Philosophy, Top Stories

Who’s Afraid of Ludwig Wittgenstein? Explaining the Lack of Women in Philosophy

While criticism surrounding gender disparity in academia often is concentrated on STEM fields, there is at least one liberal-arts discipline in which the underrepresentation of women is equally as stark: philosophy. While women outnumber men in the humanities, U.S. survey data suggests they earn fewer than 30 percent of the Ph.D.s in philosophy.

The philosophy gender gap garnered public attention in 2013, when the sexual harassment case of Colin McGinn, a philosophy professor at the University of Miami, was featured on the front page of The New York Times. The Times then solicited a series of op-eds from female philosophers to get their take on the issue. In one, titled “Women and Philosophy? You do the Math,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sally Haslanger complained that most philosophers are “white men,” and that the small number of women is both “inexcusable” and “appalling.”

She then went on to claim that female philosophers also face sexual harassment, “alienation,” “loneliness,” “implicit bias,” “stereotype threat,” “microaggression,” and “outright discrimination.”

Since then, philosophy departments have been scrambling to address such concerns. Mostly, this has consisted of gathering data and developing hypotheses to explain the gender gap. More recently, however, some departments and prominent journals have been implementing more direct equality-of-outcome policies. Editors of the prominent philosophy journal Ethics, for instance, recently announced that they will be implementing steps to “aid the cause of reducing gender imbalance in philosophy publishing.” These steps include favoring women when commissioning book reviews and “making the journal more receptive to feminist work in ethics, political, and social philosophy.” Outside of such formal channels, female philosophy scholars increasingly are using online media—such as the blog What it’s like to be a Woman in Philosophy—to discuss sexual discrimination and the apparent problem of senior male colleagues taking credit for their work.

As a philosophy student who has observed this debate unfold during my course of study at the University of British Columbia, I can report that, much as in STEM fields, the prevailing narrative is that the gender disparity in philosophy is due to some form of discrimination. Alternative explanations that focus on the freely made choices of men versus women are usually spoken of only in hushed tones.

But where the staffing of philosophy departments is concerned, the available data doesn’t back up this presumption. A U.S. study performed in 2012 and 2013, for instance, found that “women and men are hired at a rate roughly proportionate to their numbers for entry-level tenure-track jobs in philosophy.” And according to data contained in the Academic Placement Data and Analysis (APDA) of 2015, 62 percent of female job candidates and 53 percent of male candidates eventually find permanent positions.

Of course, even if university hiring committees are studiously fair (or even explicitly preferential) toward women in their formal practices, that would not preclude the possibility that unconscious discrimination may well pervade the academy. This would include “implicit bias,” a term that describes instances in which negative attitudes or stereotypes may affect decisions in regard to, say, course allocation, tenure, grading or letters of recommendation. (Some members of the philosophy community have even suggested that philosophers might be especially susceptible to implicit bias—since, by academic disposition, they are trained to regard themselves as arbiters of reason, and thus are less likely to self-police for cognitive distortions.)

However, that theory is difficult to square with the results of research performed by Sean Allen-Hermanson, associate professor of philosophy at Florida International University. In his study—”Leaky Pipeline Myths: In Search of Gender Effects on the Job Market and Early Career Publishing in Philosophy”—the author studied the APDA data set, and concluded that “women and men are hired at a rate roughly proportionate to their numbers for entry-level tenure-track jobs in philosophy.”

Furthermore, he found that “market outcomes starting in 2014 and going back 10 years offer no evidence that women are at a disadvantage in tenure-track competitions. The same can be said for the other objective measures that were examined, including publishing and the reputations of home and hiring departments [in philosophy]. No statistically significant evidence that pervasive dysfunction in departmental cultures is harming early career market outcomes of budding women philosophers could be found.”

* * *

One clue that can help us understand what lies behind the gender disparity in philosophy is the point at which women leave the field. A 2012 study conducted across 50 universities found that most women who drop out of philosophy do so shortly after their first introductory course. Of the women who remain in the field after that point, however, the drop-off rate from major to graduate studies, and from graduate studies to faculty is on par with men.

In other words, this data suggests women aren’t being turned away from philosophy in droves because of discrimination or bad experiences but rather because they respond poorly to their first exposure to the material.

But why? One hypothesis is that women become discouraged after they find that their “female” approach to philosophy clashes with the standard “male” manner in which it is presented—a theory underpinned by the notion that due to inherent differences, men and women simply think about philosophical questions differently. A 2010 study seemed to provide some evidence for this hypothesis. However, subsequent studies have failed to reproduce these results, and this theory seems to have been mostly abandoned.

Another theory maintains that women are discouraged from philosophy due to a phenomenon known as “stereotype threat.” This theory suggests that a woman’s fear about confirming negative stereotypes about her inclination toward philosophy may actually increase her anxiety and thereby lead to poorer results. However, a 2016 study conducted at Georgia State University found that men and women received, on average, the same grades in introductory philosophy courses—which would seem to cast doubt on the idea that stereotype threat, if it exists, is a significant factor. 

(In fact, recent studies cast doubt on the reliability of the literature on stereotype threat. For instance, a 2013 study by a University of Illinois scholar found that stereotype-threat tests conducted on girls’ performance in mathematics yielded results inconsistent with the previously published literature—suggesting the possibility of a prevailing “publication bias,” which “may create an inaccurate picture of the phenomenon.”)

Then there is the complaint that philosophy syllabi are dominated by “old white men”—such as Aristotle, Kant, Voltaire, Hobbes and Wittgenstein. The idea that male domination of the subject may contribute to female lack of interest was tested directly in the above-referenced 2016 study, in which the percentage of female authors on a philosophy syllabus was increased from an average of 10–20 percent. As it turned out, the change had no impact on women’s willingness to continue in philosophy.

Some of the broader explanations go beyond the identity of actual philosophers, and indict the field for the general sense of maleness supposedly embedded within the combative and argumentative nature of philosophical discourse itself. Indeed, some female philosophers, such as the aforementioned Sally Haslanger, criticize the culture of philosophy for being “hypermasculine,” “competitive,” “combative,” “highly judgmental,” “oriented toward individual accomplishment” [and] “hostile to femininity.”

Again, the 2016 Georgia State surveys suggests otherwise. When asked questions about their comfortability in philosophy classrooms, both male and female students at the university reported that “they felt comfortable asking the instructor questions after class or in office hours,” “the instructor made an effort to involve all students regardless of race or gender” and “the instructor treated all students with respect regardless of race or gender.”

Moreover, the idea that a purportedly competitive, hypermasculine atmosphere within philosophy is turning women off is hard to square with the reality that women are thriving in law schools; a domain where classroom discourse often relies on argumentation and spirited debate. 

