Tuesday, January 15, 2008

They Have Begun to Shake the Dirt

Since the zombie lies are once again staggering out of their graves and into the night, this might be a good time to remind ourselves of some basic facts about what American philosophy departments look like. As of last year, in the top 54 American philosophy departments, only one had as many women on faculty as guys. Whereas two had no women at all. I know this is a tricky issue, and it gets even trickier when you consider how gendered--and, I supsect, related to race and ethnicity-- the different subdisciplines of philosophy are. (In a year with so many ethics and social and political jobs, you're going to see more black people and women getting fly-outs. In a year with more straight-up metaphysics, mind and language jobs, you'd see a lot more of the snowy white sausage party we know and love.) On the whole, though, the white man's doing just fine in philosophy. Let's not lose sight of the dead fucking obvious.

Also remember why the zombie tales of women and other underrepresented groups getting all the good fly-outs just won't die. Sometimes they seem like the only way to soften the devastating blow that comes with total and unqualified failure. I know, because I've been there. I'll probably be there again before the end of next week. That doesn't make the zombie lies right, but it does make them common.

Update: Via Nate in comments, here's (warning: pdf) Sally Haslanger's jaw-droppingly insightful paper about women in philosophy. If you haven't already, read it. If you have already read it, read it again. (And as an aside to the guys, most of the crap Haslanger talks about is invisible to us most of the time--unless we actively try to see it for what it is. Read the paper, see philosophy through someone else's eyes.)


the meister said...

Do you really think women and ethnic minorities are being chosen because of their talent? I think departments are so happy to see someone's cv that says: Kant and philosophy of race/feminist philosophy that they assume the applicant must a woman or minority, and seek to hire them.

tt assprof said...

In practical philosophies, there seem to be plenty of women and minorities who are as good as any young practical philosopher will be.

In our search, some of the best people--i.e., those who made the last cut--just were women and minorities, and so we didn't feel constrained to impose those selection criteria at any stage.

I imagine the situation is very different in M&E, Language, etc. And why women and minorities are less attracted to the more abstract branches of our business is a mystery to me too. It might be that if you go through the additional travails involved in being a woman or a minority, the ontology holes, say, may appear not that important.

And I have heard of deans granting lines just for female or minority hires, so their being actively recruited, etc.

But my impression is that, in general, even if such criteria do get employed, it's not as though the people chosen partially because of those criteria are remarkably less qualified than anyone else. In general, my impression is that those criteria serve as a tie-breaker at some stage of the search and not as a primary consideration.

And to break a tie, you gotta use something when you only have the one job. So it's no less fair to use such considerations than whether the person's vegetarian, tall, good looking, cooks well, seems fun, is charming, went to a good prep school, seems well bred, is distantly related to some governor, etc. And some of the latter kinds of considerations also play a role. What is unfair is that, when these latter considerations are employed, they are often employed at an earlier stage of the search. And they are employed more frequently than anyone would be willing to admit.

Anonymous said...

I think it can be more than a tie-breaker for some, and I don't actually mind that (I'm a white male). I don't think it should be a lot more than a tie-breaker, but I don't mind if someone who is otherwise not quite as desirable as I am gets a job or an interview instead of me if it's going to increase the presence of non-whites and women in philosophy. I say this not having any flybacks from APA interviews and perhaps not getting any.

Here is my impression of how some people I know on search committees think about this. They're more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who would be an affirmative action hire. That means women and non-whites get a second look a little more easily. When there are debates among committee members about who to invite to campus or to interview, being a woman or being non-white can count as a qualification among other qualifications for some SC members.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of jobs are defined in ways that are intended to maximize the number of minority applicants. Some schools (mine, for example) are explicit and unapologetic about it. The funny thing (not exactly ha ha, mind you) is that frequently a white male gets hired to teach critical race theory or feminist philosophy of science. I assume Assprof's [sic] "practical philosophy" rubric is of this nature.

So there are two distinct questions here. One is the old turd (no wait, that's not the word) that everyone hires minority candidates even when they're inferior as candidates. The other is, how many hires do we want to make in these fields? Hiring some white guy to teach critical race theory now might mean rejecting a better minority woman in five years time because we can't hire any more people in that field for 30 years. Or it means that philosophy will become a very different discipline in 10 or 20 years in terms of what gets taught and how the center of the field is defined. I don't see traditional Anglo-American M&E losing its prominence any time soon, but at some point that might be the result if we can't figure out better ways to source a diversity of candidates.

Anonymous said...

the meister: That's exactly it. I have flyouts not because of the quality of my research, my teaching experience, or my university service, but because I lack a penis.

Thanks for clarifying that. I guess I shouldn't even bother doing any more work. I'll just keep painting my toenails.

(Listen, there's an interesting conversation that can be had about how to diversify the profession and encourage more women & minorities; telling us that we're solely token placeholders is NOT it though.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, meister, "Do you really think women and ethnic minorities are being chosen because of their talent?"

Let's hope "the meister" isn't a philosopher on the market or with a job. Let's hope this is a troll from a far far away land.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone think that maybe choosing women over men to interview isn't merely correcting past biases of those terrible old white men that used to run the world, but that it corrects current biases? Biases that, say, make someone think subconsciously that if someone is a man, they must be better at philosophy? So even if it looks to us like a less qualified candidate is being hired, it might be because we are inclined to see women and minorities that way anyhow. Scary thought, but one that just might be worth thinking about. I tend to think that this sort of bias also goes hand in hand with the one that says 'There there dear, you go do the "soft" philosophy. You just don't have the analytical skills required for the "central" areas of philosophy'. None of this of course occurs openly anymore. But I must confess that I am sure some close self-examination would reveal that even I, a woman, have such biases deep down in my lizard brain.

david duke said...

How dare women and minorities take away our precious jobs! (Why do they need jobs anyway?)

Why don't they just go back to where they came from? (How many plane tickets would that be? Maybe boat rides are cheaper. We don't need to replace the lost labor 'cuz we're Americans!)

And women belong in the kitchen anyway. (Or birthing babies that we men-folk shouldn't have to take care of.)

Oh wait, we whiteys are also immigrants at the expense of the red-man, but no use crying over spilt milk. And maybe a few black, brown, and yellow people did contribute to the building of America, but they don't count.

Anyway, God loves us best (white Americans, not so much white Canadians, British, or Australian)so we deserve to have all those jobs.

P.S. Does anyone know when the next Skull & Bones meeting is to discuss how we can get rid of all these ferriners and beeatches? And where did my mom put away all my socks?? MOMMY!

Anonymous said...

"...but I don't mind if someone who is otherwise not quite as desirable as I am gets a job or an interview instead of me if it's going to increase the presence of non-whites and women in philosophy. I say this not having any flybacks from APA interviews and perhaps not getting any."

So you're in favor of dumbing down for the sake of diversity? Amazing.

Vanilla Ice Fan said...

I do mind if a woman or minority receives a job over me in a tie breaker. Why should i get the short end of the stick? Because I am white? It smells like reverse discrimination.

Anonymous said...

In the last few years, undergraduate enrollments have become increasingly gender skewed, with many schools having 60 % or more female students. At some schools this has led to a kind of AA for men -- in an effort to keep the gender ratio balanced, it's a bit easier for men to get in than women.

There's an important lesson here: It is possible for a group to be such that its members get most of the places (in school, or in jobs) and such that its members are discriminated against, perhaps unfairly: Some female high school seniors will not get places at schools because those spots are reserved for males. That's unfair to those students (which is not to say that it is unjustified....I'm making no comment on that). And it is unfair even though women are in the majority in undergrad education.

The same point could hold for the APA. White men get most of the jobs, by far. But that is not inconsistent with the claim that individual white men are sometimes unfairly discriminated against.

Pixelation said...

Reverse discrimination is a great rallying call and all, but I tend to agree with the fifth anonymous commenter that argued it makes up for potential biases.

Had philosophy and academia not been prejudiced in the past, we wouldn't even have this problem now. So to ensure it doesn't happen in the future, we should actively overcome prejudice now.

Anonymous said...

The idea of race or gender being a "tie breaker" is informative only in context. If there are a large number of candidates well-suited to a position such that a significant number are "tied", then the distinction between "tie breaker" and "determining factor" loses its meaning. If, however, there are typically marked differences in desirability among top candidates, then the "tie breaker" might only rarely be employed.

The short version - some factor being called a "tie breaker" says nothing of the importance of the factor unless we know how common it is for candidates to be "tied".

Anonymous said...

"...but I don't mind if someone who is otherwise not quite as desirable as I am gets a job or an interview instead of me if it's going to increase the presence of non-whites and women in philosophy. I say this not having any flybacks from APA interviews and perhaps not getting any."

So you're in favor of dumbing down for the sake of diversity? Amazing.

Because "not quite as desirable" necessarily translates into "duh, lots stupider," right? And because the "not quite as desirable" aspect must surely be a hovering specter in every case of a woman or minority advancing over a white guy. Poor brilliant white men, the ladies and minorities are stealing your rightful jobs!

I do mind if a woman or minority receives a job over me in a tie breaker. Why should i get the short end of the stick? Because I am white? It smells like reverse discrimination.

Because, say you're deciding amongst a number of equally brilliant and accomplished candidates who have their various flaws, as all candidates do. Maybe, in a profession that is nowhere near as diverse as it could be, there's a value-added aspect in going with a candidate whose presence would continue to change the face of "what a philosopher looks like" in the minds of the general populace, maybe provide an example to those who otherwise wouldn't pursue philosophy, and hell, maybe add all this while making some great contributions to scholarship and doing some great teaching. As surely many candidates are qualified to do.

Honestly, it's a wonder that more women and minorities aren't busting down the door to enter areas of a discipline where the quoted assumptions are common currency.

Anonymous said...

There is a long discussion of this general issue on Leiter's blog here: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2007/04/some_questions_.html

Anonymous said...

Or better: leiterreports.typepad.com/

Bobcat said...

Arguably, a candidate's race/sex/sexual orientation/religion could itself count as a merit if it somehow helped him or her better teach a certain currently underserved class of undergraduates. If so, perhaps it shouldn't be thought of as a tie-breaker.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the poster who says that even if it is right to favor members of certain groups over others, individuals within those groups can still be unfairly discriminated against. But under what circumstances can a given individual claim to be unfairly discriminated against?

Let us suppose that our white male friend, SONSO, didn't get a job because it was given to a woman. Now does it follow that SONSO was UNFAIRLY discriminated against? Well only, arguably, if SONSO was better qualified than the female hired.

So does everyone who feels ripped off seriously believe that they are significantly better than the female or ethnic minority that got hired? Why is this so automatic for some? This attitude actually makes me feel terror right down in pit of my stomach.

Anonymous said...

How soon after the last flyout for a given school can we expect to hear about offers?

I'm also wondering about the etiquette for canceling an on-campus visit which has already been planned. Is it OK to cancel, or is it considered rude? What happens if the ticket has already been purchased by the school?

Anonymous said...

Not that I know, but I'd guess it's more rude to fly out to and spend a bunch of time interviewing at a campus where you have no interest in taking a job than it is to cancel a campus interview.

Identity crisis said...

Tangential job-related question, the kind of which I should already know:

I am not on the market this year but am finishing my dissertation and lecturing at a different school in a different state. I'm also doing all of the usual professional stuff, like conferences and submitting to journals. However, since I'm defending relatively soon (June), I don't know where to say I'm from. Chances are, by the time anything of mine even sees print or a conference, I'll have defended and etc., and so won't be at that school.

Any ideas about where to say I'm from? My hunch is to stay with my home school until I defend, but I'm not sure...Ideas for what's right, or some strategy?

tt assprof said...

Anon 12:11, et al.,

Towards the end of the search process, once you're down to your short list, it's just really tough to tell the difference in philosophically relevant quality. At least in our case, everyone's research-promising, everyone has stellar rec's from famous people, everyone's clearly smart and capable, etc. Once we're done with the job talks, hopefully we'll have a clearer picture. But now we don't: they all look equally good for more or less the same reasons.

And even after the job talk, I can see three out of six, four out of six, etc., remaining indiscriminable in philosophical quality. Because there may be no such fine-grained enough criterion to distinguish one young philosopher from another young philosopher once they've both reached this stage.

But you only have the number of jobs that you do.

So what do you do at this point?

You introduce extra-philosophical criteria.

And gender/race-criteria are at least as good as any; but, for historical, social-justice, etc., reasons, better than most.

And I think that's fair. N.B., it's fair if they were philosophically indiscriminable anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in statistics about the proportion of underrepresented groups, not just in TT jobs, but in the applicant pool. (At my university certain groups which are underrepresented in graduate school are even more underrepresented in *that* applicant pool--& they are also v highly recruited.)

Anonymous said...

It is definitely not rude to turn down a campus interview, even if arrangements have been made. The committee will understand and be grateful. Trust me on this one: I've been in their shoes, and it is much, much better, at least in most cases, to have someone turn down a campus interview than to have someone fly out when they're not serious about the job.

Anonymous said...

What about socio-economic status? Given the push by schools to increase financial aid, and pay more attention to "class" diversity among undergraduates, should there be affirmative action for philosophers from working-class/poor families.

Should an African-American with the Andover, Yale, NYU track be favored over a white candidate with the Ringgold HS, North Georgia College, Chapel Hill track?

Can't the latter offer a face far different than the one of privilege presented by most faculty members?

Soon-to-be-jaded dissertator said...

The unspoken assumption that underlies much of the outrage being expressed over one (equally) qualified minority candidate being given more consideration over another (equally) qualified lily-white dick-having candidate in the hiring process is that it is just done for the sake of some pie-in-the-sky ill-defined notion of diversity. And, yeah, diversity for diversity's sake would be a stupid criterion by which to assess the merits of one candidate over another's.

But, come on, pull y'all's heads out of your asses. I would hope that people don't get hired just because they are penilely-challenged or because of the amount of melanin they possess, but because these are factors that are important for certain reasons that have nothing to do with some abstract notion of diversity. E.G.:

Perhaps a black candidate will better encourage other underrepresented groups to take philosophy classes and become philosophy majors. Perhaps a female candidate will be taken more seriously when teaching feminist ethics than a white male (notice that this isn't a claim that they are better at it, just that students might respond better).

And the people on both sides of this issue deserve more credit than what they are getting. SC's might not just be searching for minorities for diversity's sake, but that diversity is to serve some more important issues surrounding underrepresentation and the atmosphere of the good ol' boys club that philosophy has long been associated with. And seeing it in this way will perhaps take credence away from the bullshit claim that the only reason these minorities are being chosen are because of their skin color or lack of a dick. Even in the case of a tie-breaker situation (does that shit even happen?) the reason won't just be because of their minority status, but because that minority status plus their obvious talent (and desireableness of their work on the market) will help serve certain important practical concerns about attracting students and making them feel comfortable.

And this isn't just diversity for diversity's sake. It's for the sake of the profession.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of pulling out of an on-campus interview, I think the answer is clearly yes, by all means one should withdraw their candidacy as soon as they are sure they will not take the job. From the school's perspective, as others have mentioned, no one wants to waste one of their limited fly-outs on someone who is not going to take the job. But, perhaps more importantly, we should also take into account the impact this has on our fellow jobseekers: it is downright selfish to take the interview (and yes, to take it from someone else)if one has no intention of accepting an offer if it were forthcoming. Give one of your peers a shot at the job, even if this means you have to eat the cost of the ticket. (or, to pay to make changes to the ticket and use it to fly elsewhere).

