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04/03/2013

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Ambrose

Two thoughts about this post. First, there is (of course) no "empirical proof" of inherent racial or sexual differences, but in that same sense there is no "empirical proof" for Darwinism or the laws of physics. I don't know that the concept of "empirical proof" makes sense. Maybe by "empirical proof" you mean "strong empirical evidence"? In that case, it is false that there's no such thing. There is psychometric, neuroscientific and other evidence for theories of inherent racial and sexual differences. In addition, there is the evidence of history. None of this is conclusive, but it does provide at least some significant support for such theories -- enough that it is not reasonable to dismiss them out of hand, without even attempting to provide a better account of the relevant data and show that it is indeed a better account (and not just a more politically popular one). It is a fact, like it or not, that these kinds of theories continue to be defended in contemporary peer-reviewed scientific journals. The scientific issue is not settled, whatever you may have heard in the New York Times or on the Leiter Reports. But how could that be if there is no serious rational case to be made for such views, and there never has been?

Second, while you are right that such theories have been used to harm or oppress people, that is also true of countless other theories. How many millions were murdered by the Bolsheviks or Maoists for the ideals of "equality", for example? Does it follow that it is morally wrong or somehow objectionable to discuss those kinds of egalitarian theories and consider the possibility that they might be true? Are philosophers required to reject Marxism or Islam or atheism or any other way of thought simply because those also have often been used historically to harm or oppress people?

Bottom line: it seems to me that you are holding inegalitarians to an extremely high standard intellectually and morally, one to which proponents of other more politically popular theories (such as feminism) are never held.

David Morrow

Marcus: I, for one, continue to support your policy of excluding such comments. They are antithetical to the blog's mission of providing a safe and supportive space for early-career philosophers.

panpsychist

this is an interesting issue - i am inclined to ambrose' view, though one could make a good case for both - i do not think that either of these commenters would support misogyny or sexual harrassment, etc., but that they are merely putting forth possible explanations for the underrepresentation of women in philosophy - also, the psychologist jelte wicherts at tilburg has an unpublished meta-analysis of stereotype threat that claims it is immensely inflated by publication bias - so in that respect i do not think that such discussions are terribly harmful

another interesting thing is that the views of such topics in the popular press and in philosophy are more unfavorable than in the subjects themselves - for example read snyderman & rothman's study, hunt's 'human intelligence', sesardic' 'making sense of heritability' - etc

-panpsychist

Seriously!?!?

Ambrose:

There is no "serious rational case" for the superior intellect of whites and males because so long as schools have such a pronounced white, male bias, the "evidence of history" is probably the legacy of discrimination. If white men were sexually harassed and discriminated against in schools, the relative scarcity of white men in academia would be nothing more than the predictable result of bias. That you are unwilling to draw the same conclusion when bias works against women and minorities is incredible--particularly on heels of a post about Lewis's Law.

And your claim that feminists are not held to the same high standards as inegalitarians might be true--albeit not in the direction you suspect. Go read the blog Marcus linked in his post and count up the number of the times that feminist work is dismissed out of hand, simply because it's feminist. The point is not that every article on feminism is great; the point is that, if anything, feminists usually have to work *harder* for recognition.

Marcus Arvan

I have judged the last several comments I have received as a whole to not be consistent with the aims of this blog. Some were inflammatory, others not obviously so but still could reasonably be expected to generate inflammatory replies.

Sorry, but I'm just not going to let this thread turn into a shouting match. This is not that kind of blog.

I will approve comments that productively and directly address the topic of the post, which was the role I should play as moderator of this blog.

Daniel

It's one thing to suggest that men and women might be genetically predisposed to have different interests; I for one would be a bit surprised if the explanations for why men are more likely to be violent criminals is entirely cultural, and has nothing to do with genetic predispositions. I don't think we can rule out that genetic predispositions explain some facts about the relative prevalence of men and women in certain professions.

It's another thing to such predispositions might fully explain the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, even in the though there exist (a) other disciplines that require researchers with similar "natures" that have far more women and (b) mounds of evidence of sexual harassment/discrimination in the discipline of philosophy.

To the extent that comments do just the first, I don't think they're offensive, but they're unlikely to be all that relevant/helpful. Should they be banned? I don't know. But to the extent that comments do the second, I'm sympathetic to your decision not to allow them.

