October 26, 2007

Women Underrepresented in Anthologies

On the general subject of women's underrepresentation in philosophy and what can be done about it, I just went through four anthologies that I've used for teaching epistemology or philosophy of language — I won't name names, since everyone can count for themselves. Each of these anthologies contains over 40 articles, most of them from the 20th century (and often from the latter half of the 20th century). They contain an average of one paper each by women.

It seems to me that if we're worried that women are leaving philosophy as undergrads, it would be nice to avoid all-male reading lists. And one way to avoid all-male reading lists would be to get more articles by women into the anthologies that we use to teach survey courses. And I wouldn't be surprised if more of this could be done without sacrificing quality -- once when I was preparing a mid-level course on metaethical topics, I realized that I was drawing up an all-male reading list, so I thought a little about how I could change it, and I wound up adding one of the most interesting articles we read. Anyway, it's something to think about.

I hasten to add that I don't think that there's any conscious bias going on in the editing of these anthologies. (I was trying not to be biased in drawing up my reading list, and I had to consciously think about gender imbalance before I added a single article by a woman.) But it might be a good idea to try to do something about it even if it's not a product of conscious bias.

UPDATE: I think I miscounted and that there were actually five articles by women across the four editions I was looking at. In any case, I've just checked the contents for the latest edition of Kim and Sosa and nine out of 60 articles are by women, which is clearly a vast improvement, even if the low percentage indicates that the profession still has a long way to go.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:27 AM | Comments (7)

October 20, 2007

Nature's Dominoes

Ryan North may have anticpated what I was trying to say here.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2007

Philosophical Illiteracy Watch

Eduardo Porter, in today's New York Times, discusses Radiohead's choice to release a new album for whatever price you choose to pay. Average customers have paid $8.*

Porter notes that this is irrational from the economists' point of view, quoting Greg Mankiw on economists' inability to account for tipping, and Dani Rodrik who concludes that Radiohead is not bonkers. "But," Porter adds, " those who are paying for the download may truly be nuts." He then goes on to a speculate about the utility that we do get by paying for the CD -- because there must be some utility that outweighs the money we pay.**

Missing from this discussion is any hint that economists' notion of rationality might not be right, or that philosophers might have something to say about the subject. Perhaps Cristina Bicchieri or David Gauthier or Thomas Scanlon would have had something interesting to say about social norms of fairness and reciprocity, or about living up to implicit contracts, or about the Humean farmer? Bicchieri has even done experiments on this that are scientifically designed; unlike (no offense to Rodrik) the "experiment" of Rodrik's that Porter cites, which involves a self-selected group of readers of an economics blog. Perhaps there is a way of treating rational action that does not reduce it entirely to trading off one utility for another.

Quiggin and Yglesias have more on the general subject. Philosophers are probably somewhat at fault here; we (or those of us who do rational choice stuff, namely, not me) should perhaps be letting journalists know that we have something to say about these subjects. But I also think that the idea that utility maximization is the only kind of rationality is part of a pernicious picture of economics and rationality that grips too many people -- the sort of thing that lets people say that more markets are better in health care, in the face of overwhelming evidence about which health systems actually work.

*I was going to pay 3 pounds, but when I found that I had to sign up for the e-mail list I knocked it down to 2.
**As an added bonus, Porter treats altruistic motives as clearly irrational. It's not just that it's irrational to want to give money to Radiohead, who are already rich -- I grant that -- but he introduces the very possibility of altruism by saying "One could argue that rationality isnít everything."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:13 PM | Comments (5)

October 12, 2007

The Mot Juste

Ryan North has always put a lot of philosophy into his comics -- see today for instance -- but this is notable not so much for the nice exposition of semantic externalism, but for Utahraptor's excellent epithet, "those hauntingly stupid chocochops you invented." "Hauntingly stupid" is exactly right.

Actually, I think success in philosophy can depend on inventing just the right hauntingly stupid example. Though I suppose it would be immodest to cite my own case (awaiting final revision anyway) of the planet shaped like a carambola.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:12 AM | Comments (0)