Featured Philosopher: Alexus McLeod

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Alexus McLeod is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Asian/Asian-American Studies at the University of Connecticut. He works in Comparative Philosophy broadly, with specific interests in the Chinese, Indian, and Mesoamerican philosophical traditions. Recent publications include Philosophy of the Ancient Maya: Lords of Time (Lexington), Theories of Truth in Chinese Philosophy: A Comparative Approach (Rowman and Littlefield International), Astronomy in the Ancient World (Springer) and Understanding Asian Philosophy (Bloomsbury). He is also editor of the Critical Inquries in Comparative Philosophy book series (Rowman and Littlefield International). He is currently working on a book on madness and self-cultivation in early China, and a project on truth in Indian Philosophy. He considers himself a philosophical explorer, in the spirit of his favorite fictional explorer (pictured on the tie in this photo).

Comparative Philosophy in an Age of Cultural Chauvinism (or “The Art of Traveling Without Traveling”)

Alexus McLeod

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

-Mark Twain, from The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress

My philosophical work is, to put it mildly, all over the map. I work on numerous different philosophical traditions (most recently the Chinese, Mesoamerican, Greek, and Indian traditions), and on numerous different philosophical issues within those traditions. I don’t think any of my books has covered philosophical terrain anywhere close to that of any of the others, and I don’t anticipate this changing anytime soon. In a field like our own that rewards (relatively) narrow specialization, it has been difficult to make my way like this, but somehow I have. I keep writing this stuff and people keep publishing it, and by the grace of God, I have a job as well. What I’ve never offered in any of my work yet, however, is an explanation of why I insist on working this way, hopping over so many area and disciplinary boundaries. There is purpose behind my philosophical wandering. I’d like to explain at least a little of this here, and why I think the field needs at least a few of us doing this kind of thing.

I am a huge fan of travel shows. I love watching others travel between continents, seeing historic sites, meeting people, and learning about different cultures across the globe. Indeed, I discovered the first part of the Mark Twain quote that opens this post though my favorite travel show, Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope, which closes each episode with the quote. It is a powerful statement of the importance of travel. Though Mark Twain was talking specifically about the kind of physical travel that requires long journeys over many miles, travel can happen in a variety of ways. It does not need to be the kind of physical “get up and go” trekking that requires enough free time and either a job that provides it or a large enough bank account. Anyone can travel. The key is that it involves leaving one’s “little corner,” as Mark Twain called it, and wandering into unfamiliar places. In fact, even though I personally tend to physically travel very little these days (at least in comparison to most philosophers I know), in part because I loathe transit, I engage in different kind of travel, from the armchair. Call it the art of traveling without traveling (I have a soft spot for Daoist descriptions).

Much about my own background makes this kind of travel natural for me. Even though I grew up within a pretty small range, I had the good fortune of growing up in one of the most international and cosmopolitan cities in the world, Washington, DC. One could walk a mile in any direction and find people who spoke many different languages, from all over the world. You didn’t have to globetrot to see the world, because everyone was already there. My own background is relatively diverse—I am the son of a mainly Irish-American woman from the Northeast and an African-American man from the Deep South. I married the daughter of a diplomat from India, who has herself lived in various places around the globe. It was in fact she who first got me interested in Chinese, as she’d lived in Beijing for some time and convinced me to take a course in Mandarin with her when we were undergrads. Cultural diversity has always been a central part of my own life, even though, like Socrates, I tend to stick close to home.

Travel, to me, happens through exploring different places, whether those are the physical surroundings of a different nation on a different continent, or the intellectual heritage of a culture—its language, literature, and history. I studied a number of languages and cultures as an undergraduate, all without stepping foot in the lands of their origin. I studied Mandarin Chinese and then Classical Chinese long before I ever visited China, diving into the classic philosophical, religious, and historical texts. I did the same thing with a number of other languages and cultures. This study opened my eyes to all kinds of ways of thinking about the world that differed from those I knew. Some of them I found implausible, but the longer I have reflected on these texts and traditions, the more plausible I have come to find them. And not only that, I’ve found that they have shaped the ways I think and act. My “travel” through the world’s traditions has not only enriched my life as a whole, but has made me a better philosopher than I would have been without it.

The multiculturalism I discuss (if you want to call it that) was for me never associated with elitism or any other class consideration. I was never part of the “jet set.” I come from about as typical a “middle class” an American family as one can imagine, and most of the people I knew from around the world were not much different in terms of economic class. This is part of why it pains me today to hear the enemies of multiculturalism today proclaim that it is an ideology of a so-called “Davos class”, as if the rich and powerful are trying to force cultural diversity on the unwilling masses. This was never my experience. And part of what I aim to do with my work is create the conditions in philosophy for others to travel, to have the same kind of experiences I had growing up living in the midst of diversity, and then intellectually traveling.

The kind of intellectual travel I engaged in is easier today than it has ever been. One of the unique advantages we have today is the sheer wealth of information we have at our fingertips, and all around us. The world is more interconnected today than it has ever been. It is far easier to travel intellectually, in the sense of immersion in the cultural products of a distant people, than it was when I was starting out (and it was easy then!). Travel has never been easier, even for the physical travel-averse homebody like me. There are of course deep advantages of living in a cosmopolitan city like DC or NYC, but such travel is available to people living in less diverse areas as well.

Nonetheless, in recent years visceral and even violent reaction against the kind of multiculturalism I prize has arisen at home in my country and around the world. The reasons for this are complex, having partly to do with the association in the minds of some of cultural diversity with a certain rapacious economic ideology. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the kind of rhetoric that props up such reaction against multiculturalism can only be effective in the absence of widespread travel—whether physical or intellectual travel. Echoes of this broader cultural resistance to diversity can be found even in our own discipline of philosophy. Thus, when we ask why the world is sinking into the mire of nationalism, xenophobia, and bigotry, we should also look to ourselves. Haven’t we understood Non-Western thought as an “optional other” through the years? And even now, don’t we still tend to consider the philosophical value of these traditions in terms of what they can do to advance the projects we are already engaged in?

I think the questions of whether a historical thinker or text from a Non-Western tradition is “interesting” or “important” or can “help us solve problems” are the wrong questions to be asking. What, after all, determines whether a philosopher is interesting? Part of the problem is that when we are provincial, our provinciality does not limit itself to the content we choose to engage with, but seeps into the very ways that we reason, and shapes our conceptions of what we find valuable. Are Mengzi, Dharmakirti, and Nezahualcoyotl important because they deal with problems we’re already inclined to think are important? This strikes me as similar to a person who says that he’s only going to go try the Salvadorean food cart if they have good food. It will be completely unsurprising when the insular non-Salvadorean concludes that it’s not good food because it doesn’t taste right, because they don’t have pizza and hamburgers and fries. One’s view of what counts as good food will be shaped by the communities one moves in, by what one is exposed to. Likewise, what one understands as a good argument, an apt intuition, or an important point, has much (but not everything of course) to do with what one is exposed to, with where one stands. We are deluding ourselves if we think there is some kind of universal and culturally transcendent standard for what is “important”, or even of proper reasoning. This is not to say that we should accept a radical postmodernist stance toward reasoning itself, but reasoning itself is always half-formed. There are no arguments without assumptions, intuitions, implicit valuations—including shared assumptions about just what constitutes good argument. One of the things I have been most struck by in my years of studying various philosophical traditions is just how different assumptions can be concerning all of the aspects of philosophical reasoning mentioned above. Even if we are right that there is One True Method (although, like Zhuangzi, I think we should run for the hills when anyone starts pontificating about the One True Anything), we cannot simply assume that we have it, when there are so many other alternatives out there.

Ultimately, my hope is that through intellectual travel we will form new ways of living, thinking, and speaking. My own aim is to contribute to the development of global philosophy, which is part of a larger project we might call “globalization”. Not the kind of globalization that looks to impose a single cultural standard on everyone, but the kind of globalization that involves mutual exchange and true fusion. True fusion does not involve the “land grab” of using parts of some traditions to achieve the purposes of another, rather it involves the transformation of multiple traditions into a new tradition that shares features of each. True fusion is not philosophical appropriation. Rather, it involves being open to the transformation of oneself in light of a mutual exchange. When a true fusion happens, there can no longer be an “us” and “them”, because “they” become “us”.

So when I’m asked (as I occasionally am), “is this all just about inclusion? Is it diversity just for the sake of diversity?” I answer emphatically—“yes!” Inclusion is critical. What we include as part of ourselves shapes how we view and reason about the world and our lives. It is no accident that those whose communities are most restrictive also have the most insular and impoverished worldviews. It is simply impossible to spend much time with others without being influenced by the ways they think and act, and without developing more expansive (and ultimately more adequate) worldviews. If we aim to understand universal concepts like truth, being, morality, and others, we can’t sit still in our “little corner of the earth.” We have to travel. We have to explore. Sic itur ad astra!

