ethical impulses. Freedom is a naturally occurring good thing that conduces to our happiness. In contrast, Mill's conception of freedom is harnessed to a stern imperative: freedom is good but only if it conduces to the greater good. Mill assumes people are not naturally already inclined to fret over the greater good; Rand, that they couldn't if they wanted to and it's more than foolish to think they can.

What does this have to do with the sex of the philosopher?

Why does Mill (and Kant) couch morality in terms of stern imperative?---commands designed to counter or reshape natural impulses? Why is morality even thought of in terms of imperatives? Why does anyone need to be reminded that being good requires considering other selves separate from us?

Who is he talking about?

Right there is a crucial sex difference. The point only gets clearer when we compare deontological/Kantian views of ethics.

The thing is that women do not conceive of ethics as primarily about strictures on natural inclinations of isolated individuals but about invitations to realize potential connection with others. The kind of autonomy that matters more to them is one in which connectedness is respected and no one is left out. Rand may very well have good reason to be optimistic about our natural inclinations---as long as the focus is on women.

The naturally dominant strains in moral philosophy (consequentialism and deontology) presuppose intransigence in human nature. They take a pessimistic view of what we would do without constraint. (Who would?) Morality is a stick, not a carrot. They conceive of morality in terms of constraints on supposedly "human" but not very pretty instinctive behavior. In reality, though, the great moral philosophers have all along been doing---not one-size-fits-all moral philosophy but---specifically male moral philosophy. (Well almost: Hume is an interesting and revealing exception---and it's not by accident that he's been called the "woman's moral philosopher" by Annette Baier.)

As long as men continue to dominate philosophy just how "male" traditional philosophy has been will remain beneath the radar of a vocation that by its own lights should let nothing so large and obvious escape it.

The bifurcated understanding of freedom, or the form its value takes, suggests, not proves, that women and men do not conceptualize their values in the same way even when they are ostensibly the same values. Proof---or, rather, plausibility---would require many more close examinations of concepts that show revealing seams where these ideas are stretched across sex lines. There is an indeterminacy of translation especially in value language across sex lines. (But it probably figures in also even at more basic, less abstract, levels such as perceptions and sensitivities: the perception and evaluation of color, the feel of objects, smells, etc.)

One could do this with other concepts widely thought to have no relation to the biological sex of the one considering them, not just higher order concepts like respect and love, for example, but even, perhaps, the very rules of logic and language, and the relative weight of reason and feeling.

In a broad sense of empirical, some of the facts relevant to this discussion are empirical. Empirical refers to experience, not just to the scientistic notion of experiment. Experience, while always about observation, does not always stem from experiment. So, unless we class necessarily retrospective and interpretive inquiries such as history, literary interpretation, as empirical sciences, science of the experimental sort isn't going to settle the question: are there essential differences of experience and value between women and men? The very foundations of inquiry itself, not excluding science, are at stake here. They are sexed.

Again, proof is not the object here. Even many more close examinations of the concepts and theories from across philosophy would not effectively "prove" my point in any strict sense of proof. I submit my "proof" will run something like G. E. Moore's when he raised his hands before a crowd of external world skeptics and said in effect, "I know that I have two hands. I know it with greater certainty than I could possibly have regarding any premise of any argument you could offer me to make me think that I don't." His famous "proof" of an external world works by shifting the burden of proof.

The real mystery will be to explain how we have been hoodwinked into believing otherwise.


The philosopher horizontal: sex and philosophy

Colin McGinn, philosopher of mind (or upper body strength?); see Katie Roiphe on...

Philosophers are embodied persons like anyone else but---unlike most non-philosophers---they are under a special intellectual obligation to ask more probing questions than may be necessary to the non-philosopher's taste. Unturned stones are not to be tolerated. Every assumption a philosopher makes or sees being made is ripe for questioning. So when a sex scandal involves a philosopher as in the recent case of prominent philosopher of mind Colin McGinn (here and here) it naturally raises the question what's up with philosophy and sex? In other fields, where investigators are more concerned with examining aspects of the world external to their motivations and rationalizations, we might excuse people for being a little blind sometimes to the conditions of their perspective, but a philosopher's vocation ought not to permit the luxury of that excuse---ever.

