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I think--and I could be wrong--that M&E (and whatever else) are considered 'core' in philosophy because they are explanatorily prior to the other, non-'core', areas of philosophy in the order condescendi.

So, if the 'core' areas are more important than the non-'core' areas, this is because you've got to figure out the issues in the 'core' before you can figure out the issues in the non-'core'. Something like that.

Marcus Arvan

Roger: Thanks for your comment! Fair enough - but I think the main claim there is false. I think it assumes a foundationalist model of explanation (i.e. one must figure out what knowledge is before one can figure out what *moral* knowledge is) that is mistaken. We don't need to solve the Gettier problem, for instance, in order to obtain or explain scientific or moral knowledge.


Really? How so? In other words, how could we know what *any* kind of knowledge is if we don't know what knowledge is?

I don't mean to suggest that we can't *have* any moral, or scientific knowledge without having first solved the Gettier problem. Because, of course we can and do.

So, e.g., we explain scientific knowledge in terms we use to explain knowledge *at all*; and then we add certain desiderata in order to explain the difference between, say, moral knowledge and scientific knowledge. But don't we have to have knowledge figured out before we do anything like this?

I dunno. Anyway, I think something like this thought is why we have so-called 'core' areas of philosophy. I think it has to do with the direction of explanation.

Marcus Arvan

Roger: Thanks for your reply.

You write: "how could we know what *any* kind of knowledge is if we don't know what knowledge is?"

My first point is that we don't need a complete theory of "core epistemology" -- i.e. an analysis of knowledge -- for that, any more than we need a theory of vagueness before we start picking out who's bald or who's not bald.

My second, deeper point is that I don't think that's the real direction of explanation. I think the real order of explanation is in exactly the *opposite* direction. I think knowledge is basic (i.e. perceptual knowledge, etc.), and that analyses of knowledge in "core epistemology" are an attempt to provide a systematic analysis of knowledge-attributions.

An analogy: if we want to know what a "game" is, the right order of explanation is *not* from analyzing our concept of a game ("core game" theorizing) to determining what sorts of things are games (i.e. "non-core" game theorizing). That is exactly the wrong way around. We know what GAMES are -- we identify baseball as a game, we identify football as a game, etc. -- and we derive an analysis of what games are *from* that systematic practice of identification.

So, yes, I think the traditional model of metaphysics and epistemology get things the wrong way around. If they are at the "core" of anything, it is because they are the *result* of analyzing distal phenomena (moral knowledge, perceptual knowledge, etc.), not explanatorily prior to those phenomena.


"Metaphysics is important. So is epistemology. But so is aesthetics. And so is feminism. So is critical race theory."

Only some of these things are topics: metaphysics, epistemology. Also, as you mention: ethics, political philosophy, etc. While others are highly specific and contentious positions within some topic: feminism, critical race theory.

So it's as if someone said "History is important. So is biology. And so is extreme social conservatism. So is the struggle to keep Jesus in our schools."

No question that there's some kind of bias in treating "m & e" as the "core" areas. But if things like politics or ethics have as good a claim to be important central parts of philosophy perhaps those parts should include positions _critical_ of feminism or even "critical race theory". Your comments suggest that while nothing has been clearly settled in m & e, in these other areas (politics) all the most important questions are already settled, i.e., that it's still up for discussion whether I have hands or whether talking donkeys are real in some other words but _not_ whether we should have affirmative action or abortion on demand. But of course that would be simply crazy, evidence of the most extreme intellectual bias imaginable. (At least as crazy and extreme as any bias that leads people to privilege white-male-centered m & e.)

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Feminism is a topic. So is critical race theory. Both are also social movements, but they are also areas of *philosophical* inquiry -- no less than liberalism is an area of inquiry in political philosophy (in addition to a social movement). And *I* think feminism and critical race theory -- as philosophical domains of inquiry -- have a lot to offer.

Also, nothing I said in any way suggests that I think things are settled in feminism or critical race theory, and more than I think things are settled in M&E. I have no idea where you are getting that. There are feminists and critical race theorists who favor affirmative action, and there are those who are against it -- just as there are political liberals who favor affirmative action and those who are against it. And, while I consider some feminist & critical race theoretic criticisms of mainstream social and political theory to be important and apt, I by no means think we should not be critical of those areas, any more than I think we should be critical of metaphysics (which I have been critical of many times on this blog!). If you look at my own work, you will know that I do work in "mainstream" ethics and political philosophy. It just so happens that I think liberal political philosophy done WELL confirms and can account for and incorporate *some* feminist and critical-race-theoretic insights.