Featured Philosopher: Meena Dhanda

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Dr. Meena Dhanda is a Reader in Philosophy and Cultural Politics at the University of Wolverhampton. She migrated from the Indian Punjab to the U.K. as a Commonwealth Scholar at Oxford University in 1987. She has published two books: a monograph, The Negotiation of Personal Identity (Saarbrüken: VDM Verlag, 2008) and Reservations for Women (ed.) (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2008). From 2007, Meena has engaged in transdisciplinary studies connected with caste/race, publishing several papers including: ‘Punjabi Dalit Youth: Social Dynamics of Transitions in Identity’, (Contemporary South Asia, 2009); ‘Runaway Marriages: A Silent Revolution?’, (Economic and Political Weekly, 2012); ‘Certain Allegiances, Uncertain Identities: The Fraught Struggles of Dalits in Britain’ (Tracing the New Indian Diaspora, 2014); ‘Do only South Asians reclaim honour’? (‘Honour’ and Women’s Rights, 2014); ‘Anti-Castism and Misplaced Nativism’ (Radical Philosophy, 2015). She has been an active member of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK for more than 25 years.

Doing Socially Engaged Philosophy

Meena Dhanda

[The following is a revised extract from two Keynotes presented at the Women and Minorities in Philosophy conference, University of Edinburgh, 21st April 2016 and the annual Ratio and 7th Experimental Philosophy as Applied Philosophy international conference, University of Reading, 24th April 2016. Many thanks to the organisers for the occasions to voice my views then, and now to Meena Krishnamurthy, for inviting me to publish on her blog.]

When I arrived from India in the U.K., I had assumed that caste was not likely to be an issue in the U.K. I was wrong. My awareness came from chance conversations with students. I also realised that there was little empirical work on caste in the U.K. I was intrigued that, despite the possibility of erasing caste identity and living as ‘equals’ in the U.K., South Asians seemed to maintain their caste enclaves. As a philosopher, it was a big step for me to find out through primary research what kind of caste awareness existed in the U.K. In 2007-8, a research award gave me the opportunity to work on a comparative pilot project interviewing young people in Wolverhampton as well as the Indian Punjab about caste-identity. From 2010-2012, the award of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship gave me further opportunity to engage with the South Asian Dalit communities in Wolverhampton and elsewhere. My initial interest in Untouchability (Dhanda 1993), caste-identity, inter-caste relations and caste-based prejudice, extended to understanding caste discrimination too.

The stories about caste prejudice I heard shocked me. Young Dalits told me that when friends discovered their caste, their behaviour towards them radically changed. They said that as professionals they would prefer to move away from residential areas of high South Asian concentration, because they did not want to face questions about their caste, questions that would inevitably be raised if they stayed within South Asian communities. All this was terribly disturbing. I learnt, that often young people experience caste labelling without having any framework within which to locate this denigration. They may get called a name, be insulted, or joked about, but they don’t understand: why? They may begin from a vague sense that there are divisions between South Asian groups, but sooner or later, especially by the time they are of marriageable age, a full-blown, birth-ascribed, caste-identity catches up. Even those who do not identify with their caste, ‘high’ or ‘low’ (and there are many such people) they too end up being identified by community members as belonging to a caste grouping. There are several caste-based organisations, U.K. charities, which have the purpose of protecting the social and cultural interests of certain caste groups. So, if someone says caste is dying in the U.K. we need to ask them when will this come to pass? Caste is not about to be to eliminated in the U.K. any time soon.

What is the link between the practice of caste, and the existence of caste discrimination? What must a responsible philosopher do about caste discrimination? Can some kinds of caste discrimination be lawful? If caste discrimination is to be eliminated, must we use the law, or address public opinion alone? Are these pragmatic considerations or are there matters of principle at stake here? These are questions that political philosophy ought to consider. There are real people, victims of caste discrimination, demanding that the law should be used to protect them. The law makers are dillydallying, under pressure from powerful lobbies resisting change.

In his Introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics, Hugh Lafollette (2003) notes that to say anything informative, we must make the effort to acquaint ourselves with the facts of the matter. ‘If we do not understand the way people act and the way our world works, we will lack a plausible standpoint from which rationally to evaluate current practices’ (2003:7) and the danger of ill-informed theorising is that the status quo will remain unchallenged. If we want to use ethical theorising to check biases, prejudices, and selfishness, then we must learn to understand how these biases work in the ‘real’ world of people.

If philosophy is taken as the activity of clarification, elaboration or invention of concepts, this activity takes place in the context of problem solving. We start from a given articulation of the problem, say for example, trenchant difference of opinion about the value of a practice (e.g. caste-based endogamy). To make a defensible judgment about the value of that practice, we will need first to understand what the practice means to respective practitioners. We will, therefore, need to gather ‘information’ about the variety of actual positions. For those who want its continuation, the practice may be expressed as definitive of a people’s identity, or seen as necessary to maintain continuity with tradition. It may also be defended as simply a matter of individual choice. For those who oppose that practice, it is equally necessary to their oppositional identity to expunge the practice from their lives. On endogamy, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wrote that caste causes a ‘division of labourers’ ‘graded one above the other’ (Ambedkar 1936/2002: 263); ‘[a] caste is an enclosed class’ and ‘endogamy is the only characteristic of caste’ (Ambedkar 1916). The defenders of endogamy differ with Ambedkar’s analysis of caste.

I took on a mediating role when setting up a face to face organised deliberation on the value and limits of legal measures against caste discrimination in Britain, specifically on the inclusion of ‘caste’ in the U.K. Equality Act 2010. For this task, I was entrusted with the responsibility of bringing together the fullest range of stakeholder organisations by the U.K. Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) as a part of the project Caste in Britain that I led from Sept 2013 – January 2014, concluding in two published reports (Dhanda et al 2014a and Dhanda et al 2014b). From the start of this project till today, it has been a challenge to maintain the role of a mediator. I have been accused of ‘colonial consciousness’, a charge to which I responded in ‘Anti-Castism and Misplaced Nativism: Mapping caste an aspect of race’ (Dhanda 2015). The U.K. based Alliance of Hindu Organisations (AHO) had conceded in a press release after participating in our EHRC Stakeholders’ workshop that ‘[w]e accept that there is evidence of geographical pockets of discrimination’ (dated 13 November 2013). Nonetheless, after the publication of our EHRC reports, AHO wrote in a letter to the Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on British Hindus: ‘The word Caste must not remain in Legislation, its continued use is an act of anti Hindu racial and religious violence and prejudice of the highest order’ (dated 20 March 2014).

To untangle the thinking behind such responses to the inclusion of caste in the Equality Act 2010, is a not an easy matter. From regurgitating conceptual muddles, to made-up histories of ideas, to veiled threats of withdrawing political support from their respective mouthpieces in the Houses of Parliament, to personalised attacks on academics arguing for legislation, the opposition to legislation on caste discrimination in the U.K. demonstrates various ploys of power used to subvert orderly discussion. Can a philosopher stand up to such an onslaught? Are professional philosophers equipped to participate in bare knuckle fights? George Yancy’s remark: ‘Only now have I really begun to recognize how discourse designed to hurt can actually leave its mark’ sounds a warning.

‘We desperately need a transformation in philosophy’ as Naomi Scheman said in her dialogue with Kristie Dotson, offering a convincing diagnosis of the straight-jacketing of philosophical practice. Post-second world war professionalization of the subject of philosophy happened alongside a de-politicisation, curtailing engagement with the world beyond the text, and valorising the text as the narrowly defined object of study. This, she argues, in the context of North America was partly a defensive response to McCarthyism and partly an attraction of scienticism. I agree with her Wittgensteinian and socialist bent of mind attuned to looking at the bigger picture, one where: ‘we live in a world of irreducibly divergent perspectives … enmeshed with power and privilege and vulnerability’ (14 April 2016).

Reflection on ‘real’ world problems can generate surprising conceptual connections. I have begun to make one between racism and casteism. I also want to recall a historical connection. The racial division and segregation of the American South was in the 1930s described in terms of two ‘castes’ — ranked, endogamous, ascriptive racial groups— before the language of ethnicity and race itself overtook this (Fuller 2011). For India, there are studies of the racialization of caste both in colonial times and in contemporary attitudes towards Dalits; and the language of racism (or ‘hidden apartheid’) has been promoted by Dalits mobilising to bring international attention to caste discrimination through United Nations forums (initially at the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance at Durban in 2001).

The opposition to the U.K. caste legislation objects to the comparison between racism and casteism. But there is a historical connection between racial purity and caste purity rigorously argued by Dorothy Figueira (2002). Racism in Europe, took its vicious form of Aryan supremacy, through the imperialist foraging of ancient Indian texts. There are echoes of the racial script of Aryan supremacist thinking within Indian nationalists too: Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) worried that caste Hindus mixing with non-castes, leads to Aryan degradation (Figueira 2002: 137). The idea of racial purity is historically tied to the idea of caste purity – to promotion of ‘breeding’ and to a fear of miscegenation. In the U.K., Casteism is experienced most intimately in the personal domain, but it spills over into the public domain of education, work and services, covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Relying on the comparative analysis of race and caste made by the anthropologist Gerald Berreman I support the advantages of juxtaposing the structural oppressions of racism and casteism, albeit, by spelling out as fully as possible their respective manifestations in the lives of the oppressed. Berreman (1968) warns, that ‘Our silence…. leaves to politicians and journalists, to entrepreneurs, scoundrels….but especially to the powerful – the interpretation and manipulation of matters about which they frequently know little…’ and ‘to shrink from value, from passion, or commitment, is as inappropriate as to shrink from reason…we must seek to apply our knowledge and skills to real problems, defined by us…’.