Philosophy, the oldest field of human inquiry, has always been dominated by males and still is---more than almost any other field, even mathematics. If what philosophers do, as they themselves sometimes think, is create and test the conceptual frameworks within which other fields operate, if in logic and ethics they even clarify the normative agenda that governs our thinking about what our pursuits should be generally, then they must have and embody higher standards on matters of truth and integrity than may be tolerated elsewhere. (Assuming we are not church-goers, that the sexual scandals of priests and pastors don't cause us more hand-wringing than those of our landlords or plumbers, assuming we live by rational principles, what happens when the guardians of those secular standards show themselves failing those same standards?)

Vincent F. Hendricks, philosopher of mathematical logic, L'affaire Hendricks.

My implication is that sex matters---even, and perhaps especially, in philosophy. (I don't mean here sexual practices so much as the biological fact of the very existence of sex. There is a branch of applied ethics called "philosophy of sex"; what I address is more properly labeled, "the sex of philosophy.") Feminists have long called attention to the social and political aspects of sexual bifurcation and the relative power imbalance. But the difference sex difference makes is vastly greater than that. It cuts right through to the substance of areas as seemingly far removed from sex (or the specifically feminine and masculine takes on the world)---as we might imagine: moral and aesthetic theory, metaphysics, epistemology, even logic itself is not immune, nor are all the "philosophies of" either: mind, science, religion, law, political and economic theory, etc. A future topic I will present will focus on sexual artifacts in the structure of the preeminent moral theories in an effort to offer another bit of evidence to add to the pile showing experience is sexed.

Sex, I argue, is right up there with death as an intrinsic cause of our limited perspective.

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  • Abby

    http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/

    References were made to this website. The collection of anecdotes gives an appalling image of a backward, sexist environment in philosophy departments and beyond.

    January 24, 2014

    • John M.

      At least there's nothing two faced about me: I can be every bit as vicious in person as I am on the Internet. The only difference is that on the Internet I have more time to think of mean things to say.

      2 · January 25, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Eden, for the record, if you consider my comments rude or out of line, I never say anything online that I wouldn't say in person; it's one of my rules. But so far you've managed to evade responding to any of anyone's points, which seems to be in direct contrast to the spirit of philosophy. As far as "softening my approach," it is not incumbent upon me (or anyone else for that matter) to know that you meant anything other than what you said. You said you could relate to the "authors [sic] experience." It isn't the job of an interlocutor to know that you were making a specific reference to a specific experience cited on that blog. I.e., it's not my job to ask, "Did you have any other major clarifications to make before I respond?" I'm also not sure what "softened" means exactly. No direct questions or points? While I have found it to be a challenge, I *love* the fact that philosophical discourse drives me towards specificity and directness in dialogue.

      January 29, 2014

  • Victor M.

    For those interested in the notes on the women philosophers I spoke of during the meetup, they're here: http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Analytic-Philosophy-CLUB/messages/boards/thread/41333282

    1 · January 24, 2014

  • Elizabeth K.

    This topic is over, but for those who attended, the bell curve and test scores were brought up (not related to one gender being smarter in general, but rather related to what the average behavior really tells us about any individual). It was asserted that philosophy majors would not be at the top end of the bell curve and I stated that in fact, they are at the far right end. Here is the evidence:

    http://www.physicscentral.com/buzz/blog/index.cfm?postid=5112019841346388353

    Note that in an averaging over several years, philosophy is the top-scoring in the math section... http://www.ncsu.edu/chass/philo/GRE%20Scores%20by%20Intended%20Graduate%20Major.htm

    Of course, there are HUGE sociological factors that go into who takes what. Many people in social work themselves come from disadvantaged backgrounds--are they trying to solve the problems in their own communities? Does their early childhood affect their scores? So much of this is empirical.

    1 · January 23, 2014

    • Margalit

      continued: You need to be smart to do philosophy but you do not have be a genius. I actually don't know what the numbers are on any of this. I am just saying that one has to know the numbers to know to what extent that right tail explains the lack of participation of women in philosophy. I would venture another gross overgeneralization - women are better than men at estimating that they are in fact not smart enough, which would account the lack of women in philosophy and the large number of bad male philosophers :-)

      1 · January 23, 2014

    • Elizabeth K.