Anonymous said...

So, if one pulls out of a job visit and the school has paid for the airplane ticket, does one have to reimburse the school?

tt assprof said...

Schools generally purchase refundable tickets--precisely because of the prospects y'all are talking about.

Don't worry. If you get an offer from an already preferred joint, just be gracious to the place you are turning down.

PhilosophyProf said...

Thanks for your post, soon-to-be- jaded.... Is there a background assumption in some of these posts that because our race and sex are out of our control, it's not fair they they be considered in a hiring decision? But this is silly. Imagine two candidates who are judged to be equally intelligent, even if differently so, and to have the same amount of philosophical power, even if differently so. (These things are extremely hard to measure, esp. in the couple of days of a campus visit, but we do the best we can and realize that we're just making a guess about how successful a philosopher a candidate will become.) One of the applicants brings something else to the table -- the person is a member of an under-represented group and may bring more members of that group to the major or even just to the campus. If this is valued, don't we have more than a mere tie-breaker? There is no fairness issue here -- are ANY of the features in question features over which we have control? One candidate just has something that the other doesn't. Usually it goes the other way, of course -- a critical mass of the faculty might be swayed by considerations of how comfortable they are interacting with the potential future colleague, how the person will fit in socially, etc., and there are all kinds of issues of race and gender that come up here, even if they are unconscious and no one would want to own them.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is missing two important points:

(1) By favoring the minority/female hire, we're not just making up for past systematic discrimination -- we're trying to combat *current* systematic (and sometimes overt) discrimination. (OK, this may have been said once in this thread, but it bears repeating!)

(2) I suspect there are more people who believe they were kept out of x school or position than there are minorities in x school or position. Do the math -- you can't all be victims of 'reverse dicrimination.'

Not a Kantian said...

You should definitely cancel an on-campus if you *know* you wouldn't take the job if offered (e.g., if you've already received an offer from another place that you clearly prefer). On-campus interviews take a ton of time for everyone. But if you bought a non-refundable ticket yourself, then it's possible that you won't get reimbursed if you don't go... In that case, it's a tougher call. If you are too broke to afford it, perhaps the best thing to do would be to contact the chair and explain the situation. But you might be tempted to rationalize it as another line on the CV and, who knows, maybe you'll end up liking Podunk College better than Research U.?

Anonymous said...

At a point in the recent past at my college/university, our department was hiring for two positions. We had decided on the candidate to receive one job, and were debating among 3 candidates for the remaining position. One of these candidate was female; the other two were male (and all were white). In the process of departmental deliberations, a member of our department said (and this is almost verbatum): "We have to hire the woman. We can't go to faculty assembly and say that we hired two white males." In this case, all other factors weren't equal (e.g., number and strength of publications). We were also told that there was significant preasure at the decanal level to hire women and minorities. We ended up hiring the female candidate. Do I think we made the best possible decision? No. But I will say that she's been a great colleague, and a real asset to the department.

Bobcat said...

Anonymous 7:07 makes an interesting point. Imagine two candidates, one is a white male with great philosophical acumen, good teaching abilities, and fair collegiality. The other is non-white and/or female with great teaching abilities, good collegiality, and fair philosophical acumen. Clearly, the white male is more qualified if we restrict ourselves just to publications (or promise thereof), but the non-white/female candidate is more qualified if we restrict ourselves to other features. At a top research university, it would be a much better decision to hire the white male over his competitor, but at a liberal arts college it clearly makes more sense to hire the non-white/female.

This is all obvious. The reason I bring it up is that I think a lot of the people who complain about white males being overlooked for some inferior non-white/female candidate are implicitly assuming that the only thing that matters is philosophical acumen (after all, if you're a white male and conclude that you're clearly more qualified than competitor x, how did you reach this decision? Presumably by looking at x's resume. But there are no collegiality awards, and sometimes people who don't have teaching awards still have excellent credentials as teachers).

Given the above, though, I think it is an injustice when a white male candidate who, in a department's estimation, is clearly philosophically acute, collegial, and excellent at teaching is passed over for someone who is worse at all those things just because of that person's race or sex. But how often does that happen?

Seeker said...

Anon 7:07 makes my point. They chose her simply because of her sex and not because she was actually better than the other candidates. C'mon, wake up people!

Dr. Sambo said...

You know, I am glad to see some comic relief in these threads. You folks pretending to be a bunch of narrow-minded bigots is a laugh riot. It warms my heart to know that my potential colleagues have well-honed senses of humor. Kudos to all of you.

Wow, imagine how fucking scary it would be if you weren't joking. Ha!

Well, I guess us ethnic minorities don't have to worry about having any cry-baby, racist dipshits in our departments. Why? We stole their jobs. Ha ha! See, I can be funny too.

Prof. J. said...

First, I looked at the previous thread to see how this topic arose, and holy shit, Tommie Shelby is a really, really bad example for the case Seeker was trying to make. Yikes. As someone pointed out, he is pretty clearly at the very top of his field. And Cornel West?? Another embarrassingly bad example. But it looks to me like those particular examples were laid to rest by others.

I think Nate and PSG's suggestion to read Sally Haslanger's piece is a good one. I used to share the view of a commenter in the previous thread, to wit, that although 'that kind of thing used to happen maybe thirty years ago, we've gotten over it now.' I'd even heard a few anecdotes that contradicted that view, but (I'm not proud to say) I discounted them. But I know Sally Haslanger, and when she says her professors used to tell her that metaphysics isn't for girls, then it wasn't just a bad joke the guy was making. I still find this shocking. Is it possible that these sorts of remarks have even been made in my presence but I just don't notice them? But I cannot imagine any one of my colleagues saying such a thing.

my department in principle also uses sex or race as a 'tie-breaker'. Only it's never actually made a difference, not one time in the more than ten years I've been involved. In practice, there is never a tie.

So my hunch (based on my experience, but admittedly impressionistic) is that a candidate's race or much more often sex may give her an advantage, but it is a very small one on average.

female grad said...

two comments. one, I have to respond to the crap tt assprof said. As a woman who does those "more abstract branches of our business", it is a load of self-serving hogwash for you to think that the reason there are not many females in those fields is because women are somehow not interested in them. I am very interested in them. Sometimes I am hanging on by my teeth against the extremely strong current of sexism that wants to wash me out of those fields. Some of those fields, esp. the ones with the worst ratio of males/females like phil of physics, are simply cesspools of antagonistic sexism. Not everyone in such fields is sexist, true; but you only need something like 1/3 or so of the people around to honestly not every hear the words that come out of your mouth, good or bad, in order to find the field intolerable. This is older profs, grads, all kinds of people who of course never notice the sexism because they really were not listening to what you said in the first place, and so did not notice that you got completely ignored.

two is related to that. it is almost tautological that in a field where there is sexism, when looking at two candidates that appear equally well-qualified on paper, ON AVERAGE (not in every comparison), the female candidate will be better qualified than the male. Take two distributions of grad students, one male one female, both equally well-qualified. Now add a lot of heavy selection pressure against the female distribution that is absent in the male case. What you get is a tendency for the less qualified candidates to drop out because of that pressure. In the male case, those candidates remain. End result is that there are more males, but per candidate the females overall are more qualified, since the ones that dropped out due to pressure were more likely to be on the lower end. It is to hear people complain about using gender as a tie-breaker between two equally well-qualified candidates, because if they look the same on paper, twenty bucks says the female worked much harder, against the current of sexism, and had to be a better philosopher, to get to that same spot.

Thank you, PGS, for noting that so may males who don't think there is sexism in the field really haven't bothered to look, or know what to look for. This thread is much better than a lot of others I have seen on the topic.

phew. thanks for listening to the rant.

Anonymous said...

"So, if one pulls out of a job visit and the school has paid for the airplane ticket, does one have to reimburse the school?"

No. You're already saving them all the other costs of a job visit (housing, meals, time!). They would rather eat the plane tickets, then waste all the $/time which go into full campus visits with candidates who know in advance that they won't accept an offer.

jim said...

Thanks for the link to Haslanger's paper. I hadn't seen that.

For those of you who want to test yourselves on the biases/schemas Haslanger mentions, check out some of Harvard's Implicit Association Tests here. (Relevant background info and FAQs are available here.)

Two IATs on the site test gender biases, but the most famous is the "Race IAT," which never fails to shock people. My own responses have led me to be far more mindful of the challenges still faced by people of color.

Anonymous said...

I thought these comments were moderated. Why in the world would a moderator allow racist, resentment-filled criticisms of *specific people* in the field?

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 8:31 --

Fair question. My aim, which you might still think is poorly-conceived, is to have racist and sexist comments illustrate in a very public way just what minority and women philosophers face as they try to make their way in philosophy.

The racist and sexist currents in philosophy are often hard for white guys to see. That sort of thing usually kept out of our direct sight--and we sometimes have trouble seeing what is directly in our sight. And so it's easy for white guys not to understand why philosophy still, even in 2008, needs persistent and active efforts root out racism and sexism. I hope some of the comments in these threads make it easier for white guys to see the necessity of those efforts.

Maybe you think that's misguided, but that's at least what I'm trying to do.

Anonymous said...

PGS - I was just about to post a comment to the same effect. As a woman in the profession, you have my sincere gratitude both for your own enlightened attitude and for making clear why this is still an issue.

Anonymous said...

I just tried the race IAT at the above link and it strikes me as entirely bogus and even ridiculous. Admittedly, I didn't finish it, so perhaps my reaction is not exactly well informed. (I didn't want to spend my morning seething at having been tricked into doing something 'racist.') But how could it possibly show that I am subliminally racist that I 'misclassified' a few of the af-am faces as 'bad' given it won't let you classify them as good. Take the test to see what I mean: the test simply won't let you click 'good' when you see an (apparently) af-am face or 'bad' when you see an (apparently) white face.

At first I thought the test would show that I'm not very good at sorting only half-seen faces into 'af-am' and 'white' -- which may well be true. But that doesn't seem to be the point. The point seems to be to show that I secretly regard the faces that I see as 'af-am' as also 'bad.' But surely that's just a ridiculously crude measure.

But again, I didn't finish the test. So maybe that's what makes me a racist!

Can someone better informed than I am explain the test?

Anonymous said...

Somewhat on-topic, humorous (I hope) tension breaker in this discussion: I just received a PFO letter (my first contact from the department in question)and *in the very same mailing*, I was also asked to send in -- at my expense! -- the requisite card from their affirmative action office! Yeah, I'll get right on that.

Anonymous said...

This is “anonymous 8:31.” It is all very well and good to aim to educate our discipline about the sexism and racism in philosophy. But it is irresponsible, in my opinion, to allow racist comments about specific philosophers to be posted on this blog. One might argue that you are using the philosophers in question as mere means for your own, admittedly worthwhile, agenda. You might think about how you would feel if you were reading a newly popular blog and saw someone making racist criticisms about you. This blog is read by lots of people in philosophy. Given that, you have certain editorial responsibilities. As I see it, one such responsibility is not allowing discussions of specific philosophers still working in the field

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Your position's noted, Anon. 8:31.

Anonymous said...


Just to be clear about the IAT, there are some pretty serious worries about taking this to be evidence parallel to the sort of racism that has pervaded this and the previous thread.

The IAT is designed to track relatively low-level perceptual/motor biases. This is not to say that these low-level biases aren't deeply insidious, they are. Moreover, they can be incredibly problematic for people in various disadvantaged groups.

The perceptual mechanisms that modulate task bias in the race IAT, for example, might be the same sorts of mechanisms that modulate things like eye contact or seating choices on public transportation. Both of which are things that we rarely pay attention to--and we should!

However, one important thing to remember about the IAT is that it works so successfully because it is a demanding perceptual task (i take it that this is why the bias effect often goes away, especially in people who initially report not being racist/sexist/etc, on repeated trials) The task is designed in such a way that the timing of the presentation of the stimuli is sufficient to swamp higher-level processes that can be used to reflectively subvert an immediate perceptual biases; perhaps in a way that would allow for anti-racist or anti-sexist behavior, even in the presence of low-level perceptual biases.

The thing to remember about the racism and sexism that's cropped up in this blog is that it's not racism grounded in a low-level percptual bias that is outside of a person's endogenous control. The racism and sexism that we have seen here, as well as the racism and sexism that we see in the profession, is something that people could think better of before they write or speak.

Bashing your competitors because of their race or gender is something that you could think better of before you speak. The same holds for the behavior of a senior faculty member who makes sexual advances at a junior colleague just because she has shown an interest in what he happens to be saying. And, the same holds for the claims that girls don't do metaphysics or that girls shouldn't play with the foundations of quantum mechanics!

These high-level representations are far easier to recognize as inadequate representations of the world; and so, easier to do something about before they result in behavior. And god damn it, we all better be working on our racist and sexist judgments wherever they happen to crop up!

Anonymous said...

A blog could be moderated for any of a variety of reasons, so let's not all jump up and down and tell the creators what sorts of duties being a moderator entails (I believe the moderation started in response to rampant speculation as to the identities of the creators).

I have no problem if the moderators decide to weed out certain sorts of comments or attacks, if they so choose. But they have no particular responsibility to do this merely in virtue of the fact that the blog is moderated.

tt assprof said...

female grad,

sorry about how that might have sounded. It wasn't intended that way.

Anonymous said...

Can I just request that we stop calling women "girls"?

Anonymous said...

I took most of the posters use of "girls" to be ironic, though I suppose there could be reason to quibble with that.

Anonymous said...

Can we not all see both sides of racism/sexism debate? On one hand, there is a long-standing and oftentimes systematic overlooking or ignoring of women and minorities in the profiession that certainly needs to be addressed because it is unjustified and unfair. On the other hand, Mr. white guy is frustrated at a case-by-case ignoring or minimizing his candidacy because he is neither a minority or a woman. I don't think that the argumentation on either side is contrary to the other.

Anonymous said...

this is anonymous 9:09

I agree that we shouldn't refer to women as girls. What I was trying to say was that people who claim that 'girls don't do metaphysics...' ought not to be doing so. I was echoing prof j's claim above, which i had mistakenly attributed to Haslanger since it had been a while since i read that piece of hers. I meant to be asserting that calling women girls was another mechanism of the sexist prejudice that pervades our field--which is also why i used the term 'girl' in my previous post.

I'm sorry that wasn't clear.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:47, I believe you misunderstood what was going on in the IAT. You get a *series* of tasks. In some of those tasks, the required response to white faces and words for good things are the same, and the required response to to black faces and words for bad things are the same. In others of those tasks, the required response to white faces and words for bad things are the same, and the required response to black faces and words for good things are the same. The idea is to use response time and error frequency to see if you make one of those pairs of associations more readily than the other. (Apologies for my hamfisted, blank ignorant characterization of the methodology.)

Interestingly, I took the IAT and it told me that I had shown no implicit bias in either direction, but during the task in which I was supposed to react the same way to black faces and words for good things, and to white faces and words for bad things, I experienced some emotional distress at my errors, which I thought *were* revealing an implicit bias.

Anonymous said...

"Can we not all see both sides of racism/sexism debate? On one hand, there is a long-standing and oftentimes systematic overlooking or ignoring of women and minorities in the profiession that certainly needs to be addressed because it is unjustified and unfair. On the other hand, Mr. white guy is frustrated at a case-by-case ignoring or minimizing his candidacy because he is neither a minority or a woman. I don't think that the argumentation on either side is contrary to the other."

