#IWD2020 How to be this Woman Philosopher: It is not my job to teach you.

Early Career Academia is a strange place. It occupies a between space. An end and a beginning. Ascribed status without standing. Deep with precarity, shallow with connectedness. This means you are always working. 

Working to have work. Working to have future work. Working to gain standing. Working to connect. Working to be seen, believed, respected. Working to eat, sleep, breathe. This means you need, perhaps more than ever before, the ‘together with’ at the root of ‘colleague.’

By accident of location and timing, I happen to be the lone woman amongst my current early career academic philosophy colleagues. The last time I was genuinely the lone woman in the room, was in extension maths class in high school. 20 years ago. 

Unexpectedly, my lone-ness exaggerates the strangeness of the space. What came before is not allowed to end, so what comes after never really begins. I am constantly being pulled down, whilst having to pull myself up. One hand is pushed back by the philosophy men at the same stage, the other hand is dragged down by the philosophy women at the stage below. Pulled in these ways, it is the first time my woman-hood has completely isolated me in a philosophy environment.

For the graduate-stage women philosophers, I make for a safe ally, confidant, and guide, which is disproportionate to my own safety (i.e., lack thereof) and resources. The additional burden is that I represent a channel, a connection, a voice to advocate for the space and support that these women rightly need to flourish. But this overdetermines my standing. No matter how well-respected I am by my senior colleagues (and that is very well, thank you), as the institutionally new, most junior, non-permanent woman faculty member, my lone voice cannot bring to light the potential structural problems and solutions you are asking me to. I understand. And want to help. But I need you to understand that calling on the lone woman philosopher to informally represent all women philosophers only further risks her safety, making her The Problem. Instead, you must use the existing channels available to you, especially, where you can act as a unified voice (that is, after all, what students reps are for). It is not my job, and it is not my job to teach you that it is not my job.

For the early career-stage men philosophers, I represent an object, an obstacle. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, I have had the good fortune of receiving exceptional academic mentorship from the most senior of philosophy men, without the all too common suggestion of sexual object. And also enough of the ‘together with’ of similar-stage colleagues, both philosophy women and men, to off-set the attitude that women are an obstacle to the goings on of proper philosophy. So it came to me as a sharp shock that my efforts to create the ‘together with’ of my between-space same-stage colleagues was mistaken for me wanting to receive philosophy mens’ cock. My efforts have been seen either to be asking them on a date (explicitly to receive actual cock), or asking them for help (implicitly to receive metaphorical cock from he who crowed his superior philosophical bollocks). Either way, and with true understatement, this undermines my status. I learnt the true extent of this undermining, this complete disregard, of my current status on the singular occasion I have made reference to it.

I am not going to go into details, no recreation of actual words, as it is the shape of the incident that is important. At social drinks, post-philosophy event, I happened to be in a one-to-one conversation with a graduate-stage philosophy woman. I was sharing my view on her particular concern, which due to my career stage and specific circumstances I had direct experience of and expertise in, when one of the graduate-stage philosophy boys interrupted and overtook the conversation to tell her she should listen to what I was saying. In this act, he appropriated and presented my view as if it required his validation. Rightly or wrongly (and my right or wrong is actually not important here) I countered that I am part of faculty and I doubted that he would interrupt and act toward any of my male faculty colleagues in the same way. He responded by accusing me of pulling rank. All my attempts to explain myself — that my claim was that his actions disavowed me of my own expertise, invalidating my status, denied my so-called ‘rank’, and was in no way an appeal to its authority, etc — only escalated his aggression to the point that it could not be defused (not by me, at least).

Although in that moment I was under genuine threat from this philosophy boy, the real harm to me was the response of the early career philosophy men throughout the rest of the evening. The boy ran himself out of steam, but not before one of these (same-stage as me) philosophy men was alerted to him being on the boil. That forced me to explain the incident to this philosophy man, unexpectedly releasing it to be a talking-point that the similar-stage philosophy men could pick up with me at any time. Turning what, for me, should have been a casual pint and chat into a night long enquiry, with the protracted, relentless demand that I consider the ways that I was mistaken. It was my mistake to appeal to my status, to ‘pull rank’. It was my mistake to make assumptions about the boy’s intent — how did I know he was a misogynist arsehole, and not just an arsehole? Now I can learn from my mistake. Avoid being The Problem.