For me, the real problem is making sense of contested practices of caste. Are caste differentiations and divisions about inequality or are they fundamentally about domination? We cannot hope for a consensus on our understanding of caste discrimination and convincingly establish the point of using the law in protecting victims of caste discrimination, without filling out the ‘bigger picture’. This, for me, is doing socially engaged philosophy.

References

Ambedkar, Bhimrao R. (1916) ‘Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’. In Valerian Rodigrues (Ed) (2002) The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Ambedkar, Bhimrao R. (1936) ‘The Annihilation of Caste’ in Rodigrues (2002).

Berreman, Gerald (1968) ‘Is Anthropology Alive? Social Responsibility in Social Anthropology’ Current Anthropology. Vol 9: 5; 391-396.

Dhanda, Meena (1993) ‘L’éveil des intouchables en Inde’ (translated by Isabelle di Natale) in Catherine Audard (ed) Le Respect : De l’estime à la déférence: une question de limite. Paris: les Éditions Autrement – Série Morales Nº 10 – Février 1993 – 120 F. Pp. 130-145. ISSN: 1154-5763.

Dhanda, Meena (2008) The Negotiation of Personal Identity. Saarbrüken: Verlag Dr. Muller. Pages 231. ISBN: 978-3-639-02931-4.

Dhanda, Meena (2015) ‘Anti-Castism and Misplaced Nativism: Mapping caste as an aspect of race’. Radical Philosophy, 192, July-Aug, 33-43, ISSN: 0300-211X

Figueira, Dorothy M. (2002) Aryans, Jews, and Brahmans: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Fuller, Chris J. (2011) ‘Caste, race, and hierarchy in the American South’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 17, 604-621.

Lafollette, Hugh (2003) The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics. Oxford: OUP.

Featured Philosopher: Marcia Baron

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Marcia Baron is the James H. Rudy Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University. She also recently was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews, and many moons ago taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Publications include Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology (Cornell, 1995), Three Methods of Ethics: A Debate, co-authored with Philip Pettit and Michael Slote (Blackwell, 1997), “Manipulativeness” (2003), “Gender Issues in the Criminal Law” (2011), “Self-Defense: The Imminence Requirement” (2011), “The Standard of the Reasonable Person in the Criminal Law” (2012), “The Ticking Bomb Hypothetical” (2013), “Rape, Seduction, Shame, and Culpability in Tess of the d’Urbervilles” (2013), “The Mens Rea and Moral Status of Manipulation” (2014), “A Kantian Take on the Supererogatory” (2016), and “Justification, Excuse, and the Exculpatory Power of Ignorance” (2016). 

Is More Better? Another Take on Citation Practices

Marcia Baron

I want to express my gratitude to Meena for creating and running this site, and for inviting me to contribute to it. Although the suggestion was to write about my research, another option was to offer a comment on the profession, and I’ve decided to go with the latter. The former is more fun, but there is an issue that’s been on my mind, particularly as a concern regarding younger scholars, and this seems the right place to address it (apart from the slight awkwardness that I am using Meena’s site to take issue with a proposal she put forward).

Recently I refereed a paper for a journal that sends each referee not only the verdict but also the other referee’s report. The paper received a revise-and-resubmit, which was fine with me; but I was concerned about the requests for revision from the other referee. I wanted this point clarified, that section expanded, wanted the author to either remove one section or make clearer how it fit into the overall paper. The other referee wanted more work on the topic cited and addressed. My reaction was “That’s one kind of paper, but not the only kind!” It was a really interesting piece, deep, complex, an engaging read, and I couldn’t see any way the author could comply with the referee’s request without lowering the quality of the paper.

Around the same time a friend drew my attention to a piece by Meena Krishnamurthy and Jessica Wilson proposing that “large numbers of individuals commit, in their capacity as journal or other referees, to rejecting for publication papers or other submissions that fail to cite work that is clearly relevant to the topic at hand, on grounds of failing to meet basic standards of scholarship” or at least commit to not accepting any such articles (the idea, I take it, being that the author would be asked to revise and resubmit). It should be “generally considered a necessary condition on a submission’s getting a full review that the author engages in basic scholarly due diligence.” Although this is far less burdensome than a proposal to require not merely citing but engaging with all clearly relevant work, I am not in favor of it.

I don’t want to claim that there is nothing amiss in current citation practices. Routinely citing only articles in the most highly-regarded journals, or only the articles one thinks referees and journal editors are most likely to expect one to cite, or only the work of one’s friends, or the “in-group,” or the most famous people who have written on the topic, is clearly pernicious. Moreover, anyone who claims that approach A has been neglected in recent decades had better do her homework to be sure that is the case and should certainly cite any exceptions; ditto for anyone who claims her approach is novel.

But what if the author does not claim her approach is novel, or that approach A has been neglected? Is it critical that she do a thorough search to figure out who else has put forward a view similar to hers and then take care to cite all such work? I don’t think so. To be sure, a paper that betrays ignorance of relevant alternatives, i.e. that assumes that the only options are A and B when C should also be acknowledged, is ipso facto flawed and referees or editors should note the failing and ask that the paper be revised accordingly. Presumably editors and referees already are doing that. I take it that what is proposed here is something more than that, involving a more robust notion of ‘scholarly due diligence.’

The paper that cites extensively, noting various other approaches and arguing against them, or when in partial agreement, mentioning them in a footnote and explaining where one agrees and where one disagrees, is one kind of paper; I’m glad such papers exist (at least when they are done well, without misrepresenting others’ views; see below). But most of the papers I am inspired by, return to, assign in advanced courses–papers by Susan Wolf or Barbara Herman, for example–do not cite extensively. It never occurs to me to wonder whether the author adequately researched the possibility that someone else had already made a similar point.

Nonetheless, there is a problem–the work of some philosophers is unjustly ignored–and the question remains of how best to address it.

(1) I agree that we as authors should pay attention to whom we cite, and revise accordingly: are we citing mainly just those who are well known? (Or mainly just men? Or just our friends?)

(2) In refereeing, we should recommend that an author take into account the work of S (but I mean to contrast that with simply requiring much more extensive citing).

(3) In editing a book or guest editing an issue of a journal, we should make a point of inviting not only well-established authors but also junior scholars.

(4) Invitations to present papers to one’s department or at a conference should be issued with these concerns in mind. The APA has been doing this for quite some time; in my experience, often we consider an author-meets-critic session or an invited speaker but decide that although excellent and sure to draw a good crowd, his work is showcased often enough as is, and we should instead invite some people whose work, though also quite good, receives less attention, including especially people from marginalized groups.

(5) In refereeing proposals for anthologies and (especially!) textbooks, we should be bold about objecting if there is inadequate representation of women authors and non-white authors, and also encourage the editor to invite some less established authors to contribute.

(6) Although we need to assign the work of various famous philosophers in our courses, we should include as well work by the less famous. (I am assuming that we already all agree that we should not assign only the work of men.)

(7) Last but not least, and important for all of the above, we should read widely.

But why not also go with Wilson and Krishnamurthy’s proposal? I’ve already hinted at one reason: there is more than one way to write a good philosophy paper. Many very good papers do not cite all or most of the relevant philosophical literature and are by no means the worse for it. Relatedly, the requirement proposed would absorb a great deal of one’s time and attention, and (as I often see in papers I referee or in drafts that early career philosophers send me) too little attention is then paid to getting really clear on what one’s position is and defending it well. Now, if all that is called for is listing a large number of people who have written on roughly that topic, that is not very demanding (though there is a question of how valuable it is to do so). But this brings me to a further reason why I oppose the proposal, and indeed the most serious “citation failures” that I frequently encounter: misrepresentation of others’ views.

To be sure, the proposal doesn’t say ‘Don’t worry about whether you are accurately representing others views’! But the problem is that compliance with it either takes a great deal of time, or it works the way a number of recent papers read: one follows a practice, common in other fields, of listing after a sentence a long list of author-date citations. E.g., “The view has faced numerous challenges [several papers cited in author-date fashion].” But is it really that view that each of those authors has challenged? And: did they all actually challenge it, or did some at one point in their papers discuss a challenge to it and then endorse the view? Mistakes about such things are more likely if there is pressure to increase the number of papers we cite. My impression is that these mistakes are more common now, and specifically in papers with large numbers of citations. It might be a coincidence, but I doubt it.

Of particular concern is that if the proposal were adopted, the burden would fall disproportionately on philosophers whose careers are not well established, in particular on graduate students and untenured faculty members.[1] They are under considerable pressure to publish but unlike those of us who are doing most of the refereeing and editing, they rarely receive invitations to contribute to a volume and thus have no choice but to go through the refereeing process. I would rather not see a further burden imposed on them. One might reply that it is not imposed only on them; the proposal is to impose it on oneself, not only on those whose papers one referees. But even assuming conscientious adherence to the same citation requirements that one is imposing on others, there is still the fact that for those with well-established careers the burden is self-imposed and (probably) escapable and for others it is not.