You may disagree. You may think that feminism and critical race theory are a bunch of hooey (i.e. not even "topics"). That's fine. I think some areas of "core M&E" are bigger hooey. Big deal. We can disagree over what's valuable. But, when you imply that something is not a "topic", the implication is that it does not even deserve serious discussion -- and I think that is wrong. As a philosopher, you should welcome critical discussion -- and, I would argue, if you took those perspectives seriously, you might find there is some value to them.

For an example of how I think mainstream liberal political theory can make sense of some feminist/critical race theoretic criticisms, see my work on nonideal theory (e.g. "First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice" http://philpapers.org/rec/ARVFST ).

Eric Morton

Richard Rorty wrote about this matter. In an old (1998) unpublished (as far as I know) lecture called “Analytic Philosophy and Transformative Philosophy” he offered his take on why the so called “core” is regarded with a higher level of respect by Anglophone philosophers. He wrote:

“The main reason for this distribution of prestige is, once again, that analytic philosophers would like, above everything else, to feel that they are adding bricks to the edifice of knowledge. Analytic philosophers are of course not as suspicious of historians as they are of literary critics. For they acknowledge that historians who confine themselves to ascertaining which events actually occurred do offer knowledge rather than mere opinion. . But because historians of philosophy like Lovejoy or Schneewind are concerned with trends rather than events, they are often classed with the opinion-mongers. They are thought of as looking more like literary critics than real philosophers, professional philosophers, ought to look.

This is because telling a story about trends is an invitation to the next generation of intellectual historians to tell another, competing, story about the same trends, just as setting up a literary canon invites the next generation of critics to revise that canon. By contrast, the explanation of a macrostrural physical phenomenon by reference to detailed microstructural arrangements typically does not invite the next generation to offer a competing explanation. For the first explanation is often agreed to have added a brick to the edifice of knowledge, making it unnecessary to revisit that spot on the wall. That sense of definitiveness and finality is what analytic philosophers yearn for. Such a sense is obviously not achievable by a book like Schneewind’s.”

In case you’re wondering where he thinks ethics and political philosophy fall, he writes:
“As with the history of philosophy, so with moral and political philosophy.” Those who are familiar with Rorty won’t have to be told that he was not really a fan of this attitude. But I’m sure that if critical race theory, feminism, or aesthetics had been discussed, he would have claimed that this same attitude is why they’re in the second class, and not afforded the same prestige as the disciplines in the so called core.

This paper used to be available to download from Rorty’s webpage when he was alive. Rorty is obviously pretty controversial. But I thought this might be something interesting to ponder in connection with this thread.


Interesting post. Regarding claim 1: Whenever I have claimed that M&E are ‘core’ areas of philosophy, all I have meant is that other areas of philosophy are dependent on M&E. You cannot do philosophy without bumping into metaphysical issues. For example, when considering whether or not race is a biological category, one would need to adopt some account of natural/ social kinds. But it seems that one need not work on philosophy of race when working out an account of natural/social kinds (though one certainly could!). Of course, one could have a metaphilosophical view that no such dependence relation exists, which from comments I take to be your position. I’m not convinced. Doesn’t my being a soul in a body or identical to my body have important ethical implication for the treatment of my body?
Regarding claim 2: There are probably a lot of kinds of ‘importance’, and I think you might be moving between some of them in your post. For example, you say “I don't see how these [various metaphysical questions] are more important issues than issues of ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, feminism, etc”. Perhaps there is a slip here from ‘philosophically important’ to ‘important simpliciter’? Perhaps that which is more philosophically central is more ‘philosophically important’, but that does not imply that whatever is philosophically more central is more important. M&E are important, but any ‘ethical importance’ they have will only be had derivatively as they are involved in ethical arguments.