Which brings us, by process of elimination, to less fashionable theories—such as the proposition that more men than women have the ability to understand philosophy at a high academic level.

It is understandable why scholars would be suspicious of this seemingly sexist idea. Historically, philosophers themselves often exhibited highly antagonistic attitudes toward women. Plato maintained that women were inferior to men intellectually. And his successor, Aristotle, believed women were inferior to men in every regard, placing their moral worth just above that of slaves. More recently, Immanuel Kant is known to have once remarked that a woman who wanted to engage in intellectual pursuits, “might as well have a beard.”

Though it is now widely known that women and men are equal in general intelligence, however, it also has become known that men also exhibit greater variance in their faculties—a phenomenon that has come to be described under the more generalized doctrine of Greater Male Variability Hypothesis. Which is to say, there are more men at either end of the bell curve—or as Stephen Pinker has put it, “more prodigies, more idiots.” Because universities select for the elite intellects at the thin leading end of the bell curve, there will be more men to choose from.

But this explanation, too, is unsatisfactory, since there is no reason to believe philosophy selects for elite minds in a more exacting manner than, say, law or medicine—fields in which women have made enormous strides in recent decades (and, in fact, outnumber men at many schools).

* * *

This leaves us with one remaining theory: preference. That is, women may drop out of philosophy not because they are discouraged by discrimination or lack the ability, but rather because they simply aren’t interested in the material.

The 2016 Georgia State study found that women were less interested in philosophy than their male counterparts and found philosophy less relevant to their lives. Further, a 2015 study in Australia found that women were less interested in philosophy even before their first introductory philosophy class.

The explanation for these results takes us into the larger issue of the differences between the structures of men and women’s brains and the discrepancies in behavior that come as a result. It is well known among social scientists that, on average, men tend to be more interested in theoretical reasoning, while women tend to prefer artistic and social pursuits. This pattern often is characterized as men being generally more interested in “things”, while women are generally more interested in “people.

Philosophy, despite being part of the liberal arts, tends to be more focused on things (in the abstract sense) than on people qua people. When human beings are referred to in philosophical discourse, they usually come in as abstractions rather than fully formed individual characters, much as an economist might discuss widgets. (It is no coincidence that many philosophers were also mathematicians—such as Gottfried Leibniz, Rene Descartes and Bertrand Russell.)

Moreover, unlike history or literature, philosophy tends not to linger on biography. Philosophy is focused largely on the content of an author’s work—their theories and argumentswith little to no time spent in classrooms learning a philosopher’s background, family life or social experiences.

Christina Hoff Sommers. Photo: Andy Ngo

While the thrust of this essay may seem controversial to some, I don’t believe that most women in the field would regard it as such. In a 2016 Youtube video, philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers said of her experience in the field: “I wasn’t aware I had entered an unsafe hyper-masculine space—to me it felt like a sacred space. I pursued a B.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy and taught it for more than 20 years. It never crossed my mind, in high school or as my academic career progressed, that I would be unwelcome because I was a woman.” Hoff Sommers chose an academic career in philosophy willingly. She was not pushed into it by academics or college administrators eager to reach a 50-50 balance in their program.

Reaching such a goal would require ambitious affirmative-action policies in hiring and student recruitment. While departmental chairs and journal editors would celebrate this statistical milestone, I’m not sure the students themselves would share in the benefit. That’s because, under such a scheme, university philosophy programs would be attended and staffed in some part by women who, all other factors being equal, likely would have been happier pursuing other disciplines.

Of course, discrimination exists to some extent in every field. And when it is found, it should be properly addressed. But the presence of gender disparity is not always evidence of bias. And in the case of philosophy, all the available evidence suggests that the lack of women is a result of their freely choosing to pursue other fields that they find more interesting. By ignoring this, administrators will only be hurting men and women alike.


Graham Drope studies philosophy at the University of British Columbia. You can follow him on twitter @grahamd_8.


  1. If ‘white men’ are the only philosophers then perhaps that’s because they’re the only ones capable of thinking at that level! And ‘women philosophers’ running blogs bitching about it instead of, I dunno, actually fucking practicing philosophy are the problem!

    • tomoncapecod says

      Did you mean to say ‘fucking practicing philosophy professors’?

    • Once white people, the founders of philosophy, have been made into a minority, there’s not going be much time for philosophizing. Civil war is time consuming.
      Women have a natural mission in life; philosophy, like composing, isn’t part of it. Men are sky creatures; women are earth-bound.
      The attempt by women and negroes to pass as autonomous beings is futile even if amusing.

    • Rohit J Parikh says

      I think you need to be more aware of philosophy done in India and China. Perhaps you need to read the Upanishads and the Milindapanho. Note that the first grammar for any language was for Sanskrit and it was done by Panaini, 2500 years before Chomsky.

    • Tsk, tsk. “wienie-slurping” is the proper technical terminology, I believe.

  2. Peter from Oz says

    The feminists’ argument is that any imbalance of the numbers of people of one sex in any field of study or occupation is evidence of discrimination. But of course, this argument is never applied in occupations that aren’t glamorous or lucrative. It is also never applied where the women are disproportionately represented, such as in law schools etc.
    The fact is that in some fileds the rules have been changed to make it easier for women and harder for men. There is then evidence of real discrimination in some fileds where women outnumber men.
    WHile there are enough silly women in the world who think that somehow they have to be inconstant war with half the species, we will never overcome the problems caused by the pernicious idea that equality is more important than quality.

    • Andrew Leonard says

      But of course, this argument is never applied in occupations that aren’t glamorous or lucrative.

      That may be changing.
      The most glamorous or lucrative occupations may simply be where the ideology finds it easiest to take root.

      Note by the way how in the video the British police are requesting public support to arrest violent offenders. So that the police force can maintain its ideology, the public must fill in the gap in police effectiveness. The pie is the same size, but now an extra slice is being cut. The extent to which the British public comply with this request for assistance, is the extent to which the British state learns that it can infuse its various branches with ideological criteria, at minimal cost to itself.

      Does this example suggest that the loss of effectiveness in any domain where gender parity is being pushed, is borne by the public and not by the agenda ridden government or NGO authority behind it? ‘Yes’ implies that the interests of these authorities are not aligned with the interests of the general public. This is significant, given that the assumed alignment of these interests is the basis of public trust in government.

      • E. Olson says

        Andrew – the female push into police forces, firefighting, and the military may not seem lucrative compared to Silicon Valley tech billionaires, but they do represent lucrative fields to those not blessed with genius IQ or college degrees. California and NY are going broke in part because of all the police and fire personnel that make solid 6 figure salaries, get full benefits, and can typically retire with a juicy pension in their 40s to mid 50s. The feminist push to get women into combat roles in the military is driven almost entirely by the finding that the men with highest status/rank positions all serve in combat roles during their career, thus female desire to such status/rank requires that they also do the same, despite the fact that countless studies show women to be vastly inferior combat soldiers.