Dan Dennis

I should start by stating I have not posted to either of the above mentioned threads and have never had a post rejected by the cocoon, and the Daniel who posted above, is not me.

I take it we agree that every person should be treated as an unconditioned end – treated with respect, dignity, consideration etc.

I also take it to be the case that in certain respects, on average, men and women tend to behave differently. Marcus gave some examples in his previous the post, for instance only men have made unsolicited requests to be contributors to the Cocoon.

When looking at average differences in behaviour between men and women we may ask, ‘Why the difference?’

The first thing to look at is environment. Are there features in the environment that result in the different behaviour. So if it is observed that in a given seminar men students contribute far more often than women, then you may examine whether it is a feature of the way the seminar is run. For instance, perhaps there is an aggressive atmostphere where people try to score points and put each other down. Perhaps women’s contributions are not taken seriously or referred back to. Etc. Then the environment may be changed – in the seminar example changing it would be to the benefit of men and women.

Thus we should always first examine the environment. So, to return to Marcus’s example, is there something about this blog which repels women or which could be changed to make it more attractive to women… That is something which can be thought about, and I am sure Marcus would welcome more suggestions in addition to those already made…

But sometimes differences between the average behaviour of men and women cannot be explained by the environment. So then we take there to be something in the character or way of making decisions of men and women, that results in them coming to different conclusions and doing different things.

Regarding Marcus’ blog example, consider the following explanation. It is not uncommon for feminists (eg Nel Noddings) to see women as on average more caring and empathetic than men. So maybe women philosophers prefer to spend time with friends and people they care about, rather than spend that time at the computer typing short messages to strangers. Now, if you put it like that, it hardly reflects badly on women, quite the reverse…

But then *if* that explanation were accepted, it would raise the further question, ‘Why are women on average more caring and empathetic than men?’ Here is where it gets controversial – and political.

There are three possible explanations.
1) Genes, gestation etc – it is all fixed at birth.
2) Nothing is fixed at birth, it is all down to socialisation.
3) A bit of both.

I am not an expert, so won’t make a pronouncement. What I have read and experienced suggests that it has not been definitively settled, but I can’t say anything authoritative about it.

Either way, it is not really necessary for us to settle it – because we can work out what steps to take without settling it. We simply have to:
a) do what we can to ensure that each person treats each other person as an unconditioned end and
b) do what we can do ensure the environment (which includes the individuals who partially constitute that enviornemnt) is not such as tend to exclude or favour one group rather than another. The seminar example, given above, is just one aspect of this.

elisa freschi

@Dan Dennis,
I agree with your points (just like in the case of global warning, acting on the effects is more important than arguing about its causes).
Nonetheless, I would just like to add that settling whether (1) is the case (i.e., there are just genetical differences which make men different than women) means deciding a priori that all efforts are meaningless. Suppose a man were to undertake a typically "feminine" activity, such as figure skating or knitting and he received comments such as "Wow, not bad, though you have only been lucky. You will surely never be able to be as good as ANY other member of the opposite gender".
The only way, I think, we can make sense of (1) is to say that it accounts for general predispositions. Since genes do not account only for one's gender, but also for many other characters (one might, for instance, say that M's philosophical passion is genetical or that D's taste for polemics is and so on), why should exactly one gender be the deciding element?

Kenny Pearce

Marcus, I agree with David Morrow. The stated mission of this blog is not to provide a forum for debate about gender, it's to provide "A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers." If it turns out that there are some debates which (in actual practice) cannot be conducted while maintaining such an environment, for all early career philosophers, and especially those who are disadvantaged in one way or another, then this isn't the place for those debates. I think it's that simple.

Now, that seems to me like just an easy and non-controversial way of resolving the practical question of what you should do: regardless of whether these are legitimate debates that need to be had, they don't need to be had here. Nevertheless, I want to make clear that, for the most part, these don't seem to me to be legitimate debates that need to be had. In addition to the fact that most of these hypotheses are strongly disconfirmed, not all empirical hypotheses are created equal (cf. grue). I'm not a biologist, but my understanding is that, given what we know about biology, it's highly implausible that a set of abilities as complex and 'high-level' as intelligence should be sex-linked (and all but impossible that it should be race-linked, since the races don't even seem to be biologically natural kinds). The bottom line is, it is certain that cultural pressures and other environmental factors play a huge role in pushing women (and racial minorities) away from philosophy whereas it is highly doubtful that there are any relevant biological differences at all, and even if there are such factors, they can't possibly be anywhere near as significant as the well documented environmental factors.

