Stephen J. White made significant contributions to ethical and philosophical thought throughout his career. An associate professor at Northwestern University, his work focused on issues of responsibility, including what we should take responsibility for and how we are especially responsible for our own lives. In his memory, we are making three of his essays free to read through April 30: “On the Moral Objection to Coercion” (Philosophy & Public Affairs Summer 2017), which was chosen by The Philosopher’s Annual as one of the 10 best philosophy papers of 2017; “The Problem of Self‐Torture: What’s Being Done?” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research May 2017); and “Self‐Prediction in Practical Reasoning: Its Role and Limits” (Noûs April 2020).
“On the Moral Objection to Coercion”
Philosophy & Public Affairs is offering free access for 90 days to two of Waheed Hussain’s recent articles in the journal, as a remembrance of his contributions to the discipline and to encourage more people to read his work. Professor Hussain’s research engages the moral issues raised by our economic practices, such as ethical consumerism and competition. His work raises deep questions about the moral limits to economic arrangements, and how our economic practices can be better designed to comport with liberal-democratic ideals.
“Is Ethical Consumerism an Impermissible Form of Vigilantism?” Waheed Hussain – 2012 – Philosophy & Public Affairs 40 (2):111-143.
“Pitting People Against Each Other.” Waheed Hussain” – 2020 – Philosophy & Public Affairs 48 (1):79-113.
“As I myself am untenured, the problem of precarity still ineluctably haunts me and most of the people I am close to in the academy.”
Interview conducted by Jacquelyn Kelley
In her article, “Precarity is a Feminist Issue: Gender and Contingent Labor in the Academy,” Robin Zheng establishes that two common myths—“the myth of meritocracy” and “the myth of work as its own reward”—not only reinforce the academic job crisis but also have gendered origins, ultimately allowing gender stereotypes and job insecurity to reinforce one another within the discipline of Philosophy.
Published in the Spring 2018 issue of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Zheng’s research was first presented at the 2016 SWIP UK Conference followed by the 2017 Joint Session at the University of Edinburgh.
Her article was cited by the Australasian Association of Philosophy’s Committee for the Status of Women in Philosophy in their Statement on Insecure Work, and has received notable recognition and praise on social media.
Zheng holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and is currently an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at YaleNUSCollege in Singapore. I recently had a chance to catch up with Zheng, learn more about her career, and pose a couple questions about her popular article in Hypatia.
JK: What has been your favorite part about living and teaching in Singapore thus far?
RZ: My favorite part of teaching in Singapore has been the eagerness and enthusiasm that comes with trying to do something bold and different. For instance, I teach in a mandatory year-long team-taught course on “Philosophy and Political Thought” (PPT), covering 1/3 Chinese, 1/3 Indian, and 1/3 Western traditions of thought from antiquity to modernity. Working through PPT is very challenging for everyone involved, both teachers and students, but it is also extremely rewarding. It’s opened so many doors into new areas and ways of doing philosophy for me, and there really is nowhere else in the world where you could get this kind of education. I feel a strong sense of collective commitment amongst students, staff, and faculty to each put forward our best in pursuing a vision of what a liberal arts education is meant to be.
JK: How long have you been teaching there, and when you relocated, was your transition difficult, strange, or exciting in ways you maybe didn’t expect?
RZ: I’ve now been teaching for two years. Certainly the transition to teaching PPT was difficult, strange, and exciting all at once! Since my own philosophical training was very different, I really wasn’t very reflective about the value of engaging with philosophical texts qua texts and in their own social context, which I now understand is crucial, especially with a student population that is 60% Singapore and 40% international (from over 60 other countries). My second time through the course, I’ve been struck by how different texts have “lit up” for me, in the sense of appearing to me as intuitively powerful and compelling (rather than confusing and impenetrable), compared to the first year. Teaching in PPT has given me greater confidence that we all have the capacity to learn new things, and in the value of partaking in inquiry that pushes beyond the familiar boundaries of our home (sub-)disciplines.
JK: Turning now to your article, “Precarity is a Feminist Issue: Gender and Contingent Labor in the Academy,” what first inspired you to research and write on job insecurity within philosophy teaching and the overall realm of higher education?
RZ: This one is easy: my experience in the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan, which is the oldest continuously-running graduate student labor union in the country. Through the activities of the union, I gained a practical understanding of “how the university works” that had previously been completely opaque to me, along with a set of normatively rich perspectives and practices grounded in deep institutional memory. As I myself am untenured, the problem of precarity still ineluctably haunts me and most of the people I am close to in the academy. I’m very grateful that my time in the union gave me a much wider perspective on higher education and the job market crisis—plus their connections to more global crises—than I ever had as just a philosophy student.