A further problem is that the proposal, if accepted, would have the unintended effect of discouraging engagement with work outside of philosophy, a point that emerges thanks to Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò. The proposal in no way suggests that engagement with such work would be frowned upon; but given time and space constraints, those needing to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals would be unlikely to be able to do this as well as strive to cite all the relevant work in philosophy. This would be a significant cost to the profession (and not only because it would be demoralizing for the author who is trying something a little different). A lot of very interesting work in philosophy draws from a wide array of sources, not only that of professional philosophers (and, for that matter, not only that of academics); such work reduces insularity and contributes to diversity in philosophy in more ways than I have the space to list here.

Taken together, these considerations constitute very good reasons for resisting the proposal.

But isn’t frequent citation of one’s papers of great importance to one’s career? I doubt it. Attention to one’s work that involves serious engagement, assigning it in courses, recommending it to colleagues, reprinting it in an anthology—that makes a difference. So do invitations to present papers or to contribute to a prominent anthology or guest-edited issue. Simply having one’s work cited seems very unlikely to do so, particularly if it is merely cited (without even a gloss such as ‘For an intriguing alternative, see…’), one among a large number of articles. Thankfully, in our field we do not rely at all on citation counts. (I fervently hope that does not change.) In the dozens of tenure and promotion cases for which I’ve been a reviewer, the matter has never come up, nor has it come up in tenure committee meetings I’ve been part of. It would be bizarre to think that in our field frequent citation of an article is a sign that the work is held in high regard; it could be cited frequently as a glaring example of an egregious error or a common confusion. So here is something else we senior scholars should do: make sure that tenure committees and deans do not get the idea that the frequency with which a particular article (or a scholar) is cited is an even slightly useful measure of the quality of the person’s work. And everyone: please do not provide a citation count on your CV or website.

Neglecting the work of those not in the “in group” is serious. But we don’t need to address it by citing much more than we now do; we need instead to work to correct tendencies to cite and engage with only the famous, and in particular need to modify our practices in choosing whom to invite to speak in colloquia and conferences and in selecting work to assign in our classes.[2]

[1] In her reply to Táíwò (see below), Krishnamurthy acknowledges the challenges for junior philosophers and says that “what matters most is that we make a good faith attempt to cite what is objectively relevant to the topic at hand,” but doesn’t indicate whether she still endorses the proposal she and Wilson put forward concerning referees and editors.

[2] Thanks to Nathaniel Baron-Schmitt, Meena Krishnamurthy, Adam Leite, Frederick Schmitt, Sandra Shapshay, and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò for helpful comments.

Featured Philosopher: Kyle Whyte

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Kyle Whyte holds the Timnick Chair in the Humanities and is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. He is a faculty member of the Environmental Philosophy & Ethics graduate concentration and serves as a faculty affiliate of the American Indian Studies and Environmental Science & Policy programs. His primary research addresses moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples and the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and climate science organizations. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

Indigenous Research and Professional Philosophy in the U.S.

Kyle Whyte

I write as an Indigenous philosopher working in a U.S. department of philosophy. One of my goals is to make it possible for more Indigenous persons to be professional philosophers while also living fulfilling lives and careers according to the values of their own communities and nations. Here I would like to introduce the idea of Indigenous research as a way of glimpsing just one of the topics that requires critical reflection for this goal to be advanced.

Indigenous peoples refer to self-determining communities and nations who now live in territories dominated largely by nation state governments, such as New Zealand, corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, and all their subnational and subsidiary organizations, such as the state of Michigan or Dakota Access, LLC. Indigenous peoples continue to exercise cultural and political self-determination across diverse places, including metropolitan areas and treaty lands, though they must reckon with legacies and ongoing practices of capitalist exploitation, colonialism, settlement, and imperialism. For many of us Indigenous persons, our lives are closely tied to the resurgence of our communities and nations across the diverse places in which we live, work, and play.

Indigenous persons with PhD degrees in philosophy from anglophone universities and who work at U.S. institutions of higher education are relatively few in number, roughly less than 20 persons total, including those who are retired and those close to finishing their degrees. They have produced significant work, from Anne Water’s comparative philosophy, to Brian Burkhardt’s epistemology, to David Martinez’ histories of Indigenous philosophy, to Viola Cordova’s ontological and moral philosophy, to Dale Turner’s critical philosophy—and more philosophical projects and writings, of course, than I have the space to reference here.

There have been a range of projects that Indigenous philosophers working at U.S. institutions have been part of, including an anthology, American Indian Thought (Wiley-Blackwell, 2003), and The American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Indigenous Philosophers. The committee, currently chaired by Waters, has revived its newsletter under the editorship of Shay Welch, Agnes Curry, and Andrea Sullivan-Clarke.

Indigenous research is a global movement that—at least in my experience—few philosophy PhD holders have really heard of, exceptions being philosophers working in some areas of Indigenous philosophy, decolonial/anti-colonial philosophy, feminist philosophy, and certainly others too. Here I mean a narrow conception of Indigenous research as referring to any investigations produced through Indigenous systems of inquiry and that seek to advance Indigenous peoples’ aspirations.

In this narrow sense, not all Indigenous philosophy research is Indigenous research. This statement is by no means a criticism of the former. For the Indigenous research movement is not recommending a comprehensive agenda for all matters related to Indigenous peoples in philosophy or any other field. Indeed, as I will try to explain in this piece, it is an open question as to whether it is possible for philosophers working in U.S. institutions to do Indigenous research while succeeding in their professional careers.

Though diverse in its intellectual origins, including connections to community-based participatory research and feminist methodologies, one key architect of the Indigenous research movement is the Māori research movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Linda Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Zed, 1999) and the Tertiary Education Commission’s funding of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence (2002), are two major events that built off of over 30 years of advocacy for Indigenous research by Māori leaders and scholars.

Called Kaupapa Māori research, Smith defines Indigenous research in the Māori context as inquiry that “sets out to make a positive difference for Māori, that incorporates a model of social change or transformation, that privileges Māori knowledge and ways of being, that sees the engagement in theory as well as empirical research as a significant task, and that sets out a framework for organizing, conducting, and evaluating Māori research. It is also an approach that is active in building capacity and research infrastructure in order to sustain a sovereign research agenda that supports community aspirations and development” (pg. 120, On Tricky Ground, 2007).

As a member of the International Advisory Board for Ngā Pae, I have reviewed a range of Kaupapa Māori research projects. One study investigates Māori language revitalization through centering Māori family and social relationships as a research method for finding out more about language learning. The results promise to inform Māori leaders and educators and New Zealand policy-makers too. Another study investigates whether people’s environmental health is related to their participation in community conservation activities. The study is organized using Māori conceptual frameworks that are hard to translate into English, including kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and mauri (holistic cultural, ecological, and community well-being).

Professional philosophers are engaging with Kaupapa Māori research too. Krushil Watene recently received a Marsden Foundation grant to investigate Māori concepts of social justice in comparison to Potawatomi and Ubuntu concepts, instead of using privileged philosophies such as those of Plato or Rawls as the assumed basis for comparison. This project will perhaps be one among many more to come.

In these projects, what is distinctive about Indigenous research is the process of research itself, which, in short, takes place largely outside of academic institutions or at least does not privilege nonindigenous organizational structures, curriculum, and expected qualifications for faculty or expert status. Māori leaders and community members worked with the Māori researchers to develop the goals, approaches to inquiry, and strategies for ensuring the work builds Māori research capacities.

In North America, Indigenous research is growing too, and features thousands of notable examples. The College of Menominee Nation (Keshena, WI) developed its own research institute in 1994, the Sustainable Development Institute, which is “dedicated to examining sustainability issues and applying them to the Menominee model of sustainable development.” Through observing research processes that involve spending large amounts of time in the Menominee’s sustainable forest, some scientific collaborators begin to grasp how Menominee’s protocols of respect for the agency of the forest as a living, spiritual ecosystem translate into stewardship practices that continue to support the Tribe’s continuance in the face of U.S. settler colonialism.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Department of Natural Resources organize their environmental and climate change research through following the processes and protocols of their comprehensive social and ecological system, difficult to translate, called Tamanwit. While many scientists consider such processes and protocols highly unusual for research, investigating the world this way not only has improved understanding of ecological indicators other scientists would miss, but promoted awareness of gender justice in the Tribal community.

The Indigenous research movement is active within U.S. and Canadian institutions to of higher education. Indigenous Studies programs, such as at Trent University, have elders as faculty members, require students to engage with the languages and philosophies of the Tribes in the region (Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee), and offer spaces and peer review options for students to engage in research according to their own traditional learning and research practices (or those of the nations and communities they work with). They have redesigned everything about the organizational structure of the program to reflect, as best possible, learning and research processes associated with Indigenous systems of inquiry.