At no point did these early career philosophy men grasp the brute fact that my claim was that the boy denied me the ‘rank’ that this same boy would never question in these very men. Rather these men fixated on my apparent lack of judgment, significantly, my failure to imagine the boy’s point of view.

But it is not my job to imagine the point of view of the philosophy boys that undermine, insult, and abuse me. It is not my job to explain, justify, and dispel the misogyny I receive from philosophy men. It is not my job to walk away, turn the other cheek, miss out because I happen to be a woman occupying this between-space of early career academia. Yet it has become my work. And it is exhausting.

I am just so fucking tired of having to teach philosophers how to treat me as a philosopher.

I am just so fucking tired of teaching people how to treat me as a person.

I am just so fucking tired.

What are we doing when we’re doing philosophy?

It all begins with a question. ‘What is philosophy?’

The conversation is initially tentative, nervous, but rather quickly it reaches a crescendo as my brand new class of first year university philosophers-in-training find confidence both in themselves and their new acquaintances. It is around this time I call back the attention of the room.

‘Tell me, what is philosophy?’ I ask again, this time so that the answers, which have been so far discussed with neighbours and around tables, can now be shared with me and the class as a whole. Momentarily, the tentativeness and nervousness returns. Then a bold spokesperson starts us off: ‘Well, we think philosophy is the search for truth.’

‘Oh good’ I reply, eagerly. ‘But what is truth?’

‘Umm…something that is true.’

‘Like what?’

‘Ahh…maybe…that the earth is round not flat.’

‘That is indeed true. But isn’t that a scientific fact? What has it, that kind of truth, or any kind of truth, got to do with philosophy?’

‘Hmm.’

‘How about we keep thinking about that while we consider some of the other answers,’ I suggest.

Another bold spokesperson speaks up: ‘We think it’s the study of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics.’

‘Very good’ I reply, again eagerly. ‘They’re the main fields of philosophy, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Remind me, what are they about?’

After some to-ing and fro-ing, and careful conversation, I summarise the conclusions: ‘So, then, in the most basic terms, metaphysics asks what exists or is, epistemology asks what we can know, while ethics asks how we ought to act. Great! But aren’t those all really different things? What makes them all philosophy?’

‘Hmm…maybe they all aim at truth.’

‘Oh excellent!’ I reply, most eagerly. ‘Do you mean something like, metaphysics looks for what truly is, epistemology looks for what we can truly know, and ethics looks for how we truly ought to act. But, isn’t every academic field, or in fact, every ordinary person, looking for the truth of what is or knowable or the right ways to act, so what makes all these true-lys philosophy?’

‘Hmm.’

This is the extremely abridged account. The actual in-class conversation, with many diversions, will have gone on for over an hour at this point. When a confused, somewhat contemplative, slightly uncomfortable quiet settles over the room, an important quiet that I must not disturb. 

Finally, an exasperated yet sincere voice breaks the silence, ‘I haven’t a fucking* clue.’

I smile in spite of myself, actually I’m beaming — ‘Brilliant.’

Within their very first hour and half session my philosophers-in-training experience, find for themselves, genuine philosophical ignorance. I am so proud. And to my continued surprise and delight these philosophers-in-training come back for more.

The more that we (these philosophers-in-training and I) explore is the question: What are we doing when we are doing philosophy? Philosophy is generally taken to be the study of the fundamental nature of the world (metaphysics), knowledge (epistemology), and action (ethics). However, throughout its history, philosophy has understood its own aims (what it is for) and methods (how to do it) in different ways. In the Western Tradition — that by accident of birth and training I have grown up in — philosophy has be shaped by two main aims: ‘how to live?’ and ‘what can be known?’ These two aims are readily compatible and feature throughout the field’s long history. Nevertheless, perhaps controversially, I suggest that there is an identifiable, historical shift from one to the other; minimally a shift in emphasis, maximally a shift in foundation. Directly connected to these shifting aims are the variety and changing practices of philosophy; that is, what it means to be a philosopher. As I become more familiar with non-Western philosophical traditions, I also suggest that similar shifts in aims and practices can be seen in them. And in order to understand what we are (perhaps, ought to be) doing when we are doing philosophy only really comes into view by the exploration of this history of philosophy’s philosophy.