I am continually amazed that almost everyone fails to see this. I posted the same thought in the previous thread. It is perfectly possible, and in fact almost certainly the case, that women and minorities face discrimination at almost every stage of academic life EXCEPT when it comes time to make TT hires. At that one particular moment, if they have survived that long, they get a big boost.

I think a lot of people try to deny what really ought to be this obvious fact (the momentary boost) because it seems to cut against what is an equally obvious fact: that women and minorities are terribly under-represented in the profession because of systematic biases.

But why not just see that these are BOTH true.

How do they balance? We will only know in 20 years when we can see what percentage of hires in philosophy departments have been over the previous 20 years. And of course even that will only be a sign.

Anonymous said...

To 8:47,

Re the IAT, you have to take the WHOLE test. As was explained by a poster above, the word/ethnicity pairings flip midway through the test. If you are asked to pair white faces/"good" and Af faces/"bad" words in the beginning, you are asked to pair white faces/"bad" words and Af faces/"good" words at the end.

I am not going to defend the validity of the IAT, but your reasons for dismissing it are not good ones.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the racism and sexism in this and the last comments thread is pretty appalling. (And I agree with the commenter who argued that comments casting racist or sexist aspersions on specific people should be deleted.) The question, however, is what it shows more generally. One thing it clearly shows is that it matters how you raise the questions that 'seeker' (the racist commenter) was trying to raise. It seems fair to call this commenter a racist partly because the formulations in those comments are so rhetorically crude. But then the question becomes whether the questions could have been raised without racist or sexist tinge by someone with greater rhetorical skill. I'd venture to say that they could have been. (Everyone acknowledges that affirmative action in any form involves some trade-offs, and it isn't simply racist or sexist -- is it? -- to question some of those trade-offs.) But if that's right then it seems that the problem is mere stupidity or crudity and that there's some truth in that commenter's protests of reasonability. The commenter was not being reasonable -- but perhaps only owing to a deficit of rhetorical skill, not because the questions at stake are inherently racist.

It has to be possible -- doesn't it? -- to talk about the trade-offs at the core of affirmative action without thereby simply revealing that one is racist or sexist. Perhaps many people don't agree with that statement, and perhaps some would happily call me racist or sexist for making it. But I persist in the thought that when we learn of a job candidate who is frustrated at having been informed that he has no shot at a certain job -- say (as I've seen happen more than once), a job for which he has invested years as a visiting 'inside candidate' -- because the administration "won't let the department hire a white male," it must be possible to view the frustration as something other than incipient racism or sexism. That's tricky part, I think. Such a person should not -- should he? -- be expected to be pleased that the position can't go to a white male. Again, if the frustration leads him to make remarks like the offending commenter in these threads, that's just racism or sexism. But if he's careful to avoid those evils, can't we find a way to sympathize with his frustration?

Such frustrations are what you must expect you'll get if (as I do) you support the policies that put people in this situation. So if you support the policies you'll be wise not to be too eager to diagnose the frustrations as mere racism or sexism. That's why it's so important to play up the rhetorical element in the offending speech acts. It isn't the frustration itself that's racist or sexist, it's expressing it like that!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the correction, 10:04 and 10:19. I did indeed give up on the test when it wouldn't let me put a af-am face into the 'good' category. --8:47

Anonymous said...

There are _many_ places in the job market where factors other than a candidate's "talent" and "promise" -- and I challenge anyone to come up with anything other than vague, impressionistic, characterizations of _those_ notions! -- make a difference to the outcome. E.g., SC member doesn't think the last paper he read by your advisor was any good, so he chucks your folder despite her glowing recommendation; you flubbed your answer to a question you weren't ready for at the APA; you and SC just didn't "click" during your 20-minute table interview; you told a dumb joke at dinner during your fly-out and laughed a little too hard -- etc. etc. etc. Where is the self-righteous grandstanding about factors like these? ("Do you really think the candidates who managed to make X laugh during their interviews are being chosen because of their talent? There is rampant reverse humorism going on out there! If somebody funny and I were equally good philosophers but he got picked because of his funniness, I'd be outraged! Why should I get the short end of the stick?")

The academic job market is fucked up and irrational in so many ways. Maybe you think it _is_ unfair to use race and gender in hiring/interviewing decisions. (I think it's perfectly fair, for a number of reasons that have already been aired but especially given the casual and largely unacknowledged _real_ racism and sexism that pervade the discipline.) But even if that's right, the use of race and gender is principled, conscious, and well-intentioned. Not so for most of the ways in which the job market selects for non-philosophical factors.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that being the nth commentator at this point will mean that these comments get lost in the shuffle, but I want to raise one more complication.

I did fairly well at the interview stage of the job market, and I'm a woman. This is true of several other women I know as well. However, this didn't translate to a comparable glut of job offers. And in some cases it was suggested to me that the department was "just doing its part for Affirmative Action" (ouch! And I thought it was because they read my fabulous writing sample). There would need to be some numbers behind this, but I have suspected for some time now that women get a disproportionate number of interviews but then that doesn't translate to job offers. The SC maintains the appearance to the administration that it's doing its part to recruit women, and then is safe to ignore those women at the hiring stage (they tried their hardest!). In other words, the hard-working women on the market get used by the departments for AA appearances, get their hopes up, and then do no better in the end then their male counterparts.

Something's gotta explain the persistently low numbers of women represented at the TT level (and the much higher levels represented at the adjunct level).

What do you think?

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 10:25 --

"It has to be possible -- doesn't it? -- to talk about the trade-offs at the core of affirmative action without thereby simply revealing that one is racist or sexist."

Indeed is must be possible. But what would it take? Much, much, much more than civil rhetoric and a genteel tone. After all, racism and sexism have always had their genteel varieties.

I suggest what that discussion would need is (at a minimum):

(i) An exhaustive account of all the ways in which philosophy at both the undergrad and grad levels is disproportionately unfriendly to women and minorities;

(ii) An exhaustive account of all the ways in which the job market and tenure process in philosophy can be disproportionately difficult for women and minorities, including some recognition of the role low-level cognitive biases can play out in a profession where many of the best journals aren't blind reviewed.

(What (i) and (ii) call for is an exhaustive list put together by women and minority philosophers in a forum where their reports on their own experiences are taken at their word. I can't stress enough how important this is: a real, good faith discussion about race and gender and hiring practices can't happen if the evidence for existing discrimination is always simply dismissed as idiosyncratic or exceptional or overblown or whatever.)

(iii) An exhaustive account of all the ways in which having more women and minority philosophers could be good for philosophy and good for teaching philosophy.

(iv) Okay, I don't have a (vi), but let me at least say my list here is probably very incomplete.

When we've got all that out in the open, then and only then could we start to make an informed reckoning of what's involved in the trade-offs of taking race and gender into account in hiring. Because then and only then would we know what structural problems in the profession need to be corrected and what benefits the profession stands to gain by having more women and minorities in it.

One more thing. Any attempt to have a discussion of race and gender in hiring practices in the absence of the above information looks a lot like an attempt to avoid a fair reckoning of the situation. That's obviously blameworthy if it's conscious. But even if it's not conscious, I think it's still blameworthy. Because it shows a kind of complacent thoughtlessness about just what problems this discipline faces. Call that sexism and racism if you like, or not if you don't. Whatever you call it, it's not acceptable.

(To be clear, I'm not saying this is what you're doing, since I think you asked a fair question. This is just my attempt to answer that question as best I can.)

Jim said...

Anon. at 8:47 ...

You need to finish the tests. It's been a while since I took the Race IAT, but the point actually isn't to test how accurately you classify faces, but rather to compare how accurate you are (1) when white/black faces are paired with good/bad concepts and (2) when white/black faces are paired with bad/good concepts. From what you say, it doesn't sound as though you got past the first stage of pairing. (And if you're thinking that the first stage of pairing white/black with good/bad skews your judgment at the second stage, the initial pairing is random, as you'll see on repeating the test more than once.) Moreover, accuracy isn't the only thing measured in these tests. How quickly you respond when white/black faces are paired with good/bad concepts compared to when white/black faces are paired with bad/good concepts is also relevant in detecting low-level biases. You should read the FAQs on the site for more on the methodology here.

Anon. at 9:09 ...

Thanks for these excellent points and clarifications, which are well-taken. However, my point in referring people to the IATs wasn't to suggest a parallel between (as you say) low-level implicit biases and the sort of higher-level explicit biases that have cropped up in this and previous threads. My point was simply to bring to people's awareness their own biases to show how thoroughly pervasive these judgements are.

These are the unconscious biases and schemas that Haslanger refers to that we're very often unwilling or unable to detect in ourselves, and that's what the IATs are useful for in my opinion. It's easy to attribute these biases to others when they bubble up explicitly in public forums such as these. Our outrage is then directed at the guilty offenders or the system as a whole, and feeling (as we should) justified in our outrage, we realize that this is a feature of the system we need to do something about. Such efforts should be commended.

But there's a danger here which is manifest, I think, in the comments of Anon. 9:46 and Anon. 10:08, where it's easy to lull oneself into a state of semi-complancency and believe that both sides have a point - that it's true both that there are systematic biases and that minorities enjoy an unfair boost in the hiring process. What we fail to realize here is how deeply insidious and close to home these patterns of disposition are, and the IATs do a good job in my view of bringing this to light.

It's possible to "game" the IATs once you know how the methodology works, and I suspect this in part explains the diminishment of bias in repeated trials. I know someone who consciously took longer at each stage in pairing faces to concepts in order to improve what was initially reported as her strong preference for whites. But this is just another attempt at lulling oneself into complancency. The saddest thing I learnt about these tests is that a significant number of African-Americans show an implicit bias towards white faces. This alone should get us to see we have a lot of work to do in remedying the system.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can see, there are at least three questions that must be answered before an individual white male has a legitimate complaint that he was unfairly discriminated against (NB: discrimination and unfair discrimination are being distinguished here.) Some of what I say might make it appear as if I am taking one side over another, but I think the issue is really really complicated. Anyhow, here are some thoughts...

Let us suppose sex is irrelevant to the performance of the job -- that is, let us not hang anything on whether diversity in a department is itself is a good thing.

First question: what counts as unfair discrimination against an individual? Can one claim to have been unfairly denied a job because it was denied on the grounds of a feature irrelevant to the performance of that task? Well, one might argue this is exactly what women are complaining about when they complain of sexism in the discipline.

But is this really what women are complaining about? Aren't they complaining about more than this? Aren't they complaining that they were denied jobs because an irrelevant feature is being taken as relevant to whether they can perform the task at hand when it shouldn't be? And surely white males can't complain that this is happening when a woman is chosen over them.

Second question: if one agrees that group discrimination is ok, but individual discrimination is not, which trumps which (if this question even makes sense)? Is it worse to discriminate against individuals in order to right discrimination against a group, or is it worse to continue to disadvantage a group for the sake of individuals? I guess this hangs on sorting out the right ethical theory, and that's simple right?

Third question: Can we trust our judgments that a female or ethnic minority is less qualified than a white male? Suppose we at least agree that a less qualified woman getting a job over a more qualified man is unfair. And let us also assume that getting the qualifications is itself a fair game, and that our standards of being qualified are also the right ones. To echo some earlier comments made by others, are there really so many cases of unqualified women and ethnic minorities getting jobs over more qualified men? What makes one think that there are so many unqualified women and ethnic minorities in the pool in the first place? I think we have to be really really careful here before we make the judgment that unqualified females and ethnic minorities are getting jobs that more qualified white men aren't, since I am not sure we can entirely rely on our judgements that this is so. Besides, I really do think that, at a certain point, trying to distinguish who is the best candidate is really hard. There just isn't that much difference between candidates that make the short list.

So even if you give a lot of ground to the disenfranchised white male, there are still are a lot of complicating issues. The only solid complaint left is to claim that discrimination on the basis of any factor irrelevant to the task itself is inherently wrong. I don't think this is entirely implausible. But if arbitrary discrimination is bad, it is bad for different reasons than the reasons that sexism and racism are bad. That is, the discrimination practiced against men is just not of the same kind as that practiced against women.

Sorry to be so long-winded, but this thread has got me thinking about these issues.

political scientist said...

I'm one of those who's actually read the Haslanger paper, and I find it peculiar that no-one mentioned how incredibly bad it is as a piece of social science. She cannot control for tons of variables; she is missing crucial bits of data, without which she cannot make any meaningful comparisons; one can think of dozens of alternative hypotheses to explain her "findings". As a matter of fact, based on the data she does have, you can draw opposite conclusions!

Before people jump on my throat, here's a question: suppose you broadly agree with her conclusions. Does it really help the case to try to support those conclusions with flawed empirical analysis?

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

political scientist --

I don't think anyone, including Haslanger, wants her study to be taken as definitive, or the last word on anything. It's intended as a wake-up call--nothing more or less. (Remember, she's published it as a sort of op-ed, for lack of a better term, not as a full-blown empirical investigation.) We should take it as offering some suggestive, qualitative reasons to invest the time and effort into much more extensive and methodologically sound investigations of the situation of women in philosophy. NB that under Haslanger's "Recommendations", the very first sentence is: "We need more data on various issues." Yeah, no kidding.

Bottom line: we can choose to respond to the Haslanger piece by looking for reasons to dismiss it; or we can choose to respond to it by taking seriously what is suggests--even if it doesn't do more than suggest.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:58,

I think this is what is happening in some cases. For many public institutions the Dean or the AA/EO office will not certify a search if the interview list is not diverse.

What this sometimes means is that some female and minority candidates will get an interview that don't really have the qualifications to compete with other candidates on the list.

Anonymous said...

As a woman with, admittedly, plenty of fly-out invitations, I've decided to stop reading this blog. It's hard enough to exude the extreme confidence and messianic vibe that many departments are looking for in their job candidates; reading all the nasty things everyone is whispering about me behind my back only makes it that much harder.

Anonymous said...

"...one can think of dozens of alternative hypotheses to explain her 'findings'. As a matter of fact, based on the data she does have, you can draw opposite conclusions!"

A lot of bald statements here. Dozens of alternative hypotheses, eh? Could you provide examples? And while you're at it, please also explain how the data might be used to draw the conclusion that women and minorities don't face obstacles in the profession and that white men experience systematic discrimination in the hiring process. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

10:25 here. I just wanted to say that by 'rhetorical' I meant to include everything that PGS lists at 11:00, including (iv). By 'rhetorical skill' I didn't just mean civil tone. I meant speaking in a way that does justice to the complexity of the situation, including crucially (of course!) the injustices that have led us to this impasse.

(I guess I could have clarified that in the comment, but I persist in the fantasy that I can get away with using 'rhetoric' in roughly Aristotle's sense: speech conceived as aiming to engage one's audience's psychology. Here, of course, one's audience can be presumed to grasp all this complexity.)

political scientist said...

Pseudonymous Grad Student:

There's nothing wrong with a wake-up call; there's nothing wrong with combative op-ed pieces; there's nothing wrong with calling for more research. But just as you said, if you are worried that people will dismiss your argument, you'd better not give them easy targets. That's shooting yourself in the leg.

Anonymous said...

"What this sometimes means is that some female and minority candidates will get an interview that don't really have the qualifications to compete with other candidates on the list."

