Reading Group Blueprints

Students are often dissatisfied with the selection of topics covered at their universities (see here and here for a taste of examples). Our review of 377 modules taught at the top 10 British departments (following THE) shows that only 3.8% focus on traditions other than the Western Analytical tradition, and 3.1% focus on topics related to class, colonialism, race and gender. As little as 13% of all modules taught contain more than a token amount of content related to those topics. Meanwhile, of all the modules devoted to a specific philosopher, a shocking 100% focuses on a person who was white and male.

We think that the students are right to be dissatisfied.

So, what do you do if a topic you want to learn about is not taught at your university? Start your own reading group! And if this sounds like a daunting task, we are here to help. Below, you will find ready-made Blueprints you can use to create your reading group. Each one offers a set of resources divided by topic and arranged into a consistent narrative, each accompanied by a list of questions to help guide your discussion.

We hope that these Blueprints will help you start your own reading group on a topic that interests you, and fill the gaps left in your curriculum. Happy learning!

What is taught at UK universities?

How to run a reading group using our Blueprints?
Expand entry

Choose your Blueprint

  1. Topic. Gather some friends and identify a topic you are all interested in. Will it be feminist philosophy? African languages? Postcolonial theory? You can see a list to choose from below.
  2. Time and Difficulty. Make sure you have the time to run your group. Remember that it will be harder to organise during holidays or exam periods. Equally, make sure to pick the right difficulty level. Some Blueprints are introductory and great for anyone, while others might be better suited for senior students or those who already know a bit about the topic. Note you can also download each Blueprint as a PDF if you want an offline copy!
  3. Unfold! Click or tap the arrow below the Blueprint title. A general Introduction which will tell you what it is about and list any particular instructions. The Categories will give you an indication of the range of issues covered. Below, you will find the main Content: the specific resources you will be looking at.

Run the group

  1. Organise. We recommend that you find a time when your group can meet every week, to keep things consistent.The Content of a Blueprint is divided into weekly sections, with typically one text or video entry per section.
    • Some blueprints might have a different structure – don’t worry, it will all be explained in their Introductions!
  2. Read/Watch/Listen. Each entry has links that will take you to the resource itself. To guide you through, each entry has some further useful notes and comments. Pay particular attention to the ones labelled ‘Study Questions’.
  3. Discuss. These Study Questions are designed to guide your discussion as you meet with your group. Remember – the questions will touch on topics of particular interest, but you might want to expand on them by asking your own questions and discussing points that interest you!

Share your thoughts

  1. Comment. If you like the texts or want to share the thoughts you had while reading and discussing them, you can leave us a comment! Every entry has a comments section at the bottom and we highly encourage you to use it!
  2. Share. We would love to hear your stories! Share your experience with us and other students around the world, post pics of your group, and remember to tag us on twitter, facebook or youtube.
  3. Get in touch. Don’t hesitate to write us if you want to share your experience, recommend improvements, or just tell us what you liked best!

Native North American Ethics

Expand entry
by Sonja Dobroski and Quentin Pharr


Native North American Philosophy has so much to offer us, both as philosophers and human beings. And yet, within both academic philosophy and society at large, it has often been caricatured, forced into ways of thinking which do not do it justice, dismissed, or simply ignored. But, if there is one thing that even a minimal acquaintance with Native North American philosophy has to offer, it is a picture of resilience, wisdom, and hope, despite some of the gravest challenges that any set of cultures has ever faced. In general, Native North American communities are diverse and so are their intellectual and philosophical traditions. But, if this introductory set of readings does anything right, it will be in showing that there is a great deal to learn from Native North American ethical thought when it comes to such things as: how to care for one’s self, how to care for one’s community, how to care for future generations, how to care for one’s sovereignty, how to care for one’s land, how to care for non-human life, and more.

Content wise, due to the multitude of philosophically rich texts by Indigenous authors, we have only focused on authors from communities in Native North America. But, we acknowledge that Native Meso and Latin-American thinkers and their philosophies should also have their own reading lists in this series. We have also tried our best to find readings from authors from communities across North America and not just from any one particular locale – you will find this noted by each author’s name. Even still, we have left a number of gaps – but, hopefully, future work will fill them in.

How to use this Blueprint?

In this blueprint, your weekly schedule should follow the topics rather than the readings. There are only seven weekly topics, but each of them is rich in content. So, readers should feel free to either select several readings to focus on collectively for each week or to take on different readings individually so that they can share with each other in weekly discussion. And, of course, they should also feel free to read everything collectively each week if they have the time and the energy.