      Yes, definitely. I just thought I'd post the stats for those who appeared surprised. Your point is well-taken.

      January 23, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I recently joined this group hoping to find the opportunity for brisk but cogent and respectful conversation with people who were relatively logical and straightforward thinkers, who were capable of introspection and considering the view point of others despite having strong personal beliefs and who didn't take themselves too seriously. After following the conversation for the past few weeks I've decided this group isn't quite right for me (or maybe I'm not quite right for the group :] )so I've cancelled for tonight and will be leaving the group.

    If anyone knows of a group that fits the preceding description or wants to start one, feel free to email me.

    January 22, 2014

    • Mary

      Yes. And I think you must let the sparks fly. What aspect of creation / development of society/culture/ethics/m­orality (whatever) can I participate in if I neglect the source of so much power/influence? The application of human intellect to the world in which I live? Perhaps this is a slightly different perspective than IQ? Ok back to earning a living. (I see both sexes struggle with the question of IQ and the application of intellect.)

      January 23, 2014

    • KT P

      It's interesting to see IQ introduced as having any relevance to gender.

      January 23, 2014

  • Mary

    Thanks again for prompting the conversation! And to everyone who spoke.

    1 · January 23, 2014

  • Curt D.

    I think the really interesting question is actually why you would think it would be otherwise?

    I had thought that philosophy had graduated to the analytical era: which is to rely upon science, rather than deduction from assumptions. :)

    January 17, 2014

    • Mary

      You guys are fun.

      1 · January 20, 2014

    • Michael

      Curt:
      "Now, lets keep to the central topic."

      You have done almost anything but. You present a deluge of contestable claims covering a wide range of historical, sociological, and economic issues all at once. You then use rhetorical techniques to imply that these claims are either logically or historically self-evident, to present yourself as an authority, and to negate any approach other than the one you prefer.

      "And, grow up. 'k?"

      Right, because spamming the comments section of an event you won't be attending is an adult thing to do.

      January 22, 2014

  • KT P

    Historically, men are chefs; women are cooks. Men are fashion designers; women are seamstresses. Men are doctors; women are nurses. Men are executives; women are secretaries. Men are pilots; women are flight attendants. Men are philosophers; women are sociologists.

    January 22, 2014

    • Gene L

      Victor, sorry but why is the above any different than the types of generalizations Curt is making?

      January 22, 2014

    • Victor M.

      Because I wish to devote a future meetup specifically to problems in the philosophy of law surrounding male criminality that help explain the structure of moral theories. I will offer support for the generalizations then (if isn't obvious to anyone who keeps up with news and history). If Curt can do something similar and keep focused on one of his claims, I am open to letting him do a meetup.

      January 22, 2014

  • Victor M.

    For those planning on attending:

    The meetup location is at 1823 Terry Ave on the 11th floor of the Aspira building. There are paid parking lots as well as street metered parking (free after 8pm) nearby. Please be on time. Since the venue is an 11th floor conference room inside a private building, no one may be available to let you in if you are late. (But if you are late, try 009 at the call box.) We will gather in the lobby of the Aspira building, a club member will be there to let you up until 7pm.
    See you there!

    Victor, co-organizer

    January 21, 2014

  • Curt D.

    One note:
    The Feminist philosophers , at least those who are other than marxist apologists, or misandry machines, are quite good. They are, at least an essay each, quite good. The problem of philosophy as a male dominated enterprise because it is a proxy for violence, is something that they have covered in the literature. (Outside of philosophy, Marija Gimbutas also is worth reading.) The problem is, that men and women evolved to be sufficiently different because of our different reproductive strategies, that our world is constantly a compromise between the means of production available to us, and the reproductive organization that we can make use of in that means of production.

    For the past century and a half, or more, and certainly since the end of the wars, the physical labor necessary to raise children has been reduced sufficiently that women could enter the work force. ...

    1 · January 19, 2014

    • Curt D.

      My suspicion is that we are heading toward a south american caste system, with married and propertied patrilineal minority at its top, and a vast serial marriage matrilineal society at its bottom. However, it is just as likely (Emmanuel Todd makes this argument) that patrilineal tribal families are stronger and as such that the Arab model of paternalism will be the natural outcome since it is more reproductively competitive than matrilineal poverty.