        It is interesting to see a few studies that claim female police officers are better at negotiating with criminals and deescalating violence, but when push comes to shove they just can’t handle men who don’t want to be arrested.

        • ccscientist says

          There is a video from Sweden I believe where 3 female police officers are trying to arrest a drunk man. He just swats them away like flies until male officers arrive. Sorry ladies, you simply can’t do it, not withstanding all the cop shows where they do.

          • You’re almost right. There were two officers at the scene, one male and one female. Neither were able to subdue the man, they were even climbing him. (I live in Sweden.) Not very impressing

    • Maybe equality leads to more useful thinking. She’s into people, he’s into things, I want both sets of insight.

  3. Evander says

    Graham, thanks for your methodical dismantling of the factless explanations for gender disparity in Philosophy.

    Practically, what will it take for the ‘preference theory’ to get up?

  4. X. Citoyen says

    Good points. The last bastion in the humanities has been under attack for a while.

    • Evander says

      Classics (Ancient Greek and Latin) is doing fine. Rigorous training in philology as a sine qua non of the discipline, in addition to the past being the site of inquiry, means that shoddy scholarship and politicisation are rare. Whatever the politics of academics in this field, those who rise to the top do so because they’re excellent scholars and not ideological mates of the gatekeepers.

        • Evander says

          Donna Z isn’t attached to a university it seems. That reduces her influence on academic Classics considerably. It’s just too low-key a discipline to warrant PC targeting.

          Looking forward to reading a review of her book on Bryn Mawr.

          Classics is robust. New approaches are constantly applied to the same old subject matter – though new material is drips through irregularly – with productive results.

          It’s one aspect of Western Civilisation – in the friggin’ university, mind you! – that I’m unreservedly optimistic about.

    • tomoncapecod says

      The spirited debates in Yentl only happened because she ‘was’ a man.

      • Stephanie says

        Vicki, before the World Wars, the Jewish situation had been improving steadily since the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe. Eastern Europe still had many progroms at this time, but Jews in the West thought the worst was over. Turns out these things just come in waves.

  5. TruNorth (@trumannorth) says

    “She then went on to claim that female philosophers also face sexual harassment, “alienation,” “loneliness,” “implicit bias,” “stereotype threat,” “microaggression,” and “outright discrimination.””

    Wait a hot minute: someone who faces harassment, alienation, loneliness, bias, threats, aggression, and discrimination … Isn’t that what a true philosopher IS? Didn’t a number of the Big Guns, including Socrates and Iesous the Nazarene, give just that definition?

    • Evander says


      True, innovative thinkers have faced antagonism, but no, Socrates and Jesus didn’t define themselves with reference to the opposition they faced. Defining a philosopher by virtue of experiencing the difficulties you describe is inadequate. Otherwise any person who experiences X, Y, Z adversity can claim membership of the ‘philosopher’ group.

      Philosophy, as it was originally practised by the earliest thinkers (the presocratics through to Aristotle) was primarily concerned with asking questions of the world and human affairs. The achievement of Greek Rationalism was to turn from myth to reason-giving as a way of understanding the world.

      Socratic philosopy shifted the emphasis from cosmological theory to ethics. Socrates asserted that most people lived their lives based on unexamined habit. To live well, on his view, you had to examine what justice meant – never do harm – and then apply that normatively. Plato drew on the theories of realities proposed by the earliest Greek thinkers – like Heraclitus and Parmenides – as well as the ethical focus of Socrates, and systematised philosophy. He achieved this by carving out social space for it to be practised through founding the Academy. Aristotle taught with him and, owing to his empiricist bent, expanded the remit of philosophy / science – it’s difficult to separate the two then – to include natural science such as zoology, while also doing vital work on logic, political philosophy and virtue ethics.

      That’s my summary of classical philosophy, at least.

      • TruNorth (@trumannorth) says

        @Evander: “True, innovative thinkers have faced antagonism, but no, Socrates and Jesus didn’t define themselves with reference to the opposition they faced. Defining a philosopher by virtue of experiencing the difficulties you describe is inadequate. Otherwise any person who experiences X, Y, Z adversity can claim membership of the ‘philosopher’ group.
        Philosophy, as it was originally practised by the earliest thinkers (the presocratics through to Aristotle) was primarily con …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….”

        ‘Twas a joke, bro. A JOKE. Where one uses overly absolute framing to make fun of absolutist thinking. Good grief …..

        • Evander says

          Oh, yeah the ‘overly absolute’ framing one…

          What are you talking about?

        • Evander says

          Oh, yeah, the ‘overly absolute framing’ one…

          What are you talking about?

    • As you say, those have always been the consequences of affirming what is true and denying what is false if one’s affirmations and denials happen to be contrary to the opinions and interests of the ruling class.

  6. Andrew Leonard says

    This leaves us with one remaining theory: preference.

    I count two

  7. “Editors of the prominent philosophy journal Ethics, for instance, recently announced that they will be implementing steps to “aid the cause of reducing gender imbalance in philosophy publishing.” These steps include favoring women when commissioning book reviews”….”favoring”

    “explicitly preferential”


    ie open sexual discrimination. (hidden under weasel language)
    The ends apparently justify the means.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, it’s something I try to do too. We must stop using the regressive-left’s newspeak and name these things for what they are. The journal is not engaging in ‘affirmative action’; they are engaging in gender-based discrimination.

      • Evander says

        “We must stop using the regressive-left’s newspeak.”

        Not quite. Orwell exhorted the reading public to jeer bad language out of respectability. Part of our strategy should be to use such vacuous concept-words jeeringly. In Australian parlance, this mockery is what we call ‘taking the piss’.

        Win the argument – by evincing the falsehoods and distortions masked by terms such as micro-aggression – then use the piss-take as a blunt instrument for the coup de grace.

        Your ally


        • Peter from Oz says

          Taking the piss is a British invention. Hence, taking the rhyming slang: taking the Mickey (Bliss)
          In posh parts of Sydney we refer to extracting the urine.

          • Evander says

            Fair. But I think we’re better practitioners of the piss-take cos egalitarianism, directness and convict humour.

            Life isn’t worth living without social takedowns via irony. The Yanks are missing out.

  8. annaerishkigal says

    I took philosophy in college … including one class from a woman professor. I even enjoyed it. But when it came time to figure out what to do with a philosophy degree, a law degree is easily adaptable to many different purposes and situations and employers, and use that degree to tackle real-world problems, while philosophy? Basically, you can teach philosophy at a university and not much else. Nobody actually READS philosophy anymore, except other philosophy majors, and it rarely gets used to solve any public policy issues or social problems. It just sits there in an ivory tower, preening in the mirror while Rome burns.