    Week 1. Introducing Native North American Philosophy

    Each of the texts in this selection offer conceptions of Native American philosophy and how it compares with that of Western academic philosophy: how they receive each other, what historical circumstances underlie the relations between them, how they are distinct from one another, how they are similar to each other, and so on. They also introduce some of the overarching themes that the other sections of this blueprint will cover in more depth, including: historical background, issues of colonialism, the difficulty and importance of finding and including new or different ways of thinking, the importance of respect and responsibility to others (as well as oneself), and so on. Acquaintaince with these readings will constitute sufficient background for subsequent readings.

    Full text
    Cordova, Viola (Jicarilla Apache/Hispanic). How It Is: The Native American Philosophy of V. F. Cordova
    2007, Kathleen Dean Moore, Kurt Peters, Ted Jojola & Amber Lacy (eds.), University of Arizona Press.
    Author's Introduction, "Why Native American Philosophy?", pp.1-4.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Viola Cordova was the first Native American woman to receive a PhD in philosophy. Even as she became an expert on canonical works of traditional Western philosophy, she devoted herself to defining a Native American philosophy. Although she passed away before she could complete her life’s work, some of her colleagues have organized her pioneering contributions into this provocative book. In three parts, Cordova sets out a complete Native American philosophy. First she explains her own understanding of the nature of reality itself—the origins of the world, the relation of matter and spirit, the nature of time, and the roles of culture and language in understanding all of these. She then turns to our role as residents of the Earth, arguing that we become human as we deepen our relation to our people and to our places, and as we understand the responsibilities that grow from those relationships. In the final section, she calls for a new reverence in a world where there is no distinction between the sacred and the mundane. Cordova clearly contrasts Native American beliefs with the traditions of the Enlightenment and Christianized Europeans. By doing so, she leads her readers into a deeper understanding of both traditions and encourages us to question any view that claims a singular truth. From these essays—which are lucid, insightful, frequently funny, and occasionally angry—we receive a powerful new vision of how we can live with respect, reciprocity, and joy.
    On DRL Full text
    Deloria Jr., Vine (Standing Rock Sioux). Why We Respect Our Elders Burial Grounds
    2004, In: American Indian Thought: Philosophical Essays. Anne Waters (ed.), Blackwell (Oxford).
    Chapter 1, pp. 3-11. 'Philosophy and Tribal Peoples'
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This book brings together a diverse group of American Indian thinkers to discuss traditional and contemporary philosophies and philosophical issues. The essays presented here address philosophical questions pertaining to knowledge, time, place, history, science, law, religion, nationhood, ethics, and art, as understood from a variety of Native American standpoints. Unique in its approach, this volume represents several different tribes and nations and amplifies the voice of contemporary American Indian culture struggling for respect and autonomy. Taken together, the essays collected here exemplify the way in which American Indian perspectives enrich contemporary philosophy.
    On DRL Full text
    Arola, Adam (Ojibwe Anishinaabe). Native American Philosophy
    2011, in The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy, William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield (eds.), OUP.
    Chapter 40, pp. 563-73.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This article introduces the central thinkers of contemporary American Indian philosophy by discussing concerns including the nature of experience, meaning, truth, the status of the individual and community, and finally issues concerning sovereignty. The impossibility of carving up the intellectual traditions of contemporary Native scholars in North America into neat and tidy disciplines must be kept in mind. The first hallmark of American Indian philosophy is the commitment to the belief that all things are related—and this belief is not simply an ontological claim, but rather an intellectual and ethical maxim.

    Study Questions

    1. How much do you (the readers) know about Native American philosophy?
    2. How has Native American philosophy been shaped by the histories and traditions of the communities who have practiced it?
    3. Why has Native American philosophy often been called “primitive,” by the standards of Western academic philosophy?
    4. Why is Native American philosophy still largely excluded from Western academic philosophy?
    5. Can and should Native American philosophy be practiced or studied by anyone and everyone?
    6. How have Native American and non-native concepts interacted with each other, historically (or presently)?
    Week 2. Becoming Human: Community, Family, and Individuality

    How individuals become a part of their communities, as well as become self-sufficient and autonomous humans, is a frequent and indispensable topic in Native North American philosophy. Two components typically comprise it: a metaphysical one (that is, an interpretation of how reality is or works), and an ethical one. But, although we can think of these components separately, they are usually treated as indistinct or, at the very least, as intimately linked with one another within Native American philosophy. And so, this section’s readings will not only introduce readers to how metaphysics and ethics are often one in Native North American thinking, but will also be essential for readers in acquainting them with how different Indigenous communities think about the metaphysics of the human and non-human world, the metaphysical relationship that individuals bear to their communities, kin, and environment, how those relationships embed various responsibilities for all parties involved, and how personhood can be cultivated ethically in light of those things.