I reference these examples because they involve both the production of processes of inquiry but also the capacity building that Smith discusses. They produce knowledge at the same time they rebuild Indigenous peoples’ capacities to create and govern their own research. The processes of research generate different questions and insights; at the same time, they produce benefits for Indigenous peoples and strengthen Indigenous capacities to facilitate further beneficial research in the future.

Even though, since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have always engaged in inquiry, like most other societies, Indigenous research must be articulated as a movement because U.S., New Zealand, Canadian and other settlers suppress Indigenous systems of inquiry and exploit Indigenous persons in settler research, which has given “research” a bad name among many Native people. Settlers rejected Indigenous systems of inquiry as nonscientific, subjected Indigenous persons to brutal research practices, forcibly divested Indigenous peoples through boarding schools of the building blocks of Indigenous systems of inquiry, including language, skill sets, and kinship relations, and created theories of genetics or history that relegate Indigenous persons to positions of inferiority, among other wrongs.

While the field of philosophy does not have some of the riskier research methods of other fields, there are nonetheless quite blatant problems of settler colonial erasure in the U.S. philosophy profession. Indigenous people typically only garner mention in teaching and research as cases or illustrations that factor into settler and other philosophers’ debates as evidence or counterexamples. Despite there being thousands of Indigenous philosophical traditions in North America, few if any philosophy departments offer more than a single class (if that) on any of these traditions, even the ones of the peoples on whose lands particular colleges or universities stand. Departments and professional organizations have also not engaged in reconciliation efforts as have occurred in other fields, such as geography.

More insidiously, philosophical topics are sometimes organized conceptually to convey falsehoods about Indigenous peoples, e.g. the debate over whether Indigenous peoples are justified in making “special rights” claims against “states.” It is also just troubling to be in a profession, at least in the U.S. context, in which you know that many of your colleagues were not raised to have any awareness of the thousands of Indigenous nations and communities living today—so many complex and diverse cultural, political, social, legal, economic Indigenous worlds that are erased from the perceptions, memories, and experiences of so many colleagues working in U.S. institutions.

Is it possible for a professional philosopher at a U.S. institution of higher education to pursue Indigenous research? If something like Indigenous research is possible for philosophers, we first have to start with the idea that Indigenous peoples already have institutions and contexts where philosophizing—broadly construed—occurs and matters to Indigenous aspirations.

For example, Anishinaabe/Neshnabé peoples have rich philosophical practices, from the more esoteric societies, such as the Midewiwin lodges, to the formal consensus processes and informal everyday dialogue protocols used to deliberate about the reasonableness of competing theories for how people should respond to pressing cultural, political, social, ethical and economic issues. These processes and protocols are fora for debating topics as diverse as the meaning of environmental stewardship, the nature and existence of Indigenous rights, the legitimacy of traditions (e.g. gender traditions), and the nature of political authority, among many other topics.

The conventions of philosophizing are likely to be different in these contexts than in U.S. philosophy departments. For example, the environment is not cordoned off from any philosophical concepts, the Anishinaabemowin language is invoked to clarify concepts that can’t be expressed in English, having a PhD in philosophy is not privileged, and there is no expectation to persuade anyone that one’s philosophical ideas are “new” or the pure products of one’s individual intellectual labor—and many more differences. Anishinaabe conventions for philosophizing promote the possibility of different philosophical questions, connections, insights, debates, and solutions than may get raised elsewhere.

If, again, Indigenous research involves making investigations through Indigenous systems of inquiry that advance Indigenous aspirations, then “Indigenous research” by professional philosophers would mean actually philosophizing in the type of Indigenous context such as the one I described—which is just one of many.

While I am hopeful for the future, I have serious concerns in the present in the U.S. as to whether it is possible to meet the research, teaching, and service requirements of our departments while at the same time engaging in Indigenous research processes designed collaboratively with Indigenous communities and nations and that benefit their aspirations. Indigenous research approaches, such as Kaupapa Māori, require researchers to ask demanding questions before they begin their work.

Consider just a few of these questions. Can philosophical research in U.S. philosophy departments really benefit Indigenous peoples? Would a department ever change its own organizational structure, curriculum, and expected qualifications for faculty appointments as an attempt to decenter colonial power from the pursuit of philosophy? Suffice it to say, Indigenous persons and others creating paths for advancing Indigenous research in relation to their appointments in U.S. anglophone institutions navigate, as Smith would say, tricky ground.

 

 

 

Featured Philosopher: Esa Diaz-Leon

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Esa Diaz-Leon is a Ramon y Cajal Researcher at the University of Barcelona. She received her BA from the University of Murcia (Spain), and her PhD from the University of Sheffield (UK). Before joining the University of Barcelona, she taught at the University of Manitoba (Canada). She specializes in philosophy of mind and language, and philosophy of gender, race and sexuality, and she also has interests in metaphysics and epistemology. Her current work focuses on methodological issues having to do with conceptual ethics, verbal disputes, and metaphysical deflationism; and she is also interested in applying these methodological insights to the study of gender, race and sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientations: The Desire View

Esa Diaz-Leon

Talk about sexual orientations is widespread in our society and our culture: in the media, in political debates, in religion, in the natural and social sciences, and in fiction. But very few analytic philosophers have paid attention to questions about the nature of sexual orientations, such as what sexual orientations are, what ‘sexual orientation’ means, and whether sexual orientations really exist. Some important exceptions include Edward Stein (1999), Cheshire Calhoun (2002), William Wilkerson (2013), and Robin Dembroff (2016).

In this post I aim to propose and discuss a new version of the view that identifies sexual orientations with certain mental states of the subject, namely, sexual desires or sexual preferences.

Before we start, it will be useful to clarify what question is our main focus here. Following Haslanger (2006), we can distinguish between two different projects in philosophy. On the one hand, we have the descriptive project, which seeks to reveal the concept we actually use, that is, the ordinary concept associated with the corresponding term; and on the other hand, we have the ameliorative project, which seeks to reveal the concept that we ought to use given certain purposes (or all things considered), that is, the concept that would best serve certain aims and goals, which may or may not correspond to the operative concept. This is known as the target concept. I believe that the most central question is to reveal the target concept, that is, the concept of sexual orientation that would best serve the aims and goals of sexual orientation talk. But in order to know which concept we should use, it will be useful to know first which concept we are actually using. In this post I will mostly focus on the question of what our ordinary concept of sexual orientation is, as a first step of the project of figuring out what the most politically useful concept would be.

A natural idea that comes to mind when we think about sexual orientations is that they are in part determined by the subject’s sexual behavior. According to behaviorism about sexual orientations, a person’s sexual orientation is determined by the sexual behavior they engage in during their life. But this view seems implausible. As Dembroff (2016) and Stein (1999) have argued, behaviorism does not seem to capture our ordinary notion of sexual orientation. The main problem has to do with the fact that there can be individuals who engage in behaviors that do not express their sexual desires. For example, we can think of individuals who repress their sexual orientations, so that they do not act on their real sexual desires, or do not even realize that they have those desires. On the other hand, we could have individuals who engage in some behaviors because of coercion or societal pressures. Also, we could have cases of individuals who have chosen to be celibate for personal or religious reasons but could be said to have a sexual orientation. Intuitively, these seem to be cases where someone’s behavior does not express their “real” sexual orientation. Therefore, sexual orientation cannot consist just in the behaviors one engages in.

Given the problems facing behaviorism, it seems natural to say that someone’s sexual orientation is not determined by the sexual behaviour they actually engage in, but rather by their dispositions, that is, the sexual activities they are disposed to engage in, or in other words, the behavior they would engage in given certain conditions. This idea corresponds to the dispositional view of sexual orientations, which Stein (1999) characterized as follows:

According to [the dispositional view], a person’s sexual orientation is based on his or her sexual desires and fantasies and the sexual behavior he or she is disposed to engage in under ideal conditions. If a person has sexual desires and fantasies about having sex primarily with people of the same sex-gender and is inclined under ideal circumstances to engage in sexual acts primarily with such people, then that person is homosexual. Conditions are ideal if there are no forces to prevent or discourage a person from acting on his or her desires, that is, when there is sexual freedom and a variety of appealing sexual partners available. (1999: 45)

In my view there are two different ideas in this passage. First, we have the idea that someone’s sexual orientation is determined by the sexual behavior she is disposed to engage in, given certain circumstances. (Dembroff (2016) has developed a very interesting and sophisticated version of this idea.) Second, we have the idea that someone’s sexual orientation is determined by their sexual desires and fantasies (which may or may not be expressed by their sexual behavior in ideal circumstances, depending on how ideal circumstances are characterized). My aim here is to put forward a new view, which combines elements of these two ideas but is different from both, namely, I want to suggest that someone’s sexual orientation is determined by the sexual desires and fantasies they are disposed to have, that is, the sexual desires they would have in certain circumstances, which may or may not be actual.