      None of these are particularly appealing to me. The Absolute Nuclear Family was an unnatural but beneficial strategy that all but eliminated free riding and produced eugenic results. I suspect that either the Islamic or the Communal models both accomplish the opposite. (At least the data certainly looks like it. Regression toward the mean being one of the few laws of genetics.)

      Cheers

      January 20, 2014

    • Abby

      I am curious about the Feminist philosophers who are marxist apologists and misandry machines. Would you please suggest some names/links so I can learn more about them?

      2 · January 20, 2014

  • Mary

    Some thoughts; forgive any redundancy from a non-philosopher but certainly a person who likes to "argue." The entire foundation of western philosophy (she asserts) is based on false assumptions (premises?) such as the inherit superiority of human intellect and consciousness, the power and superiority of human reason/reasoning and language, the superiority of science, the enhancement or the manipulation of the material (natural) world as a good/given, the inferiority of female biology and being, the superiority of male strength and will (choice), the inferiority of animals and their societies, that human nature is debased (or exhaled) and requires redemption . . . or can earn godhood.

    January 18, 2014

    • Chris

      Terra, Is your view: Western Philosophy = European Philosophy? The reason I ask is - many classical philosophers (pre-medieval) do not originate strictly on the European continent - as you point out from your reading of First Philosophers. What they share in common is not geography, but language (Greek , and then Latin, as well, later on), and to some extent the culture and thought that results from shared language. The Greeks had many colonies beyond mainland Greece and the islands in what today we would think of as Turkey, the Middle East, north Africa, etc. Prior to the military conquests of Alexander, trade was the main business between East and West (when Greeks and Persians were not at war). Ideas certainly tagged along as they always do.

      January 20, 2014

    • Chris

      However, that does not take away from what the Greeks accomplished if some of those ideas happened to make their way westward, nor does it undermine the notion of a Western Tradition of thought, which is based on Greek (and Roman) thought, and is sufficiently different from Eastern thought for the two to be acknowledged as such. The addition of Christianity to this starting-point for the Western Tradition only increases the differences between East and West. Of course there are no ironclad barriers in the real world (maybe in the minds of some scholars?). But to the extent similar ideas (e.g. logic) are arrived at seemingly independently by different peoples, that just lends more credence to their truth and potential worth to human beings generally. If you want to talk about this Friday, I'm game!

      January 20, 2014

  • Elizabeth K.

    I will just give you my daughters' conversation on a related topic:

    4-year-old: "I liked the Lego class but I was the only girl. I don't want to be the only one."
    6-year-old: "Yeah, the boys don't play with girls."
    4-year-old: "Can I go to the girls' Lego class?"

    (Most boys get signed up for / gifted Lego automatically. Girls don't. Hence the disparity.)

    I think people often overlook the sheer effort it takes for most human beings to be the only one doing something. It's not impossible but it is harder. What for the boys in the Lego class is social and fun, for any girl, is an effort of will, courage, and loneliness (likewise for the poor boy who wants to learn to knit).

    I would like to talk about the biological factors that affect behavior in groups and how sex differences affecting our behavior may be unavoidable, but how specific differences, such as who studies philosophy or becomes a teacher, can be arbitrary, and thus, mutable.

    1 · December 27, 2013

    • Mary

      1 · January 20, 2014

    • Gene L

      Mary, why did you drop it? That is relevant to the discussion.

      January 20, 2014

  • Margalit

    So I am attempting to wrap my non-philosophical mind around the main question. While Victor titled the topic to be “Why are there so few women philosophers?” his main questions I think are: Regardless of whatever barriers there may be to female participation in philosophy:
    1. Are women not interested because philosophy fails to address issues or express points of view that resonate with women?
    2. Is philosophy the way it is because there are few women in it?
    3. Would philosophy be different and “better” if there were more women in philosophy?

    January 18, 2014

    • Margalit

      continued: oops - this got deleted: I think Gene says no to b. Why not? Here is one possibility: if women were equally represented, maybe a. above would change, but not b. because female thinking on philosophical questions is not any more different from male thinking than say Western versus Eastern philosophical thinking. In some sense the issues analytic philosophy is concerned with and ways of framing them could not be different in any important/interesting way from what they are.