    On DRL Full text
    Cordova, Viola (Jicarilla Apache/Hispanic). How It Is: The Native American Philosophy of V. F. Cordova
    2007, Kathleen Dean Moore, Kurt Peters, Ted Jojola & Amber Lacy (eds.), University of Arizona Press.
    Chapter 4, "What is it to be Human?", pp. 133-70.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Viola Cordova was the first Native American woman to receive a PhD in philosophy. Even as she became an expert on canonical works of traditional Western philosophy, she devoted herself to defining a Native American philosophy. Although she passed away before she could complete her life’s work, some of her colleagues have organized her pioneering contributions into this provocative book. In three parts, Cordova sets out a complete Native American philosophy. First she explains her own understanding of the nature of reality itself—the origins of the world, the relation of matter and spirit, the nature of time, and the roles of culture and language in understanding all of these. She then turns to our role as residents of the Earth, arguing that we become human as we deepen our relation to our people and to our places, and as we understand the responsibilities that grow from those relationships. In the final section, she calls for a new reverence in a world where there is no distinction between the sacred and the mundane. Cordova clearly contrasts Native American beliefs with the traditions of the Enlightenment and Christianized Europeans. By doing so, she leads her readers into a deeper understanding of both traditions and encourages us to question any view that claims a singular truth. From these essays—which are lucid, insightful, frequently funny, and occasionally angry—we receive a powerful new vision of how we can live with respect, reciprocity, and joy
    On DRL Full text
    Cordova, Viola (Jicarilla Apache/Hispanic). Ethics: The We and the I
    2004, In: American Indian Thought: Philosophical Essays. Anne Waters (ed.), Blackwell (Oxford).
    Chapter 14, pp. 173-81.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This book brings together a diverse group of American Indian thinkers to discuss traditional and contemporary philosophies and philosophical issues. The essays presented here address philosophical questions pertaining to knowledge, time, place, history, science, law, religion, nationhood, ethics, and art, as understood from a variety of Native American standpoints. Unique in its approach, this volume represents several different tribes and nations and amplifies the voice of contemporary American Indian culture struggling for respect and autonomy. Taken together, the essays collected here exemplify the way in which American Indian perspectives enrich contemporary philosophy.
    On DRL Full text
    Akkitiq, Atuat, Akpaliapak Karetak, Rhoda (Nunavut Inuit). Inunnguiniq (Making a Human Being)
    2017, In: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: What Inuit Have Always Known to be True. Joe Karetak, Frank Tester, Shirley Tagalik (eds.), Fernwood Publishing.
    Chapter 8, pp. 112-46.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: The Inuit have experienced colonization and the resulting disregard for the societal systems, beliefs and support structures foundational to Inuit culture for generations. While much research has articulated the impacts of colonization and recognized that Indigenous cultures and worldviews are central to the well-being of Indigenous peoples and communities, little work has been done to preserve Inuit culture. Unfortunately, most people have a very limited understanding of Inuit culture, and often apply only a few trappings of culture -- past practices, artifacts and catchwords --to projects to justify cultural relevance. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit -- meaning all the extensive knowledge and experience passed from generation to generation -- is a collection of contributions by well- known and respected Inuit Elders. The book functions as a way of preserving important knowledge and tradition, contextualizing that knowledge within Canada's colonial legacy and providing an Inuit perspective on how we relate to each other, to other living beings and the environment.

    Study Questions

    1. What are some of the ways in which you (the readers) have conceived of your identities and have been shaped by your communities?
    2. What are some of the ways in which identity has been conceived by Native North American communities?
    3. What are some the ways in which communities help to shape the identities of their members?
    4. Is individuality completely ignored or shunned within Native North American communities?
    5. What sorts of things bind the members of these communities together?
    6. What sorts of relationships might individuals occupy within their communities?
    7. And, what is the extent of the relationships that individuals can bear towards anything around them?
    Week 3. Sovereignty and Self-Determination

    Sovereignty and self-determination are the heart of Native North American ethical concern, seeing as both have been and are stil under constant siege from industry, neighboring governments, and social mentalities which have both colonial ethnocentrism and imperialism still embedded within them. As such, this section’s readings are dedicated to informing readers of how various Native North American communities conceive of their rights to exist in peace, live freely and autonomously on their lands, and share in the mutual respect that all peoples should be afforded, as well as what battles have been and are still being fought, both practically and intellectually, given the significant colonial violence and abuse that Native North American communities continue to navigate and challenge.

