As I reported on the Cocoon before, Gabriele Contessa has been trying to raise awareness about the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in Philosophy (or ESL philosophers). In an attempt to raise awareness about this issue, Contessa proposed what he calls the “Languaged Conference Campaign,” which is modeled on the Gendered Conference Campaign. To his surprise, his proposal met with resistance. Responding to Contessa’s LCC, Sara Protasi claims that the underrepresentation of ESL philosophers is "unfortunate" but not "unjust."
As far as I can tell, her reasons in support of this claim are the following:
- "Being able to speak good English is essential to do good philosophy."
- Discrimination against ESL philosophers “is not as widespread or harmful as other forms of discrimination."
- Other "forms of discrimination are in more need of attention than" the discrimination against ESL philosophers.
Before I address (1), (2), and (3), I would like to emphasize that the issue is underrepresentation and discrimination, not a call to help non-native English speakers become fluent in English. Judging by the following quotation, I think this point is lost in Protasi’s piece:
This, as the fact that analytic philosophy journals and conferences and even Facebook discussions take place in English, is very unfortunate. But it doesn’t seem to me to be unjust. That it is not unjust doesn’t mean that we should not try to alleviate the difficulties of people like me, or people who fare much worse than me. We should help non-native speakers to achieve the level of fluency required to succeed at philosophy in the context in which they want to do philosophy (I am partially repeating points made by commenters at Feminist Philosophers, such as “louisechanary”). But it’s not an injustice in the same way that racial and sexist and ableist and homo/transphobic discrimination is.
Again, to make this about helping non-native English speakers become fluent in English is to miss the point. The complaint is about the fact that ESL philosophers are underrepresented in tenure-track jobs, in journal publications, in citations, and so on. In other words, the "goods" of philosophy are distributed unfairly and ESL philosophers are not getting their fair share. That's unjust!
Now, (1) is simply false. If (1), then many of the great philosophers (e.g., Spinoza) did not do "good philosophy" since they did not speak and write English. I take it we all want to deny the consequent of this conditional.
As for (2), if all forms of discrimination are unjust, then (2) is inconsistent with the claim that the underrepresentation of ESL philosophers is "unfortunate" but not "unjust." For to admit that there is such discrimination, and to accept that discrimination is unjust, is to be committed to the claim that discrimination against ESL philosophers is unjust.
Like (2), (3) is also inconsistent with the claim that the underrepresentation of ESL philosophers is "unfortunate" but not "unjust." Another problem with (3) is that it is difficult to evaluate for the following reasons. First, (3) assumes that forms of discrimination can somehow be ranked from bad to worse. I have no idea how to do that. Second, (3) assumes that forms of discrimination can be clearly separated from one another. But that is also very difficult (perhaps even impossible) to do. For example, a non-native English speaker with a foreign accent may be perceived as a foreigner, and then all sorts of racial/ethnic biases and prejudices kick in. Likewise, a non-native English speaker with a "foreign look" may be perceived as belonging to a lower socio-economic class, and then all sorts of biases and prejudices about class kick in.
In general, if the underrepresentation of members of group G is taken to be evidence for discrimination against members of G, then this inference applies to ESL philosophers just as much as it applies to members of other disadvantaged groups.