    For me, it was all about return on investment. What better way to put Socrates to use than law school, where the Socratic method rules the roost.

    • Steve Sailer says

      Philosophy is a pretty good prelaw major, the way biology or chemistry is a good premed major.

      Philosophy majors who go into other careers often do pretty well: e.g., movie directors Terrence Malick and Ethan Coen.

      Philosophy majors score the highest on the GRE of any humanities majors.

      • annaerishkigal says

        I will say those philosophy courses definitely HELPED with law school. I’m not calling into question the worthiness of philosophy as an academic discipline. But from a cold, hard cash standpoint, coughing up $30,000 to $60,000 per year, for four years, only to HAVE to go into a completely different (unrelated) field in order to earn a living, makes it a bad investment unless your life’s dream is to BE a philosophy teacher at a university, and nothing else.

        Perhaps more women would major in philosophy as undergraduates if philosophy professors would make a point of “selling” it as a pre-law discipline? Not one of my professors ever did, neither did the college, or I would have taken more philosophy courses and fewer psychology courses (which is what I ended up majoring in … a psych degree ALSO helps with law school … or at least it USED to until it became so infested with “grievance studies” that it turned out easily triggered snowflakes who can’t withstand the Socratic method).

    • Peter from Oz says

      Here in Oz you go do law as an undergraduate degree in combination with a BA or BEc. In your first 3 years you complete you BA or BEc and also do a few law subjects. In your last two years you complete the rest of your LLB.
      This is a good system because it means you get to read subjects like philosophy whilst knowing that you will come out of university with a qualification that opens up many opportunities.
      Also law is a far more rigorous and intellectual line of work than being an academic. I’ve seen QCs bone up in a few days on fields of study so that they can take apart an expert witness in cross examination. Have a goood grasp of the rules of evidence and you can weigh up the strength of an argument quite quickly, no matter how complex

      • annaerishkigal says

        That’s a good system. There are a few universities in the USA offering a 3 + 2 option for law school, with the first three years being your undergraduate studies, and then all your “electives” get funneled into the J.D. But the bar exam is especially rigorous in the USA because we split off from British law a lot sooner and outright rejected some of it as part of our jurisprudence, so it has a “swiss cheese” effect with the case law, and also, lawyers in our country HAVE to be both solicitors and barristers (I think you have that system, like the UK?) so we require extra training.

        The entire first year of regular college in the USA is a total waste … basically a repeat of high school to ram “general education requirements” in the humanities down kids throats to the tune of $30,000 to $60,000 per year.

        • Peter from Oz says

          Here in Oz you can’t practise law with just a law degree. You have to do a course which includes some exams and then spend some time working for a practising lawyer.
          In my state the profession is split into barristers and solicitors. Most people do not become barristers until they have been solicitors for a few years, because you need to have spent some time getting to know other solicitors who might brief you when you go to the bar.
          Solicitors have to learn advocacy because they appear in courts at the lower level. Even in cases where a solicitor briefs a barrister, the solicitor is the one who files and serves the documents, gathers the evidence, etc.

    • TruNorth (@trumannorth) says

      @annaerishkigal: Are you sure you’re telling us the truth about law school?

      Cuz I’ve seen you repeat it in your posts many times, but not enough times to convince me you really, truly went to law school.

      Here’s the thing: most people who actually went to law school are insufferable about it, working it into almost every discussion as a way to show their own importance and elevation over others. I’d be more inclined to believe you if you put it in your header: “annaerishkigal – WENT TO LAW SCHOOL AND BETTER THAN YOUR BROKE, PROLETARIAN ASS”.

      Also, if you want to seem legit on law school, you need to tell other people they “don’t really know how to THINK, because law school really teaches you how to THINK, to get right to the real issues and THINK and not wishy-washy around” (I have more than a few lawyer family and friends so I’m schooled in the patter).

      “What better way to put Socrates to use than law school, where the Socratic method rules the roost.”

      How darkly hysterical: Socratic method rules law school, and lawyers had Socrates killed.

      “Nobody actually READS philosophy anymore, except other philosophy majors, and it rarely gets used to solve any public policy issues or social problems. It just sits there in an ivory tower, preening in the mirror while Rome burns.”

      Well that all seems wrong.

      Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life” is a book on philosophy, and it has been a top-selling book for a while now, up to 2 million copies sold last I heard. He discusses Nietzsche, Marx, Jesus, Dostoyevsky, Eastern philosophy, and many others.

      Peterson is on tour to packed houses, doing guest spots on Bill Maher and Doctor Oz, doing popular podcasts, the target of scathing popular criticism … a philosophical rockstar. Men and women write him thousands of letters a month telling him how his ideas on wisdom have transformed their lives, saved them from suicide, etc. Indications are that people are STARVING for philosophy they can relate and apply to their lives.

      Peterson’s making a lot more money than most people who went to law school. ?

      Western society is in a ferocious philosophical war that will determine how all other fields of knowledge are disposed. Philosophy, how to think and know, couldn’t be more important than it is now. Science, medicine, teaching, law, politics, etc. are just knock-on effects of how one fundamentally conceives of the world.

      Will the postmodern philosophy of relativism prevail, in which a person’s life is treated as a “Color Your Own Adventure” book and society as a force of oppression that must be dismantled and reengineered to keep from interfering with people’s absolute right to an equal coloring experience? Or will folks reaffirm their Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment philosophy that man’s essence is not about outcomes? Last century, philosophy got hairy, and a few people died as a result of experiments in new ways of thinking that didn’t quite pan out (neo-pagan fascism, communism….). If we choose wrong … oof.

      • Evander says


        Is this you joking again?

        “Are you sure you’re telling us the truth about law school?”

        No true Scotsman fallacy. Effectively you’re saying “You’re not like the lawyers I know, who are all annoying, so it’s doubtful that you’re a lawyer.”

        “How darkly hysterical: Socratic method rules law school, and lawyers had Socrates killed.”

        There wasn’t a legal profession as such in Ancient Athens. People in court spoke pro se, though there were professional speech writers (logographoi) who would compose attack or defense speeches for a fee. These people didn’t form a bloc interest.

        The Athenian people put Socrates to death for his self-appointed social-role as gadfly: he would sting Athens the cow out of complacently and compel her to examine her ethics. He pissed people off at a politically and socially unstable time. It was a morbid, shameful act.

        “Peterson is … a philosophical rockstar.”

        He’s a globetrotting intellectual who has helped thousands of people. But his field is psychology. Peterson has no academic qualifications in philosophy and hasn’t published in any philosophical journals. He isn’t a philosopher in the technical sense.