    On DRL Full text
    Mankiller, Wilma, et al. (Cherokee). Everyday is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women
    2004, Fulcrum Publishing.
    Chapter 4, "Governance: The People and the Land", pp. 75-94 .
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Nineteen prominent Native artists, educators, and activisits share their candid and often profound thoughts on what it means to be a Native American woman in the early 21st century. Their stories are rare and often intimate glimpses of women who have made a conscious decision to live every day to its fullest and stand for something larger than themselves.
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Cobb-Greetham, Amanda (Chickasaw). Understanding Tribal Sovereignty: Definitions, Conceptualizations, and Interpretations
    2005, American Studies, 46(3), 115–132.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Forty years have passed since the Midcontinent American Studies Journal published its landmark special issue, "The Indian Today."  Since that publication, the landscape of Indian country has changed dramatically. This change has come primarily from an amazing cultural resurgence among Native Peoples in the United States — a resurgence that has manifested itself in everything from the Red Power movement to the birth of American Indian studies in the academy; to the renaissance of contemporary Native art, literature, and film; to the creation of tribal colleges, museums, and cultural centers; to the unprecedented rise in economic development; to notable gains in power in political and legal arenas.
    On DRL Full text
    Alfred, Gerald Taiaiake (Mohawk/Kanien’kehá:ka). Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom
    2005, University of Toronto Press.
    Chapter 1, "Rebellion of Truth".
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: The word Wasáse is the Kanienkeha (Mohawk) word for the ancient war dance ceremony of unity, strength, and commitment to action. The author notes, "This book traces the journey of those Indigenous people who have found a way to transcend the colonial identities which are the legacy of our history and live as Onkwehonwe, original people. It is dialogue and reflection on the process of transcending colonialism in a personal and collective sense: making meaningful change in our lives and transforming society by recreating our personalities, regenerating our cultures, and surging against forces that keep us bound to our colonial past."
    On DRL Full text
    Coulthard, Glen (Yellowknives Dene/T'atsaot'ine). Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition
    2014, University of Minnesota Press.
    Introduction, pp. 22-80; Chapter 5, “The Plunge into the Chasm of the Past: Fanon, Self-Recognition, and Decolonization", pp. 336-81.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Over the past forty years, recognition has become the dominant mode of negotiation and decolonization between the nation-state and Indigenous nations in North America. The term “recognition” shapes debates over Indigenous cultural distinctiveness, Indigenous rights to land and self-government, and Indigenous peoples’ right to benefit from the development of their lands and resources. In a work of critically engaged political theory, Glen Sean Coulthard challenges recognition as a method of organizing difference and identity in liberal politics, questioning the assumption that contemporary difference and past histories of destructive colonialism between the state and Indigenous peoples can be reconciled through a process of acknowledgment. Beyond this, Coulthard examines an alternative politics—one that seeks to revalue, reconstruct, and redeploy Indigenous cultural practices based on self-recognition rather than on seeking appreciation from the very agents of colonialism. Coulthard demonstrates how a “place-based” modification of Karl Marx’s theory of “primitive accumulation” throws light on Indigenous–state relations in settler-colonial contexts and how Frantz Fanon’s critique of colonial recognition shows that this relationship reproduces itself over time. This framework strengthens his exploration of the ways that the politics of recognition has come to serve the interests of settler-colonial power. In addressing the core tenets of Indigenous resistance movements, like Red Power and Idle No More, Coulthard offers fresh insights into the politics of active decolonization.

    Study Questions

    1. In general, what are some of the ways in which sovereignty and self-determination have been conceived?
    2. In general, what are some of the ways in which those sorts of sovereignty and self-determination can be undermined?
    3. What are some of the ways in which Native North Americans have conceived of their sovereignty and self-determination?
    4. What sorts of conceptions of identity or community have underpinned their thinking about sovereignty and self-determination?
    5. How has the sovereignty and self-determination of Native North Americans been undermined?
    Week 4. Love, Sexuality, Sex, and Gender

    Native North American people and communities are immensely diverse in their conceptions of love, sexuality, sex, and gender. The readings in this section, several conceptions are presented to readers from both the past and the present, and discussions are prompted as to how they have played out for individuals and communities over time.

