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Kate Manne
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It was great to get to meet you, Mark, and to subsequently become friends! And I very much agree with everything here. I love going to conferences - making new friends, learning what new ideas are out there, getting a sense of which of your ideas are interesting to folks, the travel itself... all pretty great.
Toggle Commented Mar 28, 2013 on Why go to conferences? at The Philosophers' Cocoon
"He paused for a while and said slowly, 'It's very important that somebody teaches young people to think.'" I love this. I would maybe add that some people also need to be empowered to do what they already know how to do, as well as taught to do it better. Something about the pedagogical project of helping people to crystallize their thoughts and arguments seems especially attractive to me. Marcus, I also think that the conversational model might help with the rigor versus creativity contrast. My own view is that there's a huge role for both kinds of philosophy, and it's not always easy to combine them (I suppose everyone would agree that that would be ideal). Sometimes sparks are needed to get a discussion going or reorient/blow up an existing one; sometimes the collective project can be understood as refining and clarifying a good or intriguing idea that's been thrown out there already. Anyway, that's a pluralist's way of looking at it. There are still questions about whether the balance is off, but that's a hard question to answer outside of specific subfields.
Toggle Commented Mar 28, 2013 on Profession Depression at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Good question, but I can't help but feel that even "truth" and "understanding" are rather individualistic goals. I think the thought that we are getting to be privy to, and participate in, a good conversation, can provide some additional solace. And that view of things also makes it possible to conceive of oneself as playing very different roles in that conversation over time (and at different stages in one's career).
Toggle Commented Mar 27, 2013 on Profession Depression at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Thanks! I am thrilled to be on board.
Toggle Commented Feb 20, 2013 on New Soupers at PEA Soup
Sorry your comment got eaten! And, yes, I definitely meant the pluralism to be a pluralism about criticism. We can use reasons-talk to pick out one type of criticism, a la Williams, or use it to try to cover every type of criticism, a la Parfit, but at the risk (I believe) of eliding important distinctions between very different kinds of criticisms. I will change the conclusion to make this clearer now. I have also added a bit clarifying the "helpful answer" part, with probably more to come once I think about it some more. Thanks so much, again!
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2013 on On "On What Matters" at The Philosophers' Cocoon
I'm very grateful for the helpful feedback, both of you. I've uploaded a slightly revised version now, which says more about ELP and also about conversation. Thanks! :)
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2013 on On "On What Matters" at The Philosophers' Cocoon
I think there's a *sense* in which collaborative conversation ends and something else begins - maybe something entirely proper and fitting - when we start ignoring someone's motivations. We're not talking to or with them anymore about what to do - we're talking at them (or yelling at them, maybe). Maybe that's a more helpful way of getting at the same distinction? But I do think there's an important conceptual distinction in the vicinity, whatever it's best to call it. And it's hard to see it as an ethical point, even a prima facie one, because sometimes it seems entirely fitting to leave off conversation (as I perhaps partly stipulatively understand it) and start doing something else with words.
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2013 on On "On What Matters" at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Oh, and regarding Williams' pluralism, I didn't mean to suggest (and should have been clearer about this) that Williams is a pluralist about reasons themselves. I just think that he thought that reasons-talk (in his sense) does not exhaust everything critical which we need to say. If we try to make reasons-talk cover everything normative-cum-evaluative, a la Parfit, we will be trying to say too much with too little.