JK: You write in your article that philosophers are particularly prone to believing “the myth of work as its own reward” because of your personal commitment to attaining “such ideals as truth, knowledge, and justice.” How often do you find yourself swept up by this myth and how do you snap out of it?
RZ: To be honest, I think that the pressures and constraints I face in my position as a junior academic (with respect to getting publications, going up for tenure, etc.) make very clear that philosophy is a social institution with its own set of hierarchies, vested interests, and professional norms which can be quite orthogonal to truth, knowledge, and justice.
But perhaps one way that the myth manifests in my own life is through frequent experiences of moral guilt whenever I perceive shortcomings in my teaching or research. I have to remind myself that it is okay not to put in a full 100% even if I genuinely, passionately care about them. At the end of the day, it is still just a job. There’s only a certain number of hours in the day that I am paid to spend on work, and I should consider it morally permissible to use the rest of my time on other things.
JK: In your article, you note that “the institution of tenure itself has problems, and may ultimately need overhaul,” and I can imagine there are many who would hotly debate your point of view. Are you interested in elaborating on this idea in future dialogues and writings?
RZ: This wasn’t the focus of my article, so I would have to do much more research before I could say anything definitive. But I should reiterate that I think the job security made possible through the tenure system is something that should be available for all workers, even though there is also distinctive reason for academics (namely, the freedom to pursue inquiry that challenges the status quo) to receive particularly strong protections. My main concerns with the tenure system are its being used as a kind of incentive or reward for individual “merit” and its being abused to protect people who are otherwise detrimental to the academic community (e.g. sexual harassers).
JK: Could you provide a preview of any other research projects you may be working on now—that way we can get excited about what’s next to come from you!
RZ: It’s still in very early stages, but I’m just beginning to think about a book project. My main areas of work are on moral responsibility and structural injustice, so I’m planning to look at the challenge of how politically allied groups can use practices of accountability to preserve solidarity in the face of disagreement.
Robin Zheng’s article “Precarity is a Feminist Issue: Gender and Contingent Labor in the Academy” is available Open Access here.
Since beginning my tenure as managing editor of Hypatia, I have had the pleasure of working closely with individuals who are associated with Hypatia in various ways, and I have been awed by the extraordinary generosity and effort so very many people freely give to Hypatia.
One of my most valued experiences at Hypatia has been watching this cluster on “Issues in the Profession” take shape. I proposed the idea for the cluster in the fall of 2016, when we began to receive a large number of submissions that dealt with issues in philosophy as a discipline. The authors did not coordinate their submissions. Without knowing they were doing so, the authors in this cluster entered into dialogue, and they are speaking to a topic that is vital to philosophy as a whole. Each of the seven articles in the cluster focuses on problems of diversity in philosophy: how prevalent they still are, why they continue to exist, what it means to face them in the classroom setting, and what we can do to address them. These articles are by no means comprehensive. They do not speak to all of the issues in the profession, and many important voices are still missing from the discussion. These articles do, however, serve as part of an ongoing call to action that philosophy—and philosophers—are responsible for taking up.
Read the special cluster in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy
Yolonda Wilson’s musing “How Might We Address the Factors that Contribute to the Scarcity of Philosophers Who Are Women and/or of Color?” opens the cluster with a poignant analysis of common acts of discrimination underrepresented philosophers routinely face. In Wilson’s words, by examining why philosophy remains a “relatively homogeneous” discipline, “we become empowered to take important steps to recruit, encourage, and support those who are underrepresented to enter the field and to flourish”. Beginning from the lived experience of underrepresented philosophers, Wilson critiques the everyday practices of “a profession that is relentlessly white and male” , noting that such practices function as “microcosms” of a racist, sexist society. Wilson argues that “A real commitment to caring about how racism and sexism work in philosophy necessarily commits one to caring about these issues generally”. If we are to truly address issues of discrimination within the discipline of philosophy, we must also work to address these same issues on a broader social scale.
The next three articles focus on pedagogical techniques that counteract the harmful effects of privilege in educational settings. In “Comforting Discomfort as Complicity: White Fragility and the Pursuit of Invulnerability,” Barbara Applebaum examines the role comfort and discomfort play in social-justice classrooms. Applebaum notes how educators tend to comfort white students who feel distress at discussing issues of racism, and how this comforting serves to maintain both the privilege of white students and the systematic oppression of black students and students of color. Applebaum argues that the best response to such situations is “supporting but not alleviating white students’ discomfort”. Encouraging white students to develop a sense of vulnerability—which Applebaum defines as “an openness to change, dispossession, and willingness to risk exposure” —could guide white students “to a willingness to stay in discomfort”, and encourage them to directly confront their own privilege.