        I’ve read 12 Rules, too. From Paglia’s appraisal on the back cover, ‘[Peterson’s] bold synthesis of psychology, anthropology, science, politics and comparative religion is forming a genuinely humanistic university of the future.’ There might be a philosophical element in it, but the work is an interdisciplinary melange.

        “Peterson’s making a lot more money than most people who went to law school.”

        And tech whizzes are making far more than Peterson. What’s your point? Choose the career that makes the most money? Philosophers might query that.

    • X. Citoyen says

      @ Annaerishkigal,

      Please tell me which “public policy issues and social problems” lawyers or anyone else has solved. It seems to me that we have more of them now than we had 20 years ago.

      @ Peter,

      The most common occupation among our Members of Parliament is lawyer (18%), but I can’t say the intellectual rigor oozes from their pores. Maybe the lawyers are smarter Down Under.

    • Thrash Jazz Assassin says

      This I think is a big part of the problem. You have identified what is really a misunderstanding of philosophy:

      “Nobody actually READS philosophy anymore, except other philosophy majors, and it rarely gets used to solve any public policy issues or social problems.”

      Are not such problems partly the result of life left unexamined? And is not philosophy the practice of examining life, so as to arrive at a deeper understanding of the world, its ills, and our place in it?

      The disparaging of philosophy in general, is part of the problem. I think if education, broadly speaking, paid it some more attention one would find that, as a practice, it applies to just about every other discipline (and implicitly underlies them too), from human affairs to the hard sciences, and everything in between.

  9. Please be more careful with your use of “theory” in the future and use “hypothesis” instead where applicable.

    • There’s no important hypothesis/theory distinction.
      That bogus idea was introduced as a rhetorical ploy against creationists back in the ’90s. Part of me was happy to see the creationists get a bit of their own medicine…but now we’re stuck with a silly distinction that doesn’t map actual usage.
      Hypotheses are really just small theories, or individual theoretical statements.

  10. Steve Sailer says

    You go into philosophy because you like arguing with the Big Guys — Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc. It’s a dialogue that is 2500 years old. If you aren’t interested in taking on the Big Guys, you probably find philosophy pretty pointless. Not surprisingly, most people who want to argue with the great men of the past are men themselves.

  11. E. Olson says

    I suspect that the emergence of Gender Studies has taken away some would-be female philosophers, after all why be a mediocrity in an established field when you can be a leader in a mediocre field. But the general issue of female under-representation in certain male dominated professions and fields of study does beg a couple of questions: 1) Is there any formerly male dominated area where substantial increases in female participation has led to enhancement to the field’s status, innovation, usefulness, or productivity? 2) Is there any formerly male dominated area where a substantial increase in female participation didn’t require the watering down or easing of entry requirements, performance standards, or professional qualifications?

    It is certainly difficult to see how the humanities or social sciences have become “better” with heavy female presence among their faculties, as most evidence suggests that even women students tend to prefer male instructors and advisers, and men continue to dominate the top ranks of researchers in all fields of study. There is some management literature that suggests management diversity (usually measured in terms of female and racial minority representation) increases firm performance, but such research is almost always biased by the fact that performance is measured by looking at company valuations and profits, and it is therefore not very surprising that rich firms are also the ones most pressured to become diverse and most able to absorb the costs of diversity. Similarly, the first firms to use diversity criteria in hiring are also likely to get the cream of the crop in terms of women and minorities, which therefore does not provide a representative benchmark for assessing female/minority contributions. The one thing I have never seen is a study that demonstrates any superiority of female dominated firms in male dominated industries, likely because there are so few examples, which further begs the question why? If women are equal or superior to men in intellect and productivity, and seemingly available at a lower price, why aren’t there lots of female dominated firms?

      • E. Olson says

        In an article about lack of female philosophers, together with other recent articles about lack of female STEM participants, and a general SJ concern about deficient numbers of females in a wide variety of upper management and senior political roles, how is it misogynistic to consider the relative quality of female contributions and their ability to compete for spots in male dominated fields without special favors or quotas? I have no problems with women being given equal consideration for any field they are able and willing to apply themselves to, but when Leftists start using percentages as a means of determining discrimination it seems very appropriate to consider “willing” and “able” as alternative (and more likely) explanations for gender disparities. This is especially true when the so-called discrimination is said to occur on college campuses that are the most Leftist and egalitarian institutions in Western society short of the local chapters of Communist political party.

      • Mathias V. says

        “Misogyny, much?”

        Take that ⬆ @E. Olson!

        You have just caught the business end of some rigorous female philosophical debate.

        I recognize it because my wife uses it on me often…

  12. c young says

    This is all so obvious its sad that it has to be said at all.

    Unfortunately, a miniscule minority has attained the ability to declare certain ideas unspeakable e.g. differences in gender outcomes are driven by preferences, and the rest of the world cowers like a beaten hound.

    Nassim Taleb is right – ‘the most intolerant wins’.

    • Andrew Leonard says

      Cowers from what?
      The fear of being labelled with certain powerful words?
      Has the tiny minority gained the ability to make the rest of us fear those words, or are they merely exploiting a stigma those words have, when used to label, that draws on the broader culture?
      The former sounds a bit magical. The later suggests the remedy is in our own hands.

  13. Paolo says

    Good article, but dude, Aristotle was no predecessor to Plato! That must have made everyone cringe. Quillette, please some more proofreading.

  14. The few female philosophers I know (but my background is not the humanities), such as Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt (whose face always prominently here on Quillette),de Beauvoir and Martha Nussbaum were (are) not really pure,abstract thinkers of the likes of Kant and Wittgenstein, but more social, practical, moral ones. A female variant. Logical that in a man’s world where pure science, math and monomaniacal specialiation is what counts, this type is less valued (in respect and finance). A pity it is, I think. But not something to demand urgent change! Not so bad after all. Imagine, just only that dul, abstract, deep thought

    • In the NLs, we have about a dozen persons, calling themselves “philosopher”, and known to a special kind of intellectuals, from periodical, TV or journals. All men, of course. To counter that (?), we honoured a woman as “theologist of the year” (and did not hear anything extraordinary from her uptil now).

  15. Wittgenstein was gay and is considered one of the great philosophers of the last century.

    • But absolutely no femme man, Areo! (I also learn new terms here).

    • dellingdog says

      “without sounding like an anti-Semite” — Well, you’ve failed at that.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Absolutely right, dd.
        I will never understand the compunction some people have to think the Jews are conspiring against the rest of the world.

  16. Yes, I think, half of all philosophers of the world are Jews, such as Wittgenstein, Arendt, Ayn Rand and all the rest.