Feminism is not "a topic" in the same sense that ethics or politics or metaphysics is "a topic". It is a narrow and controversial set of positions with respect to various topics. These topics include, for example: the nature of sexual differences, the natural basis (if any) of traditional sex roles, the nature of oppression or injustice... and other things. With respect to the topics of metaphysics one might be a determinist or a dualist, for example, or not. With respect to the topics of epistemology one might be a reliablist or an internalist, or not. Failure to accept determinism or reliabilism or whatever would not mean that one was not part of the larger conversation. By positioning feminism as if it were a "topic" at the same level of generality as M & E you suggest (or presuppose?) that the fundamental assumptions of feminism are to be accepted -- that they provide the shared framework within which discussion will now take place. At least that's how it seems to me. Again, as if someone were to say that our "topics" include epistemology and ethics and (rather than metaphysics) "determinism" and "dualism"... If you are interested in "critical discussion" (as many feminists and "critical race theorists" seem not to be) then you should want to include not only feminists and "critical race theorists" but also those critical of these perspectives.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks for your reply. However, I think you are making a lot of false claims.

First, feminism is in one sense an even *broader* and *more* general topic -- not narrower -- topic than Ethics, Politics, or M&E (considered independently). There is Feminist Ethics, Feminist Politics, Feminist Metaphysics, and Feminist Epistemology.

Second, yes, all of these feminist approaches are controversial. But there are all kinds of major controversies in "mainstream" M&E: controversies over rationalism and empiricism, armchair versus emirically informed philosophy, the role of intuitions, etc.

Third, I *never* suggested the fundamental assumptions of feminism are to be accepted. I do not think a lot of the assumptions of traditional M&E should be accepted. All I think is that they are worthy of *discussion* -- and that feminism is worthy of it too.

Fourth, I was explicit about this already: I do want to include feminists, critical race theorists, *and* their critics. I want them ALL to be part of the discussion. And this is contrary to the way things are: feminism and critical race theory are mostly just ignored. *I* only came to appreciate them recently, in large part because I was "raised" in contemporary analytic philosophy to think they were a waste of time. I actually read the stuff, and learned better. Some of it's crap, some of it's not. Just like some mainstream M&E is crap, and some is not. The key is to be open-minded -- for, if you're not (I wasn't at one time myself), you might miss a lot of good stuff, and wrongly dismiss things you might learn to take seriously.


Hi Marcus,
I suppose you're right, in a way, that feminism is "broader" than M&E. But in another way -- which I take to be the relevant way here -- it is narrower. Those who do feminist ethics or epistemology are doing those things within a mental framework that is, as you say, quite controversial and, importantly, quite narrow if compared with the full range of possible positions one might take on these issues.

Probably our disagreement about how to categorize these things rests on more substantive disagreements that we won't resolve. In my education I was exposed to feminism and feminist ideas constantly -- from junior high school on to grad school, I was _required_ to "take seriously" feminism. And I was _never_ exposed in any serious way to intelligent criticisms of feminism. Same for what is now called "critical race theory". The main themes of this "topic" or "area" are very familiar to anyone raised and educated in this culture. I simply can't understand how you feel that feminism or "critical race" are _ignored_ when they are in fact very trendy, heavily funded projects entirely in keeping with the flow of institutional and corporate power. At least, if we are comparing these positions with positions _critical_ of feminism or "critical race" that seems very strange to me.

Where in the entire western world can one find a philosophy department that openly seeks _anti-feminist_ thinkers or openly declares its commitment to anti-feminism or to debunking the claims of "critical race" theory? Is there any department of anything that would do these things? I don't think so. Under these circumstances, I find it perverse to argue that feminism and the like need even _more_ institutional support or acceptance. These things come close to constituting a civic religion -- open, deep disagreement about such matters is very dangerous. Feminism is a massive, organized and very powerful force. Do you disagree?

So while I'm all for open discussion (including, for sure, discussion of feminism) I suspect that the seemingly endless push for _more_ feminism and _more_ left-ish political stuff of all kinds is virtually certain to result in the exact opposite. Indeed, I have noticed that students nowadays tend to be very suspicious of any criticisms of feminism and the like. They've been well trained: they say that the criticisms shouldn't be made public because they constitute a form of oppression. So the pieces are all there: these left-wing ideologies cannot be rationally evaluated because any attempt to do so, according to those same ideologies, is an act of injustice or violence against a vulnerable group. How do we know that? Well, because we know that feminism (etc.) is true. The students are not coming up with these ideas themselves. They are parroting things they've been told by their feminist (and other) professors. Having more people with these kinds of views in the universities is not likely to make for a more open discussion.

