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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Why are there so few women philosophers?

Why are there so few women philosophers?

Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 647
Of the 402 members of this meetup group, about 280, or 70%, are men.

I obtained the above count by viewing every page of members — 20 members per page — but the gender of some members is ambiguous. The count is not meant to be exact.

Of the 737 members of the Drunken Philosophy group, about 72% are men.

I obtained the above estimate by viewing 10 pages of members.

Of the 180 members of the Redmond Socrates Cafe, about 115, or 64%, are men.

Of the 76 members of my meetup group Why Human Life Makes Sense, 46, or 61%, are men.

Thanks for putting this together, interesting data.

Just a personal observation, and Victor would know more here as he has been a member longer. The gender demographics may have very little to do with philosophy. When I first joined the club, the first meetings I attended were (as best as I can recall) all male. In the early days the focus of the club was philosophy of science, epistemology, AI, and so on. These topics might tend to appeal to a "computer engineer" demographic (which I see these clubs often tend to draw, rather than humanists), which is probably more male-dominated than philosophy. Once the founder left the focus of the club shifted, and there are more women attending the meetups, but still a minority.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 197
Jon writes:

How does "making a bigger deal of their rationality" lead men to higher participation in philosophy and the hard sciences? In my experience the men that are engaged in the hard science professions, e.g. myself and my co-workers, are predominantly the ones who are in fact not struggling with unruly behavior, and yet they still out-number the women by a wide margin.
Nothing in what I say precludes the rule-making/testing/stre­tching/breaking­ tendencies (if not obsession) of males (as mentioned in one of my comments to Mary) from being used for constructive purposes. The knack would not have survived otherwise.

The making and application of rules is the basis for the narrower conception of rationality endemic to males. It can reach heights in computer science and (analytic) philosophy. It is a way of appropriating experience, “manhandlng” it, so to speak, into submission often for unobjectionable purposes. It is how power, in the broadest sense of the term, is experienced by males (i.e., those that cannot also wield it in the form of brute physicality).

There is nothing inherently wrong with this abstract power making itself manifest. But the fact of it will color how things look when they go bad. And when they go bad they do so big time.

I’m not talking merely street crime. I’m talking as much or more about white collar crime—or what I call “abstract crime,” crime by college-educated males from two-parent with very good to excellent narrow reasoning skills. The cost to society of this latter sort of malfeasance is estimated conservatively (because the people who would pay for tracking it are likely of the same class as the people who cause it) at 14 times that of street crime---the kind that makes for good visuals on TV or we read and hear about daily: 14 billion (street) vs 200 billion (abstract) annually.­

Software crime alone has been estimated at 100 billion of that.


Like street crime (like almost any kind of crime—even ones of etiquette), white collar crime is male dominated and to the same degree.

I can believe that rational skills of the quantitative and analytical variety are good things to have and that we all benefit from the fact that some of us focus on them. But there is a price to be paid for their concentration.

As you might guess, women do not seem so eager to engage in fields which place a premium on narrow reasoning skills. They seem to opt for a broader conception of reasoning, perhaps believing that someone should take a more synoptic view of problems and their possible solutions. So perhaps that accounts for some of the spread in sexual disparity in the numbers across fields of inquiry and practice.

But there is always more to be said about this.

It may be that some fields naturally attract members of one sex more than others. But whatever might be the case about that, there are other things to consider. I think we can distinguish areas where:

  • 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.
  • Sex is a matter of indifference as far as the field is concerned, e.g., civil engineering, astrophysics, geology. We don’t think 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.)
  • Sex matters, but not to the qualifications of the participant, rather to the purpose and integrity of the area or subject 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.

Sexual justice cuts across all these distinctions: from that perspective, if a woman has the upper body strength, any obstacle placed in her path to combat duty solely because of her sex is wrong on that basis alone. In the second case, indifference, ditto...

