Glen Reynolds today:
HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: U.C. Berkeley Students Complain About Having To Read Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault. In course on classic social theory. And if that makes it hard for you to focus on the course material, cupcakes, you don’t belong in college.
I thought that sounded like a pretty good syllabus, really. You could quibble a bit -- I'm not sure Hegel's comments on social theory are at all useful except as a prelude to Marx, and I might substitute out Foucault for Rousseau (since allegedly this is about "classic" social theory). So what could be the problem?

Well, of course, I should have known.
...a standardized canon of theory that began with Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men. The syllabus did not include a single woman or person of color. We have major concerns about social theory courses in which white men are the only authors assigned.
I am glad that the students didn't try to rope Plato and Aristotle into the category of "white men." That's a category that wouldn't have made sense to them, and which they would have rejected once it was explained to them. All those "white men" are from the category they would have referred to as "barbarians."

This reminds me of an attempt by Georgia State University, a couple of years back, to introduce a quota of 20% female authors in philosophy courses. If you're teaching a course on contemporary philosophy, that's not at all hard to do. If you're teaching a course on "classic social theory," it's pretty hard. You could grab something from Christine de Pizan, who had some social commentary. But it's more commentary than theory, as she was accepting a Christian framework and challenging members of society to live up to it better than they did.

So that's probably what you'd do here: grab works by contemporary women who are commenting on the classical authors. You could fold them in side-by-side with the original authors as a kind of running critique by contemporary female thinkers of what the classical tradition has to say. Maybe that would be interesting to do.

It would be done at the expense of at least some of the classical authors, though. That means students will be less prepared to do novel work of their own, as they will be less aware of and engaged in the great questions. That's where I finished when talking about the 20% experiment:
I would think the way to draw women into philosophy would be to engage them with the great problems, and get them excited about wrestling with them. (It might not hurt to suggest, which is actually true, that any university will be especially considerate of a female philosopher who wants a job -- you can be sure the academy is aware of the disparity, and will bend over backwards to help ensure their numbers reflect a devotion to doing something about it.) Engaging them is what will really qualify them to do the work, as it is only someone genuinely engaged with the questions who will perform at the level at which real contributions are made -- the kind of contributions that would justify your inclusion in a class reading list.

That's also the way you'd do best by your female students as students, which is the right way for you to relate to them if you are a professor or a teaching assistant. It is, perhaps, the only way you ought to engage them.
I wonder how that 20% experiment worked out? Looking around Google, I only find the fanfare that accompanied its beginning, and no further comment on whether it has been continued or what the results were.

UPDATE: In terms of "people of color," Charles Mills has a thoroughgoing criticism of this whole tradition. Of course, he's a man, so if you read him you'd have to also separately include female critiques. The more of these things you do, the less of the tradition itself you can read.


Texan99 said...

Sounds like what they want is not a course called "Classic Social Theory" (understandably dominated by theories about how ethnically dominant men should run countries so as best to dispose of their women, children, and livestock), and that they would prefer a course called "Modern Social Theory." The syllabus doesn't contain one yet? Hard to imagine.

Grim said...

Or maybe they wanted a course called "Why Classical Social Theory Was Wrong."

I think the best social theory is in Aristotle, really: the Nicomachean Ethics, the Politics, and the Rhetoric seem to me to be much more insightful than Locke. They're very practical manuals to the problems we encounter in trying to organize a society, problems that haven't changed all that much: the question of what it means to live a good life, of what a community's purpose is, the problems of the poor and the rich, the problems of who gets a vote and why, the problems of how rhetoric functions and what its limitations are as a system of problem-solving.

...understandably dominated by theories about how ethnically dominant men should run countries so as best to dispose of their women, children, and livestock...

That's exactly what I don't care for in Hegel's anthropological works. You get it in Kant, too, though no one reads that part of his writings. His political writings are really interesting; the objectionable parts are in his writings on, oddly enough, physical geography.

It's the part where he suddenly stops talking about universal qualities of all rational beings, insofar as they overcome their animal natures through rationality; and instead he starts talking about how best to whip your slaves.

Grim said...

Well, I should add that Kant's writings on the education of children are really very good. The first part can be skipped, as he never raised children and was just getting all that stuff about the importance of breastfeeding from Rousseau. But he was a career educator, and so once you get to the part where he's talking about how to teach a child to be upright and moral, and to take an interest in intellect, it's extremely helpful.

Texan99 said...

"Or maybe they wanted a course called 'Why Classical Social Theory Was Wrong.'"--nailed it there, bro.

raven said...

One of these days , if the idiots get their way, we will see results of a White Strike, where every white male throws up their hands and goes fishing for a month.

Tom said...

I took an intro to philosophy course some years back and I remember the textbook author going out of his way to highlight women philosophers, to the extent that he included women who opined on philosophical issues in the popular press but had no other education or influence in the field.

I didn't really have a problem with that, but what was strange is that he left out Ayn Rand. I'm not especially a fan of hers, but if you are going to include popular female philosophers, surely you have to include her.

Texan99 said...

That's funny. She's anathema; they can scarcely bear to speak her name. Just acknowledging that she exists is demoting oneself socially in their circles. Also, there's a lot of "she can't be a real woman and have thoughts like that, so she's not a legitimate female philosopher" attitude.

Eric Blair said...

Tex has it right. I know of people that practically freak out if you bring up her name. Like it's a trigger or something. You'd think she'd personally beat them.

Grim said...

I don't have that experience among the philosophers I know. They're happy to bring up her name, which reliably promotes gleeful chuckles and guffaws.

To be honest, I have a lot of trouble taking her seriously as a philosopher (as opposed to as a thinker). She's got ideas, but even her chief follower Leonard Peikoff described her system as "closed," and that's right: all the issues from metaphysics to ethics to politics are settled forever.

Even religions don't manage that level of closure in philosophy. Christian metaphysics has changed substantially over the centuries, and continues to be debated. Christian ethics, even moreso. Christian politics? It used to be the Divine Right of Kings.

She reminds me of no one more than Vizzini from the Princess Bride who, questioned about his intelligence, replies: "Have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? Morons."

douglas said...

""Or maybe they wanted a course called 'Why Classical Social Theory Was Wrong.'"--nailed it there, bro."

I concur with your analysis, Tex- and by the Grim- that would be a great way to get kids to read those 'dead white guys', wouldn't it? Promote the class as a kind of 'know your enemy' thing. Truly subversive!

Texan99 said...

Love it.

Grim said...

Well, actually, I think the moderns they chiefly object to were wrong. So maybe I should teach that class. If they only came out of it with a strong sense that Marx needed to be questioned just as rigorously, it'd be worth doing.

douglas said...

I think you could adjust the tactic to almost any class on 'classical' (dead white guy) anything- pro or con- it's just a repackaging that is better marketing to draw in those who actually really need to read those and make truly considered analysis of them.
I'd like to see someone do it in an English department for a literature class, so they could read something truly good for a change.