Marcus Arvan

It's clear from some of the comments that I have received (and rejected) that some may not have understood the moderating policy I stated in my above comment.

In order to keep things from getting out of hand (i.e. out of the bounds of this blog's mission), I will only approve comments that directly address the topic of the post in a productive manner: the role that I should play as moderator of this blog on sensitive issues, particularly gender.

This means: I will *not* approve comments that merely take other commenters to task on empirical claims, what philosophers should do in general, etc.

This also means: I will not approve comments that do not deal with the issue unproductively (i.e. just asserting the same points over and over again -- viz. "trolling").

The topic at hand is that *I* should do in moderating this blog.

Ambrose

Marcus (if I may) ... I understand that this is a sensitive and very controversial topic. But how can it be addressed in a responsible way if I am not allowed to challenge or question empirical claims that everyone regards as essential to the egalitarian-feminist position? Philosophers sympathetic to feminism assert that, for example, "most of these hypotheses are strongly disconfirmed". Obviously it is relevant and very important whether or not this is really true. So it is equally relevant and important that experts in these fields do not seem to regard all such hypotheses as strongly disconfirmed. Other people assert with little or no evidence that all group disparities are explained by "the legacy of discrimination", or that academia is deeply corrupted by "a pronounced bias" in favour of men or white people. If these things are true, then of course the inegalitarian position is much less plausible than it might otherwise be. Your policy seems to be that feminist-egalitarians are allowed to post comments disputing my empirical claims or hypotheses, but I am not to dispute any of theirs or defend those of mine that they are disputing. Their empirical assertions are relevant and suitable for the blog, but mine are not. Is the policy that "sensitive" issues can be discussed, but only in ways that support feminism and other politically correct attitudes? That's fine, I guess. But then there will be no way to discuss the topic of your original post: you gave reasons for not wanting to post material of a certain kind, and invited discussion of that reasoning. It simply can't be discussed in a reasoned way except by at least entertaining the objections to the reasons you cited. And the objections just do, inevitably, involve some empirical claims that are "sensitive".

But maybe I could put the point a bit differently. Rightly understood, the kind of inegalitarianism I am proposing is not especially threatening to anyone. I am not suggesting that women shouldn't be allowed to do philosophy, that there can't be excellent female philosophers, that women are not entitled to equal moral consideration, etc. I am proposing an explanation of some facts we all observe that, if true, would undermine some justifications for affirmative action. That is all. (I think anyone who is so "sensitive" as to be unable to discuss this kind of thing without getting very upset needs to rethink his or her assumptions.) By refusing to post my rather sober, modest little objections to some things said by other commenters, you are reinforcing the false impression that admitting any inherent differences is all by itself deeply scary or immoral (or whatever). This is not how philosophers should think about any topic, or discuss it. Why not trust more in the maturity and good sense of most commenters?

I won't try to post anything else. It's your blog, and I have no real right to argue that you should moderate it in some other way. (And I appreciate that you did post my first comment, which might be a bit risky for you -- you're using your real name and all...)

A Woman

OK, I'll bite: I'm a woman in philosophy, and I often avoid commenting on threads, even on ones like this where I'm a (relative) *expert* on the topic, *because* of how terrible the comment threads get. This one is no exception: as soon as (shocker, men) started in on "Women aren't naturally good at..." discussion, I'm already done. It's already a hornet's nest, and by saying anything, it amounts to kicking it. Sorry guys, lots of the time, you exclude us just by saying something exclusionary. ...and then it gets worse from there, because we're accused that we just can't "handle" disagreement. No, we can't handle self-righteous, self-serving "arguments."

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: no.

You're missing the point of the moderating standards I am employing. The point of discussion of this post is *not* the truth of empirical claims, *nor* is it whether philosophers in general should or should not discuss those empirical claims.