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2013 on On "On What Matters" at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Thanks so much for the mention, Marcus, and also for the kind words. And Nick, I'm very grateful both for the kind words and the excellent comments. It is so nice to have some encouragement! Re: pragmatism, are you referring to Williams' "Truth and Truthfulness," and subsequent back-and-forth with Rorty? You raise very interesting issues about the connection with pragmatism, but I actually haven't thought about them as much as I'd like to. I suspect that the brand of pragmatism Williams dislikes, and the sense of pragmatism implied by having a conversational model of practical reasons, might be quite different. But that's just a hunch, and I'd be very happy to hear more. Regarding the point about pluralism and moral obligation: you're absolutely right that "Morality, the Peculiar Institution" (1985) raises some exegetical wrinkles for me (wrinkles that are now going to get a long footnote), but I believe that they're just terminological in the end. For those of you who haven't read it: Williams famously argues in “Morality, the Peculiar Institution” that there is a special variety of ethical thought – which he dubs “the morality system” – which we would be “better off without.” But it is clear that he is now taking moral obligation to be different than in "'Ought' and Moral Obligation," (1981), because moral obligations are now taken to be exclusive (in direct contradiction to the quotation on p. 11). Williams also speaks of moral obligation as represented in the morality system as an “especially important kind of deliberative conclusion – a conclusion that is directed toward what to do, governed by moral reasons and concerned with a particular situation.” (1985, p. 175) Together with his subsequent claim that moral obligations imply possibility, this strongly suggests that Williams is now thinking of moral obligations as the all-in notion to which moral reasons claims correspond and contribute. Substantiating this reading, Williams then talks of “what a given person has reason to do, or more specifically is under an obligation to do,” and goes on to connect his remarks on moral obligation with his internalism about reasons. Most importantly, he now distinguishes an ‘ordinary’ sense of obligation, as well as ethical considerations and criticisms of very different kinds. “It is a mistake of morality to try to make everything [ethical] into obligations,” he writes. So the point is still that a certain kind of critical pluralism is crucial to maintain – with the implication being that reasons-talk will not capture everything critical which we might have to say. It is also true that in MPI, Williams distinguishes between blame and “other kinds of ethically negative or hostile reaction to people’s doings (it [being] vital to remember how many others there are.” (1985, p. 193) (For example, “…some of the most monstrous proceedings, which lie beyond ordinary blame, involve violations of basic human rights.” (1985, p. 192)) The textual evidence suggests that this distinction maps onto the focused blame/rejecting blame distinction, which Williams later preferred (in IROB). In any case, it is misleading of Parfit to quote Williams’ remark “blame is best seen as involving a fiction” (1985, p. 192) without noting these important textual and conceptual complexities. As for the intuition you call an ethical one, I actually think that it is a conceptual point. One arguably can't advise someone to do something which one can't get them motivated to do merely by continuing this conversation, without *breaching the boundaries* of merely having a conversation (as opposed to brow-beating them, coercing them, or treating them like a child). Does that make sense? Again, thanks so much for the super-helpful remarks, and sorry to take up so much space with Williams exegesis!
Toggle Commented Jan 9, 2013 on On "On What Matters" at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Thanks so much for the party, Marcus! It was great to meet you, and thanks for coming to the author-meets-critics session I was part of.
Toggle Commented Dec 31, 2012 on CocoonFest2012 Wrap at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Thanks, Marcus! I'm very glad to have (virtually) met you too. Keep up the great work, and Happy Thanksgiving. I too am conscious of a lot to be grateful for.
I don't have your email address, so why don't you email me (I am easy to google - would write it here, but don't want to get the spambots excited). I will send it along and you can take a look or just look at the references (as I said, feminist epistemologists have been interested in these questions for quite some time). Re: stereotype threat, the phenomenon involves (roughly speaking) people of a certain group not performing well in a counter-stereotypical domain *when the relevant stereotype is triggered*. So one can indeed hope to deal with and mitigate stereotype threat by not throwing hypotheses about female lack of philosophical aptitude around, without good reason. For, that hypothesis (very plausibly) triggers a stereotype that can induce poor performance/self-doubt on the part of women, who would otherwise be doing/feeling better. Putting the idea out there that women may be worse at doing math tends to *make* women worse at doing math, at least temporarily. It's a disturbing but an empirically robust finding, which it's natural to generalize to the domain of philosophy. I hope you'll agree this is a good place to leave things.
I'm not sure you've yet taken on board the central point about stereotype threat. Indeed, you've ignored this point for the duration of the discussion. I've written about this issue some - and I'd be happy to email you a paper I wrote a while back on the Larry Summers controversy - that summarizes my reasons for thinking that the variance hypothesis for the underrepresentation of women in math and science is a poor explanation there. Much of the same reasoning would carry over. But I'm not going to summarize my position here, especially since this thread is supposed to be over. "If you are a woman and you enjoy philosophy and feel you have something to contribute to the field, by all means, go for it." Not sure if this was addressed to me personally, but, thank you, I am quite happy to be in the field..!
Russell, again, results such as those you're adverting to are not "causally neutral." They *affect* the people who are being theorized about - namely, women in philosophy - in a way that tends to negatively affect their performance and self-confidence. So that's one (not the only) crucial disanalogy to pay attention to, when it comes to shoe sizes and IQs. "Do you mean that the discussion of my hypothesis is *wrong*, regardless of whether it is true? Or do you mean that the "offensiveness" of the hypothesis entails its falsity?" I can't speak for anyone else, but of course I don't mean the latter. (That strikes me as a highly uncharitable reading of what *anyone* has been saying, incidentally.) I myself mean two things. One, your hypothesis seems to me a very bad candidate explanation for the underrepresentation of women in philosophy. Two, given the fact that your hypothesis has a *palpable effect* on female members of this community (in particular), I believe it should not be discussed. Your hypothesis *might* be true. It *might* even be a partial explanation of the underrepresentation of women in the profession. But it seems very, very unlikely, and possibilities that are both (a) slim, and (b) actively harmful to discuss *should not* be discussed, in my view. At least in fora such as these. Btw, feminist epistemologists have had things to say on issues like these! Might be worth checking into.