    • Just now, I learn from Google that even Martha Nussbaum is jew, but not from birth, how on earth is that possible? Whatever you can think or imagine, happens these days. Glory to everybody!

      • No, say it isn’t so! Not Martha Nussbaum! The mind reels…

  17. But but but Ayn Rand, greatest philosopher of like ever, was a female person! How explain that, Mr. Smartypants?

    • Ayn Rand a philosopher? What now! Scriptwriter and romanticist, OK, but philosopher? Her ideology: live your own life, no compassion with others, and don’t expect that from others neither, so,the opposite of the message of Jesus. Logical maybe, she lost everything, her parents, sister, her nationality, faith and even her name (she took another, enigmatic one), so, maybe, we shouldn’t fall to hard on her, but philosopher??

      • dellingdog says

        @dirk, I agree with you. As far as I can tell, her argument for Moral Egoism is based on a false dichotomy between “rational selfishness” and “self-destructive altruism.” About the only philosophers who take her seriously are Objectivists who are part of her cult of personality.

        • Thanks for admitting running parallel with my stance on her on this, dellingdog. Of course, she is a courageous woman neverthelss, a homme woman I would say, but difficult to understand without her history and life of utmost turmoil under the bolsjewiki (the collectivist dream run amok), never, never NEVER again even traces of this foull dream in my life, NEVER!!!

          But how to place that objectivism? I would have to read her, but feel little appetite for that. That the Chicago boys and Greenspan adore her, that I can understand, that fits rather well in her struggle.

      • Joe Ligotti says

        It’s easy, isn’t it – taking potshots at the dead, especially when the target stands openly before the world for something magnificent, unique, first-handed. I have stood quietly for five decades, watching as Ayn Rand was attacked by those who shared a single attribute: the inability or unwillingness to start by fairly and accurately stating her position on anything. So I just want to say, to whom it may concern, that I see her clearly enough to tell you – you missed.

  18. But clearly most women (except of course for Ayn Rand) who aspire to the highest realms of philosophical discourse will naturally fall short, as their brains aren’t “wired that way”. This does not mean they cannot help further philosophical progress if they merely aspire to be muses to the great men who carry on the manly task of furthering philosophical progress every day of their lives..

  19. Another supposedly genuinely confused author trying to figure out why women are t in philosophy and gesturing at natural brain differences – ho hum! I didn’t realize a single 2016 study was enough to discount teams of female testimony about what is going on in this debacle. Get a grip!

    • Giselle P. says

      @Lisa: “…female testimony about what is going on in this debacle.”

      NOOOOOOOOOOO! …… We do NOT want to initiate a conversation about “female testimony” right now.

      Not after Duke La Crosse, Asia “teenie fiddler” Argento, Rose “Harvey Weinstein planted cocaine in my purse to frame me at airport security” McGowan, the phony hijab grabbing accusations here and in France, “Kavanaugh the boat and serial gang rapist” (and going back, the witch trials, the “Satanic preschool molesters” of the early 1980s), etc. etc.

      Haven’t you ever watched House MD? “EVERYBODY LIES.” Women are half of “everybody.” I don’t believe women. I don’t believe men. I consider EVIDENCE and do the best I can.

      The 2016 study was EVIDENCE. So yeah … I’m going to consider it more closely that the sistahood and their whiny rationalizations for failing to get their 50% of sinecures in this particular Nietzsche (get it?) of the academy.

      A small and shrill group of women are embarrassing the HELL out of the rest of us right now. I don’t think we want to draw attention to it.

      • Or maybe you’re just a sexist arse? Testimony is evidence, as anyone who knows a thing about epistemology or the law, understands.

        • tomoncapecod says

          True testimony is evidence, otherwise it is just a plot device.

          • In the Quran it is plainly stated: the testimony of a woman is worth ony half that of a man. So you need two women to equal the vale of one man’s in whatever case.

        • Stephanie says

          Lisa, testimony is the weakest kind of evidence. When dealing with something subjective like workplace culture, everyone can have a different reaction. It is not reasonable to rely on anecdotal evidence to draw general conclusions about the state of a discipline.

  20. TofeldianSage says

    Maybe women are just no good at doing philosophy.

    And BTW Aristotle was a student of Plato, not his predecessor.

  21. Pingback: Who’s Afraid of Ludwig Wittgenstein? Explaining the Lack of Women in Philosophy – Quillette – A Curious Occurance

  22. V 2.0 says

    I have said this so many times to so many different people I’m seriously starting to bore myself: it does not matter if the lack of women in a field is a result of discrimination. We are just over fifty percent of the population. We should be able to push our way into any field of study we want. Our failure to do so, be it lack of interest or lack of ability, is on us and our ‘oppressors’ should not be handing over whatever privilege we make them feel bad about. Personally, I find philosophy somewhat uninteresting and annoyingly abstract preferring see things from an engineering rather than an ideological perspective (lets identify the particular problem we are trying to solve and come up with a plan with the least negative consequences). Maybe we should be proud to be avoiding this waste of intellectual resources :D.

    • dellingdog says

      I think this is exactly right. Most professional philosophy (at least in the analytic, Anglo-American tradition) is extremely abstract. Even many debates in the field of ethics — the most applied discipline in philosophy — are fixated on the details of abstruse thought experiments. Sexism is not keeping women out of philosophy; lack of interest is the most likely culprit. Personally, if I were on the job market for a tenure-track position in philosophy I would *much* rather be female than male. Fortunately, I already have a permanent position … and I could always change my gender if that became necessary.

    • Stephanie says

      V2.0, Makes sense to me! I understand the importance of philosophy, but listening to it is horribly dull for me. Hard to say if being a woman contributes to that. My annoyance typically stems from feeling the topic of discussion is too abstract to be useful, or finding the hypothetical questions these conversations typically employ unrealistic and often silly.

      I would have thought wanting hard answers and a straightforward, rather than conversational, approach to knowledge acquisition would be a male preference!

      • Thrash Jazz Assassin says

        I agree @V 2.0 makes sense. And there is a point to be made about abstract approaches and thought experiments that can sometimes (or always, if that’s your argument) be unrealistic and silly. This is in fact, a philosophical position. For which you can make a valid argument and defend. A philosophical argument, which, in the face of such overly-abstract approaches, say why they unrealistic and offer a different way to think about ethical or other problems.

        It may turn out that you offer new ways for the world to sort its shit out!

        They (those you have listened to) are making the mistake of assuming that philosophy can only be approached this way, and you are making the mistake of assuming that philosophy is only that.