To be clear though, I am not arguing for close-mindedness. I don't dismiss feminism as a whole, and certainly don't want people to dismiss feminist ideas or arguments without considering them! Rather, I suspect that if a proper rational evaluation of many of these ideas were possible (as it presently is not) they would have much less influence and appeal than they do now.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ambrose: From the sound of it, you and I have lived in "very different worlds."

I was never much exposed to feminism or critical race theory in my philosophy education. I'd heard people in other departments -- English, sociology, etc. -- say feminist and critical-race sounding stuff, and it always sounded crazy to me (much as the very faddish postmodernist claims people in those areas often make sounds crazy to me). And, while I understand there is a lot of money, etc., for this stuff in other departments, I had *never* been in a philosophical context where people read the stuff and took it seriously.

So, I didn't have that experience that you had (the experience of being exposed to it all over the place). It was only when I started to read some of it myself as a faculty member -- because I wanted to expose my students to diverse authors and philosophical methods -- that I began reading some of it. And, while I found that some feminist and critical race stuff is awful, I found some of it more or less *completely* compelling.

So, to take just one example, I think feminists and critical race theorists put their finger on many of the ways in which "ideal theory" in political philosophy has distorted the field FAR sooner than mainstream political philosophers did -- and I think that if mainstream political philosophers had paid more attention to it, it wouldn't have taken them, I don't know, 50 YEARS to decide to investigate the ideal/nonideal theory distinction!

This is why I think it is horrible the way feminism and critical race theory are perceived. Yes, some of the work is bad -- but some of it has a lot to offer, and "mainstream" philosophy would benefit greatly by being more open to it. (Here, I guess, is where you and I differ. You say that you think a proper rational evaluation would lead those areas to have much less influence and appeal than they do. I think a proper rational evaluation would lead them to have *more* appeal).

At the same time, I am also -- just as you are -- adamant that we should think about such perspectives critically. The important thing is to be open-minded AND critical. I'm willing to ignore bad feminist stuff, but I'm also willing (far more than some, I think) to ignore bad M&E. The key is to pay attention to the stuff that is good (whatever the area), and to not pay attention to the stuff that is bad. And that takes a lot of work. It takes (1) openmindedness to expose yourself to it, and (2) critical thought to decide which of whatever it is that you read has value. My worry is that mainstream philosophers often do not even seem to do (1). I hear people make fun of "continental" philosophy or feminism, but if I ask them what they understand of, say, Heidegger or Martha Minow they look at me and say they don't have a clue; they've never bothered to read it. That, I think, is a problem -- and it is a common one.


In my experience, it is not all that hard to publish anti-feminist work on gender, and my first book was pushed through at Cambridge U.P. because the editor saw it as anti-feminist (it is not, at least compared with my later stuff).
Stuff "debunking the claims of critical race theory" might have a harder time because it is likely derivative of shoddy work. Write a solid _racist_ paper that nobody can see how to bust and you will get into Ethics!
As for getting a job...
(Disclaimer: I am in a Political Science department)



Nothing could be shoddier than the hokum that tends to underwrite "critical race" theory. E.g., the ludicrous assertion that race has no biological basis or is not a "scientific" concept. In fact the work of scientists in the relevant fields has already debunked and refuted this kind of thing a thousand times over going back decades (or possibly centuries). The arguments used by critical race people to that effect are usually straight-up fallacies (e.g., defining "the concept of race" in some extreme essentialist way that no intelligent person would accept, then showing that to be unscientific)... Or using Lewontin's fallacy (and the ten-thousand times-recycled irrelevant story about the corn fields). Or whatever.

Are you suggesting that the work of Naomi Zack (for example) deserves to be taken seriously while the work of Arthur Jensen or Phillippe Rushton (or even Michael Levin) does not?