I suspect that one of the things that drives women from philosophy is their sense - evinced by "blunt" comments such as Russell's - that their intrinsic aptitude for the subject matter is a perennial topic for discussion. Walking into a philosophy classroom and knowing that (a) you'll generally be in the minority, and (b) there is active speculation about the aptitude of "your kind" for philosophy is a great recipe for stereotype threat. This article is a good starting place for thinking about the phenomenon: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10463280340000072#preview
I think a relevant consideration is whether the book is getting positive attention as things stand, and (if so) whether it's misleading or simply poorly argued/structured. If the book seems likely to be influential, *and* to lead people in the field astray (for instance, by construing other scholars' work uncharitably), then I say go for it. Otherwise, it's a more complicated decision, and it might be better to simply let it sink. I don't know though. I too sympathize with your predicament! :)
Great post (and great discussions around here generally!). Funnily enough, my own dissertation was a defense of reasons internalism, and I'm still happy I chose the topic I did. But I didn't even attempt to refute all the arguments for reasons externalism out there, and I guess I'd resist the suggestion that that's what you need to do if you tackle a hoary or somewhat over-exposed topic. I'd propose a friendly amendment to your advice which people in the know helpfully told me at the time: positive rather than negative arguments should comprise the bulk of your dissertation material, whatever you end up writing on. It is OK not to be comprehensive, in the interests of being fresh. But I'm all for the 'big idea' advice - I think that's probably key.
"So I'm not sure what your suggestion is with respect to this nihilist: If I'm right (pace various other commentors), this nihilist can't BE FOR anything. And so the BAS expressivist can't understand him in line with (c) and (f), as I take it you agree they should." Yeah, I agree with the other commenters that the 'everything is permissible' nihilist can be for lots of things, once that idea is understood aright. I don't really have anything to add to that part of the discussion, which Jussi and Mark covered. My thought was that, if you insist on holding that the nihilist has no positive commitments vis-a-vis blaming, then he should be understood as the skeptical nihilist above. I think you may also be equivocating between these two characters in the above discussion somewhat. "I don't see how this can distinguish her position, since presumably someone who thinks that murdering is permissible (i.e., ought be permitted) also fits (b) and (e)." Yes, but someone who thinks that murdering is permissible ALSO fits (c) and (f), as I say above. The skeptic is such that only (b) and (e) hold for her. "Second, and related, simply not thinking that murdering and not murdering are wrong does not mean that you disagree with people who think that one of them is wrong." But this is just the general issue of how to think about cases where the person hasn't entertained the proposition in question. This is a problem for everyone, isn't it? You might add to the above list (distinguishing 'positively not thinking p' from 'having no position whatsoever about, having never entertained p'), and I see no reason (as yet) why the expressivist can't make the analogous moves. OR you can say that (b) and (e) hold of the person who hasn't considered the moral status of murdering, but for different and strictly provisional reasons, to do with lack of reflection on the agent's part. And, plausibly, I can only disagree felicitously with you on matters where my position is somewhat stable/informed by reflection. Whatever the thing to say here, exactly, I can't see that the expressivist will have a special problem in saying it. Hope that helps!
