Modern philosophy–errr, scratch that, I meant all of Western philosophy since the dawn of civilization–is undoubtedly a white dude dominated discipline, but my rigorous study and observation1 suggests a promising shift away from being an all boys club. Granted, practically all of the TAs and grad students I’ve encountered have been male, and I can’t name a single female philosopher that we’ve actually read in class2, but given historical precedent I think we can take anything more than a departmental ASF3 as a victory.
And look, Philosophy departments across the country should really be concerned with this. They should, in fact, be doing everything they can to correct the gender disparity, and not just for the usual reasons related to fairness, glass ceilings, not wanting to work in an office that demographically speaking makes Sterling Cooper look positively progressive, etc. That all matters a great deal, but male philosophers who are genuinely interested in new ideas and advancements in their field should also desperately want to make their departments as diverse as possible out of self-interest.
After all, as much as one might like to believe that new concepts in Western analytic philosophy get unearthed through some kind of mathematically precise excavation process, that’s more of a useful fiction designed to let us focus on the arguments instead of the person. As much as I might dress up my own essays in academic prose and carefully logical steps, the sorry truth of the matter is that my background and personal inclinations are all too relevant when it comes to what I actually believe. The arguments just follow that.4
That’s why a homogeneous field leads to an impoverished discourse. Disturbingly, it also makes knocking down stuff like Schopenhauer’s surreally outlandish misogyny5 more difficult because there are slightly fewer people around to be deeply and personally horrified by it. That’s not so suggest that I’ve encountered much–or, really, any–sexism amongst the professors and TAs I’ve had, but only to point out that it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to identify the more subtle and nefarious forms of sexism when there’s no one around who isn’t in a position of undeserved privilege.
Really, though, I’m not saying anything particularly novel. This is the same discussion that’s going on in jurisprudence, journalism, and a lot of other fields and departments. But it’s an important conversation to have, and it always bears repeating.
1By which I mean a couple quick glances around the lecture hall while sitting in an NYU Philosophy class.
2Imagine my excitement to discover we were reading Hilary Putnam in Philosophy of Mind. Now imagine my disappointment to later discover that, yup, that’s a dude.
3Absolute Sausage Fest, the technical term for a 100% male grouping of individuals.
4At this point, a couple of you might be saying: “Yeah, but that’s you. Me, my philosophical views are plucked from the aether.” Well congratulations, because you’re either full of shit or hilariously non-introspective.
5I actually think Schopenhauer has a lot of interesting things to say, but anything he’s ever written that even glancingly references the opposite sex should nauseate all decent human beings.