In reality politically correct work based on the shoddiest reasoning and empirical research is _often_ published and celebrated for its reassuring and officially sanctioned conclusions. Racist work is always held to radically higher standards. And since, of course, there's always _some_ kind of problem with any paper (or book or whatever) there's always a reason to reject. You're right that a "racist", however rational or RIGHT, would not get a job. You really think that the same forces operative on the job market (and in the media, in the school curriculum, pretty much everywhere in our society) don't influence publication?

Michel X.

Nice thread derail, guys.

I'm puzzled by Ambrose's "teach the controversy"-type worry that no departments explicitly seek "anti-feminist" scholars. Job ads don't specify particular views or agendas that candidates should have, just areas of expertise that are desired. Any "anti-feminist" candidates should presumably fall under the areas of feminist philosophy or social and political philosophy.

Also, FWIW, I'm pretty convinced that Zack's work has more (academic, philosophical, contemporary) merit than that of Jensen and Rushton. As for Levin... quite frankly, I think that his work in social and political philosophy (at least, that which I've read) is quite poor, and transparently ideologically- (rather than argumentatively-) motivated. But that's neither here nor there.

More on topic: As someone who works in a non-core area (phil. of art), but where it intersects with core areas (L&M), I do occasionally come across work that would have benefited from a better understanding of non-core areas, even if the work itself isn't about those non-core areas. So, e.g., theories of truth should give us the tools to explain truth in fiction, lest they be inapplicable to a wide swathe of ordinary statements; accounts of abstract or socially constructed objects should not yield really weird results when applied to artworks, etc. If one's account of the emotions somehow yielded the result that art is the expression of the artist's emotions, then so much the worse for one's account of the emotions! Likewise, if your metaphysics cannot explain social construction, then so much the worse for your metaphysics.

While work in non-core areas should sometimes be constrained by (or at least aware of) work in core areas (it would be ludicrous to attempt to write something on truth in fiction if one was unaware of at least the basics of the debate on truth!), the reverse is also true. I take it that these are the kinds of things you have in mind, Marcus. And I think that's right.

I'm not sure where that leaves us. I guess that one thing worth noting is that many (most?) of these non-core areas, when practised as I've suggested, help to bring the core areas together, and bring them to bear on what are perhaps less esoteric problems or questions. That seems both desirable and important for a whole host of reasons, not least of them the pragmatic one that it helps to sell our profession to students and to the outside world.


Michel X: You're right that it's neither here nor there what you personally think about Zack or Jensen. What is relevant, I'd say, is that Jensen has published zillions of papers in major peer-reviewed science journals. Is it really likely that his work can be discounted as simply "shoddy"? Even scientists who strongly disagree with him tend to regard him as a credible adversary whose work must be addressed. And yet most philosophers tend to discount his work without seriously addressing it. (See N. Sesardic's "Philosophy of Science that Ignores Science" for evidence, if you want.)

I am not advocating that we should "teach the controversy". Though that's not a bad idea. But if you seriously believe that strongly _anti_ feminist philosopher would be given a fair shot at a position in the "area" of feminism you're not living on this planet. At the very least, there would be a _very strong_ bias against such a person. And that alone, in this market, would more than likely mean that the person would not be hired. (When was the last time you ever heard of an openly and deeply anti-feminist being given a job as the resident "feminist" philosopher in a philosophy department?) I suppose next you'll say that someone with Jensen's views on race and intelligence would have a shot at jobs in "critical race" theory -- provided merely that his work was not "shoddy" like Jensen's.

Given that there is nowhere, as far as I know, that a person could acquire a PhD with a specialization in feminist philosophy except by _being_ a feminist of some kind, it's reasonable to expect that jobs in "feminism" are jobs for feminists. This is what everyone in fact does expect or assume. (Do you _really_ not have this impression?)

It's as if someone in the USSR were to argue that anti-Marxists are always given due consideration when they apply for jobs in "Marxist theory". After all, the job description doesn't say that you have to believe in Marxism! I'm actually sort of curious about this: Is there a single example of someone who is flatly opposed to feminism being hired for a position in "feminism"? One example wouldn't mean much, but at least it might reassure me that the situation isn't as dire as it seems...


It could be that Levin's work is "ideologically" motivated. Even "transparently" so. Though it doesn't seem that way to me. Are you seriously suggesting that feminism and critical race theory is not?

