Gender Imbalances

As Brian Leiter notes, there’s a very interesting discussion over at Sappho’s Breathing about the relationship between the relative prominence of certain disciplines within philosophy and how gendered (or otherwise) those disciplines are.

I mostly want to just recommend those discussions, but let me make one distinction that I think is getting blurred over there. The further we get from positivism, the less and less reason there seems to be to view metaphysics and epistemology as anything like a single discipline. Of course there are connections between the two, but really not much more than between any two large fields in philosophy. From where I sit, that looks like it matters to this debate.

(Warning: the following contains generalisations from a ridiculously small sample, and unscientific observation to boot.) Among my peers, there isn’t that much of a gender gap amongst philosophers working in metaphysics, or philosophy of language, or ethics or (I think) philosophy of mind. There is, however, a noticable gender gap in epistemology still, even among the younger generation. Now this could be a sample size phenomena, and it could be due to the fact that I’m looking at a rather non-random sample. If it’s a real phenomena though, it’s kinda surprising, because I would thought that whatever features of logic and philosophy of language and philosophy of science and metaphysics and so on made them gendered male were less prominent in epistemology, rather than more. Of course that’s the kind of question about which I’m absolutely not an expert, so I’ll defer entirely to more learned opinion on it.

5 Replies to “Gender Imbalances”

  1. To my mind, many of the most interesting women who do (at least some) work on epistemology approach the subject from a philosophy of science back-ground, more so than do most male epistemologists, I think. I have in mind people like Helen Longino, Elizabeth Lloyd, Elizabeth Anderson (social science), Alyson Wylie, Lynn Hankinson-Nelson, M. Solomon, etc. All are interested in epistemology, but primarily as a branch of philosophy of science. (Or something roughtly like that.) That’s less common in male epistemologists, I think, though there are exceptions (Philip Kitcher, maybe David Paupineau, others I’m sure.) I’m not sure what moral to draw from this, but I think it’s interesting.

  2. I know there are some women in epistemology. The female-male ratio at epist conferences I go to isn’t 0:1. But it isn’t close to 1:1 either. It’s usually more like 1:5 to 1:10 and that’s decades behind metaphysics.

  3. I know there are some women in epistemology. The female-male ratio at epist conferences I go to isn’t 0:1. But it isn’t close to 1:1 either. It’s usually more like 1:5 to 1:10 and that’s decades behind metaphysics.

  4. M&E are mentioned in the same breath for sociological, rather than philosophical reasons. Metaphysics and epistemology are arguably the two most prestigious fields in analytic philosophy today. It’s interesting to watch the fortunes of subfields rise and fall. Not so long ago, metaphysics was a virtual pariah and philosophy of language stood at the top of the pecking order. The prestige of epistemology seems to have risen sharply in just the past few years.

    I agree with Brian that the differences between metaphysics and epistemology are relevant to this debate. I hear a lot of people trying to explain why fewer women go into M and/or E by appeal to level of abstractness, degree of rigor, etc. All of a sudden E has become very chic, and people are lumping it in with metaphysics as among the “strongly gendered” super-rigorous, highly abstract disciplines that women are allegedly unlikely to favor, or which are unlikely to favor women, depending on who you believe. Analytic E has always been a rigorous discipline, but for some reason its reputation for rigor seems to have increased among mainstream philosophers and feminist critics who now regard its standards as intrinsically masculine.

    Labels mean a lot in philosophy, much more than we’d like to think. Someone who calls the fetus problem a metaphysical problem of identity is likely to get a more receptive hearing than someone who makes the same arguments but calls it a bioethics paper. Ironically, a prominent philosopher of law recently took a swipe at the overall academic quality of “applied ethics.”

    I don’t think sexism is as much of a problem in philosophy as many people seem to think. The people who are sometimes shortchanged are those who work in disciplines that are not currently regarded as rigorous. However, for whatever reason, women are well-represented in these less prestigious areas. I don’t mean those who work on the humanistic side of the “technical/humanistic” divide. I’m talking about status within analytic philosophy, among those who stand squarely in the technical camp.

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