But, in the third case, something changes significantly. 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. If the subject matter is important; and if its content, form, and methods are not independent of the investigator; and 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 if human experience is bifurcated, then representation from each side of the bifurcation, it seems, is an imperative—not a luxury or even just a matter of fairness.

We might go further and say: the case could be made that if it is ever legitimate to draft men into the military to impress upon them a duty to serve their country because only they can do it adequately (not women) in certain roles, then it would also be legitimate to draft women into fields like philosophy where their input, precisely because they are women, is needed in the interest of redeeming a subject of critical importance that is currently “not firing on all cylinders.”

(Of course, in making this argument I am aware of the fact that in working out implausible conclusions from plausible premises, I am playing the analytic philosophy game in the ways, perhaps, it would not be played were its practices shaped by women. But we’ll have to wait and see about that...)
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 198
Jon writes:

Your claim might be alternatively be that some boys at an early age notice their base instincts and respond to that by focusing attention on developing their rationality whereas girls do not have that experience and thus go through life without such a focus on developing a particular kind of rationality. The supposed result of that process is apparently that fewer women continue that process to its conclusion towards a career in the hard sciences. Possibly. My comment earlier was based on the idea that if it is true that fewer women have developed the kind rationality that can overcome base instincts like selfishness, then perhaps it would be rational for men to not allow women to vote. I suppose that your response would be that women simply have more rationality to begin with, in addition to their lack of the baser instincts, and that such naturally gifted rationality is simply not inclined to the hard sciences, but it is sufficient for suffrage.
The very troubled relationship that males have with reality—in the sense that it bothers them that it is not under their control—is what as you say correctly “focuses” them on what is needed to get control. The control is not merely over their environment (social, material, imaginary...) but over themselves. That’s where the rule obsession comes in.


Some points I should make clear in case anyone is wondering:

1. Nothing in what I say is supposed to identify a set of traits with all women and another set with all men. (This is not an “all men are from Mars and all women are from Venus” claim.) What I say is perfectly compatible with both sets existing in everyone. Nevertheless there are gross and subtle differences that, if we want to adhere to certain ideals (which philosophers, more than most, make a lot a noise about, such as “justice,” “ethics,” “rationality” etc.), must be taken into account. It is a generalization that a given day in Summer will be warmer than a given day in Winter. There are exceptions (especially around here), but to ignore the generalization, pretend it makes no difference to our plans is courting foolishness—if not trouble if what is at stake is the structure of society.

2. Whatever those differences are, no assumption is being made by me that one or another is to be valued more or less highly than another. That the differences exist is one thing. How and why we value them is another. These are distinct claims. One is vaguely empirical and phenomenal. The other is squarely outside science. No matter how things are, that alone won’t tell us how we should feel or what to do about them. That’s when the non-scientific but necessary value-talk begins.

2. Nothing in what I say suggests that “being rational (even in a broad sense) is a good thing.” That rationality is desirable is a widely held assumption, especially among philosophers. If you want to accomplish something and being rational is the best way to do it, then being rational is conditionally good. But it all depends what that something is. Reason won’t set your agenda. It won’t tell you what ends to pursue without condition.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 199
Jon writes:

One other minor point, I don't think consistency is required for rationality, because sometimes it is not possible. Rationality just means that you arrived at a decision through some process of reasoning from available evidence. Since the need to make inferences is unavoidable, the evidence may lead to incompatible conclusions, and you have to pick the best that you can when a paradox arises.
That notion of rationality is one that a philosopher might call “sensibleness”—to distinguish it from their usual concern which is more demanding. Sensibleness is a kind of “good enough” rationality. Just like the name implies, you can function swimmingly in most areas of life or science with that rough and ready notion. Philosophers really want to know what follows and what doesn’t from a set of premises. Ones that lead to incompatible conclusions give them sleepless nights...
Jon C.
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 230
You may want to add another article to your reading list:

"The new science of cognitive sex differences," by David I. Miller1 and Diane F. Halpern2 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.


