Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Women in Philosophy

Brit Brogaard of "Lemmings" has a report on the APA report on the status of women in philosophy. Extraordinarily dismal. One of the things that shocked me as a graduate student was how blind the academic philosophy community can be to the rampant sexism that goes on in its programs. The lack of self-critique in a matter like this, from people who claim to do philosophy, is utterly shameful.

One possible contributing factor that would be fairly easy to fix is the lack of female voices in the standard curriculum. It's easier to fix in some subdisciplines than others, but I've always insisted that the curriculum could be radically improved by introducing students to more women philosophers on an equal plane with the men who are taught -- women like Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Lady Mary Shepherd, Simone de Beauvoir, and so forth. In the U.S. at many colleges the students come in with a firm but uncritical belief in some form of divine command theory of ethics; why not make them think a bit more about it by introducing them to Cockburn's criticisms of Warburton? Simone de Beauvoir's existentialism is in many ways more insteresting than Sartre's, and admits more easily of practical application; so why are students always exposed only to Sartre? We always teach Hume on causation; why aren't we teaching Shepherd's rather brilliant response? I have met bright female students exasperated by the lack of women being taught in their philosophy courses; it's not as if it's difficult to find excellent philosophical work by women.

But, in the end, such a modification will do little if more is not done to eliminate the problem of differential treatment and to encourage greater participation by women in academic philosophy. As it is, academic philosophy is mostly breathing with one lung.

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