There are two main reasons for endorsing a view of this sort. First, I believe that it would be very hard to characterize our sexual orientations purely in terms of the sexual behavior one would engage in, given such and such circumstances, since our behavior (sexual or otherwise) would always be influenced by a huge variety of other mental states one might have, so that there is no easy correspondence between our sexual orientation and the behavior one would engage in, given certain circumstances. This is why it is more intuitive, in my view, to characterize sexual orientations in terms of the sexual desires and fantasies one is disposed to have, rather than the behavior one is disposed to have. Second, I believe that there is no easy correspondence either between someone’s sexual orientation and the sexual desires and fantasies they actually experience, since this would also depend on many features of the subject’s mental life and their environment. For this reason, it is more intuitive to characterize someone’s sexual orientation in terms of their dispositions to have certain sexual desires and fantasies, rather than the sexual desires and fantasies they actually have.

Therefore I want to propose the following conjecture: we could understand sexual orientations in terms of sexual preferences, where a sexual preference is understood as a complex mental state. In particular, I understand preferences as dispositions to instantiate certain desires and feelings. That is, we can understand a sexual preference in terms of the dispositions to have sexual desires under the relevant manifesting conditions (as opposed to the dispositions to engage in certain kind of behaviors). Therefore, my suggestion is that we characterize sexual orientation in terms of sexual preference, and sexual preference in terms of a disposition to have sexual desires of certain kinds, given certain manifesting conditions. We can call my proposed view of sexual orientations the desire view (or more strictly, the preference view) of sexual orientations, which we can characterize a bit more precisely in terms of a new version of the dispositional view (drawing on Dembroff (2016)’s formulation):

Dispositionalism*: A person S’s sexual orientation is determined in virtue of the sex[es] and the gender[s] of persons for whom S is disposed to have sexual desires under the relevant manifesting conditions (and S’s own sex[es] and gender[s]).

A remaining question in order to flesh out this account is the following: What is sexual desire? A first take on the notion of sexual desire goes as follows: according to a standard conception of desires, a desire is a propositional attitude of the form “subject S bears the attitude of desiring towards proposition p”. Therefore, a sexual desire could be understood in terms of the desire that certain propositions about sexual activities be the case, such as the proposition that S has sex with a certain man (or woman), or men (or women) in general. But some problems arise: this formulation doesn’t seem to capture our concept of sexual desire. For instance, S might have the desire to have sex with a certain person in order to get paid, or to win a bet, or in order to cheer them up, etc. Therefore, having a propositional attitude of the form “S desires that S has sex with such and such” is not sufficient for instantiating sexual desire in the relevant sense. What is missing is the connection with some specifically sexual experiences, such as sexual arousal and sexual pleasure. Stein provides a formulation along these lines in this passage: “[A] desire is sexual to the extent that it involves (in the appropriate way) the arousal of the person who has the desire… . By arousal, I do not mean the various physiological manifestations of arousal …but the psychological state of being aroused” (1999: 69). This seems very plausible to me: sexual desire is a mental state that is somehow connected with some experiences such as sexual arousal (which is typically correlated with the physiological state of arousal but is not identical to it).

In my view, we should distinguish between standing mental states such as beliefs or desires, which are dispositional and are not always manifested, and occurring mental states, which enter into the stream of consciousness during a certain interval of time and are necessarily conscious and manifested. It seems intuitive to say that sexual desire or sexual attraction is a standing mental state (e.g. someone could be attracted to another person, say her partner or her lover, during a long period of time, and this does not mean that she is experiencing arousal during the whole period), whereas the experience of sexual arousal per se is an occurring mental state, because this is necessarily conscious. On the other hand, a person can be said to have sexual desires for women, or for men, even when she is not conscious like for instance when she is dreamlessly sleeping, or when she is suffering excruciating pain, and so on. Here I want to suggest the following hybrid view of sexual desire:

Hybrid view: A sexual desire (for men and/or women) involves the combination of a propositional attitude (of the form “S bears the relation of desiring towards proposition p”) plus a disposition to be sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, men or women.

To sum up: in this post I have provided an account of the ordinary concept of sexual orientation in terms of S’s sexual preference, and I have characterized sexual preference in terms of S’s dispositions to instantiate certain sexual desires in certain manifesting conditions. And furthermore, I have characterized the relevant sexual desires as complex mental states composed of a propositional attitude of the form “S desires that S has sex with such and such people”, plus the disposition to instantiate certain sexual experiences.[1]

References:

Calhoun, Cheshire (2002) Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and Gay Displacement, Oxford University Press.

Dembroff, Robin (2016) “What is Sexual Orientation?”, Philosophers’ Imprint 16(3): 1-27.

Haslanger, S. (2006) “What Good Are Our Intuitions? Philosophical Analysis and Social Kinds”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Sup. Vol. 80(1), pp. 89-118.

Stein, Edward (1999) The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory and Ethics of Sexual Orientations, Oxford University Press.

Wilkerson, William (2013) “What is ‘Sexual Orientation’?” in Powell, Halwani & Soble (eds.) Philosophy of Sex, 6th edition, Rowman & Littlefield.

[1] I further develop the ideas in this post in my paper “Sexual Orientations: The Desire View”, forthcoming in Feminist Philosophy of Mind, edited by K. Maitra and J. McWeeny.

Featured Philosopher: Liam Kofi Bright

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Liam Kofi Bright is a philosophy PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University. He primarily works on social epistemology and the philosophy of science.

On Grandstanding

Liam Kofi Bright

Recently an interesting new paper (forthcoming in Philosophy and Public Affairs) by Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke has been generating discussion on the philosophy blogosphere. The paper is concerned with characterising and condemning `moral grandstanding’. To morally grandstand is to produce some public moral utterance or act that is, in the typical case, aimed at convincing an audience that the utterer or actor is an especially moral person. (I add “the typical case qualification” because they allow that some non-paradigmatic instances can arise from other pernicious motives, or naivety. I’ll set that aside in what follows.) The authors give a more detailed analysis of the kind of behaviours that typically accompany moral grandstanding that I am not going to go into here, but which I’d recommend checking out by reading the paper itself. I’m going to be largely critical, but let me begin by saying what I like about this paper. I like the fact that this is an attempt to give serious outline and defence of an idea that is popular on the right at the moment. The idea in question is that there has been some kind of pernicious cultural change that has led to people constantly `virtue signalling’. But what does this mean and why is it pernicious?  The author’s analysis of moral grandstanding can be seen as answering that question. I also like the fact that they have raised this issue to salience in the philosophical community, because I think it proper for philosophy to try and speak to, and sophisticate, contemporary moral debate. What is more, I think the paper is very accessible, and will therefore be a real contribution to public discourse.

The authors give a number of arguments against grandstanding. I summarise the conclusions here. Grandstanding, we are told, makes us cynical about morality and thereby undermines the proper function of public moral discourse, it will lead to group polarisation wherein we become more extreme and entrenched in our moral views, it exhausts our ability to feel outraged about injustice, and renders us unvirtuous agents who will not treat our peers as equals. Despite finding their arguments to these effects interesting, I did not come away convinced, and in the remainder of the post I explain why.

First, Justin Weinberg pointed out what seems to be a rather serious flaw in this — “if moral grandstanding promotes cynicism, so must doing things that encourage people to interpret moral utterances as instances of grandstanding, such as writing a paper like theirs”. Weinberg’s post is largely tongue in cheek, but I think this is a serious problem. Their own arguments speak against writing and publishing this paper.

Grandstanding is said to make us cynical by convincing us that morality is a fraud, and it makes us unvirtuous by having us come to see ostensibly moral actions as opportunities to grab power and prestige over others. Even when focussing on other of their arguments, a large part of the discussion in the paper turns on ways in which grandstanding makes us cynical and unlikely to see public moral discourse as a source of self- and other- improvement. But it’s not quite right to pin this effect on grandstanding itself. The reason grandstanding make us cynical is precisely that people `unmask’ it. On its face, moral grandstanding is passionate moral exhortation. It is (allegedly — more on this below!) cynicism inducing when we sees through this surface appearance. If only we refused to break the spell, not point out the underlying self-interest, allow people to self-delude themselves that they are just taking a stand for what is right, then many of the problems the authors identify would simply cease to be problems. Indeed, this seems to have affected the authors: some of their worries concern the possibility that grandstanding has/will become the main sort of public moral discourse; that seems maximally cynical already! In short, the problem with grandstanding on this analysis largely results from people complaining about grandstanding! (The irony here seems similar to that which we see when folk say that ‘people are not ready’ for a leader from group X; often the primary source of worry is the people making that very utterance!)

Second, as I believe was being raised by Eric Schliesser, I think that the authors make some assumptions that they are not dialectically entitled to. I came away from their piece still wondering: what is wrong with wanting people to think you are good? Isn’t it a good thing that people are socially rewarded for virtue? They worry in various ways that moral grandstanding will perhaps lead to a kind of excessive zeal: but I recall it being said, by a figure I would guess some people who worry about grandstanding would rather like, that after all extremism in defence of liberty is no vice. What’s so bad about using one’s public utterances to move people towards being more strenuously committed to justice? What’s so bad about using one’s utterances to, say, rally the moral troops, and, what’s more, make oneself look good as one does so? In general, it doesn’t make me cynical about people to learn that they want to look good in their communities and use ostentatious commitment to moral principle to achieve this; what is so bad about that?