      January 18, 2014

    • Victor M.

      Margalit, my view is that it would all be different. In fact, it is already evident in close comparisons of past and contemporary female philosophers with their male peers, even the women who are not feminists (at least not conventional ones). I will have more to say about that at the meetup.

      January 19, 2014

  • Christi A.

    Define "philosopher" first within the context of society as we know it now and throughout history. That is a good place to start. Then think about social constructs within time periods and societal change. Also, men are statistically more left brained, women are able to use both the left and right hemispheres of the brain equally and have deeper limbic systems. Men and women have different anatomies: brain and body. This is a complex subject and "patriarchy" isn't the answer, but I do think that basic anatomical differences and socially constructed values and ideas will make a difference in who gets recognized as a "philosopher".

    1 · December 22, 2013

    • Victor M.

      Speaking of innovation, I think it was Russell who said creativity in philosophy is a sign of error. The claim may be hyperbolic but it captures the thought that innovation in philosophy, if it happens, happens very slowly.

      January 19, 2014

    • Gene L

      The relevant question is not who is a philosopher, but what distinguishes a good philosopher from a bad one.

      January 19, 2014

  • Mary

    To me these are ridiculous fallacies that I'm caught up in . . . There is no logic or reason in these fallacies other than those concocted by men. The fact that women are not relevant intellectual or socially to these arguments has always astounded and fascinated. From what basis do we reason? And is reasoning all there is?

    January 18, 2014

  • Gary

    Edie Brickell said, "Philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks." She knows what she knows if you know what she means.

    January 18, 2014

  • Mary

    My previous comments were "tongue in cheek" (the qualitative and quantitative comments).

    Questions: What is the relationship of religion to philosophy historically? Both seek "truth?" I know that they are defined differently but sometimes they sound alike to me in that both perspectives are grounded in assumptions about knowledge, truth, beauty, etc., and seek to argue rationally (I personally don't believe we are "rational.")

    Also which approach typifies your approach to analytic philosophy I attend to the easiest source available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_philosophy

    January 1, 2014

    • Curt D.

      Economic philosophers, have argued that we always rationally pursue our preferences, not our claims. This is why we measure demonstrated preferences and ignore pretty much what people say. Because the two diverge so significantly in almost all circumstances. Demonstrated preferences are only visible if there is a material cost to the action we are measuring.

      January 18, 2014

    • Pat D.

      Magnificent.

      January 18, 2014

  • Gene L

    How to answer the question: just ask women how they feel about philosophy - see the survey below

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/06/17/192523112/name-ten-women-in-philosophy-bet-you-can-t

    January 16, 2014

    • Michael

      So while the results from that survey make a lot of sense, and I don't think that surveys are "meaningless" as Curt claims to believe, I'm not sure why a single direct-question survey should close the door to a longer conversation.

      If a survey of housewives in the 1950s had asked "Why did you become a homemaker?", do you believe their responses would give us a complete picture of the situation?

      January 18, 2014

    • Gene L

      No one says it closes any doors. The way to pursue the question further would be to interview women who studied some philosophy (and left) in depth, or do more survey questions. I'm not sure what men who are not academic philosophers (and as such not really familiar in depth with the culture of the field) could add. Just study the question directly instead of speculating. I could hazard some wild guesses, but who cares what I think? Katherine probably has the most to add, given her background.

      January 18, 2014

  • Michael

    I've heard it said that the difference between men and women is that men live in a world of hypothetical fantasy and women live down to earth in the real world. If that's true, I'm not claiming that it's because of biology or culture or any particular reason. But it does seem to me to be a more helpful statement, empirically speaking, than saying that men are more often "left-brained" (analytical/logical) or that men are more comfortable with confrontation and competition. In my experience, it is common to find women who are highly analytical and logical (lots of female mathematicians I've known, for instance), and also women who are comfortable with competition and confrontation (many female athletes and politicians, for instance). But Dungeons & Dragons and science fiction writing have in common that "world of fantasy" element, and in my experience are (on average) less interesting to women. I wonder if thinking of analytic philosophy as D&D helps shed any light.