In “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes,” Alison Bailey takes aim at privilege-protective epistemic pushback, “a variety of willful ignorance that dominant groups habitually deploy during conversations that are trying to make social injustices visible”.This kind of epistemic pushback frequently occurs in philosophy classrooms as a way for students from dominant social groups to maintain their social dominance, and to exercise control over critiques of their dominance, by utilizing traditional philosophical techniques. It is, as Bailey writes, a method of “using the master’s tools to defend the master’s epistemic home terrain”. Bailey recommends that social-justice educators treat cases of epistemic pushback as shadow texts, “texts that run alongside the readings” and function to undermine instead of engage the readings. In this way, educators can encourage “class members to become aware of the fact that these moves are political and that sometimes they are driven just as much by fear and ignorance as they are by the desire to engage with the text”. The goal of social-justice education should not only be to teach students to critically read texts, but also to critically read their reactions to those texts.
In “‘Tell Me How That Makes You Feel’: Philosophy’s Reason/Emotion Divide and Epistemic Pushback in Philosophy Classrooms,” Allison Wolf expands on the discussion of epistemic pushback. Focusing specifically on how “the discipline of philosophy itself facilitates, obfuscates, and/or provides the tools for students to engage in this privilege-protecting type of epistemic pushback”, Wolf maintains that philosophy’s tendency to emphasize reason over emotion is frequently “deployed as a tool of privilege-evasive epistemic pushback to continue tilting the unlevel knowing field toward dominant groups”. Wolf notes that while philosophers pride themselves on engaging in unemotional argumentation, philosophy, and philosophy classrooms, are never free of emotion. Instead, the emotions of members of socially dominant groups tend to be implicitly validated, while the emotions of members of traditionally marginalized groups are taken as an indicator of poor argumentation skills. Arguing that “good philosophy requires us to recognize both information and our emotional response to the information to gain knowledge”, Wolf outlines three strategies that are designed to help students of philosophy engage with texts on an emotional level, and learn to critically respond to their own emotional reactions.
David M. Peña-Guzmán and Rebekah Spera’s article, “The Philosophical Personality,” picks up on the theme of what counts as good philosophical argumentation, and who is taken seriously as a philosopher. Peña-Guzmán and Spera construct a profile of the archetypical philosopher, based on both the social, economic, and political considerations that “determine, empirically, who can become a professional philosopher today” and the idealized image of what it means to be a philosopher—the way “philosophers understand themselves qua philosophers” . Together, these factors create a conception of a philosopher who “is white and he is male. He is also heterosexual, cisgendered, and able-bodied. He is an offspring of the middle class, the child of academics” . According to Peña-Guzmán and Spera, “This conception, which is internalized by current and aspiring members of the profession, shapes the latent content of the philosophical imaginary as an unacknowledged norm” , influencing both who counts as a philosopher, and even what is considered the proper philosophical methodology. Peña-Guzmán and Spera point out two significant problems with this conception of the philosopher. First, the conception contributes to the continued marginalization of philosophers who do not appear to fit the archetypical image of the philosopher. Second, the conception encourages philosophers to be ignorant of the realities of their own discipline, “creat[ing] a cycle of active ignorance that prevents philosophers from engaging in genuine self-critique” . Peña-Guzmán and Spera argue that “In order to meet the demand for self-knowledge and become a welcoming space for individuals from diverse backgrounds . . . philosophy must be reimagined at its deepest level”. Diversifying philosophy means reconceptualizing both who the philosopher is and what it means to do philosophy.
The last two musings present empirical investigations of two important aspects of underrepresentation in philosophy: academic publishing and recruiting undergraduate philosophy majors. In “The Underrepresentation of Women in Prestigious Ethics Journals,” Meena Krishnamurthy, Shen-yi Liao, Monique Deveaux, and Maggie Dalecki ask if women are underrepresented in prestigious ethics journals, relative to the number of women who specialize in ethics. The authors conclude that “Women who specialize in ethics are indeed underrepresented in prestigious ethics journals”. These findings are particularly important since—as the authors note—there is a much higher percentage of women specializing in ethics than in other subfields of philosophy. If women are underrepresented in some of the most prestigious ethics journals, “the gender problem in philosophy publishing may be more widespread and pernicious” than many philosophers suspect. Krishnamurthy, Liao, Deveaux, and Dalecki suggest that further research is necessary to determine if there are structural causes both in academic journals and in philosophy departments that lead to this kind of underrepresentation.