Here I think that what is going on is that a lot of their arguments are trading on there actually being substantial moral disagreement. My guess is that for one reason or another their image of the moral grandstander is somebody they strongly disagree with. Indeed, when noting their problems with group polarisation they put it thus: ““[t]his effect not only increases the likelihood that participants advocate false views; it also encourages an impression in persons not associated with the group that morality is a nasty business, and that moral discourse consists primarily of extreme and implausible claims.” Quite so; if the group is wrong. Likewise, I think the ‘outrage exhaustion’ they worry will be induced by too much moral grandstanding is only an issue if one would not otherwise be inclined to be outraged at whatever is in question. For, if it turned out the grandstander is making people more often do what I think they ought, these things complained of here may actually make moral discourse as a whole seem more righteous. Without the assumption of substantial moral disagreement with the grandstander, moral grandstanding seems no more inherently problematic than guns are inherently problematic: where problems arise they depend rather on the particular use these tools are put to, and in other circumstances they can be beneficial. There may well be good reasons to regulate when people make use of these tools, but it is some kind of category error to condemn the tools themselves.

One could say in return that what is cynicism inducing about moral grandstanding, what is genuinely problematic in the act itself rather than the uses it is put towards, concerns the fact that it involves people Acting For The Wrong Reasons (AFTWR). The Kantian sounding thought here would be that the good moral agent should just want to do right for the sakes of right, and in so far as they have other motives behind their purportedly moral utterances/acts they are AFTWR. Now personally I always recoil in horror from ethical theories wherein AFTWR features as a worry — I am aghast to learn that it is not enough for the moralist that they regulate my behaviour, how I interact with others; but now they must also discipline my mind, I may not even have the sanctuary of my own reasons! Maybe that’s just because I read too much Foucault and now I am ruined.

But even setting aside my post-structuralist quibbles, I think that this Kantian response takes us back to the above point. It is dialectically granting too much to grant that moral grandstanding is AFTWR. I take it that part of what is up for debate when we wonder about moral grandstanding just is whether or not moral actions which are intended to make us look good are permissible. With that open, why is wanting to look good for doing what is right a wrong reason to act? At most I can see that maybe if looking good was all I cared about then that is just obviously very unpleasant of me — but no reason is ever presented to suppose that moral grandstanding is unaccompanied by genuine moral concern. What is more, if Xunzi really is right, and people are not (without significant social moulding) disposed to care about the good, then moral grandstanding actually seems like a nice second best solution: producing in people a derivative concern for the good, as a useful means of socially looking good.

This dialectical point brings me to what I take to be a future-work suggestion for the authors, or others interested in the topic. I actually think this is a paper that would have benefited from being less secular. The authors couch their arguments in a kind of neutral secular (even sometimes pagan — i.e. Aristotelean) terminology. But underlying some of their concerns, I would claim, seems to be an especially Christian idea that they do not give adequate discussion or defence of. Matthew 6:2-4 has Christ say “So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be praised by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” I think it is the felt moral pull of this ideal that sways people against moral grandstanding. Now, one way of reading the passage from Matthew is to see it as a call to do good things things for the right reasons. In which case this is no advance. But perhaps Christ’s claim here could be defended on other grounds. And if one could find some way of independently justifying the Christian virtue of secretive goodworks then one could derive some of their arguments against moral grandstanding. But without a defence of this or something like it, I think the question is being begged — I do not yet grant that it is wrong to want people to think well of you for being moral, and so I do not yet grant that acts of moral grandstanding (acts which realise this intent) are wrong.

That is how I would go, if I were to work on this further. But before signing off I should like to sound a note of scepticism. For some time now I have harboured a suspicion about the outsized role of moralising in public life. I suspect that moralising against moral grandstanding is itself an example of moral overreach, moral condemnation where none is needed. The sympathy I have for Tosi and Warmke’s paper is this: I think they are right that there is a phenomenon of moral grandstanding, and that it is irritating when people do it. But, I don’t see why moral argument is needed beyond this. Moral grandstanding is irritating, annoying, makes social spaces just that little bit less bearable; it is like wearing garish clothing, or playing saxophone loudly, or playing U2 songs at all. Why must we wheel in the theoretical apparatus of virtues or a functional analysis of the purpose of moral discourse to condemn such things? Now, I’ve recently been reading enough Confucian philosophy to not feel comfortable neatly separating morality from social nicety, so I am open to persuasion on this point. But as it stands, despite the efforts of Tosi and Warmke, I am not convinced that there is a moral issue here at all.

Featured Philosopher: Carole Lee

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Carole J. Lee works on the production and evaluation of knowledge, with a focus on peer review. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Michigan and is now an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Faculty at the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Another Way to “Leave” Philosophy

Carole J. Lee

Thank you, Meena, for hosting this blog and for inviting me to share what’s on my mind.

The mission of my research is to understand scientific practice with an eye towards improving it. In this vein, I’m studying potential racial disparities in grant funding under a contract with the National Institutes of Health. I’m waist deep in a project studying the gender composition of co-authorships across disciplines and sub-disciplines represented in the JSTOR corpus. And, I’m serving as a Coordinating Committee Member for the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) Guidelines, which aims to improve the reproducibility of research. All of these projects are incredibly stimulating. By collaborating with people from different disciplines (e.g., statistics, information science, sociology, ecology), I’m constantly learning about new concepts and methods. By working with data, I get to draw generalizations about some corner of the actual world. And, by working with organizations, I’m coming to understand the machinations of how policy changes can and cannot take root.

But, in light of recent events, I’ve been asking myself what more I can and should do in my work. One possibility I hadn’t considered took me by surprise a couple of weeks ago.

Last summer, I was invited to join a program – run by the Provost and a handful of Deans – that trains future University leaders and incubates future campus initiatives. I joined because I was glad to have the opportunity to develop leadership skills, meet a broader swath of my local academic community, and give voice to ideas that I had tucked away in my head.

We recently had our first meeting. I hadn’t anticipated the power of being in a room with others who, fresh from the election, were hungry to find ways to protect our public institution’s commitment to education, inclusivity, and the communal good. Worried about what will happen to undocumented students? Worried about students who are being targeted for hateful speech and violent acts because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual identity? Worried about students who may lose their healthcare? Being in conversation together, I recognized the power of strategizing responses to these worries – not just as a teacher or mentor – but as an administrator or campus leader.

I get it now. I understand why some post-tenure faculty pivot to become a career administrator or campus leader. It is a profoundly interesting, important way for an action-oriented, values-driven person to “leave” philosophy – or any home discipline.

I myself am not planning to leave philosophy. And, I’m not suggesting we overlook the ways in which the call to service can burden women and racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately. Research suggests that women – associate professors in particular – spend more hours on service per week than their male colleagues [1]. And, too often faculty of color are subjected to extra, unrewarded service to their institutions – a form of cultural taxation – in which they feel obliged “to show good citizenship toward the institution by serving its needs for ethnic representation on committees, or to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to a cultural group, which may even bring accolades to the institution but which is not usually rewarded by the institution on whose behalf the service was performed” [2]. Indeed, among my colleagues at the leadership training, a disproportionate number of us were women and/or faculty of color.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful and honored to have a long-term academic position, to be a part of a university that pro-actively cultivates a healthy community of leaders, and to be invited to join the conversation at that table.

I’m just startled, after working so hard to make it through the pipeline all the way past tenure, to discover such a compelling way for someone like me to “leave.”

[1] Misra, J., Lundquist, J. H., Holmes, E., & Agiomavritis, S. (2011). The ivory ceiling of service work. Academe, 97(1), 22.

[2] Padilla, A. M. (1994). Ethnic minority scholars, research, and mentoring: Current and future issues. Educational Researcher, 23(4), 24-27.

 

Featured Philosopher: Jonardon Ganeri

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Jonardon Ganeri is a philosopher who draws on a variety of philosophical traditions to construct new positions in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics and epistemology, writing chiefly about the philosophies of South Asia in dialogue with other ancient and contemporary philosophical cultures. He is the author of The Self, The Concealed Art of the Soul, and The Lost Age of Reason, all published by Oxford University Press. He joined the Fellowship of the British Academy in 2015, and won the Infosys Prize in the Humanities the same year, the first philosopher to do so. Open Minds magazine named him of its 50 global “open minds” for 2016.

The Dimidiating Stare

Jonardon Ganeri

In an earlier posting at this blog, Alex King opened a conversation about a topic I have not seen discussed elsewhere: what it means, or is like, to be a philosopher of mixed race. So I thought that I would use Meena’s welcome invitation to pick up the thread and reflect a little about my own experience in this regard. What follows, then, rather than being an account of the content of my philosophical writings or current research, is instead a brief and very subjective reflection in the genre of “philosophical autobiography”.

I’m at my best, philosophically, when I’m not under scrutiny. A crowded street, or indeed any crowd, will do, a crush of people too preoccupied to spare me a second glance. An empty apartment serves the purpose admirably too, no matter whether noisy or silent. Put me in front of another, however, and my mind just goes to pieces.