    December 28, 2013

    • Jon C.

      (cont.) As for how this hypothesis applies to philosophy, it is about formal concepts that play a role in life, but the object of study is concepts and not actual people or even fictional characters. The danger in trying to make philosophy about the study specific people, such as in Victor's sensational cases, is that the philosophical considerations become muddied with the complexities of the actual events being described and furthermore are not even likely to be representative of the whole population.

      January 1, 2014

    • Curt D.

      Michael, another less loaded frame of reference you might consider is that what you can sense and see (empathy) and that which you cannot see and feel (deduction). And perhaps they are just different forms of specialization. (which is, Im pretty sure the case.)

      January 18, 2014

  • Margalit

    According to the nsf tables, in 2010 women earned about 30% of the PhDs in math, which is very close to the philosophy number. The 40% math is due to greater percentages of women earning BAs and MAs in math. Doesn't change any of the main points in Victor's great intro but that higher math number looked suspicious to me so had to chase it down.
    Whether the McGinn story is or isn't directly relevant to the main issue, anybody interested in that story should read the Katie Roiphe article Victor attached. I had read the NYT and Salon ones in the past but the Katie Roiphe one paints a much more nuanced picture.

    1 · January 16, 2014

    • Margalit

      That the Hendricks pictures are an example of possible reason #1 above is obvious to me, but the fact that it was not obvious to Hendrix (if we assume that he was not being deliberately sexist) is related to the possibility that women perceive the world differently from men in some crucial ways that could be relevant to philosophy. I am not sure whether I buy that entirely but am looking forward to hearing more from Victor next Wednesday.

      January 16, 2014

    • Victor M.

      Margalit, there were many reactions to the McGinn affair by women philosophers. I posted some earlier. I took some of the items of possible causes for sexual disparity from what was suggested in some of those articles---except for the most radical claim regarding the content of the subject being sexed, that was only gingerly hinted at by a few (though it is the one that has the most far reaching consequences if true). I agree that, from the standpoint of doing justice to the actual people involved, the Roiphe article was the most thoughtful and complete.

      January 17, 2014

  • Gene L

    From the survey:

    "Overall, female students found the course less enjoyable and the material less interesting and relevant to their lives than male students. Compared to male students, they also felt that they had less in common with typical philosophy majors or with their instructors, reported feeling less able and likely to succeed in philosophy, were less comfortable participating in class discussions and were less inclined to take a second philosophy course or to major in philosophy. (Interestingly, however, they didn't anticipate receiving lower grades.)
    Contrary to some speculation in the field, female students did not perceive classroom discussions as overly aggressive, and they were no more likely to say that students in the class failed to treat each other with respect"

    1 · January 16, 2014

  • Gene L

    Even though I disagree with substantial portions I have to say this may be the best introduction ever written for a Meetup in the history of Meetup.com :). I'm not sure why gender has been selected as the discrepancy which has significance. In analytic philosophy in particular, there are far greater cultural discrepancies. Note of course, that analytic philosophy is Western. Eastern cultures had much different questions. Some cultures may not have any "philosophy" at all, unless you include religion. Even in Western cultures there are greater discrepancies between the type of philosophy favored in France compared to say, the UK, than between gender preferences in philosophy.

    January 14, 2014

  • Gene L

    Location?

    January 14, 2014

  • Mary

    Also: I think the most significant ground for me that you've ever treaded Victor was raising the question of the inherent biological differences between men and women that somehow translate into physical violence of specific kinds. I had never heard a man posit that to a group of men with such significant, and uninterpretable silence.

    Also is the term sexual parity different from gender parity? How so, if so? did you mean to address he lack of gender parity in philosophy?

    What would your view be of the following? http://www.peggydesautels.com (or have you already addressed and I missed?)

    1 · January 1, 2014

    • Victor M.

      Anyway, sex vs gender is an interesting topic all by itself, but in this context I deliberately refer to sex and sex-differences as opposed to gender or gender-differences unless I intend to be talking only about social constructs.

      January 2, 2014

    • Victor M.

      Thanks, Mary, for the reference to Peggy DesAutels. I wasn't familiar with her work, but I am with that of many feminist moral theorists. It is interesting that many feminists, who used to be enemies of stressing sex-difference, are increasingly embracing it as grounding for fruitful theory.