What a diversity requirement might also mean is that our current biases against women and minorities have been corrected for. Seeking out minorities and women isn't the same thing as seeking out less qualified candidates. I'm sure the poster did not mean to be implying this, but I wish this conclusion were not reached as quickly as it is by so many posting on this topic.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

political scientist --

I say again: you can choose to tsk-tsk someone who's goals you claim to share, or you can choose to help elaborate and deepen her arguments. At some point, when you persist in option 1, you're just concern trolling.

baron said...

I am always shocked at the amount of self-righteous rage some (not all!) white males show whenever affirmative action is addressed.

I will be applying to graduate school next fall, but am currently working at an urban non profit organization. The opposite gender issue exists in this field -- hiring committees seek out male applicants and male hires because the applicant pools, and subsequently, the staffmembers themselves, tend to be overwhelmingly female.

This is also articulated explicitly in hiring decisions, in much the same manner that the 7:07 Anonymous mentioned (i.e. "We have to hire the woman. We can't go to faculty assembly and say that we hired two white males."). We look bad if we hired two females when we had a reasonable male candidate.

So theoretically, as a white female, my gender counted in some part against me. I did not have the one-among-many desirable features of being male. At no point in my work here or the job search that earned me this position did I ever resent that.

The reason is simple: our clients are not all white women. It is useful to have qualified people, and even better to have qualified people who make us more diverse.

Philosophy courses are not solely white and male. And I would argue further that the potential field of philosophy majors is not solely white and male either. At a certain point, the diversity of a department will affect the diversity of its student enrollment.

As a philosophy major, I read one work by a female philosopher and took one course (out of 18) taught by a female philosopher. We should not read lesser work or hire lesser philosophers to correct this. But would the field benefit from a bit more diversity? Obviously.

I am always amazed that people sounding anti-affirmative action views aren't more embarrassed to admit that they weren't even good enough to qualify out of something as measly as a tiebreaker.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Political Scientist is a troll. All talk, no substance. Don't feed the trolls!

Anonymous said...

I suspect there are more people who believe they were kept out of x school or position than there are minorities in x school or position. Do the math -- you can't all be victims of 'reverse dicrimination.'

Actually, that math doesn't add up. Take any affirmative action hire. I'm sure there actually are more white males who applied for the position who got turned down than there are women or non-whites who got hired for it. In any affirmative action hire, everyone who applied who was at least equally qualified was passed over because of so-called reverse discrimination.

Whether it's wrong is a separate issue (I'm not generally a big fan of reverse discrimination arguments against affirmative action), but it clearly does happen to a lot more people than actually get hired for affirmative action reasons.

Anonymous said...

Just got this email from Old Dominion:

"Dear Applicant,

We are unable to proceed with our search at the moment because at present
not a single data gathering letter has been received by our equal
opportunity office. Until they receive a sufficient number of these forms,
we are unable to move on to the next phase of the search."


Anonymous said...

Anon 12:25,

By less qualified I meant PhD not completed, no defense date set, no publications, etc.

Also, to be clear I am not on an SC. I am a candidate who fits the above descriptions and got interviews which I did well in. But I didn't have the qualifications to really compete for an on campus interview.

From what I've heard from those in the know, my earlier post might explain why I got interviews in the first place.

Anonymous said...

To follow up on my anon 12:25pm post, one might argue, I suppose, that because there are so many more men available than women, the chances of getting a male candidate better than a female candidate is higher than the reverse. It's just a numbers game. This assumes of course that the smaller number of women and ethnic minorities that are actually in philosophy are average -- will follow a normal bell curve (although I think this is specious).

So it really is more likely that if there is affirmative action, less qualified candidates will wind up being hired. And this does seem unfair to the more qualified men.

But this way of looking at it only makes sense if the initial selection of candidates, independent of qualifications, is purely sex-based. I doubt that the majority of those following affirmative action policies follow them to this extreme. Although I know there are some instances of this, I bet they are rare.

As I understand affirmative action, it applies only after other selection criteria have been met. If you have equally qualified candidates, and one is a women or an ethnic minority, select the woman or ethnic minority.

So the previous worry doesn't really apply if the pool is limited already to the most qualified candidates. But perhaps I am naive about the way affirmative action policies are implemented at most places. I've only had experiences at a couple of institutions, and at those institutions AA was limited to playing a tie-breaker role.

political scientist said...

Well, I've brought this on myself...

Anon 12:18:

Here's an obvious alternative explanation: there is self-selection at work. Here's a more involved one: the academic jobmarket is characterized by low turnover rates. People stay in their positions for a long time. Decades ago, fewer women took part in the jobmarket. As their numbers have grown, more and more enter philosophy, but relatively fewer -- and later -- compared to other fields. So we would expect to see a belated trend towards more women in the profession.

Are these good explanations? I don't know. There might be several factors at work, one of which is plausibly discrimination. I have no idea about the relative importance of these factors.

I do think the point Haslanger makes is important. I also think that the anecdotical evidence she uses is suggestive and the issue should be taken very seriously. But anecdotes are not substitute for research, especially if we what would be really important is to see the trend.

"explain how [...] white men experience systematic discrimination in the hiring process"

Now just where did I say that?

Pseudonymous Grad Student / Anon 1:09:

It is a sad day for philosophy when someone is called a troll on a blog frequented by philosophers for pointing out a flaw in a widely circulated paper.

Anonymous said...

political scientist,

Where do you think research hypothesis come from?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, hypotheses.

Seeker said...

I second Anon 12:09's comment. They still get interviews even though they are unqualified. What do you call this?

Anonymous said...

If it really is true that in some cases there aren't enough quality female/minority applicants to please the administration, and so unqualified females and minorities need to be interviewed, that would seem to me to suggest that *there really is massive systemic discrimination that we need to work hard to counteract, in part through affirmitive action policies*.

It does not seem to me to suggest *oh no they're stealin' interviews they're not qualified for*.

Seriously I can't believe there's any argument here.

Mr. Zero said...

Political Scientist:

I guess I kind of wonder what your point is. Are you suggesting that there's no sexism or racism in philosophy? Is that the "opposite conclusion" you think you can draw from Haslanger's data? Because I don't see how you could legitimately draw that conclusion.

Maybe I'm dense, but as I read your comments in sequence, I find it increasingly difficult to know what you're talking about. What flaw? What research should Haslanger have done? It's an Op-Ed piece, not an article for Nature, and the general information it contains is well-known by all educated people to be true. Its anecdotes are not particularly troublesome: anecdotes are problematic because they don't carry information about their own typicalness, so generalizing from a single anecdote is dangerous: it might be at variance with the norm. But it's obvious just from reading this thread and the preceding one that the attitudes Haslanger describes are typical.

I'd also like to second PGS's comment @ 12:53.

Anon @ 2:18, and anon @ 12:09:

How does a dean's refusal to sign off on a search unless the field of candidates is diverse "mean" that unqualified people get interviewed? That entailment exists only if every qualified applicant is a white male. If there are qualified female/minority candidates for SCs to interview, they may interview them and be in compliance with their dean's request.

And who are these unqualified people, anyway? Even if you know that she's ABD with no defense date and no publications, you still have exactly zero reason to infer that she's unqualified. Maybe her letters are stellar. Maybe her writing sample is dynamite. The fact that you would assume that an ABD with no pubs is inferior to you hints at your sexism.

Do you really not see that you come off like racist, sexist assholes? Do you really not see that you're on the wrong side of this?

Anonymous said...

Mr Zero,

My post engendered some confusion.

I am a minority. I got interviews at the APA that I was sure I was less qualified for than others that got an interview. And I was probably as qualified as others that didn't get an interview.

Notice I didn't say I was unqualified, but less qualified.

I am thinking of less qualified as applicants who meet the minimum qualifications to do the job, which I certainly did and I think most of us do for the jobs we apply for, but their CV and letters do not outshine many of the other candidates on the interview list.

One way of explaining why I got an interview and others didn't might be because of the requirement that the interview list include minorities. Also one way of explaining why I didn't get any flyouts is because I am obviously less qualified than others on that list. And the APA interview didn't convince them that I am a genius.

This is all speculation. But it might explain why some female and minority candidates feel like they get interviews but no jobs.

Does thinking the above thoughts make me a racist or a sexist? I hope not. The IAT said that I have a slight preference for black faces! I haven't taken the gender test yet.

Anonymous said...

This is a frustrating and stupid discussion.

Suppose that some university is looking for a Continental ethicist. By looking for this ethicist they exclude analytic ethicists. That's frustrating if you're an analytic ethicist, but that's what the University wants for its faculty. So you're out of luck, even though you may have reservations about the extent to which a Continental ethicist is qualified to do that job. They search for something that you're not.

Suppose also that some university is looking for a specialist in Latino philosophy. That's frustrating if you're a chinese philosopher, but again, same issue.

Suppose now that some university decides that it wants to increase the likelihood that its candidates will stay in the area (like, I dunno, small town Alabama), and so chooses a candidate who has relatives in a nearby town. If they hire this candidate, they do so on grounds that have little to do with his credentials, but more on grounds that have to do with his likelihood of enjoying and sticking with the job.

Pretty much the same idea for sex and race selection, only this time it's because the faculty or the university has decided that it would be nice to mature beyond the little rascals.

If this selection is done in reverse, then there's a bigger problem. Suppose that the department decides to exclude minorities or women because they'd like to preserve the harmony of the department. (Disregard the flagrantly racist or sexist case of a department that chooses not to hire minorities on grounds that they are inferior.) The problem here is that the department has no strong grounds on which to limit the make up of the department; and at least some grounds on which to expand the make up of the department. If, and these are the more difficult cases, the department is an all men's school with ritualistic naked hazing practices (like, say, Deep Springs), they might rightly limit their hire to another male faculty member. (Deep Springs doesn't; but another might.) Without a reason like this, it would be hard not to chalk their reasons up to racism or sexism. Flip the case on its head, however, and there do appear to be strong non-credential based reasons for preferring gender or minority hires over others.

another female grad said...

to anonymous 1:52 PM:

Actually someone did offer an argument to the contrary. Read female grad's post, which argues that if you start with even distributions of males and females, the pressure of sexism will cause more of the less qualified females to drop out. more men by numbers, but the women will on average be better candidates. Having more men does not mean having more qualified men.

Anonymous said...

Off topic:

Five slides for a job talk I gave today had the phrase "viscous regress". This was pointed out to me rather viciously. Spell checkers have their limits....

Time to thwack some penguins...

Anonymous said...

A "viscous regress" sounds a bit like the opposite of a slippery slope...

Anonymous said...

2:40 -- You honestly can't think of any explanation for there not being enough women at the top of the pack besides massive discrimination against women? I would have thought at least a good portion of the certainly-complex explanation includes at least the following components:

1. Women tend to be less interested in philosophy. Some of this is due to problems within philosophy. Some of it is due to who they see teaching their philosophy classes as undergrads. Some of it is due to what girls tend to develop interests in (whether you see this as biologically-influenced, culturally-influenced, or some combination). The reason isn't important at this stage of explanation. It does seem to be a fact.

2. Women are more likely than men not to pursue careers in general, given that stay-at-home moms are still (whether this is good, bad, or neutral) much more common than stay-at-home dads, and stay-at-home parenting is much more common even than it used to be 10-15 years ago. Women who do pursue careers are probably at least a little more likely than men to choose careers where they can demonstrate success by material standards.

3. Women may well face a harder time in graduate programs once they get in due to unseen bias during their program, which doesn't at all indicate systematic discrimination at the hiring level.

There probably is some discrimination at the hiring level, but it is far from obvious that it is systematic to the level required for hiring discrimination to serve as the only or even primary explanation for why there aren't enough women at the top of the pack for each job to give them 50% of the interview slots. Even if it's true, it's not the no-brainer you're making it sound like, not without a good deal more data than we've got.

Anonymous said...

anon 3:59:

There isn't a history of discrimination against continental ethicists or against people born and raised in small towns. So I don't see how your case is apt.

Regarding your continental case in particular, is a physics department refusal to hire a chemist discriminatory?

Anonymous said...

"What this sometimes means is that some female and minority candidates will get an interview that don't really have the qualifications to compete with other candidates on the list."

This is quite a ballsy assumption to make with no evidence. Surely all you guys went to job talks as grad students, right? Every woman who has given a junior talk at my institution has not embarrassed herself. In all cases, it's been a very close field. Sometimes the hire has gone to the woman, and sometimes it hasn't. My experience leads me to suggest that if there is a 'no penis' directive being handed out from on high, it isn't being taken more seriously than philosophical potential. Maybe it's on the level of having a good stage presence, or making a particularly witty joke.

And telling perhaps, that men don't generally whine that they were more qualified than that other white male fly-out candidate. Apparently, the process is as wise as the Sorting Hat, judging only by philosophical merit, until a woman or minority is involved.

Anonymous said...

Female Grad,
Thank you. I too am a woman in a similar cesspool. From sexism to the quality of work, it is exactly as you describe it.

Anonymous said...

"Women who do pursue careers are probably at least a little more likely than men to choose careers where they can demonstrate success by material standards."

I find much of the folk explanations offered here to be absurd, but particularly this part. Are you seriously claiming that women are less attracted to philosophy than men (if this is in fact true) b/c they are more attracted to material success (and philosophy doesn't provide that)??? Is *that* what all those female elementary school teachers are up to? Is *that* what all the social workers have on their minds??

Anonymous said...

2:18 PM,

That's a good part of the point: those who are hired are, BY DEFINITION, not unqualified! If some minority member or woman were "unqualified" in the sense that s/he doesn't have PhD in hand, defense date set, or as many publications as others, etc., that would be offset by the explicit or implicit preference to hire a minority or woman.

In other words, sex/ethnicity/race is now a point of qualification. It doesn't matter what the reason for this preference is (as long as it's not illegal); the fact remains that there is a preference based on some reason or another (e.g., correcting past discrimination, identifying more with a diverse student body, etc.).

As Baron (1:02 PM) pointed out, this preference for a certain sex/race can work the other way as well: Some companies and departments may be interested in hiring (more) men. But I don't hear white males complaining about that...

Anyway, "unqualified" assumes too much and is the exact point of contention. A previous post here (I can't seem to find it easily anymore) also suggested that, in a deeper analysis of the concept, no one really "deserves" anything (because they didn't deserve the desert-basis; see any number of political or economic philosophers). So if you want to say that race/sex is not a proper point of qualification because it looks at things outside of the candidate's control, then you might have to say the same thing about the person's intelligence, drive, etc. given nature and nurture--i.e., the things you call "qualifications."

Also, note that there may be an implicit claim here that males are somehow better or natural philosophers. As a male, I have to admit that I can't help but think that as well, at least a little bit (same reason why there are more men in math/sciences; and yes, I do recognize there are also sociological factors). Males are simply hardwired to think more analytically, on average. If true, then of course philosophy departments would tend to hire more men. In this case, MALES are beneficiaries of a qualification factor that was beyond their control. But, again, we don't hear anyone complaining about that...

Anonymous said...


Yikes. Catch up with the literature on that. Did you used to work as president of Harvard or what?

Mr. Zero said...

Anon 2:18/3:55

I apologize for misinterpreting your comment. However, I disagree with you about your qualifications. As I tried to emphasize earlier, perhaps your letters are really good. Perhaps your writing sample is awesome. I don't know. But it's not at all clear to me that not having a Ph.D. in hand makes you less qualified.

Anon 6:46:

Your "competing explanations" are themselves so laced with sexism and unreflected-upon misogyny that it boggles the mind. You claim that it doesn't matter why women don't seem to get interested in philosophy. Of course it matters.