    On DRL
    Beauchemin, Michel, Levy, Lori, Vogel, Gretchen. Two Spirit People
    1991, Frameline. 20 min. USA.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: An overview of historical and contemporary Native American concepts of gender, sexuality and sexual orientation. This documentary explores the berdache tradition in Native American culture, in which individuals who embody feminine and masculine qualities act as a conduit between the physical and spiritual world, and because of this are placed in positions of power within the community.
    Full text
    Mankiller, Wilma, et al. (Cherokee). Everyday is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women
    2004, Fulcrum Publishing.
    Chapter 6, "Love And Acceptance", pp. 125-42.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Nineteen prominent Native artists, educators, and activisits share their candid and often profound thoughts on what it means to be a Native American woman in the early 21st century. Their stories are rare and often intimate glimpses of women who have made a conscious decision to live every day to its fullest and stand for something larger than themselves.
    On DRL Full text
    Maracle, Lee (Stö:lo). I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism
    2002, Press Gang Publishers, Canada.
    Preface, pp. VI-XII; Chapter 2, "I am Woman", pp. 14-19.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: I Am Woman represents my personal struggle with womanhood, culture, traditional spiritual beliefs and political sovereignty, written during a time when that struggle was not over. My original intention was to empower Native women to take to heart their own personal struggle for Native feminist being. The changes made in this second edition of the text do not alter my original intention. It remains my attempt to present a Native woman's sociological perspective on the impacts of colonialism on us, as women, and on my self personally.
    On DRL Full text
    Byrd, Jodi (Chickasaw). What’s Normative Got to Do with It?: Toward Indigenous Queer Relationality
    2020, Social Text, 38 (4 (145)): 105–123.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This article considers the queer problem of Indigenous studies that exists in the disjunctures and disconnections that emerge when queer studies, Indigenous studies, and Indigenous feminisms are brought into conversation. Reflecting on what the material and grounded body of indigeneity could mean in the context of settler colonialism, where Indigenous women and queers are disappeared into nowhere, and in light of Indigenous insistence on land as normative, where Indigenous bodies reemerge as first and foremost political orders, this article offers queer Indigenous relationality as an additive to Indigenous feminisms. What if, this article asks, queer indigeneity were centered as an analytic method that refuses normativity even as it imagines, through relationality, a possibility for the materiality of decolonization?
    On DRL
    TallBear, Kim (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate). Making Love and Relations Beyond Settler Sexuality
    2016, Lecture. The Ecologies of Social Difference Research Network. University of British Columbia.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Lecture as part of the Social Justice Institute Noted Scholars Lecture Series, co-presented by the Ecologies of Social Difference Research Network at the University of British Columbia.

    Study Questions

    1. What sorts of conceptions of love, sexuality, sex, and gender do you (the readers) have?
    2. What sorts of conceptions of the same do Native North Americans have?
    3. How do these conceptions compare and contrast?
    4. In what sorts of ways has colonialism affected Native North Americans’ relationships with other members of their communities and themselves?
    5. What sorts of worries have Native North Americans raised about the differences in various conceptions of love, sexuality, sex, and gender?
    Week 5. Justice

    Justice, as with everything else in this blueprint, comes in many shapes and sizes among Native North American communities. Victims, perpetrators, and communities are all considered – but, how they are treated is often different from one community to the next, depending on their historical experiences. And, even further, they are also often treated differently from how Anglo-European conceptions of justice have tended to treated them. The readings in this section provide insights into how justice and law have been conceived and enacted within different communities, as well as how communities have sought justice from those outside of their communities.

