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Eric Enlow

Given the gender gap in favor of women in higher education generally outside this area, do you think that similar measures in other fields are appropriate for men? For example, in psychology, women earn 70% of all doctorates.

Generally, for 2016-7, the NCES is projecting that women will 60% of bachelor's degrees and 55% of doctorates.


Eric Schliesser

Eric, I can't speak for the authors. But if there are fields where men are in the minority and having more men has epistemic, moral, and social benefits (and the opportunity costs are not too great), then I am not against looking at ways to increase male retention and inclusion (etc.). But that's up to folk in those fields with context-sensitive knowledge about their disciplines.

Eric Enlow

That sounds like pure wisdom to me.

I have, however, never heard any such conditions placed on the need to ensure equal numbers of women in other fields. That is, the need for equal numbers of women seems to be insisted upon without any "context-sensitive" investigation of whether "having more [women] has epistemic, moral and social benefits (and the opportunity costs are not too great)." My own sense, perhaps mistaken, is that the goal of having equal numbers of women is urged on the moral grounds of sexual equality itself and that it is taken to be a nonnegotiable requirement for any just institution. If this is the reason, then the great moral crisis of higher education today is its inability to attract and retain men.

Perhaps, the opportunity costs of the measures and policies used to attain equal numbers of women were miscalculated, and the result is a university environment which is overall hostile to male inclusion. It may turn out that there is no stable equilibrium of policies and institutional conditions that will attract equal numbers of men and women into universities.

Eric Schliesser

Eric, I fear your comments reveal a lack of knowledge about the discussion within professional philosophy about the situation of professional philosophy. At this moment we are very far of from attracting equal numbers of men and women into philosophy (in countries that include the majority of the readership of, say, this blog), and I am unfamiliar with any articulated goal in that direction. Most of the present activities within professional philosophy are designed to improve from a very low base-line of professioanal philosophers that are women (and other minorities).

Eric Enlow

I was probably unclear or you may have misread me. My comments were about the general "university environment" and "other fields," not philosophy, which I agree has the inequality you describe. But, in OECD countries, which I assume include almost of all of your readership, the gender-gap in higher education has been more to the disadvantage of men since the mid-1990s and is expanding. If equal representation by sex is a per se good, then the policies adopted by universities to attain this good may have been miscalculated because they are now resulting in an accelerating inequality, which happens generally to disfavor men.

I think it is relevant for those addressing gender inequality in specific fields, like philosophy, to consider that the well-meant and successful policies aimed at achieving female equality generally in universities have, in a sense, succeeded too well. Surely, there is a lesson there. If policies in specific fields simply replicate the environment of the university generally, they may then also replace the current problem, under-representation of women, with its opposite.

Furthermore, I find it interesting to consider the relation between the goal of general equality of representation in universities and the goal of equality of representation in individual fields. The two goals are not automatically harmonized. Creating gender equality for women in philosophy may further exacerbate inequality in the university if this action is not coordinated with measures to increase male success in the fields where men are underrepresented. This isn't an argument against seeking gender equality in philosophy as much as an argument against uncoordinated action. I am not sure exactly how societies committed to equal participation of men and women should consider a hypothetical measure that would create equal gender representation for women in a field at the price of increasing general unequal representation for men in the university.

Schliesser, Eric

Eric, undoubtedly whenever one proposes changes to the status quo there may be unintended and undesirable consequences, including ones. But you seem to be worried about positions that I have not encountered (in a very long time).
I have not signed up for a 'an equal representation' as a per se good argument/position in academic disciplines. Rather, as I noted, I think one should look at the "epistemic, moral, and social benefits" of various demographic populations in a particular discipline, and consider the "opportunity costs" of various policies of moving to more desirable populations.
My own arguments (again not necessarily the authors' of the post) don't involve "gender equality" as a goal (it's not that I am against it, but I don't think philosophy is a promising way to achieve it), but involve issues of quality and the epistemic benefits of diversity to a field like philosophy.

Eric Enlow

I agree with you (and I certainly did not mean to attribute any position to you but to comment on the justifications offered in the development literature with which I am familiar).

But I am surprised that the “position” I am forwarding is one you encountered a very long time ago. While the serious problem of male inequality in higher education began in the mid-1990s, it has received very little recognition (that I know of) until the OECD began highlighting the problem about five or ten years ago. The fact is that in almost all OECD countries, except very small rich ones like Luxembourg, males’ educational outcomes are in dismal shape compared to females’ at all levels. (The OECD also uncovered problematic evidence of discrimination against male students in evaluations compared to anonymous grading.)

But awareness of the crisis is growing. Just this year the New York Times, the BBC and the Economist, all ran serious pieces that addressed the problem.




