( Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.
All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.
Only 25% of philosophy posts in UK universities are occupied by women. So what, if anything, should be done to redress the balance?
Mary Warnock, philosopher and writer
This question has been debated by women and men in philosophy for years, and last week became the cover story in the Times Literary Supplement. Of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members. Why should this be? How can the balance be redressed? On the whole I am very much against intervention, by quotas or otherwise, to increase women’s chances of employment, whatever the field, and there is nothing intrinsically harmful about this imbalance. I certainly don’t believe it shows a conscious bias against women. Nor that it can be explained by the supposition that, philosophy being concerned above all with arguments, women are naturally less adept in the field.
There may be some women who think emotionally rather than rationally; but, heaven knows, there are some men who do as well. Nor do I think that women dislike the idea of philosophy because of its supposedly adversarial style, its devotion to winning an argument rather than seeking truth or consensus. For I don’t think this style, when adopted in academic dispute, is peculiar to philosophy. No, I think that academic philosophy has become an extraordinarily inward-looking subject, devoted not to exposing and examining the implications of the way we think about the world, but to exposing instead deficiencies in the arguments of other philosophers. If you pick up a professional journal now, you find little but nitpicking responses to previous articles. Women tend to get more easily bored with this than men. Philosophy seems to stop being interesting just when it starts to be professional.
Julian Baggini, philosopher and writer
I agree there is little or no conscious discrimination against women in philosophy. But that is not to say there isn’t a great deal of unconscious bias. The puzzle is why this should be stronger in philosophy than in other disciplines. The answer, I think, is to be found in philosophy’s self-image. Philosophers have tended to have an inflated sense of their ability to “follow the argument wherever it leads”, as Plato’s old saw has it. What matters is the argument, not the arguer, which means there is no need even to think about gender or ethnicity. Philosophers have thus felt immune to the distorting effects of gender bias. Logic is gender-neutral, philosophy is logical, ergo philosophy is gender-neutral. I suspect this has led to complacency, a blindness towards all the ways in which, in fact, gender bias does creep in. It is a well-established finding in psychology that believing you are an objective judge actually makes your judgments less objective, and I’m sure philosophy suffers from this. I admit that this explanation for at least part of the under-representation of women in philosophy is somewhat speculative, but I would be interested to hear what you make of it.
MW I don’t accept that all our thinking is gender-permeated and that we therefore fail to notice our bias. I believe that one of the great merits of academic philosophy is that its central topics are as gender-neutral as those of physics, mathematics or linguistics. But I agree that women may have different hopes of the outcome of examining these topics, and that they are on the whole less likely than men to “follow the argument wherever it leads”, and change direction if it leads to absurdity or paradox. This is another way of saying that women are more restricted than men by the dictates of common sense. And this goes along with, or is part of a desire that philosophy should be intelligible to non-philosophers, if they are willing to give their minds to it. Of course, this desire is not peculiar to women (as your writings prove). The dislike of abandoning common sense may seem like over-simplification, though it may better be described as distaste for scholasticism. It certainly means that, in job interviews, women may seem pedestrian rather than brilliant, and this may damage their chances of success.
JB It may well be that women tend to have different intellectual priorities from men. But since we do not know how much these are cultural or biological, we should not assume that any such differences are fixed. More importantly, this would be all the more reason to endeavour to get more women into senior positions in philosophy, since there is no reason to suppose the traditional priorities are superior. It is important to distinguish the idea that all philosophical ideas are “gender-permeated”, which we both reject, from the idea that gender biases affect the ways of thinking and acting of all philosophers. For instance, Rae Langton and Jennifer Hornsby have argued persuasively that cultural norms and stereotypes can detrimentally affect the ability of women to be heard and taken seriously. I’m fairly sure this handicaps women in philosophy just as it does in pretty much every other domain. You are against quotas and other forms of intervention. Does that mean you think nothing can or should be done?
MW I find I agree with something you said earlier, that men are complacent, in believing that their intellectual priorities are the best. And this makes it more difficult for women to make their voices heard. But I am still against positive intervention because this always carries the risk that the woman appointed under, say, a quota system will be seen as not necessarily the best candidate, and so be further undermined. I think, rather, that, in philosophy if not in other disciplines, things are gradually changing. Partly because of the work of some women, such as Onora O’Neill, and some men, such as yourself, the application of philosophical methods to other subjects is becoming more widely recognised. For example, the connection between moral philosophy and medicine is now widely recognised; and perhaps more significantly, the interface between philosophy and psychiatry is being increasingly explored. This broadening of the scope of philosophy will inevitably, if gradually, attract more women to the subject.
JB Quotas are indeed problematic but there are other possible affirmative action interventions, such as requiring departments, conferences and journals to monitor closely the number of women applying or submitting papers compared to those accepted. Simply forcing people to attend to any apparent imbalances is a forceful way of raising awareness.
Another priority is to make philosophers understand better the psychological effects which interfere with their supposedly clear, rational thinking. They should all know, for example, about Sally Haslanger and Jennifer Saul’s work on how psychological phenomena such as implicit bias and stereotype threat might be at work in their subject. But the most important and effective change is simply for philosophers to face up to the depth of the problem in their profession. Too many complacently assume that any sexism in the subject is now minor and residual. Seven years ago, Haslanger, wrote: “In my experience it is very hard to find a place in philosophy that isn’t actively hostile towards women and minorities, or at least assumes that a successful philosopher should look and act like a (traditional, white) man.” Haslanger persevered, but if other talented women are either giving up or being overlooked, that is as much philosophy’s loss as it the sisterhood’s.
* * *
Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.
P. S .. Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Eastern Roman Empire. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.
According to contemporary sources, Hypatia was murdered by a Christian mob after being accused of exacerbating a conflict between two prominent figures in Alexandria: the governor Orestes and the Bishop of Alexandria.
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more'
* All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.
* In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth - often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.
Photo; "Death of the philosopher Hypatia, in Alexandria", 1866, by Louis Figuier.
Socrates Scholasticus (born after 380 AD, died after 439 AD) The death of philosopher Hypatia.
"Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them, therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home and, dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. "
John of Nikiû (7th century) The death of Hypatia
'And, in those days, there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes, and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles . . . A multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the Magistrate . . . and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the Prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her . . . they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesareum. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her . . . through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire . '
P.s How many women was killed physically? And how many women was killed 100 times in only one life? That's the big question...:(( Think about and Imagine? Imagination isn't a crime, anyway, officially.. .
So, does philosophers have a problem with women? Does philosophers/men are afraid of women?
Are you afraid of women? And if so, why? :)))
( I never meet a free man, that's makes me sad, sometimes. K. Shiuka)
I think therefore I am a witch.