    Full text
    Various Contributors (Nunavut Inuit). Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut
    2008, John R. Bennett and Susan Rowley (eds.). McGill-Queen's University Press.
    Chapter 8 "Justice", pp. 99-105.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Uqalurait presents a comprehensive account of Inuit life on land and sea ice in the area now called Nunavut, before extensive contact with southerners. Drawing on a broad range of oral history sources - from nineteenth-century exploration accounts to contemporary community-based projects - the book uses quotes from over three hundred Inuit elders to provide an 'inside' view of family life, social relations, hunting, the land, shamanism, health, and material culture. For the first time, the reader encounters Inuit culture and traditional knowledge through the voices of people who lived the life being described. Based on a larger research project developed under the guidance of six Inuit from across Nunavut, Uqalurait consists of thousands of quotations organised thematically into cohesive chapters. The book describes the seasonal rounds of four different groups, capturing the fact that while Inuit across Nunavut had much in common, there was also much to distinguish them from each other, living as they did in many small groups of people, each with its own territory and identity. Given the recent creation of Nunavut and the current focus of attention on the Arctic due to climate change, Uqalurait is a timely source of insight from a people whose values of sharing and respect for the environment have helped them to live contentedly for centuries at the northern limit of the inhabitable world.
    On DRL Full text
    Waziyatawin (Wahpetunwan Dakota). What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland
    2008, Living Justice Press.
    Introduction, pp. 3-15; Chapter 3 “Taking Down the Fort,” pp. 17-70; Chapter 5 “Developing Peaceful Co-existence,” pp. 97-118.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: During the past 150 years, the majority of Minnesotans have not acknowledged the immense and ongoing harms suffered by the Dakota People ever since their homelands were invaded over 200 years ago. Many Dakota people say that the wounds incurred have never healed, and it is clear that the injustices: genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass executions, death marches, broken treaties, and land theft; have not been made right. The Dakota People paid and continue to pay the ultimate price for Minnesota's statehood.This book explores how we can embark on a path of transformation on the way to respectful coexistence with those whose ancestral homeland this is. Doing justice is central to this process. Without justice, many Dakota say, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples. Written by Wahpetunwan Dakota scholar and activist Waziyatawin of Pezihutazizi Otunwe, What Does Justice Look Like? offers an opportunity now and for future generations to learn the long-untold history and what it has meant for the Dakota People. On that basis, the book offers the further opportunity to explore what we can do between us as Peoples to reverse the patterns of genocide and oppression, and instead to do justice with a depth of good faith, commitment, and action that would be genuinely new for Native and non-Native relations.
    On DRL
    Dickie, Bonnie. Hollow Water
    2000, NFB. 48 min. Canada.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This documentary profiles the tiny Ojibway community of Hollow Water on the shores of Lake Winnipeg as they deal with an epidemic of sexual abuse in their midst. The offenders have left a legacy of denial and pain, addiction and suicide. The Manitoba justice system was unsuccessful in ending the cycle of abuse, so the community of Hollow Water took matters into their own hands. The offenders were brought home to face justice in a community healing and sentencing circle. Based on traditional practices, this unique model of justice reunites families and heals both victims and offenders. The film is a powerful tribute to one community's ability to heal and create change.
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Yazzie, Robert (Navajo). “Life Comes from it”: Navajo Justice Concepts
    1994, New Mexico Law Review, (24)2, 175-90.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This paper offers a comparison between Navajo conceptions of law and justice based on the community's experiences to those of Anglo-european law and justice.

    Study Questions

    1. What is the difference between restorative and retributive justice?
    2. What are some of the conceptions of justice that Native North American communities have offered, and how are they infromed by the communties’ past?
    3. What are some of the ways in which one or another Native North American community displays one or the other sort of justice in question (1)?
    4. What are some of the ways in which Native North American communities differ from Anglo-European communities when it comes to enacting justice?
    5. What sorts of injustices have different Native North American communities suffered?
    6. What are some of the ways that Native North Americans have suggested that those injustices be rectified?
    Week 6. Environmental Stewardship and Animal Ties

    Native North American ethical concern often surrounds inter-relations to both the land and the lives of the non-human animals. Personal health, community health, community sustainability and survival, cultural wellbeing, religious experience – all our intertwined with the wellbeing of the environment. In this section’s readings, various perspectives are offered on just how deep the inter-relationships between people and the environment go, as well as how these relationships have been negatively affected by one or another form of oppression and what attempts are being made to counteract those effects.

