That’s What She Didn’t Say

October 5, 2009

The New York Times has a new piece on the dearth of women philosophers.  It’s a troubling problem, but one that the author attributes in part to the macho club-thumping that seems to be part-and-parcel of philosophy’s business as usual.  Certainly aggression has something to do with it.  Follow the trail back to the original article in The Philosopher’s Magazine for more.

Brian Leiter offers this correct, albeit tangential, observation about the Times essay:

Bizarrely, the Times piece includes a photo of the hack philosopher Ayn Rand, who would indeed be unemployable in any serious philosophy department!

No disagreement there.  What’s even more bizarre is that Ayn Rand and her cabal of non-gender-specific followers are often extremely aggressive, so she seems like the wrong woman to include as someone who might be put off by the critical aggression in philosophy.  In an essay that I childishly think funny, Sean O’Neal characterizes Rand as the “thinking asshole’s author.” How crude.

At any rate, Leiter points to Keiran Healy’s observation that essentialist reasons for disciplinary segregation are pretty weak.

Benj Hellie — a philosopher at the University of Toronto who has a name curiously similar to mine and who wears similarly chunky glasses — writes this in response (comment #22):

As a (male) insider to the academic philosophical community for going on two decades, my impression — I think shared by most of my peers, male and female — is that the community has made great strides since the mid-late 1980s in overcoming the culture of aggression discussed in this post. Obviously this takes a while to ramify through to parity of representation at the highest levels of scholarship (more distinguished women full profs means more women undergrad majors, etc; but the journey from recently declared major to distinguished full prof takes thirty years, so results are slower than one might hope.

I mean, yeah, we’ve made some strides, but it’s still pretty hard to be a woman in a philosophy department.  I’ve gotta believe that.  And it ain’t just women who have difficulty, though they have a particularly hard time of it.  It’s also people who work in non-traditional areas, like applied ethics (including environmental ethics), Continental philosophy, African philosophy, American pragmatism, and basically anything that falls outside of the philosophical mainstream.  We all more or less try to fit into the Anglo-American philosophical universe.  It’s just that women don’t quite have the option of escaping some of the pertinent applied questions that affect their daily lives.


  1. I’m actually a bit surprised that your recent traffic from CA didn’t result in some of them jumping in here to defend St. Ann.

    • Ayn.

  2. Wait for my next post.

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