Should there be more texts by women authors in philosophy of mind anthologies?

An interesting discussion at New APPS, spurred by the following list:

  • Lycan and Prinz, Mind and Cognition: An Anthology (3rd ed., 2008) has three texts by women (one of them co-written with a man) among 56 chapters.
  • Heil, Philosophy of Mind: A Guide and Anthology (2004) has five texts by women among 50 chapters.
  • Chalmers, Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (2002) has two texts by women among 63 chapters.
  • Morton, A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind: Readings with Commentary (2nd ed., 2010) has three texts by women among 40 chapters.
  • O’Connor, Philosophy of Mind: Contemporary Readings (2003) has zero texts by women among 28 chapters.
  • Bermudez, Philosophy of Psychology: Contemporary Readings (2006) has three texts by women (two of them co-written with men) among 30 chapters.
  • Beakley and Ludlow, The Philosophy of Mind: Classical Problems/Contemporary Issues (2nd ed., 2006) has two texts by women (one co-written) among 83 chapters.
  • Noe and Thompson, Vision and Mind: Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Perception (2002) has two texts by women among 23 chapters.

In the comments, two people have pointed out that Brie Gertler and Larry Shapiro’s Arguing About the Mind, which was left off the list, has a better gender balance than any of these. Also, Dave Chalmers notes that he is working on a second edition of his anthology, which will be more diverse in this regard.

6 Comments

  1. Q: Should there be more texts by women authors in philosophy of mind anthologies?

    A: Yes, if there are such texts that merit inclusion, compared to the texts already in the anthologies (at the time the anthologies were published). That is, are there better papers that should be included? If so, are they by women? Then the answer is yes, otherwise I’d say no. If my goal was to publish the best anthology. Note I am neutral about the answers to these questions, but the suggestion that the answer should clearly be yes is surprising to me, i.e., the view that there shouldn’t be a question mark.

    Note these kinds of questions have been popping up a bit lately (e.g., as reported here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/06/17/192523112/name-ten-women-in-philosophy-bet-you-can-t) about philosophy.

    I see a constrast with science, where the focus is much more on the ideas (e.g., equations and mechanisms) than on authors (and authors’ gender). Undergrads almost never read primary authors in science. The ideas are first, the authors are secondary (this is a trend, obviously we know about Newton, Crick, etc, so it isn’t as if science hides people).

    In philosophy, there is a much more prominent tendency to focus on the authors. “We are going to read Hume and Kant this semester.” I have never had a science class in which this would be done (though maybe Hodgkin/Huxely some might in neuroscience).

    It could be an irony that the detached “objective” perspective we try to achieve in science might actually serve to keep more women interested, as they are not reminded constantly (like in philosophy) that the authors of the ideas they are reading are predominantly male.

    Shooting from the hip here, not sure what to make of these ideas. I think these trends also tend to point out how weird philosophy is as a discipline: how many other fields are so focused on authors rather than ideas? Maybe that is the problem, not the lack of male authors, but the constant focus on authors.

    Note I am not saying there is no problem of sexism in philosophy!! From Colin McGinn’s tone deafness, to hearing of Pat Churchland’s experience being not taken as seriously as a women, I am sure sexism is quite prevalent.

    • Hi Eric,

      A few things here:

      – I am skeptical of the idea that there is any detached perspective from which we can make judgments of the comparative goodness of papers, especially when we know the identity (incl. their sex) of their authors. The extensive literature on implicit bias seems to support this skepticism.

      – I also would quibble with the idea that there’s any context-independent standard of “merit” by which one can determine which papers deserve inclusion. Presumably papers are included in anthologies not just because they are excellent, but also because they are IMPORTANT. And the sex of the author is plausibly a relevant consideration in determining a paper’s importance.

      – As it says in the post I linked, one thing an anthology does is to construct a narrative about the history of the discipline. And it seems desirable that such narratives include a diverse range of authors, all else being equal. (There’s a relevant parallel here with the way a history of genetics should give proper place to the work of Rosalind Franklin, even if her peers did not.)

      – Finally, I think the wider social and professional consequences of an anthology are a relevant consideration in determining how papers are selected, especially given the number of judgment calls that an editor needs to make. Does this mean including papers that are CLEARLY inferior on the merits? No. But there’s no reason to think that that would be necessary in this instance.

  2. Eric Thomson

    John: good points, I reacted as if this was a Nature publication or something, whereas anthologies serve a much different purpose. But more to the point, you are right to point out how biased we can be without even knowing it, and rankings are messy and subject to biases and tastes, and there is a large pool of authors to pick from, some of which will have to be cut that could have been included without loss of overall quality. Many of them are probably female authors.

    I would still argue that simply providing the statistics isn’t enough. E.g., consider an anthology that focuses mostly on philosophy of mind from a “historical” perspective (e.g., work before 1950). It would likely be justified in having very few female authors.

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