      January 2, 2014

  • Victor M.

    Thanks to everyone who has so far commented for the input and spirited criticism on this issue. I gather from what has been said that I will need to address at least these points in the full writeup:


    1. why sexual parity in philosophy matters (and why it might be different from sexual disparity in many other fields and the significance of that),

    2. culture vs biology: the mutability question, people have a hard time NOT seeing that one of these is changeable while the other is not. They are tightly connected and BOTH are significantly mutable.

    3. the danger of emphasizing differences vs stressing commonalities

    4. relevance of the McGinn scandal (yes, it's sensational, but not really...)

    December 31, 2013

    • Gene L

      Victor, actually the points I made I consider minor, I have some major points which address the question of how philosophy could or should be done, and my conception is very different than yours I think. I cannot elaborate here though.

      January 1, 2014

  • Eden K.

    Victor, you might be on to something. Philosophy has been a key role in how people decide laws and morality for larger society. So in a sense you could say that philosophy has superseded even politics, if politics and law are derived from philosophy. We are a biologically patriarchal species, for the most part. There have been very few matriarchal societies throughout history, as far as I know....Perhaps the answer to the posed question is both of the ideas that you presented. Philosophy is about power in a way because it is about laws, what is truth and what is moral. If these ideas were dictated by women then out of that would come a matriarchal society. As far as I know, matriarchy has been repeatedly squashed throughout history. When women did enter the philosophical scene, often the ideas were about community and care. These were revolutionary ideas to philosophy because up until the women's perspective was added, it was mostly about morality and law.

    January 1, 2014

  • Mary

    Well, I guess I'll catch up and visit the links below. To the question though of "Why are there so few women philosophers? I must first ask can we clarify the question somehow? Is this a qualitative or quantitative question? Do you mean “why are there so few philosophers, who are biologically female?” Is female thinking not represented by male thinking in philosophy (kind of an organic question as well as a content one?

    December 31, 2013

    • Victor M.

      Yes, Mary, there are two questions here, one more philosophically controversial than the other. There's the social justice issue: are women who want to be philosophers being scared off by an entrenched male culture? That's socially/politically controversial, but hardly a special problem that philosophy has. The other issue is intrinsically philosophical: is there something about the content and methods of philosophy that is what it is precisely because women are not involved in it in equal numbers. That is truly a philosophical question and the one that, if true, would be more peculiar to philosophy. To the second question I answer, yes, a minority position, and one I have to defend.

      December 31, 2013

    • Victor M.

      Here's what's peculiar to philosophy: no other field takes on itself the responsibility of being the ultimate arbiter of the concepts and methods of other serious fields of inquiry or practice. Philosophers let it be known that they in some ways set the agenda for other areas, acting as intellectual police: whether it's scientific method or ultimate moral questions which affect legal and political ones. If society has the structure it has because philosophers had something to do with it, and philosophers are mostly male claiming to do sex-blind philosophy for generic human beings, I think we have a problem.

      December 31, 2013

  • Victor M.

    There are two distinct reasons to be concerned about sexual disparity in positions of cultural influence:

    1. social justice

    and 2. concern for the quality of the work done in the field in which the disparity exists.

    In most fields the second reason is probably not relevant. But in some it is. I will argue that philosophy is one. The existing disparity there hinders the work done.

    December 31, 2013

  • Eden K.

    I just read the Katie Roiphe/McGinn scandal link and couldnt find any relevance from that article to the question posed about why there arent more women in philosophy. I dont understand how that article applies to this conversation...? There are a number of affairs like that, that happen in probably every area of study between teacher and student, which says much more about social dynamics than about philosophy. I may be wrong, but I think that in the United States, women have been reduced to being judged and categorized by their level of attractiveness or biological potential for reproduction before their abilities and talents. Much like politics, women are reluctant to take part in a field of work where there arent many female peers and instead will possibly be subject to discrimination by peers based on their gender.

    1 · December 29, 2013

    • Eden K.