  23. Sarka says

    I became a historian not a philosopher but I was always very interested in philosophy. It was the subject my dad had studied (with Greek and Latin, but philosophy was his favourite) and he instilled in me a love of philosophical argument from a very early age. I went to an all-girls secondary school, famously academic and selective, and a lot of my friends there were certainly interested in philosophy….
    So now it’s fascinating to read this stuff on why women are less likely to take up philosophy than men. My first reaction is to remember the names of excellent women philosophers I have either known (Margaret Anscombe, Mary Warnock…) or read (Iris Murdoch)…and think – well, it’s not as though there haven’t been any good ones in the modern age, when it has become possible for female philosophers to be at all acceptable.
    My second reaction, though, is more personally based. My dad brought me up terribly argumentative…(and later even admitted that was because he’d hoped for a son but only got me, so had to treat me as a son – though later he actually complained about how argumentative I was, for a woman, and how men wouldn’t like me for that reason!). So I loved getting stuck into quite aggressive arguments (though not uncivil ones) on everything from the existence of god, to metaphysics, whether positivism was valid and so on. But I often noted – especially in my later career as history academic – that female students, even ones I thought full of potential, had a really hard time really pushing points in argument, getting into the duelling mentality as it were. Their capacity to really grapple with some issue was definitely interfered with by the desire to please, to accommodate, not to seem too pushy.
    Whether that is cultural (I suspect it is to some degree) or biological (I don’t rule it out) I don’t claim to know. That is just my experience

    • @Sarka:Simone de Beauvoir would say, you are made that way, not born (even with such a father). And after so many years, the dilemma still remains. But a nice and telling personal story it is! Not fitting very well in the discource of feminists.

    • ccscientist says

      Jordan Peterson points out in a video that women are higher in the personality trait of agreeableness and notes that this exactly what you need to take care of an infant. Men can be more free to debate because this is a competitive sport.

  24. In case you’re interested, I also wrote a very detailed critique of the feminist narrative on the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, where among other things I show using data from The Freshman Survey that the proportion among incoming freshmen who declare their intention to major in a field predicts almost perfectly the proportion of women among PhD recipients ten years later. I also argue that, since the underrepresentation of women in philosophy has little or nothing to do with discrimination against them in the field, trying to increase the proportion of women in philosophy will most likely have adverse effects on the quality of the field.

  25. Andrew Mcguiness says

    While I agree with the author that the numbers of men and women in specific occupations more likely reflect differences in interests between the genders rather than prejudice in those occupations, I think it’s worth mentioning that interest differences are not necessarily innate. The link provided in support of the statement that ‘on average, men tend to be more interested in theoretical reasoning, while women tend to prefer artistic and social pursuits’ notes that interests have changed over time, with later cohorts of women showing a greater interest in Enterprise pursuits.

    It may also be the case that expectations of what will prove interesting and rewarding are enculturated in gender-specific ways during children’s young years. The linked article also notes that possibility:

    “As suggested by previous literature and the present study, interests stabilize at an early age. Given the essential role of family and other environmental influences in the socialization process of children and their interest development, it may be important for parents, educators, and counselors to be involved early on, when interests seem more malleable.” (‘Men and things, women and people: a meta-analysis of sex differences in interests.’, Su R, Rounds J, Armstrong PI., Psychol Bull. 2009, p879)

    • Gee, so all men aren’t identical, nor are all women. If interests vary due to culture, that’s a necessary wrong because people acting in their own ways in their own cultures are foolish? Perhaps their is a “correct” way to be religious? A “correct” way to dress? A “correct” language to use? A “correct” set of art?
      By law, you are free to choose, free to follow the culture or buck the trend.

  26. Fox Puffery says

    I’m a male university student, but I didn’t find philosophy to be interesting in the long run. I was interested in philosophy, at first, and I had a minor in it in my first semester, before ditching it the next year. I didn’t drop it because I hated it, but I realized about how it wouldn’t help me with my career goal. It was hard for me to realize that I have to engage in debates or offer some theories and stuff. This was only useful in the academic world or in the field of legal justice. My career goal, being a photographer, wouldn’t fit in with it.

    I’m not doubting its usefulness. My professor in my first philosophy course helped me realize my goals and deconstruct my Christian perspective of the world. ( I graduated from a deeply Evangelical Christian school. My parents didn’t send me there, I actually chose to attend there because I wanted my high school life to be easy.) But, when I attended the next philosophy class taught by a different professor, I had to drop it. The class was a freshman level and its focus was on ethics, but the professor made it difficult by being mean to us. He was so critical on our essays that he would mark them as failure, and I didn’t want to end up with a bad grade. So, realizing the difficulty of philosophy and not wanting to end up with a bad grade, I dropped both the class and my minor.

    It was honestly a good choice for me, to be honest, because I managed to minor in English literature and found it to be more interesting.

  27. John McCormick says

    1. There are about 100 women-only colleges in the US, and I’m sure there are plenty in other anglophone countries. How popular is philosophy on those campuses?

    2. The social sciences are merely specialized branches of philosophy (they certainly aren’t science!), and there’s no shortage of women in the social sciences. The same goes for gender/ethnicity/race studies.

    3. The insistence on equal participation from both sexes in choice of field is really just numerical mysticism and discomfort with lack of conformity and consistency.

  28. Emma Plowe says

    I think the way that we study philosophy should change. We should study various theories through other means than formulas; expanding the process of philosophy using the lenses of literature, for example, provides a tangibly human nature to the study. Formulaic theorizing should not be dropped, but there should be a diversification in method of study without leaving the department or pursuing a cross-disciplinary route. This will attract more women (and different kinds of people, who might’ve been turned off from philosophy).

    • In other words, let’s turn philosophy into gender studies 2.0. Sounds awesome.

    • Why should we (whoever) do that Emma? To attract more women, is that the underlying purpose? Is that a good reason? To change an academic studyfield into one where the male/female balance is likely less lopsided? I think this an example of the agreeability criterium of Peterson.

    • Andrew Leonard says

      You’re confused Emma. The purpose of any field is to produce the right output, not generate the right input.

      Think I will coin a term: Input Preference

      Definition: The belief, advocacy or policy of manipulating organizational, social or economic processes, to produce a desired input profile – particularly in regards to socio-economic groups – at the expense of process efficiency, and/or output quality.

      This is a kind of post-scarcity ideology we are starting to see. It is possibly very dangerous, as the scope for IP is infinite, just as is the scope of goods & services in an economy, however, there is no equivalent to money and budgets to regulate demand. Demand is therefore purely political in nature. The politicization of just about everything is about to go into overdrive.

    • R Henry says

      So….attract more women by dumbing down the study of classical Philosophy?

    • Thrash Jazz Assassin says

      Again, a very stereotyped view of philosophy. As if ‘formulas’ are its only modus operandi. Literature is already used in philosophy. Human nature is already a part of study in philosophy. There is already various ‘methods of study’. Wittgenstein argued, for example, that philosophy is a process of disabusing ourselves of formulaic thinking conditioned by language use.