In the forthcoming series of posts, my view on these shifts of philosophy’s aim and method will be developed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I begin with Socrates, yet less surprisingly, as the child of the existing lovers of wisdom rather than the father of all philosophy.

Next time: Love of Wisdom, the Birth of Socrates’ Method.

*For very important philosophical and pedagogical reasons, all language, all words, are permitted in my classroom, with the only limitation or condition being that some words or combination of words, may or may not be permissible for certain participants to say or use (for instance, unlike 2Pac there are no circumstances that I can legitimately use the n-word). Similarly participants receive appropriate warning of the discussion of difficult topics and can excuse themselves at any point without reason nor requiring permission. However, if a mistake is made, we have the difficult conversation about what makes it a mistake. This fitting expression of exasperation is no such mistake. Furthermore, under this proviso, and well before any student says it, I will have said fuck/ing in relevant context at least twice in this class and will continue to do so throughout the course.

#HTBAPhilos REBOOT

The monthly How to be a Philosopher has laid dormant for quite some time. But it is about to get a Reboot. So as it is the first of the month (and the usual #HTBAPhilos publication day) I though I would prepare you for the future regular instalments.

Although it will remain all about being a philosopher, the forthcoming posts are going to be a serialised jaunt through the history of being a philosopher. I shall look at the various philosophical aims and practices that have arisen, evolved, peaked and died, gone from revolutionary to orthodoxy to antiquated, throughout history. All with the view of carefully thinking about the question, imagining and re-imagining, what are we doing when we are doing philosophy?

It will be a thrilling, surprising, and hopefully enlightening, ride.

The first proper reboot edition will be out on the 1 November. In the meantime, you might like to catch up on the existing monthly editions listed here. Along with my two, I think my most important and best, complimentary special editions: Philosophy Please Choose LOVE & What the World Needs Now? An Imagination.

I am looking forward to our future philosophy adventures.

What the world needs now? An imagination

‘They’ve lost all reason!’ is the common cry.

Whatever it happens to be over, if the planet is going to boil humanity to extinction, whether or not humans from different places and circumstances actually count as human, or [insert whatever-else-appears-to-be-sending-the-world-to-hell-handbasket here], everyone seems to be grasping for reason.

But actually the world is full of reason, reasons, reasoning, even ‘the reasonable’ right now. There is a whole internet overflowing with them — good, bad, and indifferent. Indeed, everyone is exerting their reason.

‘Ah but what we need is proper critical reasoning’ I hear the philosophers proclaim. ‘Which ones would those be?’ I ask. ‘Perhaps, the critical reasoning that we philosophers are using to shout at each other — they’ve lost all reason — in exactly the same way as all the other humans are?’

No, what the whole world appears to have completely lost is its imagination. To stop for one moment and try to imagine all the things our reasons blind us to.

Try to imagine what reason it would really take to get on a leaky boat where it is most certain you will die quickly from drowning or slowly from dentition, but you get on it anyway, with your children?

Try to imagine what reason it would take to sincerely believe that those people and their children, if they actually make it off the boat, are a genuine threat to you?

Try to imagine the possibility that the seeming small individual demands we put on the planet might have impact beyond our own reasoning?

Try to imagine what it would take to believe all those reasons that are not our own? Just try to imagine…

Instead, we are beside ourselves, aghast, repeatedly, hopelessly pleading ‘how do we get them to see reason?’ As if our own reason requires being seen, yet never being seen to. As if every one of ‘them’ are not also just like us and require being seen, and not just seen to. All without a moment imagining how we ourselves might need to ‘see reason.’ Or to see that sometimes reason is of no use at all.