You claim that women are more likely not to pursue careers at all, and are therefore less likely to be philosophers. Obviously, that explains why ethnic minorities are underrepresented in our field, too. Good thinking.

And the fact that there is a systematic bias against women at the graduate-school level is not evidence that there is no bias at the hiring level. It's not as though there's a finite amount of bias in the world, and you get through it all in grad school.

Anon 8:49,

As a male, you suspect that men are better philosophers than women because we are hardwired to think more analytically. As a human being, I find myself hardwired to think what an asshole you are. Do you really not see how sexist that is? Do you also think that african-americans are hardwired to be better at singing and basketball? Are asians hardwired to be good at math? what's wrong with you?

BornInTheSixties said...

Anon 10:58

As far as departments "doing there bit", from the six TT searches that I've been part of, I'd say that there is some Decanal pressure to make sure that there is a fairly even split between men and women being interviewed. However, I should note that:

1. We never interviewed a female candidate that we were confident wouldn't be qualified for the job, and in some cases have had to simply tell the Dean that the applicant pool was such that an even split wouldn't be possible. The real difference is that a male candidate who has a serious question mark associated with his file (say, the letters don't inspire confidence about his actually defending by September) probably won't get an interview. On the other hand, with a female candidate, we are more likely to try to resolve those doubts at the interview itself. If it those doubts are confirmed, then the candidate will be viewed as unqualified, if the doubts are put to rest, then the candidate will be seen as qualified and may move on to the next stage. I don't think that there is anything wrong with this policy, which just enjoins us to look a little harder at a pool of people who are underrepresented on the faculty. At the interview stage (and in those cases where there has been no APA interview, at the flyout stage) part of what we are trying to determine is whether the candidate is qualified for the job, that isn't something that is settled before we make up the list. Being female doesn't make an otherwise unqualified candidate qualified, it just makes us a little less likely to assume that they aren't qualified based on a few red flags in the CV.

2. We've always offered our positions to the person we took to be the most qualified candidate available. Gender was never a deciding factor between two finalists.

At then end of the day, those six searches resulted in offers going out to five women and four men, with three of each eventually being hired. I think that following 2 led to that pattern in part because of the more thorough searching discussed in 1.

I don't think that the kind of procedure discussed above is considerably more common than women being added to the list merely to "padd the numbers". Still, the strategy may result in some mismatch of the sort that 10:58 describes even if it hasn't done so in our case.

Seeker said...

I think Anon 8:49 makes a valid point. Furthermore, former President Summers was not being sexist at all. He was referring to the latest studies in the social sciences that claim, on average, women are not as likely to be successful in science and math oriented jobs. What do others think?

senior female phil prof said...

Problematic comments on the IAT.

The explanation given above of the IAT is highly questionable and the comments of the person who didn't finish it are close to scandalous, given our profession values well informed judgments. Read on.

I'd like to know the source of the interpretation of the IAT as just testing perceptual/motor responses. That sounds BOGUS, though I admit I don't know all the literature around it. However, I do know enough of the literature to know that the claims about the IAT are not so restricted.

It does allow for higher level processing and it does NOT try to swamp you. The reason for thinking this is that a major factor in one's score in the differential in time of your responses. If, for example, you find it easy to associate "good" with a black face and you have to override some automatic responses before you can assign "good" to a white face, then you'll come out as having a higher opinion of whites.

NOT FINISHING THE TEST: there are sections in which you are asked for highly discriminatory reactions, such as associating "bad" with "black." In this section, it will not accept what counts as the "wrong" answer. The point of this is to look at the differential timing. If you have trouble with this section, it may indicate that you are less racist than those who sail through it.

Anyone who thinks the tests are superficial or trivial might try the women-scientist one. Even women scientists often enough clang on it, and you may get more of a phenomenological sense of where its challenges are.

Anonymous said...

Just so he knows, I read seeker's comments. But I didn't take the bait. Look it up if you're interested in what happened. Wikipedia is a place to start. We can't be playing catch-up with everyone all the time.

Anonymous said...


We all know that women are less successful in math/science jobs. The question is WHY? Is it that women are naturally not as good at these things, or is it a nurture thing? But even supposing there were evidence that women are at a biological disadvantage when it comes to math and science, it is still a difficult task to sort out whether the difference is significant given that biological proclivities are heavily influenced by environmental factors.

In addition, even if there are biological differences that determine significant differences between the sexes on this aspect of intelligence, they will still be averages, with individual people being above or below average. And it is not implausible to assume that women attracted to philosophy in the first place are likely to be outliers.

What's more, it isn't clear, to me at least, that there is a direct mapping between philosophical ability or talent, and mathematical or scientific abilities or talents anyhow (unless maybe you are a logician). The discipline is rife with stories about brilliant philosophers who couldn't do logic if their lives depended on it.

And what is it, anyway, to have a mathematical ability? Is this one kind of ability? I find that hard to believe. Aren't some people better at certain kinds of math than others? Are there tests that measure all of these kinds of sex differences? Or do tests measure only one small part of what goes into making someone a good sort of mathematician? I don't know maybe there have been such tests. But I would guess that such fine-grained tests would be hard to design and that the results would often be inconclusive re: significant biological advantages.

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously claiming that women are less attracted to philosophy than men (if this is in fact true) b/c they are more attracted to material success (and philosophy doesn't provide that)??? Is *that* what all those female elementary school teachers are up to? Is *that* what all the social workers have on their minds??

No, but reading what I said would have cleared up your confusion. My claim was that there is at least a noticeable trend among women to be less interested in philosophy. Only someone who has never taught a co-ed class in philosophy could deny this. I've taught lots of classes, many of them with more female than male students. There are plenty of students in each class who aren't interested in philosophy for its intrinsic value, but when you get to more advanced classes it's the male students who seem to indicate a much greater interest in the subject matter.

As for material success, I didn't say a thing about what motivates women or what motivates most women. What I said is that there's reason to expect at least a slightly higher motivation to succeed to prove themselves among women. That should be totally unsurprising given where women are in society and where women have been in society.

As for philosophy providing material success, I don't know how you could possibly have spent any time at all on this blog and conclude that entering graduate school in philosophy increases your chances of having a lucrative career.

those who are hired are, BY DEFINITION, not unqualified!

Not true. Lots of people get hired for jobs that they aren't qualified to do. Sometimes it's because the decision-makers don't realize the person is incompetent. Sometimes it's because they don't care. Whatever the reasons, it happens. It certainly happens at the research institutions who will hire someone based purely on research success without regard for teaching ability. Have you never had a professor who sucks at teaching? I call that unqualified.

Now there's an important distinction between being more and less qualified and being unqualified. The main issue here is whether someone otherwise less qualified can be favored over someone otherwise more qualified (leaving it open whether gender or race can count as a qualification, as many, rightly in my view, claim). It's not whether gender or race will lead people to hire unqualified people. Someone who is ABD and not defended can easily teach philosophy and do an excellent job. Someone who hasn't demonstrated publication potential may well still be qualified to teach good courses and do good research. It's lack of demonstrated qualifications, or more usually lack of higher qualifications.

You claim that it doesn't matter why women don't seem to get interested in philosophy.

What I said is that it doesn't matter at the level of explanation we were discussing. I was presenting explanations other than mere bias against women at the level of graduate admissions, what goes on in graduate programs, and hiring committees. The factors that influence why women don't get as interested in philosophy happen earlier. Of course those issues are important, and philosophers should think about them and try to correct for them. I certainly do in my teaching, but thank you for assuming that I find it unimportant merely because it doesn't affect the level of explanation that I said it doesn't affect. Not only does your conclusion not follow from what I said, but it's pretty evil to assume that I think it given that everything I said is consistent with being a very forward-thinking person on such matters (as I think I happen to be compared to my peers, who seem to me not to care about it at all).

You claim that women are more likely not to pursue careers at all, and are therefore less likely to be philosophers. Obviously, that explains why ethnic minorities are underrepresented in our field, too. Good thinking.

Obviously it doesn't, but you're the one discussing that issue. I was responding to an extremely simplistic claim about women, and I presented other considerations. The fact that some of those considerations aren't relevant to race is pretty much irrelevant to my point, which wasn't about race at all. Surely you aren't going to claim that every issue with gender will also be true in exactly the same ways with race. That's nuts.

And the fact that there is a systematic bias against women at the graduate-school level is not evidence that there is no bias at the hiring level. It's not as though there's a finite amount of bias in the world, and you get through it all in grad school.

Duh. Biases might appear in both places, neither, or one or the other. To be clear, I never denied a bias or a systematic bias at either level. What I said is that there are some pretty easy explanations for part of the data that don't have anything to do with systematic bias, and we don't have any sense given the data presented of how much of a role each piece of evidence might play. It was a skeptical conclusion, not a positive thesis.

Anonymous said...

As a male, you suspect that men are better philosophers than women because we are hardwired to think more analytically. As a human being, I find myself hardwired to think what an asshole you are. Do you really not see how sexist that is? Do you also think that african-americans are hardwired to be better at singing and basketball? Are asians hardwired to be good at math? what's wrong with you?

This wasn't to me, but please think for a moment. How does it follow from thinking this about one group that you think similar things about the other? Aren't we supposed to be philosophers here? This is the kind of argument that I'd take points off if I saw on an undergraduate paper.

For the record, Larry Summers presented several hypotheses, none of which he affirmed, all of which he said we need more research into to investigate. Only one of the hypotheses involved biology, and that hypothesis didn't involve any absolute relation between men and women. The research he was referring to claimed that men are more concentrated at the very top and very bottom of the bell curve, something like the top 1% or less and the bottom 1% or less if I remember correctly. It wasn't the claim that women are incapable of philosophy or similar subjects, that every man will be better than every woman, that there won't be women at the top, or anything of the sort. It was that you'll find a higher percentage of men at both ends of the spectrum, with women occupying places at both ends too but in a little less concentrated a frequency. I have no idea of the literature supporting or criticizing this research, but that's the claim Summers was referring to (but not endorsing; it was the mere suggestion that it needs to be investigated that got everyone made at him, which is pretty lame).

Anonymous said...

Given that I explicitly stated that my reaction was not well informed, asked others to tell me what I was missing about the test, and then immediately thanked the two commenters who politely corrected my misimpressions, I don't think that what I originally wrote about the IAT test was quite as 'scandalous' as 'senior female phil prof' says at 6:29 above.

But I persist in thinking there's something problematic about the test. When the test forced me to click the key associated with 'bad' when I saw an african-american face, I resisted strongly. In fact, I just couldn't bring myself to do it (more than once, experimentally, having tried repeatedly to get away with clicking the key for 'good'). And that's because I knew two things: (i) that I believe that linking african-american faces with 'bad' is wrong, and (ii) that the test is explicitly designed to challenge, inter alia, my claim to know (i). So the test simply puts one -- at least, it put me -- in an impossible situation. And that made me angry. And so I abandoned it.

Why isn't that a reasonable response? If you reply that, after all, I don't really know myself well enough to know that I'm free from all racial prejudice, I'll agree with you (though I'll insist that I do know (i) above). But I'm not inclined to 'take the word' of a test that explicitly forces me repeatedly to do the very thing that I know will be used -- in however qualified a way (reaction times, 'errors,' disparities with how I react in the other direction, etc., having been taken into account) -- to 'accuse' me of racist prejudice. It strikes me as a problematic way to go about getting to know yourself.

Sure, my self-conscious deliberative sensibility may be riddled with hyporcisy. But a test that explicitly forces me to override self-conscious deliberation -- in particular, my commitment to the thesis that it's wrong to draw a classificatory link between any racial stereotype and generic 'bad'ness -- cannot show that.

8:49 here again said...

I see political correctness rears it's ugly head...

It's not wrong, racist, or sexist to claim that there are different. Women tend to be physically smaller, more empathatic, smell nicer, etc. Men tend to be more boorish and aggressive. And African-American males -- in part, given the eugenics of slavery in trying to breed a stronger worker -- tend to be more athletics.

These are most physical differences, but why think that they shouldn't extend to mental/psychological qualities? There is a large body of evidence to show, e.g., that women are better in verbal aptitude, less so in analytical/math. There are likely very good evolutional reasons for this.

Compare this with different breeds of dogs: Some are larger (German Shepards), some are smaller (pugs), some are dumber (Chihuahuas), and some are wicked smart (like mine). While all deserve the same respect and consideration, some dogs (and people) are simply better suited for some roles than others are. You don't see Yorkshire terriers guarding companies at night, just as you don't see too many Asians in the NBA (with a couple notable exceptions). THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. This is simply the way our world was set up.

Anyway, you missed my bigger point: If philosophy is male-dominated, it might be not because of blatant sexism (but I don't doubth there is some), but more that there may an implicit preference for men who are thought to be more "logical" or at least don't have to deal with child-birthing issues. If using sex as a hiring factor is improper (as seems to be the opinion of many on this thread), then it is improper EVERYWHERE, including the status quo in philosophy where men happened to be the beneficiary for whatever reason beyond their control, i.e., their sex, for finding themselves in an environment that prefers men, whether legitimately or not.

To be absolutely clear, I think sex and race CAN be a legitimate qualification factor in hiring for many good reasons you'll find in an undergrad applied ethics or political phlosophy course, so I won't rehash that here. This is not at odds with believing that there are significant differences among the sexes and races.

Seeker said...

I second Anon 8:49s argument. I simply don't understand why his claims are hard to swallow for many. His claims echoe the things i've been saying all along.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi 8:49,

It's hard for me to believe that you just wrote that. The reason why there are few asians in the NBA is analogous to the reason why few yorkshire terriers are guard dogs.

Seriously. Think about what you've been writing here. Think about whether you think racism and misogyny are really wrong, or not. Then think--really, seriously think--about whether what you've written is acceptable to you. Because I suspect that if you really think about the ideas you're expressing, and really think that racist and sexist attitudes are wrong--in both the factual and moral senses--you'll have to retract a lot of what you've written. Or, you'll have to come to terms with the fact that you're a crazy bigotted asshole.

Fed up with the lot of you said...

Ahhhhhhhh! Please stop. All of you. Just stop.

Can we talk about something else?

Anonymous said...

This a hopeless thread, but it has taught me one thing. I've contributed several times (I'm the commenter who first questioned the IAT and then replied to 'senior female phil prof' above at 8:30), and each time my comment, which could be construed along the lines of 'hey, not so fast with the charges of racism and sexism,' turned up surrounded by comments that strike even me as straightforwardly racist or sexist. I don't know what to do. I want to argue that it must be possible to discuss these issues with mutual respect. But every time I try to make that point my speech act is overwhelmed by evidence that it is not possible. (For example, dogmatic statements that women are -- where "might be" clearly in context functions to mean "probably are" -- less good at philosophy for biological reasons.)

So I'll testify that I've changed my mind. I now believe that we should not try to have these discussions. The only value I can see to them is the highly qualified value of alerting women and other minorities of what they're up against. It's depressing but so. Our profession is full of racists and sexists.

8:40a yet again said...

Mr. Zero,

I would similarly encourage you to explore what it really means to be racist or sexist. If you have more than a populist, bumper-stick understanding, then perhaps you can see through the "political incorrectness" of my posts. (And it's ironic how those who preach political correctness and tolerance are rabidly intolerant of any opposing views.)