      Furthermore there are brilliant contemporary female philosophers.

      “The difficulty is to realise the groundlessness of our believing.” – Wittgenstein ‘On
      Certainty’ 166.

  29. Poor Emma, what did she say, in a moment of distraction? Or sincere conviction?

  30. R Henry says

    Women are already disprportionately represented in Philosphy departments. They self-segregated, and renamed their departments Women’s Studies.

  31. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy. People most interested in aesthetics are often found studying graphic design, illustration, fine art, photography, architecture, interior design and film making. Their values and philosophy are expressed through aesthetic decisions in these fields. Biographical details of masters are more valued in those fields. Pentagram , the famed design studio recently signed a new female partner who studied philosophy of aesthetics, Astrid Stavro.

  32. joe forshaw says

    First paragraph: “equally as”…….. YIKES, get me editorial!

  33. Bern Wagenseller says

    “Since then, philosophy departments have been scrambling to address such concerns.”
    I’m a retired director of public, vocational education in Pennsylvania. The same sentiment has been all too true for vocational education, specifically for schools like mine, that specialize in training workers for high demand STEM careers; consequently, we endure financial sanctions because we cannot easily convince students to cross traditional gender lines, as if we are to blame. The directive we’re given is to get more girls to apply for engineering programs. Of course, female (and male) students vote with their feet. According to federal law (i.e., Perkins Act) the clear solution is to punish us and withhold state and federal funding until we comply. Duh.

  34. Tibbles says

    We have a huge second hand book fair in our city twice a year and I have only missed one fair since 1989. I probably spend 6 hours all up at the fairs and probably spend at least an hour in the philosophy section. It’s always amazed me the lack of women looking at books in that section. In the thirty or so years I’ve attended I’ve not seen a single women pick up a philosophy book but I note women pick up heaps of books in the psychology section where I also spend time. I know it’s just anecdotal but its clear evidence to me that women have little or no interest in philosophy. Incidentally, in recent years I’ve seen a pleasing up tick in young men looking at the philosophy books. It used to be only middle-aged or older men picking up philosophy books. So maybe philosophy isn’t dead after all.

  35. Bubblecar says

    Quite a lot of men and women who are initially attracted to philosophy change their minds when they realise that getting into it at academic level is more boring and technical than they thought it would be.

    But I’d suggest more men than women end up staying on, not because men are better at dry technical stuff, but because more men are likely to think they’re less adept at subjects that most people would find more interesting.

  36. Ike “the” Spike says

    Let’s face it, as a gaggle, chicks do less well in the pure, hard reasoning than dudes, which isn’t to say that any specific chick can’t reason hard.

  37. The problem may not be that women don’t understand philosophy. It may be that they understand it only too well.

    ‘Women ignore useless discipline’ — is that a BAD thing?

  38. I. M. says

    My first year philosophy class stalled when the prof covered Plato’s Republic because several students could not grasp his theory of Forms. I realized, watching them ask question after question, that they lacked an ability to thing abstractly. All of them were female. Just one anecdote, sure, but my life experience dealing with a range of individuals bears this out. Fewer women than men can think abstractly to the required degree necessary to grasp certain basic concepts that are the foundation of Philosophy in general.

  39. Pierre Pendre says

    If more women were recruited to teach and study in philosophy departments, it needn’t mean their being trapped and feeling they would be happier doing something else. They would more likely develop new areas of research more interesting to themselves, demand that it be treated as mainstream philosophy and insist that men who disagreed be fired. This is in part how others parts of the academy have adapted to the exigencies of feminism. There would be more room for the exploration of bizarre notions such as the lack of a given number of female philosophy professors being in itself inexcusable and appalling.

  40. I found your article interesting because the things women supposedly do not like about philosophy—the fact that it focuses on things versus people, abstractions versus fully formed characters, mathematics versus biography—are precisely the things I focus on in my dissertation on German existentialism. Existentialist Thinkers would point to philosophy’s penchant for abstraction as a flaw in the discipline itself. This is not to say that this represents an inherent bias against woman in philosophy (after all most German existentialists were men) but to question the aims of philosophy in general. Can ethics really be ethics if we primarily view people as things versus living and breathing beings? Do we have a real understanding of the world if we solely take its essence to be the mechanical relations between abstract things?

    • Thrash Jazz Assassin says

      Well said.

      The common mistake seems to be that philosophy does not, or cannot ask these questions and make arguments about them.

  41. markbul says

    To those who find hypermasculinity in university philosophy departments: Warning – do not download the Joe Rogan podcast.

  42. Epictetus wasnt a total sexist at least says

    What a minefield to wade through in this comments section…
    Are women inferior? Are they disinterested? Are they incapable of abstract thought?
    I suppose we shall never know as there seems to be practically no female voices partaking this discussion.
    Perhaps women find it disenfranchising to be nit picked like strange, dim witted zoo animals. Perhaps some realize, early on in their philosophy studies that men control the conversation and female perspectives will forever fall under the umbrella of “feminist studies”. Perhaps women quite frankly do not want to engage in laboring under a dualistic wetdream where truth is never what is felt or known in their bodies but whatever a man tells her it is. She ought sit quietly and not trouble her pretty and empty head about such things.

    I am one of these elusive females who studies philosophy. What deters me from following a PhD program or deciding to teach is illustrated clearly in this delightful comments section: It is clear I am not welcome. It is clear I will be forced to exist in the cold gray area of not as good as a man, but certainly not the ‘right sort of woman’ either. What I have to say, how deeply I think are considered secondary to my sex. Why would anyone march to a tune that feels entirely wrong, exposes her to vilification and sneering derision, and likely would lead to a life of near destitution in the scrabbling pissing match that is the current university system?
    To regurgitate the phrase used in most philosophy written by men: Surely we can do better than this.

    But only if we choose to.

    • But what about Emma, Epictetus and rest? She made a remark with a lot of sense, and also had a lot of responses!

    • Evander says

      @anonymous female philosophy student

      Some posters have made gronk comments about women not being fit for abstract thought. But the article, at least, was trying to give a robust account for the gender-disparity in philosophy. Your response is to claim sexist opposition to female presence in the discipline is a blocker. That might be true for you personally but you can’t extrapolate from your personal experience and claim that’s the typical experience of women. In fact, the author of the piece cites the social science that proves sexist attitudes aren’t an inhibiting factor.

      Another fallacy you’ve fallen prey to is that supposed-sexism here guarantees sexism in the university department where you might like to pursue a PhD program. How do you know there’s entrenched bigotry towards women in a philosophy department? If you’re serious about an academic career, why not just look up philosophy departments and apply to the one with the highest proportion of female faculty members?

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