    On DRL Full text
    Various Contributors (Nunavut Inuit). Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut
    2008, John R. Bennett and Susan Rowley (eds.). McGill-Queen's University Press.
    Chapter 3 "Animals", pp. 43-9.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Uqalurait presents a comprehensive account of Inuit life on land and sea ice in the area now called Nunavut, before extensive contact with southerners. Drawing on a broad range of oral history sources - from nineteenth-century exploration accounts to contemporary community-based projects - the book uses quotes from over three hundred Inuit elders to provide an 'inside' view of family life, social relations, hunting, the land, shamanism, health, and material culture. For the first time, the reader encounters Inuit culture and traditional knowledge through the voices of people who lived the life being described. Based on a larger research project developed under the guidance of six Inuit from across Nunavut, Uqalurait consists of thousands of quotations organised thematically into cohesive chapters. The book describes the seasonal rounds of four different groups, capturing the fact that while Inuit across Nunavut had much in common, there was also much to distinguish them from each other, living as they did in many small groups of people, each with its own territory and identity. Given the recent creation of Nunavut and the current focus of attention on the Arctic due to climate change, Uqalurait is a timely source of insight from a people whose values of sharing and respect for the environment have helped them to live contentedly for centuries at the northern limit of the inhabitable world.
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Todd, Zoe (Métis/otipemisiw). Fish pluralities: Human-animal Relations and Sites of Engagement in Paulatuuq
    2014, Arctic Canada. Études/Inuit/Studies, 38(1-2), 217–238.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This article explores human-fish relations as an under-theorized “active site of engagement” in northern Canada. It examines two case studies that demonstrate how the Inuvialuit of Paulatuuq employ “fish pluralities” (multiple ways of knowing and defining fish) to negotiate the complex and dynamic pressures faced by humans, animals, and the environment in contemporary Arctic Canada. I argue that it is instructive for all Canadians to understand the central role of humans and animals, together, as active agents in political and colonial processes in northern Canada. By examining human-fish relationships, as they have unfolded in Paulatuuq over the last 50 years, we may develop a more nuanced understanding of the dynamic strategies that northern Indigenous people, including the Paulatuuqmiut (people from Paulatuuq), use to navigate shifting environmental, political, legal, social, cultural, and economic realities in Canada’s North. This article thus places fish and people, together, as central actors in the political landscape of northern Canada. I also hypothesize a relational framework for Indigenous-State reconciliation discourses in Canada today. This framework expands southern political and philosophical horizons beyond the human and toward a broader societal acknowledgement of complex and dynamic relationships between people, fish, and the land in Paulatuuq.
    On DRL Full text
    Burkhart, Brian (Cherokee). Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land: A Trickster Methodology of Decolonising Environmental Ethics and Indigenous Futures
    2019, Michigan State University Press.
    Preface, pp. vii-x; Chapter 1, “Philosophical Colonizing of People and Land”, pp. 3-58; Chapter 3, “Refragmenting Philosophy through the Land: What Black Elk and Iktomi Can Teach Us about Locality”, pp. 93-164.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Land is key to the operations of coloniality, but the power of the land is also the key anticolonial force that grounds Indigenous liberation. This work is an attempt to articulate the nature of land as a material, conceptual, and ontological foundation for Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and valuing. As a foundation of valuing, land forms the framework for a conceptualization of Indigenous environmental ethics as an anticolonial force for sovereign Indigenous futures. This text is an important contribution in the efforts to Indigenize Western philosophy, particularly in the context of settler colonialism in the United States. It breaks significant ground in articulating Indigenous ways of knowing and valuing to Western philosophy—not as artifact that Western philosophy can incorporate into its canon, but rather as a force of anticolonial Indigenous liberation. Ultimately, Indigenizing Philosophy through the Land shines light on a possible road for epistemically, ontologically, and morally sovereign Indigenous futures.
    On DRL Full text
    Kimmerer, Robin Wall (Potawatomi). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants
    2015, Milkweed Editions.
    Preface, pp. ix-x; Chapter 1, "Planting Sweetgrass", pp. 3-62.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.
    On DRL Full text
    Powys Whyte, Kyle, Cuomo, Chris (Potawatomi). Ethics of Caring in Environmental Ethics: Indigenous and Feminist Philosophies
    2016, In The Oxford Handbok of Environmental Ethics, Stephen Gardiner and Allen Thompson (eds.), OUP
    Chapter 20, pp. 234-47.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Indigenous ethics and feminist care ethics offer a range of related ideas and tools for environmental ethics. These ethics delve into deep connections and moral commitments between nonhumans and humans to guide ethical forms of environmental decision making and environmental science. Indigenous and feminist movements such as the Mother Earth Water Walk and the Green Belt Movement are ongoing examples of the effectiveness of on-the-ground environmental care ethics. Indigenous ethics highlight attentive caring for the intertwined needs of humans and nonhumans within interdependent communities. Feminist environmental care ethics emphasize the importance of empowering communities to care for themselves and the social and ecological communities in which their lives and interests are interwoven. The gendered, feminist, historical, and anticolonial dimensions of care ethics, indigenous ethics, and other related approaches provide rich ground for rethinking and reclaiming the nature and depth of diverse relationships as the fabric of social and ecological being.
    On DRL
    Various Contributors (Indigenous Communities across California). Indigenous Land Stewardship: Tending Nature
    2021, KCET. 57min. USA.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This "Tending Nature" special features multiple perspectives and voices from Indigenous communities across California who are striving to keep the practices of their heritage alive. From coming-of-age rituals, seasonal food harvests, basket weaving and jewelry making, the documentary shares how traditional practices can be protected and maintained as a way of life for future generations.