      I would like to point out the disproportionate number of women in politics, vs nimbr of men. Not only are the numbers of women in powerful political positions lower, when women enter politics they are often judged on a different scale than men in politics. For example, recently I was having a conversation on this topic with an acquaintance who deemed Hilary unfit for politics simply because she was a "Bitch." It did not surprise me when I heard this, as many women in politics are publicly asked whether or not their boobs are real during interviews on television, as if whether or not the authenticity of their breast are applicable to the job that they either hold or are running for. I have never heard anyone talk about male politicians as being pricks, and therefore unsuitable for holding a space in office. I have also not heard men criticized or demoralized by questions of their anatomy during interviews.

      1 · December 29, 2013

    • Eden K.

      Ran out of characters in that last post. I would just like to add that inequalities between the sexes are ingrained in our language. For example, I have often overheard parents teasing their young sons about behaving or crying like a "girl." As if being a girl is something insulting. I also think that this stigma bleeds over onto gays and transgendered people who are often disrespected for expressing their gender in various ways. I cannot help but to see how disrespect for gays and women is tied to the Christian religion that permeates our culture. Ok. I'm done ranting. I try to respect every person as I understand we are all uniquely individual, but I don't think we are as liberated as far as I would like for us humans to be.

      1 · December 29, 2013

  • Jon C.

    There is an interest chart here http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/05/the-low-percentage-of-women-earning-phds-in-philosophy.html of percentage women by area of study. Given the affinity for symbolic logic nature by analytic philosophers, it doesn't seem that the percentage of women in philosophy is out of line with the overall correlation of percentage women with socially oriented sciences. So I don't think that the situation of women in philosophy has anything particular to philosophy or the people in it.

    1 · December 29, 2013

  • Gene L

    Victor as I mentioned previously I don't have time for involved discussion but some brief points on this topic and the broad issue of gender differences.

    The issue of how much intrinsic difference there is between men and women is clearly empirical and not much can be said outside careful study of the existing empirical literature.

    Regardless of whether any differences are genetic or cultural, this is largely irrelevant. IMO, one should not base theories on what are essentially stereotypes. It is irrelevant to an INDIVIDUAL what the supposed average characteristics of his/her "group" are, since of course individuals differ dramatically. Isn't saying that a moral theory is somehow associated with a gender the very definition of stereotyping?

    2 · December 23, 2013

    • Michael

      Victor:

      Does your approach to this subject relate to your interest in Bianco Luno's philosophy?

      December 28, 2013

    • Victor M.

      Yes, although there are many other sources of inspiration here. Luno just happens to have concentrated them in one place.

      December 29, 2013

  • Gene L

    Victor, I can't elaborate further here, but I think I have a very good idea where this is leading and I have major reservations about this approach on every level. You are probably familiar with some of my reservations, but there are also the practical issues that emphasizing differences leads to real-world harms and issues of whether statements such as "experience is sexed" has any clear meaning outside the banal one that every INDIVIDUAL probably looks at the world a little differently and gender is just one of the factors contributing to that and other factors, such as being psychopathic, autistic, or even cultural differences could be greater factors. So if you do decide to go ahead with this, be prepared to defend it against a spirited attack :)

    December 28, 2013

    • Michael

      General response here:

      I agree that the question of which gender differences are genetic and which are conditioned is ultimately a scientific question. Two things, though. First, I think that philosophy is often used to deconstruct cultural norms in an attempt to examine the foundations of human behavior. Gender identity could be added to a list of concepts like "patriotism"­, "piety", or "virtue" - concepts which shape the minds of any individual whose society attaches importance to such things.

      Second, the ideology of gender differences plays a major part in society whether we like it or not, so I think it's important to have extensive conversations about it from all perspectives - biological, sociological, historical, psychological, philosophical, etc. If bad premises are in play, they should be brought to the surface and dealt with.

      December 28, 2013

    • Victor M.

      I agree on both points, Michael.

      December 28, 2013

  • Victor M.

    I have responded to Elizabeth and Gene on the discussion board where there is more room: http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Analytic-Philosophy-CLUB/messages/boards/thread/40519522/0/#[masked]

    December 28, 2013

  • Elizabeth K.

    Also, I don't see a place for date requests, but mine are Friday/Saturday.

    December 27, 2013

  • Christi A.

    Several reasons. I have many theories. Let's meetup in January maybe!

    December 22, 2013

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