I think the methods that you support are among the tools that will need to be considered to lure men into the university and into non-STEM fields, where they are sorely underrepresented. (You may also find it interesting to note that the OECD prescribes efforts to close pay gaps between men and women that largely run contrary to the goals of luring more women into philosophy. Because higher pay is found in STEM fields, the OECD recommends governments use strong efforts to shift women from humanities into higher paying fields to equalize the pay-gap between women and men, who generally choose higher paying fields.)

Similar methods to the ones you support in philosophy, I think, should also be considered in dealing with other disparities with epistemic consequences, specifically, the long existing disparities disfavoring religious students in humanities and social sciences. In hard sciences, religious people are far better represented than in these fields. My own intuition is that especially in the humanities and social sciences, having people with diverse views is just as important as having persons of diverse genders (but of the same base convictions) to ensure epistemic benefit.

Schliesser, Eric

Eric, if you can make the case that there are important epistemic and moral consequences of male under-representation in particular academic disciplines, I would welcome hearing that. (But you are speaking in very abstract generalizations and seem to be pushing an agenda that is only tangentially related to the original post.)

I am not denying that there are legitimate reasons for concern about systematic male under-representation in high schools and colleges, although I do wonder if male under-representation is worse than some other under-representations (class, ethnicity, race, etc.).

I think you are unfamiliar with professional philosophy, which has a growing and very vital group of philosophers with all kinds of religious commitments. (You can look for survey evidence of this in case you are interested.)

Finally, you misunderstood another point I intended to make: what I claimed not to have heard are arguments from the demand for 'an equal representation' as a good as such in academic disciplines.

Eric Enlow

Sorry, I didn't mean to push any agenda. I thought I was suggesting considering the means discussed to address women's inequality in philosophy as means to address what the world's leading development authorities already regard as an additional problem: overall male inequality. If that's too tangential, I apologize, but it seemed quite relevant to me, as relevant as proposing that we consider a good therapy to cure a broken leg as a means to cure a broken arm.

The difference according to the OECD between addressing educational inequalities facing women and minorities and those facing men is that we already address, pass laws and spend billions to improve the other inequalities, but in the case of male inequalities we are doing essentially nothing. If the OECD, which has been a world leader in promoting equal numbers of men and women in education, sees a problem, then there probably is one. They foresee deep social problems arising from this inequality like the others.

I am pretty familiar with religious philosophers and their associations. I enjoyed studying with Marilyn Adams and Nick Wolterstorff, who are, of course, prominent examples, as well as Gyula Klima, who may be less well known but introduced me to analytic philosophy in relation to scholasticism.

But the only hard evidence I know shows that religious people generally, and Christians specifically, are significantly underrepresented in humanities and social sciences generally. I know of no studies, parallel to the concern shown about women, studying religious demographics in philosophy. There also is no parallel reaction to the documented general under-representation of religious persons in the humanities and social sciences. I don't see that current religious philosophers and interest in religious philosophy dispels the existing documented evidence of overall disparities, anymore than the thriving group of feminist philosophers shows that there is no problem for women philosophers.

If you know of any evidence about the numbers of religious persons doing philosophy PhDs, I would be delighted to read about it. But I don't think it exists. I think we are left with the general studies showing strong inequalities disfavoring religious people generally in social sciences and humanities. If philosophy is immune to that general trend, that's great, but I don't think we know that and if we are consistent, we should be concerned to find out.

Thanks for the conversation and for your delightful blog.

Schliesser, Eric

For some evidence on the number and nature of professional philosophers's religious views, see these blogs (non hostile toward religion):
Or this paper: https://www.academia.edu/9690990/Religious_disagreement_an_empirical_study_among_academic_philosophers_version_after_peer_review_

Eric Enlow

Very interesting! Although these surveys are quite different methodologically than the kinds of comprehensive studies we have for gender in philosophy, they support my inference from the broader studies of religious representation in all the humanities in the U.S. that the situation of inequality between religious and non-religious persons in philosophy and the U.S. population as a whole is likely as bad as or worse than the equality problems for men and women. Perhaps the APA need a committee on the status of the religious in philosophy, too.

Given the higher statistical religiosity of women in the population as a whole, it is possible that the problems attracting women to philosophy are related to or compounded by the problems attracting religious people generally.

In other words, attracting an equal or at least greater part of the religious population to philosophy would be a way of attracting more women. As I look back on my own university days, it is suddenly interesting to me that a much higher percentage of my female philosophy and law professors were religious compared to my male professors and how few philosophy professors overall were religious.

Thanks again for the enjoyable conversation.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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