Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Philip Lemoine: Why Are Women Underrepresented In Philosophy And Should We Care?

If you have any reason to care about the state of the profession of academic philosophy right now, you really have to read this.
   This is the best thing I've ever read about the underrepresention of women in philosophy. I don't have time to say much about it right now. To some extent I think that the most important point is a kind of meta-point: these issues have not been discussed openly, objectively and thoroughly. And, of course, they ought to be. And, of course, they must be if extreme measures (like the implementation of preferences that are tantamount to quotas) are going to be taken to increase the percentage of women in philosophy.
   And, of course, the issues have not been discussed because people in the discipline are afraid to discuss them. Or, rather: afraid to discuss them objectively. If you disagree with the official (left-leaning, feminist) theory (that women are underrepresented and that this is due to discrimination), you will be vilified, whereas if you vocally support the theory, you will be applauded. I've discussed that stuff before, and there's more to say...but not now.
   Here's a prediction, incidentally: Lemoine will be maligned for the post. Anybody feel like betting against that prediction?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure hope that he doesn't get maligned, since this Lemoine is a grad student. If an organized group decides to make an example of him, then they can end his career, and that will have a further stifling effect on discussions in this area.

The data Lemoine presents tells strongly against the "hostile environment" theory of the M/F imbalance in philosophy. However, I don't really think that it counts nearly so strongly in favor of the "different interests" theory as Lemoine thinks it does, and here's why: Lemoine lets inclination to major in philosophy stand in as a (conveniently measurable) proxy for interest in the subject, and that's not right. A very large subset of those women who major in and come to numerically dominate the psychology, sociology, anthropology, rhetoric, English, and *-studies departments end up actually doing philosophy. Dissertations like "Toward a theory of Whiteness as Commodified Social Capital", whatever their quality, are typically extended analyses of thick ethical concepts that don't involve data gathering, experiment, or historical research beyond mining for examples. The PhD students writing them might be doing philosophy badly, without the benefit a training in logical argument and enthralled by fashionable theory, but philosophy is what they are doing. Becoming a PhD in English does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in philosophical topics or philosophy's armchair methods.

I bet that, if we were to take a few years of dissertations with authors of known gender and recategorize them so that anything that addresses a philosophical topic using philosophical methods were put in philosophy, whatever the department, then the imbalance would largely disappear. (This would make a great research project for a sociology student. It's too bad they're all busy writing bad philosophy.) The question is not, I believe, why aren't women in academia doing philosophy as much as men, it's why are they doing it in these other departments?

9:37 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

That's an interesting point, A...

I'm totally beat and on an early crash trajectory, so I shouldn't try to figure this out now, but...I'm not sure you're right when you say that that stuff is philosophy.

I mean...it's *kinda* philosophy...sort of a borderline case... And I'm not sure that *armchair methods* is the right way to draw the line--especially as between philosophy and some of the other humanities. It's plausible that something like *logical rigor* is central to philosophy (with some exceptions). That would explain why the froofier stuff ends up elsewhere...

Of course you might want to say: that just pushes the problem back to: why see logical rigor as central to philosophy? But that seems pretty desperate to me.

Anyway, that's obviously an interesting point, and thanks for putting it in my head.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could definitely see a hypothetical paper titled "Toward a theory of Whiteness as Commodified Social Capital" being philosophy, but as a matter of fact, the papers that are being created in that genre are much closer to political advocacy dressed in philosophical style to appear academically acceptable. There is a big difference between something that is philosophical and philosophy.

And of course, if I had my druthers, definitions of whiteness, commodity, and social capital should be left to biologists, economists, and sociologists (with their heads on straight). Because they are all clearly empirical concepts.

So my pushback would be: are the women in the humanities/social sciences interested in philosophy per se, or are they really interested in politics and activism?

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we really have to have a sharp, bright line between philosophy and non-philosophy or between scholarship and political advocacy in order for my basic point to stand: a decision to major in philosophy should not be taken as a stand in for interest in philosophy, and the common practice of something very like philosophy - attempted philosophy? shmilosophy? - in lopsidedly female departments is evidence that they are far from interchangeable. An eighteen year old's subject interests are typically diffuse and inchoate. My argument is that, on whatever side of the fuzzy (non)philosophy line the typical Theory research falls, the person doing it was clearly inclined in a philosophical direction. Lemoine's evidence strongly indicates that a hostile environment is unlikely to be the cause of the M/F imbalance in the field, since the imbalance sets in very early, before a student would have encountered a philosophy department's environment, hostile or otherwise. From this Lemoine concludes that the difference is one of early subject interest, but I think that second, positive conclusion is not warranted.

This matters a great deal. Discussion around this issue for a long time has tended proceed from a false dilemma: either the way the philosophy is practiced needs to be changed to stop excluding women, or there is a just a lack of interest in the subject on women's part. The former alternative is dangerous to the subject, since changes to practices that are targeted at philosophy department per se inevitably attack the methods that differentiate philosophy from other subjects in the humanities: demands for rigor, heavy use of formal reasoning, "blood sport" argumentation, etc. (The hostile environment hypothesis is also, honestly, often just a pretext for attacking philosophy departments for the views expressed within them, and for being centers of resistance to para-faculty control.) The latter alternative casts the imbalance as hardly a problem, and, if a problem, one beyond the power of philosophy professors to correct. This leaves philosophy with the kinds of mushy suggestions coming out of STEM fields: that parents and teachers need to groom girls better prior to coming to college. Try to imagine the philosophy equivalent of those mortifying princess pink microscopes.

If the question is not why do freshman and sophomore women lack interest in philosophy?, but why is that interest routed away from majoring?, then there is space for action on the part of professors, something between hoping girls are raised differently one day and implementing a rule against offering devastating counterexamples in seminar.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hmm... Goddamn, Anon...this is interesting. Thanks a lot for it.

I have got to cogitate on that a bit...but you've got some damn good points there.

5:45 PM  

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