The topic of this post is whether such issues should be discussed *here*, at this blog. Rejecting your posts in no way discriminates against inegalitarians. It discriminates against people who try to insist on making this thread about subjects it's not about.

panpsychist

well i'll make the non-empirical claim - any belief whatsoever should be open for discussion, so long as a) it does not attack a specific person (e.g. 'marcus arvan is an idiot') and b) it is not completely absurd, e.g. the flat earth society - panpsychist

David Morrow

A Woman (12:29): Thanks for speaking up. I often feel the same way about "hornet's nest" threads. I'm curious, though, whether you meant for your comment to apply to posts that are not (initially?) about gender in philosophy. If there's a post about something in your AOS, for instance, do you avoid commenting on it in case it devolves into an exclusionary discussion?

Ambrose

This comment from A Woman is worth discussing:

"Sorry guys, lots of the time, you exclude us just by saying something exclusionary"

In what way are women being "excluded" from the conversation by my earlier comments? I discuss these topics often enough with my wife. She often discusses them with her (entirely female) circle of friends from university and female colleagues at work. I sometimes discuss them with female students, with my mother and other female relatives. These women are obviously not "excluded" from the conversation in any literal or familiar sense of the term. Are you saying they are excluded from participating in an open, free, comfortable kind of way -- or something along those lines? This simply does not seem true. I've had lots of conversations with women over the years -- including women I know very well, personally -- who were clearly enjoying the conversation, not feeling menaced or insulted, not feeling intimidated or coerced into agreeing (or whatever)... So I'm genuinely curious. In what sense are you claiming that the mere mention of an inegalitarian hypothesis is enough to "exclude" women? (I assume "exclusionary" does not just mean "contrary to the opinions of women who are also egalitarian feminists"...)

A Girl

I believe that the context of A Woman's comment about the eventually exclusionary nature of gender debates was that, if they are carried out with male colleagues, they are often brushed aside with comments related to A Woman's gender. An inegalitarian hypothesis, when proposed to either a or a group of male colleagues is often an defensive trigger, in which the defense is to claim that the gender issue is not real and that A Woman is thus irrational or out of bounds with her claim. This sort of kneejerk defense mechanism is not very prevalent in this particular thread, however in most others in which comments are not so moderated, it is a very common reaction to the suggestion of gender issues.

optinion

A Girl: That claim could obviously be made in the reverse.

Michael Price

"After all, the commenter (whose comment I rejected noted), I have discussed at length why I think certain types of metaphysics are fundamentally misconceived. If my doing that is consistent with a safe and supportive environment, the commenter asked, how isn't discussing possible inherent differences between men and women consistent with the same mission?

Well...allow me to explain. Throughout history, claims about inherent differences between races and genders -- claims without any sort of empirical proof -- have been repeatedly used to deny basic and equal human, civil, and political rights to women and other minorities, not to mention opportunities; not to mention the disrespect, public and private humiliation, etc., that come along with these sorts of things."
Which doesn't mean that the claims themselves are wrong. Lots of at least arguably correct claims have been used to oppress people. Some of those claims were actually true, some merely appeared so. Are you claiming that Hegelism hasn't been used to oppress people, because I'm pretty sure that Marxism proves otherwise. If you're going to say that these claims about race and gender are wrong, or even just not shown _say so and back it up_. That's what a real philosopher does. He doesn't say "Well this claim has been used to oppress people, therefore we're not going to bother finding out if it's true or not.".

Imagine eugenicists claimed the population of the developed world would get stupider as the intellectual requirements to survive and breed got lower. As I understand it that's was their basic idea. They used this to justify horrific intrusions on the rights of people, including but not at all limited to other races and women. Which is what they did. How would that justify shutting down debate on the idea that intelligence levels were getting lower? It wouldn't, and it wouldn't need to because we have tests showing the opposite. By seeking to shut down debate you're tacitly admitting you have no evidence against the claims you refuse to address.

Michael Price

"Marcus: I, for one, continue to support your policy of excluding such comments. They are antithetical to the blog's mission of providing a safe and supportive space for early-career philosophers."
Ok, first safe from what? It's not like those making these comments are going to track you down and throw a Molotov cocktail through your window. At worst they are going to say things you find upsetting. That's not being unsafe, that's being upset. There's a difference.