For what it's worth, let me expand on my guarddog-terrier & Yao Ming analogy. I've traveled extensively through Asia; my wife is Asian; and I have the highest respect for Asians in general and what they've accomplisedh. But is no secret that Asians are physically smaller than, say, Europeans ON AVERAGE. (And size has no apparent bearing on brain size; see: brontosaurus.) And it doesn't matter whether this is caused by genetics or envinromental factors/diet or both. (Yes, in the US, Asians tend to be larger than their counterparts across the work, in large part due to the American diet.) The fact remains unchanged that Asians are a smaller breed of homo sapiens.

When you look for a suitable guarddog, you want a large intimidating one with reasonable guarddog tendencies. A Yorkies doesn't fit that bill. Similarly, you want tall players on the NBA (or short ones with amazing vertical leaps, e.g., Spud Webb), so that disqualifies most Asians. While it would be good to include more minorities, especially Asians, in physical American sports like basketball, football, and baseball (see all the attention and praise they get when they do?...there's clearly a market for that), diversity IN THESE CASES are not as important as an entertaining and hyper-competitive event.

Academia, on the other hand, is not a hyper-competitive event where winning is the only thing that matters. IN OUR CASES, we can afford to consider diversity as a salient, important qualification.

C'mon guys, think for yourselves and don't fall for cheap slogans or an overly-simple understanding of racism or sexism. And whatever you do, don't drink the Kool-Aid!

Anyway, the most discriminated class in America is overweight people, not women or minorities. How many very large people are faculty members? Tenured? But that's for another post..

obama rocks said...

Mr Zero's and other similar comments always make push me towards the middle of the political spectrum, away from my liberal roots. There is so much intolerance, uncharitable dismissals or refusals to consider reasonable arguments (granted, on both sides of the spectrum) on such crucial issues such as discrimination that you (Mr Zero) are giving liberals a bad name.

And I love your last line in your last post. Very classy to anonumously lob profanities at people you disagree with. This says something about your moral character and reasonableness, i.e., your opinions should be discounted.

Mr. Zero said...

Anon 8:40,

As you point out, the fact that Asians tend to be short is in large part due to diet, not evolution. The fact that women smell nice is due to perfume, not evolution. (You'd smell nice too if you'd just throw on some cologne. Not too much, though.) The fact that women are under-represented in our profession is due to rampant sexism beginning at the earliest stages.

Please keep in mind that it is all the same people doing it. The sexist professors who fail to get women interested in philosophy are the same ones who fail to admit women to grad school are the same ones whose sexist attitudes chase women out of grad school are the same ones who create the sexist hiring practices. It's not a whole new group of misogynists at the every stage; it's the same group of misogynists at every stage.

The "some of my best friends are black" routine stopped working in 1964.

Whatever pretty costume you think you're dressing it up in, your "women are biologically hard wired to be worse at philosophy than men" bullshit is misogynist. You're obviously a smart, well-educated guy. It's too bad you're not putting it to better use.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

"And I love your last line in your last post. Very classy to anonumously lob profanities at people you disagree with. This says something about your moral character and reasonableness, i.e., your opinions should be discounted."

You couldn't ask a better expression of the function of policing a conversation for civility: the point is, and has always been, to marginalize the people you disagree with, rather than engage whatever substance is intheir arguments.

Mr. Zero called people racists and sexists for the crude biological determinism in evidence in their remarks. But those pseudo-biological claims (and the "race science" that's gotten hauled out to back them up for over a century) are plainly bullshit. Indeed, they're plainly bullshit that's motivated by racism and sexism. Mr. Zero's not "lobbing" insists here. He's correctly applying "racism" and "sexism" as descriptive terms.

Anonymous said...

As a tenured faculty for over 20 years, I can tell you that there's undoubtedly still racism and sexism in academic philosophy. But, as some here have suggested, there might be other reasons for the male-dominated department too. These include sociocultural factors (e.g., the US education system, and society at large, doesn't push girls to study math or science as much as they do with boys). These reasons, then, mitigate or lessen claims of racism and sexism, though they still don't explain them away in many cases.

This is to say that sexism and racism are very real problems we still need to deal with. But for those of you who are indignant towards those who try to defend or explain current hiring practices that have led to male-dominated departments, it is also likely that racism and sexism are NOT the only forces at play.

So those who are trying to have a reasoned discussion, even at the risk of not being "PC", are not obviously racist or sexist. And those, such as Mr Zero, who think they need to find another profession, since careful reasoning doesn't appear to be one of his strengths.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Tenured Faculty of Over 20 Years --

With due respect, "reasoned" discussion are very often sexist and racist--only only because "reasoned" is a matter of tone more than substance, but because any informal discussion involves assumptions, which might very well be racist or sexist.

And when someone's saying something that's racist or sexist--even if they saying with a moderate tone in the context of a reasonable-sounding argument--we've got an obligation to call it they way we see it.

And I note again:

"And those, such as Mr Zero, who think they need to find another profession, since careful reasoning doesn't appear to be one of his strengths."

The purpose of civility-policing is to silence, not to engage.

Also, as I've said a few times now:

"These reasons, then, mitigate or lessen claims of racism and sexism, though they still don't explain them away in many cases."

When faced with injustice of any kind, we have a choice to make: we can choose to "mitigate or lessen" the claims that it exists; or we can fight it. The choice is really, really simple.

Anonymous said...

"Women may well face a harder time in graduate programs once they get in due to unseen bias during their program, which doesn't at all indicate systematic discrimination at the hiring level."

First of all, I think you and others kicking this "women are less interested in philosophy because they have boobs blah blah blah" crap are hopeless idiots, but I need to make one post in response.

When I initially said that if SCs really have a hard time finding enough good female applicants to please the administration, that is evidence of massive discrimination, I didn't mean massive discrimination at the level of hiring. I meant massive discrimination in many aspects of the field, beginning with the way female undergrads are treated in discussion sections. Did you ever think few women are interested in philosophy because *since the moment they were introduce to it* they found themselves surrounded by cock-wielding boneheads who interrupted and spoke over them every time they tried to contribute to a class discussion.

Affirmitive action isn't just a matter of getting more women/minorities into the jobs they deserve, it's also a matter of fostering an atmosphere where more female undergrads, etc. are likely to get into philosophy. More female professors will lead to more young women interested in philosophy which will in turn lead to more female professors, WHICH IS A GOOD THING.

Mr. Zero said...

It doesn't matter to me that the departments are male-dominated. It matters that they are so male dominated, and that the obvious fact of racism and sexism in the discipline is so hard for some people to believe, and that some people are convinced that this male dominance has biological or evolutionary roots.

I think it's possible to have non-racist or sexist reasons for opposing affirmative action. I think it's possible that there are non-racist or sexist reasons for the white-male-dominance of our profession. I think it's possible to express questions about the extent and degree of the bigotry without being a racist or misogynist.

However, I also think it's obvious that there are clear instances of sexism and racism in our profession, and that people who disagree--especially people who think that the ethnic minorities and women who are being discriminated against are biologically unfit to work in philosophy, or are at fault for the discrimination, or are making it up--are themselves racists. I have confined my criticisms to those individuals. And I am ashamed that they are members of my profession. I do not apologize.

Anonymous said...

Can I just say AGAIN, that differences between the sexes that can be traced back to biology does not necessarily add up to a significant irrevocable difference between the sexes? There are biological differences between the sexes (there had better be). Women see colors differently, apparently have better senses in general, have a completely different set of hormones than men do, there are even brain differences, but whether a baseline biological difference results in a significant sex-based difference, given the same environmental influences is another matter entirely. Even if there is a small difference between men and women in their cognitive abilities, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to minimize those differences as much as possible. I mean we aren't dogs, for us, it certainly does matter whether environment magnifies or minimizes biological differences, because we, unlike dogs, can manipulate our environments. Are you for real?

Anonymous said...


If you think we should fight discrimination in academic hiring, and in philosophy in particular, then what are YOU (or others here) doing about it?? Just wanking on this blog, as far as I can tell. And I know that this blog is already losing credibility with my colleauges (at a Leiteriffic dept) given the wholesale dismissal of opposing arguments.

As for your last claim "The purpose of civility-policing is to silence, not to engage"...that's a sad remark given how cherished academic freedom and free speech seems to be in our culture. Of course, hate speech should be banned, but to take an overly-broad understanding of hate speech (to mean that critics hate what you love) is foolish.

Anonymous said...

I love it that PGS thinks she knows better than a 20-year tenured faculty. (Not that all tenured folks are smarter or more qualified to comment on certain matters than grad students, but this is often the case...which uppity grad students can't seem to accept.)

With this kind of hubris, no wonder you didn't get any fly-outs.

Anonymous said...

It's not wrong, racist, or sexist to claim that there are different (sic).

There it is: that tiresome bromide that tends to pop up as either preface when one is preparing to make, or appendix when one already has made, a racist or sexist interpretation of "difference".

tenured philosophy girl said...

OK, I should just restrain myself and not continue this but ... part of what is driving me crazy about this thread is that there are all these (presumably) white males on here talking about 'hypotheses' and 'methodology' and 'the latest science' to decide whether women and minorities experience discrimination in philosophy - and at the same time there are REAL LIVE WOMEN AND MINORITIES on this board who are NOT abducing hypotheses, and we are saying "Yes there is fucking discrimination and I have experienced it directed right at my face in a daily way for fucking years!" So either y'all are calling us liars or you are not listening. This is not an equal epistemic playing field, (white) boys! Our word COUNTS MORE and WE KNOW BETTER than you do. ((NB: This is a nice example of what standpoint epistemologists have been on about for years now.))

Before anyone trots out the point - no of course I don't believe in absolute first-person authority or Cartesian certainty and of course one can always concoct some elaborate alternative explanation of what we all think we are experiencing. But I (we) are as certain that we are having sexism (and I presume racism in other cases) spewed in our face regularly within professional philosophy as I am sure that my dog is not actually a funny-looking sheep. It's not subtle, if you're us. We don't need studies or hypotheses or elaborate genetic speculation to know what happens to us all the time.

Anonymous said...

"There are plenty of students in each class who aren't interested in philosophy for its intrinsic value, but when you get to more advanced classes it's the male students who seem to indicate a much greater interest in the subject matter."

HMMM an alternative explanation suggests itself: the female students are less interested because they have a sexist jackass for a teacher.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 11:20, (I going to write fast so forgive any errors)

I'd like to complicate things a bit. I am a minority male, and on a daily basis interacting with other philosophers I don't get the vibe that they look down at me or are less likely to listen to me because I am a minority. If I was a women too, I bet this would be different.

In fact when I compare my experience in academia to my experience outside of academia, I find the academe to be much more civil in this regard. Most of us try hard not to be explicitly racist or sexist (or at least we try hard not to give that impression). Where I grew up people being racist or sexist in some regard is to some extant encouraged, even among minority populations. (Chicano's don't like the Blacks, Asians don't like the Chicano's, no one liked White people, etc.)

I might be fooling myself about this. Maybe I don't see racist attitudes because I don't want to believe that my colleagues could have racist tendencies of the kind the IAT test reveals. (Notice I didn't call any of my colleagues racist. I think we should save this term for a very specific kind of attitude some human beings have towards others. Instead the kind of attitudes the IAT reveals might be better identified as "racial ills". Read Larry Blums book "I am not a Racist, But.." that makes a case for this helpful distinction.

What I do get is a kind of dismissal of my philosophical interests which relate to issues surrounding race. This might reflect a racial ill of contemporary philosophical culture as well.

As a minority what you also get is the pressure to be more white. What I mean by this is that you feel the pressure to leave behind certain ways of speaking and interacting with others that betrays one's roots. This IS annoying. Again I don't think this is because philosopher's are racist. One of the racial ills of having a predominantly white discipline is that those who are not white will want take on some of the dispositions of the white majority in order to fit in.

These racial ills are undesirable and as a profession we should self-consciously do something about it. But calling everybody a "racist" who might contribute to these ills will only yield the heated exchanges evident in this thread.

Although I must admit some of the posts about the suppose biological foundation of races is patently absurd.

Anonymous said...

That's right, let's blame it all on sexist departments, if you don't get hired (whether you are male, female, black, brown, yellow, green, whatever). Wouldn't that be an easy explanation.

Also, why is it so hard to believe that race has a biological or evolutionary foundation? It took tens of thousands of years, if not more, for the various races to evolve *in different parts of the world*. Thus, these races were subjected to different external and internal pressures, some rewarding physical prowess and height, others rewarding darker skin, etc.

And there is an undeniable biological difference between the sexes (or else why would there need to be two? Half of males, or females, could just have both sets of the required equipment for sexual reproduction). This is because natural selection favors both sexes, because there's something in both that's important to keep the species going. Men have different physical and mental attributes, ON AVERAGE, than women. No one is saying that one set of attributes is better than another.

By the way, I am NOT a white male, so I speak both from first-hard experience in being discriminated AND from thinking about race/sex issues for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

we can choose to "mitigate or lessen" the claims that it exists; or we can fight it. The choice is really, really simple.

That's a false disjunction (at least if it's taken as an exclusive disjunction, as natural-language English disjunctions usually are).

Fighting it isn't a problem, but fighting it when it's not clear what you're fighting or where you're fighting it is a pretty bad idea. It's best to be accurate in your accusations if you're going to make a case against something that's genuinely bad. Then you're not as likely to alienate your allies by calling them misogynist jerks, as people in these threads have done a number of times. Truth is not your enemy. Being careful is always a good thing, and it doesn't mean someone is racist or sexist.

All of that can be done while seeking to address what you're sure about and while offering tentative suggestions about what you're not sure about.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I think you and others kicking this "women are less interested in philosophy because they have boobs blah blah blah" crap are hopeless idiots, but I need to make one post in response.

So exactly who was it that attributed this to boobs? I've seen some explanations in terms of sociology (some about sexism, some about other facts), and I've seen some in terms of brain chemistry or other biological factors. I've never seen any in terms of mammary glands, though. I'd agree that anyone holding that view is a hopeless idiot, but I'd also say that anyone thinking anyone in this discussion holds such a view is also a hopeless idiot.

What you went on to say is actually all you needed to say, and it would have brought you much closer to your interlocutor. Instead, you accused your interlocutor of a view no one here has defended and drawn up lines between you and someone who actually agrees with you for the most part. This is why these discussions always go south. No one seeks to affirm matters of agreement. It's as if people want other people to be saying nastier things than they actually said.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the brainwashing of America to reject everything that even remotely smacks of political incorrectness...

And with a group of *philosophers* who are supposed to be critical in their thinking! Yeah, right. I think this underscores the fact that philosophers are "normal" people too: Their opinions could be clouded by emotion, and they don't like to be told that they might be wrong, among other irrational proclivities.

Anonymous said...

I used that phrase because I think these sociological/biological pseudo-scientific arguments that women are predisposed to be less interested/worse at philosophy are on par with attributing the cause of their supposed lack of interest/ability to their having breasts.

Perhaps this was not the most well-thought out rhetorical turn on my part, but I hope that helps clarify what I meant.

hurray for boobies! said...

Speaking of ( o Y o )...I would think that male-dominated deparments would _welcome_ boobies into the workplace. Why would you want to work in a sausage factory day in and day out (unless you were gay)?

Philosophers need lovin' too, and being alongside those of the opposite sex keeps things interesting. If there were a qualified female candidate, and especially if she were cute, I for one would rush to hire her.

Is this sexist? Perhaps. But we're all too human, as others on this blog have pointed out.

Anonymous said...