I used to think that this was the result of some failure in self-belief, a lack of that robust self-confidence only an expensive education can provide. Recently, though, I’ve glimpsed a philosophically more interesting, and therefore necessarily truer, explanation. How wrong was Plato when he had Socrates pronounce that the way to know oneself is to see oneself reflected in the pupil of another; for as Frantz Fanon more insightfully noticed, the other’s gaze creates one in some image of their own. Yet Fanon, enviably, could fall back at least on this: that while he became blackness only under observation, he was, after all, black.

I, though, biracial, become an Indian (or, anyway, something faintly foreign) in the view of my English brethren; and while this encourages me to embrace myself as Indian, my Englishness smarts at the affront. In India, it is the exact inverse: I become an Englishman (or, anyway, vaguely videśi) when looked at by my Indian kith-and-kin, suddenly seeing myself as English and strutting around; but only at the cost of deep insult to my Indian self. The other’s gaze, in short, always cuts me in two, one half a Fanonian construct, the other resentfully disinherited. And one can’t do philosophy when one is breaking apart.

The incoherence in this imposed “dual identity” reaches a head when I travel to the Gulf. My fellows there are foreigners who fall into one of two groups. There are the “expats”, mostly white and wealthy, with prestige jobs and platinum credit cards; and there are “migrant workers”, brown and beaten, indentured and indebted. The gaze of the citizen falls on both groups, seeing in the first a fast track to art and architecture, to import quickly all culture, including, ironically, their own. The expat finds in this reflected image a person of civilisation and liberal values, and they like what they see. The migrant worker, if seen at all, is seen with a gaze that strips away his or her humanity, reducing a human being to a dispensable pair of hands. The migrant has become a machine, without a place in any culture or ritual, eyes perpetually cast down. What was it Simone Weil said, that after a year on the factory-floor she bore forever in her soul the mark of a slave? After two or three years the migrant learns that subjectivity is just another commodity, to be bought at a cost in the mall.

Subject to a mongrel muse, I become both, servitude and civilisation, and at once. Even as I’m being chased around by security guards convinced that I’m an uppity impostor who dares to think of himself as a being with the right to look at art and architecture, my friends greet me with a cheery “Hello!”. I’m forever about to fall through a crack, that fault-line between two incoherent fantasies.

Perhaps I feel most kinship with a third group of “foreigner”, the ones born and bred there to immigrant parents but never granted citizenship. To them the idea of a “homeland” is as elusive and meaningless as it is to me. I finally understand the allure of the forest to those wise ancients, for how much better the grove to the agora if one wishes to think. Or else a city, the bigger the better, a thundering metropolis full of preoccupied humanity. It is in such spaces alone that one can evade the dimidiating stare, dodge the demand to inhabit incoherent identities, and be simply oneself.

So, to conclude this short reflection: if I have gained a philosophical insight from these musings on the experience of being biracial it is—and here I find I need to appropriate a technical distinction made by the Sanskrit philosophers—that social identities are samvṛtti but people are paramārtha. No biracial philosopher would ever invent the doctrine of social constructivism, or think that there is absolutely no self.

I’ll dedicate this post to my friend Joseph Sen, who tried valiantly but never found his way through.

Featured Philosopher: Tina Fernandes Botts

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Tina Fernandes Botts is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Fresno. Her primary areas of specialization are philosophy of law and philosophy of race. She has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Memphis, a law degree from Rutgers University Law School, Camden, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Maryland, College Park.  Before moving to Fresno State, she had a postdoctoral fellowship at Oberlin College, and a fellowship in law and philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her scholarship centers on the reexamination of laws and other ethical and socio-political paradigms from the vantage point of the marginalized and oppressed. She is the editor of Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience, an academic exploration of the impact of mixed race identity on philosophical workproduct, published by Lexington Books in 2016. In addition, she is the author of The Concept of Race, Aristotelian Proportional Equality, and the Equal Protection Clause, forthcoming from Lexington Books, which examines how changing conceptions of race and equality have affected Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. She is also the co-author, with Rosemarie Tong, of the upcoming fifth edition of Feminist Thought, published by Westview, as well as a practicing attorney who specializes in employment law.

Intersections:  Philosophy, Philosophy of Law, and Race

Tina Fernandes Botts

My relationship with philosophy is an intimate one. I became a philosopher because I had no choice. I was born with a disposition that questioned everything around me, and with a desire to discover what I called in my youth “the meaning of life.” I tried other avenues for answering these questions, but philosophy kept calling. For me, philosophy was the only discipline where I was encouraged to constantly step outside the box, the only discipline where I felt free to let my mind run free. I am most comfortable around philosophers and the philosophically-minded, and I feel very fortunate to be able to make a living thinking about and writing about philosophy, and, of course, talking philosophy. As a young woman, my dream was to make a living in this way, but I was told on numerous occasions to “keep my day job,” since the jobs in philosophy were so few and far between. This discouraging advice was compounded by the fact that when I started on my journey to become a professional philosopher, one could (figuratively) count professional philosophers of color on one hand; and the situation for women philosophers was almost as dismal. Early philosophers of color and women philosophers have done so much to create a space for me (and others like me) in the discipline, and I am very grateful for all of their good work and tireless defiance of the institutional resistance to their presence that they have routinely encountered during their professional lives. I am proud to be a part of new efforts to build upon the work previously done to diversify the discipline, both demographically and in terms of content. Our discipline faces many challenges, including a large dose of elitism that often operates to alienate curious and capable students who could contribute so much to answering the perennial questions of philosophy. By my presence and persistence in staying in the discipline, despite significant institutional challenges along the way, I hope to contribute to making such students feel welcome, and to do my part to improve the discipline by working with others to proactively stretch philosophy’s disciplinary and demographic boundaries.

My work so far has been focused on philosophy of law, philosophy of race and the intersections between these two. My primary focus has been using legal hermeneutical tools to reinterpret constitutional laws that have proved counterproductive for people of color and other marginalized, oppressed, and subjugated groups.[1] One of my concerns has been the way antidiscrimination law neglects multiracial people. Multiracial people currently have no protection under U.S. laws from racial discrimination, despite a long history of such discrimination in the U.S. legal system and in American society. The surface reason for this lack of protection is that antidiscrimination law requires a prospective plaintiff to first identify as a member of one, and only one, of five legally established racial groups: Asian, black, Latino/a, Native American, or white. The deeper reason, however, is that U.S. Courts no longer acknowledge that the purpose of antidiscrimination law is to provide redress for historically situated, systematized oppression.

My concern regarding the relationship between multiracial people and the law is part of a broader concern I have with the way in which American law processes the concept of race more broadly. In a book I am currently writing, The Concept of Race, Aristotle’s Proportional Equality, and the Equal Protection Protection Clause, I examine the way in which the concept of race has changed since the enactment of the 14th Amendment, and how this changed concept of race has affected interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause. In the book, I am also concerned with how changing concepts of equality have affected these interpretations. One of my key points is that the way the Supreme Court understands race is context-dependent, nonsensical and out of step with academic scholarship. Mistakenly operating as if race is based in biology, the Court now operates as if racial discrimination per se, instead of racial discrimination against historically marginalized racial groups, is unconstitutional. Similarly, the Court’s reasoning in cases of racial discrimination seems to betray a concept of equality that is problematically rooted in Aristotelian political theory, according to which equality is available for equals only and not for unequals. This concept of equality is known as “proportional equality” and is out of step with the American ethos, at least as the Framers articulated it. 

My work in the new book is rooted in work I have done in the past about the nature of racialized identity in the United States.[2] In that work, I argued that the strong belief in biological race in the United States, combined with the belief in an indelible, biologically-based hierarchy of races, has created what Heidegger would call a “world” or what I would call a system of intelligibility in which, for all intents and purposes, race is determined by “blood.” In other words, historically, and into the present day, the belief that race is determined by biology has reinforced the presumption of the reality of human racial categories, and at the same time reinforced the system of indelible racial hierarchy in the United States that defines who belongs to which race. In order to authentically play the race game, then, the racial identity of one’s ancestors has to be consulted. And if at least one of them was black, one has met the minimum criterion of blackness. Conversely, without black ancestors, one has not met the minimum criterion. At the same time, “blood” is not sufficient for black racial identity. There must also be black phenomenological experiences.

To me, the disconnect between what race is (a sociohistorical phenomenon with a specific history that significantly affects access to social goods) and what it is understood to be (biological) by the Supreme Court (and much of American society) has dramatically negative consequences for the ability of the law to protect members of racialized minority groups. If race is biological, then racial discrimination per se is legally problematic, even discrimination against whites. If race is sociohistorical, then racial discrimination against racialized minority groups is legally problematic because it operates to reinforce the vestiges of slavery. The first approach buys into the myth that we currently live in a colorblind society. The second approach, by contrast, soberly addresses the reality that the racial subjugation of racialized minority groups is alive and well in America, and must be grappled with head on if we are to ever achieve the dream of racial equality in the United States.

[1]For more on legal hermeneutics, see Botts, Tina Fernandes, “Legal Hermeneutics,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, http://www.iep.utm.edu/, 10/20/2016.

[2] See Botts, Tina Fernandes, Philosophy and the Mixed Race Experience (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016).