Philosophers: Terrible Spouses

Well, unless they have servants. I'm going to need a servant, I guess. Any volunteers of appropriately submissive temperament? (Not around here, I'll warrant!)


Tom said...

There's something I'm curious about. In the one philosophy course I've taken, the author of the textbook went out of his way to treat any female thinker in history as a philosopher and discuss her ideas, but never mentioned Ayn Rand. The author of the article you linked likewise lists a number of women philosophers, but no Ayn Rand. Why is that? Is it just that Rand isn't considered important? Or not a philosopher? Or is it her philosophy?

Grim said...

Her philosophy, Objectivism, is not taken very seriously by professional philosophers. One problem with it is that it is described as being a closed system whose conclusions are final and not subject to change. Since those conclusions include political and aesthetic judgments, it's hard to believe the claim that she got it right once and for all. (Indeed, I think it's demonstrably impossible that she did.)

Other claims are contested by whole schools of philosophy such as empiricism. She asserts also that objective knowledge can come from induction, which is hugely problematic in and of itself. This is only a partial list of objections to the structure of the philosophy.

In addition, most working philosophers have moral objections to her conclusions. I've heard her discussed occasionally, but normally as a bad example.

David Foster said...

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Therese, but reminds me of a funny passage in the biography of James Boswell, himself best known as Samuel Johnson's biographer.

It seems that when Boswell was traveling in Europe, he met Therese Lavasseur and they went to bed together. The next morning, as they were riding in a carriage, the following conversation (more or less) took place:

Boswell (feeling very smug about having bedded Rousseau's mistress): Wasn't that the best sex you ever had?

Therese: Not exactly.

Boswell: (looking devastated)

Therese, in a kindly tone of voice: But you have potential. I, myself, will undertake to instruct you. One piece of advice I will give you now. As you travel about, notice how many wonderful things are done by men's *hands*.

(IIRC, Boswell stayed up very late than night in the hope that Therese would fall asleep first)

Ymar Sakar said...

On Ayn Rand, philosophers love debating and trumping competition. So that would motivate them to point out where Rand's a priori principles are wrong or contradictory.

No, I suspect the reason why they would literally avoid her is because her way was something akin to melding religion and philosophy into a lifestyle, not merely a bag of intellectual tricks and theories.

Philosophers avoid talking about how to apply their theories because it requires them to deal with humans, on a psychological level. And humans are messy. Countering her politics would also be pretty messy.

Ymar Sakar said...

A professional philosopher is like a professional Leftist agent provocateur. They have a role in life, but it's not necessarily teaching or improving the civic body.

Socrates, by that definition, wasn't a professional philosopher. He was a model citizen, mentor, and talked truth to power. Which is why they killed him. His philosophy of questioning Authority and knowledge to gain wisdom, was from his life, as a hoplite citizen facing death, and as an elderly figure in civic politics.

Tom said...

Grim, thanks for the explanation. In the case of the textbook, the author seemed to pull in just about every woman thinker in Western history in an effort to say "See, women do philosophy, too." I don't see anything wrong with that, but some of the ones in the book seemed to have no other real merit.

Another possibility occurred to me. She might also be excluded because she has living followers.

Grim said...

David Foster:

That's a good story.


If the book was published recently, I can tell you that there's a major push to get more women into philosophy. It's considered embarrassing to the field that it runs about 80/20 male/female at a time when most of the arts and non-hard sciences are majority female.

I'm not sure that it should be, given that everyone freely chooses what they'd like to do. Also, I think that the split has to do with the fact that much of academic philosophy in the Anglo-American world today is done as a form of advanced formal logic. It is so much like math that there's a long-standing debate about whether it is a kind of math or whether, instead, math is a kind of formal logic.

The male/female split turns out to be quite similar to the split in mathematics itself, as well as the hard sciences where math is especially important. I don't necessarily believe that men are better at math on average, but I do think it's clear that more men find math compelling and interesting at that level. It becomes a very formal game, with intricate rules and logical structures that don't actually apply at all to the real world.

It may simply be that the male brain is more likely to enjoy problems of that kind. Academic work is chiefly selected because it is loved, after all: no one studies 19th century Russian literature because it is practically needed from day to day. Some women do enjoy it, and they make up part of the 20% of the field who are female. I think that's great, but I don't think we should try to recruit people into the field who won't enjoy it. If you don't enjoy formal logic, you will not enjoy your career, and why should they be miserable for decades just to adjust a statistical sheet on gender balance in the field?

Now, that said, some of the women in philosophy I know do feel there is a prejudice against women in the field. While I take their specific complaints seriously and have found some of them well-grounded, I notice that they also feel there is a prejudice against women everywhere else, too. And some of those complaints are specific and well-grounded. Still, I'm not sure there's anything structurally about the field that makes it worse than other places, except possibly that the larger the gender imbalance is in any given place, the larger the percentage of people who engage in these behaviors will be as a part of the whole experience.

Bringing in a bunch of people who don't enjoy the field might address that problem, but it won't make them happy. I'm also not sure it will improve the quality of the work being done in the field -- why should the work be better if it is done by people who don't deeply enjoy wrestling with the problems?