Near the end they suggest that what may be more important for observed differences instead of intelligence related factors are work-family balance and communal goals (working with or helping other people).

As for the topic of inconsistency, at any given time all of the sciences will have contradictions that have not yet been resolved, even with the best minds working on it. That doesn't mean that rationality is lacking. It is simply a result of incomplete information, even assuming that the underlying ontology is itself fully consistent.
Christi A.
Seattle, WA
Post #: 14
I think it can really a lot can be tied to biological differences. 1. Hormonal differences: Take the difference in testosterone levels between men and women and how that would affect first small things like social interaction, from there, community roles (even early on within the beginnings of what we now know as "civilized society".

E.g. Imagine you are in mesopotamia at the beginning of all we know now. Men with even a little bit more testosterone in their body will literally be driven towards different things than women with a little bit more estrogen in their body. In the beginning of civilization, women HAD to be the care takers, it was a little bit more clearly defined because the majority of things that people had to take care of were based off of community survival, family, and specific roles.

Now, I want you to take this basic biological difference that has been shown to affect things like: drive, ambition, emotions, sex drive, feelings, need for certain kinds of purpose…etc and apply it to ANY other time throughout history and write down what you think in relation to the issue of men and women's roles in society. GREEKS, ROMANS, the period of time in history where Dadaism was big and sartre was around…etc tell me what you think.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about how men have been seen as initiators, hunters, driven, entrepreneurs, money makers, providers, thinkers, etc

….Now fast forward to 2014 where you enter a very civilized comfortable modern society. HOW is this a question !?? I can see exactly why this happened. It has nothing to do with any of the social constructs that you mention about IQ, if you look at even brain anatomy differences and apply the same process for thinking, or social constructs that have affected what even gets recorded in history?? do you not think that Joan of Arc was an amazing philosopher in her own way, but was she recognized as one? Women who stand out don't get recognized as much as philosophers, but as heroes in so many ways because they had to literally fight to get: 1. respect 2. knowledge 3. money 4. credit

A fine example is Bessie Smith. She was known as the "Empress of the Blues" in the 1920's and 1930's. She was a female, bisexual, black, creative, performer who had more money, recognition, and fame than most people back then and actually stood up to the kkk threatening to beat them up when they started stalking her performance troop. She was stabbed and was met with lots of opposition for many reasons, but no one really knows her. DID YOU?

ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that every amazing female thinker who went against the grain a little bit has been recorded and even labeled properly though out history?

HOW HARD IS IT TO MAKE THESE connections. I'm not sure why this discussion seems so cyclical, it seems to me like the answer to the question is obvious :P
Christi A.
Seattle, WA
Post #: 15
I have another example. Take Marie Curie, the woman who succeeded in isolating radium, the scientist, the first woman to be a professor at a Paris University. She had an affair and then was portrayed in the papers as a Jewish home wrecker.

I think throughout history, even back in 1910 when this all happened, it was very hard for women to even get appreciated and respected for their amazing achievements, let alone sitting and thinking, then writing down theories so that people might read and respect as much as a male philosopher? I highly doubt it.

Maybe now, that women have literally died to pave the way for someone like me in this group….maybe!?
Christi A.
Seattle, WA
Post #: 16
I apologize, I'm up late thinking and I didn't edit my text at all, I just had a lot to ramble on about, I probably have a lot of errors, but at the same time I know I will write about this later more concisely, I think it was important to get it out asap. I have similar struggles, not with people recognizing my talent as a producer, but with things like safety as I'm working with people and recording, or being portrayed as a certain way in my life with what I do, simply because I have boobs.

I have done an experiment where I put my beats up on sites and pretend to be male, I know that people are very open about how much they respect my music on those sites, where as on the sites where I post my music as a female, I get a lot of listens, but no comments. I think there is something to this, I have much to write about, will be back some other time with an essay. TTYL
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