As for "poor" reasoning: consider Zack's argument that race cannot be real because there are no human groups that have been _completely_ reproductively isolated from all others. This is blatantly fallacious. No argument of Jensen's could be so bad that it would be _worse_ than this one!

Michel X.

I'll not reply further on this issue because it's entirely off-topic and I'm pretty sure you're trolling, but I will say this:

Academic hiring (especially in philosophy) doesn't work by seeking out people with particular views. We don't seek out anti-realists, coherence theorists, etc., and we generally don't try to balance out every hire with another hire with the opposite views. Consequently, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that we don't seek out "racist" philosophers of race, or "anti-feminist" feminist philosophers. People with those kinds of views get hired all the time—just look at Levin. And feminist philosophers and philosophers of race who are critical of their field also get hired all the time (as a matter of fact, I know one such relatively recent junior hire personally. This person's job talk essentially said that some of the core work done in contemporary "analytic" feminist philosophy was dead wrong).

Granted, these last people tend to buy into the basic tenets of feminism or critical race theory. That's to be expected, since they specialize in that subfield, and also since the bulk of "racist" and "ant-feminist" positions are both morally repugnant and intellectually asinine. As a result, it's not really discriminatory to demand that those who hold such views (e.g., AOS feminism + anti-feminist) jump through smaller hoops. If people with "racist" and "anti-feminist" views can still be hired in other AOSes (and I suspect that very few would even want to claim "feminist philosophy" as an AOS), and if feminist philosophers and philosophers of race who are highly critical of their subfields can still get hired under the aegis of those AOSes, then I fail to see why there's a problem.

The coherence theory of truth is pretty garbage too. The usual arguments motivating it aren't enough, and there's nothing wrong with holding its defenders to a relatively high standard of argument. If you're just rehashing Spinoza's, Hegel's, and Bradley's arguments for it, then I'm sorry to say that your work just won't cut it. You're going to have to engage with its critics, and with alternate theories of truth. Most philosophers today who specialize in this topic aren't coherence theorists, and that's not discriminatory.


I'm not "trolling". I am a dissident. There's a difference. But think what you like. This topic is most definitely _relevant_ to Marcus's original post: the post was about areas of philosophy that are marginalized or unjustly neglected. And I'm arguing that politically incorrect philosophy is in that category. A few comments:

"Granted, these last people tend to buy into the basic tenets of feminism or critical race theory."

Those basic tenets include the flat rejection of the work of people like Rushton and Jensen. Typically on the basis of egregious misreadings of their work (or, as it often seems, no reading at all). But psychologists and other scientists take seriously the work of such people. It cannot be reasonable for philosophers working on race or sex to _assume_ that none of this work is correct.

"That's to be expected, since they specialize in that subfield, and also since the bulk of "racist" and "ant-feminist" positions are both morally repugnant and intellectually asinine."

Maybe it seems that way to you. But so far you've simply asserted this without any real argument. It does NOT seem that way to James Flynn, one of Jensen's most important opponents: HE doesn't think that Jensen's research is "asinine". Scientists don't publish papers disputing arguments that they consider "asinine". Nor do science journals publish papers (by Jensen and Rushton) that the reviewers take to be "asinine".

Even if it were true that philosophers had gradually come to agree that coherence theories are clearly wrong and not deserving of discussion (which I doubt) the situation wrt Jensen and Rushton is just not at all like that.

I suspect that the reason you think "racist" or anti-feminist positions can be dismissed is, ironically, that there's such a strong bias against them in our field: people are afraid to publish papers defending such positions, people strongly dislike such positions and think they are "morally repugnant" (as you do) and don't want to discuss them or have them published. As a result you haven't been exposed to the best arguments for those positions. You're in the situation of a devout Catholic in the middle ages who reckons there are no good arguments for atheism because, after all, no reputable thinkers make such arguments...

In any case, the ludicrous argument from Zack that I mentioned earlier is about as clear a case of "garbage" as one could come up with. It's not believable that such a terrible argument gets published and discussed simply because it's a _good_ or _interesting_ argument that merits discussion. It's obviously a fallacy (either a straw man or a false dilemma). So the pure intellectual quality of her arguments cannot be the reason why her stuff gets published and discussed while "racist" papers do not. Not unless you can explain to me what intellectual merit this argument might have. Feel free to try!

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