11 December 2013

Philosophy, For Example ~ What Happens When Even Those (Men) Concerned About Gender Troubles in a Discipline Neglect to Pay Attention to What Their Female Colleagues Say

Last week, political theorist Jonathan Wolff published this essay at The Guardian regarding the gender troubles in the discipline of philosophy. Unfortunately, he seemed to have overlooked a set of posts the very same issue in September at "The Stone" here at The New York Times. Had he noted the earlier interventions we perhaps might've been spared some, at least, of the hand-wringing in the comments thread about the need to be snarky and snide and bullying in order to reach "truth" or "get things right." Here is one passage from a post by Linda Martin Alcoff  in the series at The Times that is directly on point:
The issue is not debate, simpliciter, but how it is done. Too many philosophers accept the idea that truth is best achieved by a marketplace of ideas conducted in the fashion of ultimate fighting. But aggressive styles that seek easy victories by harping on arcane counterexamples do not maximize truth. Nor does making use of the social advantages one might have by virtue of one’s gender, ethnicity or seniority. Nor does stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the real world contexts, rife with implicit bias and power distortions, in which even philosophical debates always occur.

Sometimes, interestingly, the aim of truth is enhanced less by adversarial argument than by a receptivity that holds back on disagreement long enough to try out the new ideas on offer, push them further, see where they might go. Sometimes pedagogy works best not by challenging but by getting on board a student’s own agenda. Sometimes understanding is best reached when we expend our skeptical faculties, as Montaigne did, on our own beliefs, our own opinions. If debate is meant to be a means to truth — an idea we philosophers like to believe — the best forms turn out to be a variegated rather than uniform set.
And, lest it seem as though I am calling attention to the foibles of philosophers from the perspective of an outsider, recall this post on gender trouble in political science.

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