Secondly if you want to be a philosopher then why do you need a "supportive" environment? By definition philosophers say things that are not supported by others. If they didn't they'd be valueless. We do not need things that are already generally believed confirmed, we need them challenged, and those that challenge them are going to be challenged back. If you aren't prepared to do this, take your superior intellect and get a job as an actuary, or a programmer or any other job where you don't challenge established societal norms.

Michael Price

"The topic of this post is whether such issues should be discussed *here*, at this blog."
Well then as an amateur philosopher let me see if I can tell whether those comments should be allowed on this blog. I'll make it really easy by doing it in the form a computer program

IF(posts discussing gender equality are present)
THEN (comments including hypothesis about differences about male and female nature should be allowed)
ELSE (comments including hypothesis about differences about male and female nature should be not allowed)

If you're going to discuss a subject discuss the whole subject. Otherwise you're leaving the ideas discussed here incompletely examined. Suppose that there was a ratio of 2-1 male/female philosophers. Someone posts that this is evidence of systematic discrimination. Now suppose that someone else points out that philosophers almost all have IQs over X and the sex ratio of people with IQs over X is 2-1. This is a legitimate point, a way of examining a poster's claims to see if they necessarily follow. By not allowing it you're basically saying "We allow ideas to be challenged here, but only by ideas we approve of.". It's not quite a fixed fight, but it's close. It's the worst way to prepare philosophers for real argument.

s.lop

"safe and supportive space"

(unless you disagree with us)

nice marketplace of ideas you've got here, founders of philosophy would be proud

Pierre

(1) Michael Price: That’s (a) a red herring, and (b) a possibility it is safe to eliminate. And if it were not, (c) testing it would not suffice to prove it true, or even “not-false-for-now” for those who believe that no hypothesis can ever be proved true, but only proved not to be false as long as no experiment proves it to be false.

(a) This is a red herring in that pressing that point diverts us from what matters. A lengthy discussion about a secondary issue is not of much interest, except to the extent that it allows those who keep it alive to avoid getting into the matter at hand. Short of an outright refusal to discuss whether women are discriminated against (openly or in more diffuse ways) in philosophy, this is kind of fallacious.

(b) Now we could indeed discuss that for its own sake. Why not? Well, speaking of a Lewis: because we have some reasons not to do so, just like meteorologists have some reasons not to discuss whether hurricanes are the manifestation of God’s wrath. It is a possibility that “exists,” in that it is possible to conceive of it, but it is also a possibility it is safe to eliminate as soon as we conceive of it, if we conceive of it.

(c) That hypothesis also poses a further problem: once you pose it, it is quite difficult to control it in an appropriate way. But suppose you can test it, and your test returns positive results: your hypothesis is still not proved true. You also have to show that it is safe to eliminate the possibility that your results are better explained by differences in upbringing or a social environment that disadvantages women.

(2) s.lop: That’s a well-known problem/paradox. It applies to tolerance (oh, so you don’t tolerate that a racist bartender prevents African-Americans from entering his café, what an intolerant you are), freedom (oh, so you believe people should be prevented from hindering others’ liberties, what an enemy of liberty you are), democracy (oh, so you don’t want to keep the possibility of democratically abolishing democracy open, what a dictator you are), and so on.

The good news is: philosophers have all the intellectual tools needed to confront paradoxes of that kind. Not all the resolutions are equally successful, but there is at least wide agreement that those paradoxes are not so deep as to make tolerance, freedom, democracy, or whatever is subject to that paradox, nonsensical illusions.

s.lop

You're not being tolerant, because you've never seriously considered the possibility that you might be wrong. Any discussion will simply be dismissed as mansplaining, sea-lioning, concern trolling, or whatever other buzzword is currently trending on twitter.

Marn

"well i'll make the non-empirical claim - any belief whatsoever should be open for discussion, so long as a) it does not attack a specific person (e.g. 'marcus arvan is an idiot') and b) it is not completely absurd, e.g. the flat earth society - panpsychist"

I think at issue is whether one understands that any belief that any human has inherently less worth, value, rights, etc than any other _is in fact completely absurd_.

Flat earth society? Completely absurd.
Womens' thoughts, rights, validity inherently less than mens'? Just as absurd.

If I were moderating I would feel entirely justified in removing comments that were based in such an absurd premise, unless the purpose of the thread was to discuss that exact question. That descent into absurdity would otherwise completely derail the intended topic of discussion.

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