Toggle Commented Jun 14, 2012 on Expressivism vs. Nihilism at PEA Soup
I’m worried about your setup given your aims here. Some disagreements (especially philosophical disagreements) can only be understood as combinations of various attitudes which fully partition logical space. The nihilist seems like a case in point. First up, here’s the complete list of possibilities, with the expressivist-friendly construals in parenths: (a) You think that murdering is wrong (You are FOR blaming for murdering) (b) You do not think that murdering is wrong (You are not FOR blaming for murdering) (c) You think that murdering is not wrong (You are FOR not blaming for murdering) (d) You think that not murdering is wrong (You are FOR blaming for not murdering) (e) You do not think that not murdering is wrong (You are not FOR blaming for not murdering) (f) You think that not murdering is not wrong (You are FOR not blaming for not murdering) Someone who has no substantive normative commitments – a skeptical nihilist, if you like, or maybe just a plain skeptic – is someone for whom BOTH (b) and (e) hold. She also refuses to assert/express the relevant claims in (a), (c), (d), or (f). (She is analogous to someone who firmly thinks a certain proposition, p, is neither true nor false.) So the skeptical nihilist disagrees with me, the moralist, who holds a very different combination of commitments – i.e., both (a) and (f), as well as (e). True, the skeptical nihilist doesn’t disagree by negating a proposition I assert, but that's not the only way to disagree. Denial does the job too. (Someone who contends that p is neither true nor false disagrees with me, the proponent of p, when they deny what I say. Notice how we couldn’t do justice to this disagreement without talking about the combination of attitudes the person holds.) An interlocutor who disagrees with me might also (as here) reject as wrong-headed a whole discourse that I engage in – they will be such that (b) and (e) (alone) hold where ‘murdering’ is replaced by the name of any arbitrary act type. This distinguishes a nihilist from someone who just doesn’t think that some particular type of behavior is deontically assessable (like dreaming, say). As for the residual idea that there's a problem with expressing an absence of an attitude, I’d have to hear more, but I don't see why that would be off the bat. Another kind of nihilist - someone who asserts that "God is dead, everything is permitted" – is someone of whom both (c) and (f) hold – and (b) and (e) too. The same is true when ‘murdering’ is replaced by the name of any arbitrary act type. I think that's the guy who is more likely to go around asserting "Murdering is not wrong," although the skeptical nihilist might also say something along those lines to pragmatically implicate (b). But the important thing is that the fact that someone says “murdering is not wrong” isn’t enough, when taken alone, to differentiate a host of possible positions that they may hold. We need to hear more about their overall position, vis-à-vis the above list, to know where they stand and hence to know enough to disagree. So, without including all of the beliefs/attitudes on the above list, I don't think you're going to be able to represent a nihilist's position adequately. But, once you have done that, it's not clear to me why there is a problem for the expressivist in theorizing the relevant attitudes and disagreements here.
Toggle Commented Jun 14, 2012 on Expressivism vs. Nihilism at PEA Soup
Yeah, I'm inclined to agree, Justin, that there's room for intermediate positions - i.e., holding that reasons can be built out of non-natural notions, but that they are explanatorily fundamental in normative theorizing, or some such. I'm not sure how well-motivated those positions would be, however. The challenge would be for theorists in this camp to articulate why reasons per se are explanatorily more basic than practical justifications or requirements. I suspect a lot of theorists would not want to insist that there's something genuinely special about the *concept* of a reason in particular, once they take a non-Parfittian route. But there is likely to be room to insist as much, I agree.
Another issue is that reasons' fundamentality could mean two different things. It could mean that they are unexplained explainers, the basic normative building block. I am resistant to that idea. It could also mean that they are just the convenient stipulated minimal unit of practical normativity, in which case that's OK by me. Although there is then no special reason (forgive me) bar convenience to use the concept of a 'reason' rather than talking about goodness, obligations, permissions, requirements, justifications - or whatever.
That's exactly right, Marcus. Justin, I think your question is a different one from the one I'm addressing in the paper, but still a difficult and interesting one. It picks up on an issue in the above exchange - namely, why it might be a problem to think about reasons as dialectically ineffective, but still there, unaffected, enduring, eternal. Marcus and I were agreeing, I take it, that there's something strange about that idea, at several levels. If one thinks (as I like to) of reasons as interpersonal entities, i.e., constitutively the sort of thing that would feed into apt advice, then there's an explanation of why it seems strange. Namely, reasons claims will fail (according to someone like me) when and because advice falls flat. And it plausibly falls flat when someone just couldn't be moved to act out of a recognition of the relevant normative consideration. That's why one horn of the dilemma I posit pushes you in the direction of reasons internalism. Does that make sense?
Totally. Jamie Dreier has some excellent stuff on the reasons fundamentalist's non-responsiveness to "the normative question." I have tussled some with Jamie about how closely that worry is related to Mackie's worry (I think it's more closely related than he seems to), but it's a family squabble.
Yes I totally agree. (I'm glad you liked that remark - I nearly cut it, but it's an accurate statement of my views.) There's something about the externalist's failure to recognize a difference between people who might be persuaded to act on a supposed reason, and people who are simply beyond the reach of reasons, which bothers me deeply.
Thanks for the shout-out, Marcus! I'd be very curious to see what other people think about the issue.