Is this another blog record for the fastest time to break 100 posts in a thread?? Love these super-charged topics!

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 1:16 --

Let me try to elaborate what I think I'm gesturing at with that choice. First, you're right--I don't mean it as an exhaustive disjunction in a strictly logical sense. I call it a choice, because that's how I think of it. It' a matter of how we choose to react to certain situations.

I try to imagine myself--hell, I don't need to imagine it, I've been there for real--when a female colleague and friend tells me that something going on in my dept is unfriendly to women. (As people upthread have mentioned (or maybe it's in the other thread), guys in groups all talking over the women in the group can be a biggie.)

Now, here's the thing: How do I react when my friend tells me about something going on that's unfriendly to women? One immediate reaction could be to doubt her reports. My default could be to look around for alternative explanations for what's going on, explanations that don't reflect so poorly on me and my male friends.

Now, to be honest, that's often my immediate knee-jerk reaction. And when I was younger, it was often my only reaction. Because really, I try not to be an asshole, I don't want to think of myself as an asshole, so it's pretty natural to look for explanations for things that don't involve me being an asshole.

The thing is, that initial reaction itself makes me an asshole. Why? Because, holy shit, a friend and colleague of mine--someone who's work I'm interested in and respect, who's proven to me again and again that her critical facilities are just as good as mine--has just reported to me about something that she's very well-situated to understand, and something she's got a lifetime of experience dealing with. What kind of asshole am I if my default reaction is not to believe her?

That's the thinking you're up against when you say, "but fighting it when it's not clear what you're fighting or where you're fighting it is a pretty bad idea." When you're faced with a philosopher (or many philosophers!) telling you--in her considered view, based on her actual experiences both of being a woman in philosophy and of just being a plain woman--what she sees as problem--when you're faced with that, why should there be any meaningful doubt that she's not telling you the truth? Where does the doubt come from? Why is it the default? Why aren't the repeated, and widely reported accounts of female philosophers good enough to tell us what we're fighting against? What else do we need? And why would we need any more than that?

For me, all that's good enough, which brings me to choice number two: we ca take her word on it, try to understand what's been going on and take steps to fix the problem. That's the guy I want to be. I believe pretty strongly that's the guy more (male) philosophers should want to be.

You go on to say:

"All of that can be done while seeking to address what you're sure about and while offering tentative suggestions about what you're not sure about."

Sort of. The thing is, if you take female philosophers at their word, then we're already sure about a lot of (overt and more subtle) sexism in philosophy. In fact, we're so sure about so much sexism, that it's hard to understand what someone's point could be when they start taking about how, you know, actually there's all these alternative possible explanations for little things around the margins that look, but aren't really, caused by sexism. It's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. My reaction is, "Okay, sure, but we sort of have bigger fish to fry here."

Finally, when someone persists in throwing up alternative theories that allow for slivers of doubt about what our colleagues report, then it really starts to look like a bad-faith exercise intended to delay action. Remember the tobacco companies' "alternative hypothesis" that there was a gene that predisposed people both to smoke and get cancer? The purpose of that "hypothesis" was to delay legislative action. And I don't want to be that guy, either.

So that's why it seems like a pretty simple choice to me: we can default to doubt, or we can start dealing with the major problems at hand.

Mr. Zero said...

Anon 12:31 asks: "Also, why is it so hard to believe that race has a biological or evolutionary foundation?"

It's easy to believe--indeed, it is obviously true--that race and sex have biological foundations. (Gender does not, however.) No one is denying this.

What I have denied several times is that the fact that women and ethnic minorities are under-represented in philosophy has a biological foundation. In particular, there is no biological foundation according to which women are "less analytic"--which is really just a way of saying "stupider"--than men.

This suggestion, that it is biology, and not sexism and racism, that is keeping women and minorities out of philosophy, is absurd--and becomes more absurd the more one reads this thread. The sexism and racism that infects our profession is in evidence here.

Obviously, I have not done myself any favors in expressing my views about who is an asshole and who is not. As Kurt Vonnegut said, when you curse, you give other people an excuse not to listen to you. I apologize for that.

However, I am steadfast in my belief that the skepticism concerning the existence and extent of racism and misogyny in the profession is itself latent racism and misogyny; and that the view that the biological differences between the races and sexes play a role in explaining the lack of diversity in the profession is blatant racism and misogyny; and that the people who express these attitudes and beliefs are themselves racists and misogynists. If the shoe fits, wear it.

And for that I don't apologize. These attitudes and beliefs must be condemned in the strongest manner possible. They are shameful and wrong. They have no place in our profession. And we, as the torchbearers of the enlightenment, ought to be way, way above it.

And another thing. A person can be a racist even if his wife is asian, just as a person can be a misogynist even if his wife is a woman. A person whose wife is a woman, and who believes that women are "hard-wired" to be "less analytic" than men--and again, I have a hard time reading that as anything other than "stupider"--is a misogynist. A person whose wife is asian and who believes that there is a legitimate comparison between Yorkshire terrier guard dogs and asian basketball players is a racist.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero writes: "a person whose wife is a woman, and who believes that women are "hard-wired" to be "less analytic" than men--and again, I have a hard time reading that as anything other than "stupider"--is a misogynist."

Let's not conflate sexism and misogyny. Both are problems, but they're different problems. They overlap in places, but it's worth preserving the distinction.

Sexism is (unwarranted) sex-based bias. It can be conscious or unconscious, quite damaging, but needn't involve any feelings of ill-will. The jolly old male prof who just doesn't think women can do philosophy might be sexist without being at all misogynistic (he may even be delighted when his low expectations are dashed).

Misogyny is hatred of women. A misogyninst may or may not think women are inferior (much misogyny stems from a sense of inferiority, insecurity, and fear). The jilted job applicant who wants to throw blame can feel a misplaced misogynistic rage.

A good reason to keep the issues somewhat separate is that there are different paths to cure. Misogyny is an emotional disorder and needs to be addressed at that level, much as any rage disorder needs to be. Sexism, on the other hand, needs to be combated by education and constant vigilance.

12:31 replied and said...

Ok, Mr. Zero,

If you believe race, sex, and other physical traits have a biological foundation, why is it so hard to believe that mental or intellectual traits can also have such a foundation? Is the mind not based on the physical brain which, we just agreed, is subject to evolutionary pressures?

It would be great if everyone were truly equal in all aspects; we would at least not need to have discussions such as this or real harm from discrimination or worse. But men, women, aborigines in Australia, Eskimos, etc. are built differently physically and (apparently it needs to be argued) mentally (though it really doesn't unless you're some throwback dualist). Some are mentally hardwired with the skill to survive in the bush, some for the cold, some for hunting, some for gathering, and so on.

Our brains are extremely delicate organs. Any slightest change can produce significant mental changes. So any slight evolutionary pressure could easily cause the average brain structure or women to be different than that of men.

But this is not to say that I don't think there's racism, sexism, in philosophy departments; I absolutely do. I'm just saying that likely not all instances of white male domination is a result of racism or sexism.

Think of it this way too: If racism and sexism are so obviously worng but rampant in academia, why does it still exist, perpetrated by philosophers who apparently don't share the same moral compass as most others? Are we philosophers really that socially and ethically retarded? (And if you say "yes", then you've admitted to thinking that there are mental differences between philosophers and non-philosophers; and if so, why can't there be mental differences between men and women?)

This is to say that a *possible* likely answer to why philosophy departments are so male dominated is not rampant racism or sexism, but perhaps, also or as its own reason, some biological or evolutionary foundation such that men are more inclined to do academic philosophy or at least analytical philosophy.

What's so unreasonable about this position that you want to violently quash it?

Nate said...

Mr Zero and 12:31

I thinks its pretty well accepted now among scientist and other theorists that there is no biological foundation for what we commonly refer to as "Race".

See Naomi Zack's book The Philosophy of Science and Race for details.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm impressed 12:31. Your middle school understanding of evolutionary science has convinced me that women are determined from birth to be worse at and less inclined to do philosophy. I'm going to go tell all the incredibly smart female philosophers I know that they are resisting nature and should probably look into getting themselves knocked up, putting their hair in curlers, and donning a terrycloth bathrobe. Amen, praise Jesus. Keep fighting the good fight.

anja said...

Anon 10:07pm:

You either have to be a troll, or you don't do philosophy, or you are just ill-informed. I really cannot believe the leaps in logic you are making. How, exactly, does it follow from the fact that there are differences between male and female brains to the conclusion that therefore male domination is ok? Equally questionable is the other conclusion you draw that males are more naturally inclined to analytical philosophy.

Do you seriously believe that biological determinism is true? Have you read the recent literature in the philosophy of biology on genes versus the environment re: biological determinism? Do you have an argument that the biological differences between men and women dictate the different gender roles we see currently? Do you really think that cognitive science is so advanced that we can map physical differences in the brains of males and females to general analytical philosophical abilities (whatever goes into making up those)? Doesn't the claim that males are just better at being dominant depend on what traits are more highly valued? Don't women "dominate" men at multi-tasking, at creating and maintaining social bonds, at reading emotional responses from facial expressions (not that this is all naturally dictated necessarily). Aren't those useful traits in, say, politics?

Really, you can't be serious. But in case you are, I felt compelled to write this reply, even though I promised myself I would not write any more comments in this thread!

Mr. Zero said...

Ok, anon. 12:31.

I agree that intelligence has a biological foundation. The brain has a biological foundation. What I disagree with is that women and ethnic minorities are stupider, on average, than white males. This view, which I take to have no factual basis, support from evolutionary biology, or any other credible source, is a form of racism/misogyny.

Look, I thought these debates had been resolved. I thought that all the bogus science trying to show the superiority of the white male had been debunked. I thought that educated, reasonable people knew that.

And who said all instances of white male dominance are the result of sexism? Obviously, not all of them are. But just as obviously, a lot of them are. Look around. Look at the instances of racism and misogyny on these comment threads. Look at the reports of racism and misogyny on these comment threads. It's clearly a significant factor.

I like this very much: "if you say "yes", then you've admitted to thinking that there are mental differences between philosophers and non-philosophers; and if so, why can't there be mental differences between men and women?"

It's hard to know where to start pointing out the problems with that "argument." 1. Racism and misogyny are still a pretty serious problems in this country. Go read the NY Times article I posted up there somewhere. So I deny that philosophers are much different from the general public on this one. We ought to be, but we apparently aren't.

2. I think that, on average, philosophers tend to be smart. If we're different from the general population, that's how we're different. But philosopher is not a biological category, so the analogy from philosopher/non-philosopher differences to white-male/non-white-male differences is weak.

3. I also reject as tortured and awful the suggestion that the presence of racism and sexism in philosophy is evidence that there is a biological basis for it.

What's so unreasonable about the position that the relative absence of women and ethnic minorities in philosophy is due to a biological tendency of women and minorities to be unfit to be philosophers? Wow. That's a pretty amazing question. Really mind-boggling.

You must mean, other than the fact that it and the attitudes it stems from are completely racist and misogynist, and that racism and misogyny ought to be stomped out of existence.

So, in addition to that, I also think that this attitude serves to prevent women and ethnic minorities from entering the profession, which I think is sad and awful because I think that there are many members of those groups who could make excellent contributions to the discipline.

Also, apart from your inexpert, bogus speculation about the possible evolutionary basis for this lack of diversity in the field, there is no evidence of any such basis. Many racists and sexists have searched for a genetic explanation for the sad fact that women and minorities tend to underperform academically, but they can't find anything concrete. The credible view is that these problems have a social origin.

Also, I am proud to be an intellectual descendent of the enlightenment. The enlightenment philosophers decided that they would look to reason, not baseless superstition, to solve man's problems. That freedom and democracy were primary values. (I realize that a lot of enlightenment figures, such as Kant and Jefferson, were racists. I think, though, that racism and misogyny are inconsistent with enlightenment values.)

And that's just off the top of my head. I'm sure I'll think of much more to say after I've had my coffee.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be two extremes here: Mr. Zero is taking the usual liberal line that sexism and racism are the cause of societal ills such as white male-dominated academic departments, and on the other side we have the usual conservative denial that race or sex, when it is irrelevant, has anything to do with human decision-making.

Neither position is credible; rather, it seems more likely that the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it is for many complex and polarizing issues. Anon 12:31, therefore, seems to have a plausible, middle-of-the-road explanation. So why Mr. Zero might want to censor it seems more to be related to rigid liberal dogma rather than reason. Just one observer's opinion...

Senior female phil prof said...

Just in case any one ever reads the comments through, let me please correct something I said: Re the IAT, I meant to say that if you take longer with linking good terms with white faces, then you'll come out having a bias against whites.

12:31 said...

Mr. Zero,

I do have to say that I appreciate your replies and willingness to engage here. I'm concerned, though, that you're still misunderstanding my position. I never said, and I don't seem to recall anyone else here saying it, that women or minorities are somehow "stupider", on average or otherwise, to anyone else.

I'm simply asserting that it shouldn't be surprising that categories of people, whether based on biology or profession, can have different aptitudes. Wouldn't you agree that taller people, on average, are better at basketball? And engineers are more analytical than most other professions? And mathematicians are better at math than others? And philosophers are better at philosophy than others?

It is neither here nor there to say that someone or some class of people on average has natural aptitude for analytical thinking or academic philosophy. And this position doesn't preclude the possibility that women can be excellent philosophers, and I know many who are.

I'm still confused why you and others are so insistent that everyone must be rcognized as having equal capabilities, on average. That's plainly false with respect to physical qualities such as strength and height, so it doesn't seem to be that much of a leap to suggest that such differences exist or can exist with respect to mental faculties.

For instance, do you believe that on average women are more nurturing of children (or maternal, for lack of a better word) than men? I do, but this is not to say that many men are not excellent fathers or nurturers. I'm just saying that there is more of a natural inclination with women to be nurturing towards children. Does this mean that men are stupider or somehow inferior to women? Absolutely not. This quality too is neither here nor there with respect to such a question.

Anyway, it's disappointing to see that there would be so much PC-related intolerance here and that some are quick to call a position "racist" or "sexist". Those minds are already made up and not open to free inquiry. I admit that racism and sexism are alive and well, but I also think that there are or can be other explanations (which may or may not be justifications) for the white-male dominated departments.

Anonymous said...

To pick up on a comment I saw somewhere in here...

Are overweight people really more discriminated against than others? If so, is there a lack of overweight faculty members in academia? Shouldn't we also urge departments to hire more fat people in the interest of diversity, since many university students are also fat and may appreciate having an instructor of the same body-type to identify with?

Is it un-PC to even ask these questions? Or does it show that PC can be taken to an extreme? I don't know. But what I do know is that I can eat a large pizza in a single sitting...mmm, pepperoni...

Mr. Zero said...

I've been accused of having an "extreme" position. I don't see how my position is extreme. I believe that:

1. Women and ethnic minorities do not possess less native intelligence, analytical ability, reasoning skills, or overall fitness to do philosophy than white males.

2. There is no credible, scientifically legitimate evidence that women and ethnic minorities are in any way less intelligent or otherwise fit to do philosophy than white males.

3. There is no credible, scientifically legitimate evidence that the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in philosophy faculty, philosophy grad school, undergraduate philosophy majors, or upper division philosophy classes has a biological or evolutionary basis.

