Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Inclusiveness and Philosophy

It is well known that philosophy has a disparity of women in it, and few women exist in the "canon." Even more so, it is important to actively seek out patterns of behavior that implicitly (or worse... explicitly) block the participation of women. As such, the New APPS blog actively posts conferences that have no women participants. This is an effort to bring to light patterns of conduct that hinder the participation of women. It is an effort of inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness is not the same as pluralism about philosophical approaches. I have recently encountered this problem.

Pluralism in philosophy is an ambiguous phrase, but when applied to philosophical approaches means "people have many approaches to what they consider philosophy and they do such things here." For instance, University of New Mexico has historians, Continentalists, Asianists and analytic philosophers all under the same roof. Similarly, SIUC has Americanists, Continentalists and Asianists, and other things too. In such a way, pluralism can also indicate that non-analytic approaches are taken here. In addition, pluralism might indicate that within a tradition, many approaches are taken even given that these terms are pejorative. At an institution, we might find people that think philosophical problems should be addressed in terms of conceptual analysis, or through philosophy of language or cognitive science. There is enough of a gap even within traditions to note that they have nothing in common. For instance, a Marxist and a phenomenologist can differ significantly on many things like the structures of existence, and how to explain the experience of history. A Derridean postructuralist has nothing in common with a dedicated Husserlian other than the starting point of Husserl. At that point, pluralism is the result of intellectual humility realizing that we might not have all the answers, and that perhaps we should let a thousand flowers bloom.

Inclusiveness is a social effort to include all those that are different for whatever reason. In this way, inclusiveness can be independent of pluralism, but in a very minimalist sense. I might not like Smith, and she might hate me. We might have entrenched our heels and perhaps we do not respect each other's work (since we have no intellectual humility). However, when it comes to, say, hiring a candidate, she and I agree on the same thing, and as such, we pull our collective weight to come together for an important cause. We actively seek to include those that are different from ourselves up to a point.

Inclusiveness in a robust sense subsumes pluralism, and presupposes it. To actively go out of your way and include others signifies a strong commitment to valuing many different intellectual approaches because you cannot control what others do. This is even more true for graduate student communities. You have to befriend and promote a community from those that are there already, and like your family to some extent, you cannot chose your colleagues (although in some sense we do if you were on a faculty search committee, and graduate communities can insulate themselves to their class year, domain of specialty or restrict themselves to favorite drinking buddies). The problem is robust inclusiveness is more ideal than concrete and often falls short in practice of becoming minimalist fairly quickly. This happens if a sub-group of the community initiates a cause and forms expectations of others to join in on their cause without first involving them in the initiative.

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