The world is truly frightening right now. And it does feel safe to hide amongst our own reasons and those who share them with us. But if we just keep busying ourselves with protecting our reasons then suddenly we will all find ourselves on one side or the other of a detention fence, de-humanised, overheating, aghast, each of us pleading ‘can’t imagine how we got here.’

For if we, each of us, cannot imagine how we might be part of the problem then we remain part of the problem. Until we can imagine something different for ourselves, for everyone, all the reasons stay the same.

So for this Fourth Anniversary of How To Be A Philosopher, please simply take the time to try to imagine. #RadicalKindness

Thank you

Time to Walk the Walk (3rd Anniversary Edition)

So it is three years, today, since I started this blog. To talk the talk of philosophical practice. Hurrah! Now, as of today, I am contractually obliged to start to walk the walk. To teach, explore, discover, assess, reflect on philosophy as a practice across its history and traditions with real live university students. Ahh!

After a very long stretch of climbing the shit mountain (some of which is described in the last edition), now quite to my surprise and relief I have scored not one but two academic philosophy jobs at two universities. Taken together they pretty much make one academic job; this cobbling together of part-time gigs, often at multiple institutions, is the current (problematic) usual for early career academics. But, what is unusual in my case, is that I have managed to get any job at all (let alone two!) while inhabiting the commonly maligned no-person’s land of major thesis corrections — completed, submitted, viva’d, still not yet awarded the PhD, more than student less than Doctor. Surprisingly,  too, is that the two institutions are actually near each other, and both are prepared to accommodate my commitments to the other.

Continue reading

#IWD2018: How to be this PhilosopHER

I have been effectively homeless for about 10 months now. The only reason I have not been literally homeless is due to the generosity of my friends. I am deeply grateful for their gifts. Nevertheless, I lack home in the essential senses of permanence, security, mine.

My homelessness is the direct outcome of my husband leaving me. I understand his reasons. For you to understand them is his story to tell. But this is not about him. This is not about any one of the men, who without malice nor intent have done me great harm by wielding power over me that they deny that they possess. This is not even about the institutionalised, internalised, implicit biases of Man. This is about this philosopHER. I am her. Continue reading

A Divine Orgasm? How to be a Philosopher celebrates turning two

Well, as regular readers may have noticed, this Philosopher has been on blog hiatus so she can get her PhD written. But today I have put a pause on the thesis-ing to do a bit of blogging to celebrate the second birthday of How to be a Philosopher!

Since I really can’t escape my thesis at the moment, I thought I would deviate from talking about philosophical practice and tell you about some philosophical content. You guessed it, my thesis. Definitely not my academic pitch, the ‘thesis of my thesis’ for fellow philosophers, but the after a pint or three in the pub ‘well you asked for it’ random punter pitch. Continue reading

It only really happens when you don’t realise…

An odd thing happened when I reached university. I automatically became an ignorant, racist, homophobe — well, at least in the eyes of my fellow newly acquainted middle-class, liberal, southern state first years. All because I came from rural Queensland (i.e., Australia’s version of the UK’s up north or the US’s deep south, etc).

No doubt I was ignorant when I arrived at university. I have said so previously. However, I was not completely unsophisticated, which is what they meant. I might not have been on a school trip to Europe, but I could still easily point it out on a map. Wow, I even knew it was a continent not a country. Similarly, I was bemused (and quietly amused) that their exclusive institutions necessarily made these homogeneously white north shore Sydneyites (and Melbourne’s equivalent) better educated on Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island peoples, when I had actually met some, even went to school with a couple. I was also well aware of the consequences for my grandparents when they arrived off the boat as the wrong sort of immigrants. While, I remain deeply saddened that the unwavering belief of my supposedly inherent prejudice was cause for a couple of my closest friends to push me away when they came out, despite our favourite local club being the gay bar.

Nevertheless, it is true that I grew up amongst such prejudices. I even learnt to harbour some of them — what child doesn’t? Importantly, though, I unlearnt them, too. Continue reading