4. There is lots of credible, scientifically legitimate evidence that the tendency for women and minorities to underperform academically has social, not biological, origins. There is evidence, for example, that girls are better at math than boys at the elementary school level but worse than boys at the high school level, and that this is caused by latent sexist attitudes. There is evidence that the differential in academic performance that is "apparently" tied to race is actually tied to socio-economic factors, which are themselves tied, via a social problem, to race.

5. There exists latent racism and sexism in the profession of philosophy. I have not been personally victimized by it, but I know lots of people who have, I have read lots of testimony about it here and in other places, and I have seen it happen in these threads. When someone says, for a long time, I wondered if it was just me, but then I thought about it a lot, talked about it with other people a lot, and observed that the dynamic was different if I was talking one-on-one with a white male, or if I was in a large group of white males, and then someone else says, No, it's not sexism, you're probably just obnoxious, I take that to be an instance of sexism.

6. If there is already evidence of racism and sexism in society at large, and of its presence in the profession, and there is no evidence of any biologically determined stupidity amongst women and ethnic minorities, the credible hypothesis is that the fact that these groups are under-represented in our profession has social, not biological or evolutionary, roots.

How is that an extreme view? I honestly thought that this was the only reasonable view. I thought that this was the only view that an educated, enlightened, socially responsible person could have. I thought that educated people were supposed to be able to see this psuedoscientific evolutionary hokum for what it is, give it no quarter, and work to find and eliminate the true, social roots of the problem.

Am I wrong? I am not wrong.

12:31 one more time said...

I suppose the problem here, as with most other debates, is that we each think that our position is the only reasonable one. Of course, that can't be true. Either just one position is right, or everyone is wrong, or everyone somehow got part of the answer right, etc.

Again, what seems reasonable to me is that we leave open possibilities. I fully agree that there are social roots to the problem we're considering, but also that there may be biological or evolutionary explanations (but not justifications for any sexism or racism in hiring). To deny that there are other possibilities seems premature, especially without a full review of the credible evidence, or lack thereof, for X that is casually mentioned throughout this thread. I've seen evidence for both of our positions, again as is the case for most charged debates.

Again, no one here is saying that any class of persons is "less intelligent" or "stupider" than any other. I had said that some classes may have different natural aptitudes; this is not a judgment but an observation. This seems to be the crux of our disagreement, Mr. Zero.

If genetic engineering is possible, to breed some animal to have certain features and aptitudes, then it's also possible for nature to do this through natural selection. In fact, the odds of different ethnic groups, for instance, all evolving on the same path, all having the same aptitudes, seem very low. We can already see that some tribes have members who are much taller than those of other tribes, etc.; so we know that different geographies can exert different evolutionary pressures. So why deny this, if not for the sake of political correctness?...

Mr. Zero said...


Some guy somewhere, I can't find it now, said something like this: as a white male, I can't help but think that I am naturally better at philosophy than women are. He went on to say that he thinks that women are "less analytic" than men, and when I pressured him on whether there were similar reasons for the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the profession, made an analogy between a certain race that he thinks make poor basketball players and a certain dog breed he thinks makes poor watchdogs. I'm not saying you agree with this stuff, but I strongly disagree with it.

I agree that engineers tend to be pretty analytic. But suppose I noticed that engineers also tended to only be white guys, and that the few women and ethnic minorities who are engineers were pretty strongly of the opinion that they were the victims of latent/blatant sexism and racism both in their training and on the job, and that these biases contributed directly to the dearth of women and minorities in the engineering profession. In that set of circumstances, I would be pretty hesitant to propose an evolutionary/biological theory, according to which women and minorities are on average less mentally able to perform the work of engineering, to explain the dearth.

I don't take myself to have any but the most crude form of anecdotal data concerning the relative "nurturing-ness" of the sexes. Although I know lots of nurturing mothers, I also know lots of nurturing fathers and lots non-nurturing mothers.

I also don't take myself to have any data at all concerning the possible biological origin of this feminine propensity to nurture. It seems just as plausible to me that there is a social cause of the phenomenon.

I don't think that there is anything particularly sexist about the proposal that women tend to be more nurturing that men. I do think there is something sexist about the suggestion that women are under-represented in our field (but not in other academic fields) because they are biologically predisposed to be "less analytic" than men. And I think that there is something racist about the suggestion that ethnic minorities are under-represented in our field for similar reasons. And I don't see how this view is extreme or controversial.

I also think that there is something sexist about proposing an evolution-based, biological tendency toward intellectual inferiority of women in the context of a discussion about sexism in our profession.

There is a legitimate question here: why are women and ethnic minorities under-represented in our profession. I will confess that until earlier this week I did not know why. But a bunch of women have come on this blog and posted comments saying, I know why. It's because of latent/blatant sexism. For example, ... Sally Haslanger, who is a full professor at MIT, tells stories about her time in graduate school in which her professors volunteered to check her for a penis when she showed unusual philosophical promise. And then white males come on and say, No, it's because women are "less analytic" than men are, because of evolution, and they are therefore generally less fit to be philosophers. If that doesn't strike you as pretty much totally sexist and borderline misogynist, especially considering the context, then I don't know what would.

12:31 one last time said...

I haven't seen any studies to show that the analytical aptitude of women is more or less than that of men. So I take that to be an open question still. If you've seen such research, please let me know.

Further, not only is that an open question, it is also not unreasonable to think that such aptitude may be different between the sexes or even ethnic groups, as I argued in previous posts.

But imagine this: what if there were evidence that women, for instance, somehow did not have the natural analytic aptitude that men have, on average? Would you believe it? Or is it so contrary to your beliefs about how the world should be that such evidence would be dismissed?

I'm not denying that racism and sexism are real culprits for many of our problems. But I just ask that we remain open to other explanations as well. I like to think that I'm a person of science, having also received a graduate degree in the sciences. But I also know that science is imperfect and open to interpretation, particularly when it comes to issues concerning the human intellect.

This is the last thing I'll say about the subject. Mr. Zero, I've enjoyed the discussion and look forward to reading more of your thoughts in future matters.

Anonymous said...

PGS, I'm sure that at least a very large part of what women in philosophy have observed is genuine sexism. I'm also sure that enough cases at least might not be (see the discussion in the other thread, particularly my response to Rachel). Given that a charge of sexism is a moral charge against people, and it's genuinely bad to assume guilt, we're in a quandary. It's bad to assume of particular people that they might be exhibiting a vice that they might not be exhibiting, and it's bad not to trust people when they say they're experiencing something that most of the time is that vice, and they're having the same experience now, but it's possible that it's not that vice. Basically, you've got a conflict between two instances of the principle of charity.

My response is this. Believe them that often this is the case, but don't believe them of any particular case unless a higher standard can be met, and don't endorse any claims about what must be the only or primary explanation unless I see more careful work done to substantiate them, while giving credence to the claim enough to work through potential solutions given that there's probably something to the complaint.

Doesn't that meet most of the desiderata on both sides of the disjunction?

James said...

Damn, this topic made it to 150 posts. It's awesome how just a few people being racist and sexist can lead to a slew of writing!

Anonymous said...

"Given that a charge of sexism is a moral charge against people, and it's genuinely bad to assume guilt, we're in a quandary."

See, I'm not sure this is true, and I think that believing this claim might explain some of the defensiveness on this thread. Is each individual act of sexism an act for which the individual committing it is morally blameworthy? I don't think so.

It may not be one's fault that one has sexist attitudes. In fact, it may not even be one's fault that one feels compelled to persist in such attitudes, but that's much more controversial.

At any rate, as the tests that have been discussed here show, many sexist biases are not even conscious. I am sure, for instance, that my male colleagues do not even notice that when talking about a woman's philosophical work they use the pronoun 'she' much more often than they use the pronoun 'he' when discussing a man's philosophical work (in the case of man, often, they don't even use the male pronoun at all, they use only his last name). I'd bet that my female colleagues do this too, unfortunately, I don't have many female colleagues and so I have no data on them ; )

Of course, none of this means that one doesn't have responsibility, once one knows that one has sexist attitudes, to try to change them. So perhaps to accuse someone of sexism is to bring a moral charge of negligence against that person. But I think, especially in an academic context, one should give the benefit of the doubt to the individual, and simply assume that he or she made a mistake.

What's more, a sexist act, one that contributes to the systematic oppression of women, needn't come at all from even an unconscious bias against women on an individual's part. Individual acts might contribute to a system that is oppressive, whether done in all innocence or not. Acts often have unforseen consequences, those that no reasonable person could predict.

So a charge of sexism isn't necessarily a moral charge against an individual. This is the old man-hating charge against feminists that just doesn't hold. The relationship between the large-scale oppression of women and an immoral act on the part of an individual is very complicated. Feminists have recognized this for years. Males who find themselves getting defensive in response to talk about sexism would do well to consider this.

Anonymous said...

Is that the voice of reason/common sense that I see peeking through now (6:25 and 5:59)?

The charges of racism and sexism are serious indeed, so it's a disservice to academia, your departments, your colleagues, and yourself to assume that these charges are the only two at play here, if they apply at all to each case we have in mind.

If we believe ourselves--philosopers--to be more reflective and in tune with what's ethical or not than other people or professions, then it's even more uncharitable to think that philosophy departments should be so riddled with sexism, etc., (as opposed to partially riddled in conjunction with perhaps other causes.)

Anyway, having been in academia for decades, I don't recall seeing _any_ instances of blatant/latent sexism or racism, though I don't doubt that they occur. I'm just puzzled why some of these posts make it sound like it's such a prevalent problem with the majority of departments.

Anonymous said...

Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors.

Double-blind peer review, in which neither author nor reviewer identity are revealed, is rarely practised in ecology or evolution journals. However, in 2001, double-blind review was introduced by the journal Behavioral Ecology. Following this policy change, there was a significant increase in female first-authored papers, a pattern not observed in a very similar journal that provides reviewers with author information. No negative effects could be identified, suggesting that double-blind review should be considered by other journals.


Anonymous said...


I'd be a little hesitant to describe the kind of unconscious, unintended sexism you're talking about as just plain sexism without any qualifiers. Most of this discussion has not been about such factors but has been about blatant attempts to ignore women because they are seen as incompetent at philosophy. Several people defending the "benefit of the doubt" approach who have asked for more substantiation than Haslanger provides have been happy to concede that they think the unconscious, unintentional kind of residual sexism occurs. What they have been more resistant to is accepting charges of sexism of the seriously morally blameworthy kind (as opposed to the just negligent kind) without further substantiation, particularly if the claim is that it's widespread or if it's a charge against particular individuals without much evidence. Such a view is perfectly consistent with recognizing that unconscious, unintended biases occur.

Anonymous said...


Any sexism I have seen in academia, I presume, is of the unintended, negligent sort. Sexism is likely pretty covert even among non-academics. But its covertness doesn't make it less harmful, and if you are hesitant to call that sexism, then much of what systematically harms women would not be the result of sexism, and that would be a pretty weird view to hold.

I also disagree that everyone who has posted on here is happy to say that they are sexist even in the negligent sense, or even that such biases are wrong, or that they even exist at all. Some of the posts on here have suggested not just that women are mistaking blatant sexism for covert sexism, but that they are mistaken that there is any sexism at all.

I agree with you however that women who complain of having been the victim of sexism ought not to be construed as making a moral charge of blatant sexism against individuals -- that was the point of my last post.

Anonymous said...

When I hear the word 'sexist', I think of someone who has explicit negative attitudes toward (usually) women. I can certainly feel comfortable using the word to refer to involuntary and unconscious tendencies, but it wouldn't seem right to use it in an unqualified sense to refer to that sort of thing. You need a qualifier like 'unconscious' or 'involuntary' to avoid sending the message that you think the person has an outright negative attitude toward women.

I'm not entirely sure how my reference to "several people" is supposed to include "everyone who has posted on here". I made a point that a certain view is compatible with being very positive toward women and toward pro-woman advances, even if many who hold that view are sexists in the worst sense. That means someone saying that thing shouldn't, on the basis of saying such a thing, be regarded as a sexist. It's a bit unfair to reply by saying that some people who said it really were sexists. I wasn't denying that. My claim is that some saying it weren't.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:29, would you agree that the following are two species of just plain sexism?

1. Refusing to admit that unconscious, unintended biases exist in our discipline and help to explain gender disparities in philosophy.

2. Refusing to do anything substantial to correct for unconscious, unintended biases, so that gender disparities might be eliminated or mitigated.

Anonymous said...

I would say that 1 and 2 are symptoms of just plain sexism if they stem from hatred of women or from thinking women are less capable or less worthy of good jobs and equal treatment. Just plain sexism is about attitude. What you've listed are possible symptoms of such an attitude. Other things might explain such symptoms, however, e.g. being drastically misinformed, being overly charitable because of an inability to appreciate the epistemic obstacles of being in a privileged position, etc. I don't consider those things just plain sexism, even if they can count as sexism of a sort when you throw in qualifying adjectives.

Anonymous said...

What about someone who just has very robust tacit ideas about gender roles? She needn't think that women are worthless. Would you count this person as sexist?

I do agree with you, however, that not all unconscious biases, which lead to certain behaviors, are necessarily sexist, but I doubt anyone was denying that. Presumably, we are talking about tacit, sexist, biases. What exactly are you arguing against? Why the defensiveness? Have you tried the IAT tests?

Anonymous said...

On gender roles, it would depend on the specifics. I don't think gender roles are necessarily a problem if they don't involve attributing false views about natures of women. For instance, if women are more nurturing, say (as Gilligan and many feminists argue), then it isn't anti-woman to think that it's generally a good thing if things can work out so that women are doing more of the nurturing of children. Notice that it assumes a premise. If that premise is false, then this wouldn't be a good idea. But it's a premise that much contemporary feminism assumes, and I tend to side with Gilligan on this question.

Notice also that I'm not proposing this as a requirement on any woman who hasn't taken it on willingly. Couples can certainly decide to raise their children in a fully egalitarian way, and I don't propose to force any model on them. But gender roles as tendencies can be fine, particularly if the people involved embrace those gender roles as good and as affirming of the value of what both the men and women involved are doing.

But someone who thinks that women have no place in the workforce, aren't as good at traditionally male jobs, and ought to cook, clean, and raise children without ever wanting their husbands to take part in those activities is another matter. I don't see how that more extreme version of gender roles can be grounded in a Gilligan-like view of what we should affirm as good in women and therefore encourage when women want to fulfill such roles.

As for what I'm arguing against, I thought I made that clear, but let me try again. As I've said several times, I'm not denying that there are tacit biases that can count as sexist in the extended sense we've been talking about. What the IAT tests are supposed to be finding is something I have recognized as pretty obviously true. What I'm hesitant about is calling it sexist in the same sense that most people hear the term think. When you call someone sexist, they think you're saying that they think women aren't as morally important as men, that women shouldn't ever try to find jobs outside the home, that women ought to be men's slaves, and so on. That's how the word comes across to many ordinary people when it's not qualified by terms like 'tacit' or 'involuntary'.

The reason this is important is because as philosophers we should want to convey the claim that we actually think is true, and if people are hearing something else then they won't accept what we're saying. I suspect a lot of white people will resist the claim that they are racists if you just put it that way but will be much more open to the claim that they have been affected by the effects racism in society so that they involuntarily do things that favor whites. I think you have something similar with sexism, although I don't think people's responses are quite as extreme on that for reasons I'm not sure about at this point. My hesitation here isn't that I don't agree with the substance of the claim that's being made but more that I think putting it the way it's often been put here is going to mislead many people into dismissing something that they may otherwise be a lot more open to accepting.