In “Evidence Supporting Pre-University Effects Hypotheses of Women’s Underrepresentation in Philosophy,” Chris Dobbs reports the results of research supporting the hypothesis that there are causes influencing women to choose not to major in philosophy even before they enter university. Based on an analysis of American Freshman Surveys conducted between 2004 and 2009, Dobbs finds that even though women made up over fifty-five percent of the survey respondents, only “About one of every three students who intended to major in philosophy were women”. Dobbs notes that “The sex gap in intention to major in philosophy mirrors the sex gap in philosophy degrees awarded. . . . About one of every three students who graduated with a philosophy BA were women, despite the fact, again, that more than fifty-seven percent of the sample was made up of wo. Dobbs cautions his readers against mistaking these results as a sign that philosophy departments should give up on diversity initiatives. On the contrary, Dobbs points out that “If anybody is contributing to an anti-woman philosopher schema, it is the people who practice philosophy. . . . It is up to philosophy department members, and nobody else, to foster an anti-discriminatory culture”. Philosophers are responsible for creating a culture that can either encourage or discourage women from becoming philosophy majors, and the ripples of this culture reach beyond the formal boundaries of the university. If the culture that discourages women from becoming philosophy majors—even before they enter university—is to change, it is philosophers who must change it.
Read the special cluster in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy
Miranda Pilipchuk is Managing Editor of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy
It is 2017, and it seems that the whole world has descended upon Wittenberg. Luther tours, Luther conferences, small groups with every Lutheran affiliation imaginable, and individual tourists from all over the globe have been traveling to Wittenberg all year. They have been touring the important sites in Luther’s life, and learning about his theology there. It is 2017, and it seems that the whole world has descended upon Wittenberg—with perhaps one important exception, and that is the Lutheran World Federation.
The fact is that still today, all over the world, much is for sale that, in reality, is priceless: human beings, endangered animals, oceans and rivers, mountains and forests.
For their twelfth assembly that took place this May, the LWF did not go to Wittenberg; they went to Africa. Africa, which houses the largest Lutheran Church in the communion, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, with slightly over 9 million members. More specifically, they went to Namibia, a former German colony, where the Lutheran Church played an important role in the struggle against apartheid. This is not your grandma’s German [or Swedish or Finnish] Lutheran Church—and it certainly looks much different than when Luther sowed it five centuries ago.
The tagline of that assembly was “Not for Sale,” and that phrase shows how relevant the core Reformation message of 500 years ago still is today, a continent and a culture away. The fact is that still today, all over the world, much is for sale that, in reality, is priceless: human beings, endangered animals, oceans and rivers, mountains and forests. Consumerism is the god that is worshipped by more people world-wide than any other; and the siren-song consumption sings, which promises happiness, success and self-worth, lures more and more people to the rocks every day.
In such a dangerous, deadly context, the Reformation message of freedom and liberation comes as a welcome island of rest and restoration to those who are weary of striving, those who have no money for purchase, and those who are riddled with shame and guilt. The message is, simply, that you are good enough, just as you are—you don’t need to buy anything, win anything, do anything to be loved, cherished and valued. And you are not for sale.
The Rev. Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen is Editor of Dialog: A Journal of Theology and
Co-Dean & Professor of Systematic Theology at United Lutheran Seminary
The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s promulgation of his 95 Theses. Commemorated worldwide as the beginning of the Reformation, this event was both the result of, and a catalyst for wider-ranging social, political, and religious developments. The waves from Wittenberg reached far beyond the borders of Germany, marking not only what became the Lutheran tradition but also the wider Christian community, including the Roman Catholic Church, whose identity was forged in this 16th-century confrontation.
“What does it mean to look at the events century from the perspective of women as active participants? Were Luther’s anti-Jewish writings…aberrations of his later years, or…a central element of his theological thought?”
Meanwhile, the Reformation was an event embedded in global history, coinciding with changes in trading patterns and economic activity, the confrontation between the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, the beginnings of the colonization of the Americas, Africa and Asia, and the “Christianization” of Europe, reflected in the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. Anniversaries such as that of the Reformation prompt the question “What is being remembered?” What does it mean to look at the events century from the perspective of women as active participants? Were Luther’s anti-Jewish writings, which exercised such a nefarious role, especially in his German homeland in the 20th century, aberrations of his later years, or, as some researchers now suggest, a central element of his theological thought? Commemorations also prompt us to ask, “Who is remembering?” and why. Only in 1617 did the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses a century earlier begin to be celebrated as the foundational event of the Lutheran Reformation, amid a looming conflict with the Catholic powers that would erupt the following year in the Thirty Years’ War. Since then, Reformation anniversaries have often been moulded by contemporary interests and concerns, prompting the reflection: how will future historians look back on the 2017 commemoration?
Each year, The Philosopher’s Annual faces the daunting task of selecting the 10 best articles in philosophy published that year. For 2016, they’ve chosen two articles from journals published by Wiley: Shamik Dasgupta’s article “Metaphysical Rationalism,” published in Noûs, and Una Stojnić’s article “One’s Modus Ponens: Modality, Coherence and Logic,” published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.