    Study Questions

    1. What are some of the ways in which Native North Americans have conceived of their (inter)relations to the environment and non-human animal life?
    2. In what ways are those conceptions informing (or are informed by) broader aspects of one or another community?
    3. How do these conceptions differ from various Anglo-European conceptions of the environment and non-human animal life?
    4. What are some of the environmental problems that Native North American communities face?
    5. To what extent are those problems similar or different to other non-Native North American communities?
    6. How have Native North American communities sought to redress those problems – and to what extent are they similar or different to non-Native communities?
    Week 7. Cultural Hope, Revitalization, and Preservation

    As we expressed in our introduction, Native North American communities have faced grave challenges resulting from settler colonial violence. Despite these challenges, Native North American communities have persisted and found ways to strengthen their communities. In this section’s readings, the focus is on how such cultural hope has manifested – how Native North American thinkers present ways that they can and should preserve, defend, or revitalize their cultures, as well as how communities have attempted to do so. 

    Full text
    Mankiller, Wilma, et al. (Cherokee). Everyday is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women
    2004, Fulcrum Publishing.
    Chapter 7, "The Way Home", pp. 143-69.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Nineteen prominent Native artists, educators, and activisits share their candid and often profound thoughts on what it means to be a Native American woman in the early 21st century. Their stories are rare and often intimate glimpses of women who have made a conscious decision to live every day to its fullest and stand for something larger than themselves.
    On DRL
    Vaughan-Lee, Emmanuel. Marie’s Dictionary
    2014, Self-Produced. 10min. USA.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This short documentary tells the story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, and the dictionary she created to keep her language alive. For Ms. Wilcox, the Wukchumni language has become her life. She has spent more than twenty years working on the dictionary and continues to refine and update the text. Through her hard work and dedication, she has created a document that will support the revitalization of the Wukchumni language for decades to come. Along with her daughter, Jennifer Malone, she travels to conferences throughout California and meets other tribes who struggle with language loss. Ms. Wilcox’s tribe, the Wukchumni, is not recognized by the federal government. It is part of the broader Yokuts tribal group native to Central California. Before European contact, as many as 50,000 Yokuts lived in the region, but those numbers have steadily diminished. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 200 Wukchumni remain.
    On DRL Full text
    Mihesuah, Devon (Choctaw). Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains?
    2000, Devon Mihesuah (ed.), University of Nebraska Press.
    Chapter 5, "American Indians, Anthropologists, Pothunters, and Repatriation Ethical, Religious, and Political Differences," pp. 95-105.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: In the past decade the repatriation of Native American skeletal remains and funerary objects has become a lightning rod for radically opposing views about cultural patrimony and the relationship between Native communities and archaeologists. In this unprecedented volume, Native Americans and non-Native Americans within and beyond the academic community offer their views on repatriation and the ethical, political, legal, cultural, scholarly, and economic dimensions of this hotly debated issue. While historians and archaeologists debate continuing non-Native interests and obligations, Native American scholars speak to the key cultural issues embedded in their ancestral pasts. A variety of sometimes explosive case studies are considered, ranging from Kennewick Man to the repatriation of Zuni Ahayu:da. Also featured is a detailed discussion of the background, meaning, and applicability of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, as well as the text of the act itself.

    Study Questions

    1. In what ways have Native North Americans tried to defend or revitalize their cultures?
    2. Why is it so important to them that they do so?
    3. What sorts of challenges have Native North Americans faced in trying to defend or revitalize their cultures?
    4. To what extent do the actions of non-native individuals or communities indicate a lack of respect for Native North American cultures?
    5. How do you (the reader) think we can change to foster greater respect for Native North American communities?

Reclaiming the System: New Visions for a Future of Work

Expand entry

by Deryn Mair Thomas
Funded by: The Future of Work and Income Research Network


The future of work is gaining traction as a central topic of discussion, both within academic philosophy and broader public discourse. Much of that discussion, however, has primarily been focused on questions regarding the role of AI and automation, the possibilities of mass unemployment, and, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the future of the workplace. These questions, while important, address a narrow range of problems and offer a limited vision of what the future of work could look like. Therefore, this blueprint offers an overview of a wider range of philosophical perspectives which have considered alternatives to our current systems of work and employment. It touches upon a range of underrepresented topics in philosophical work literature: perspectives offered by members of underrepresented groups, underexplored problems presented by existing systems, and creative solutions which challenge many of the basic foundations of our current cultural relationship to work. Many of the authors address the ways in which structural injustice is embedded in current systems; all share a common interest in a future of work which is more empathetic, more human. [The title of this blueprint is borrowed from Lisa Herzog’s book, “Reclaiming the System: Moral Responsibility, Divided Labour, and the Role of Organizations in Society” (2018).]


    Week 1. The Problems with Work
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries
    2011, Duke University Press
    Introduction: pp. 1-13 (end before Work and Labor), and pp. 16-23 (Work and Class, Freedom and Equality).
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: In The Problem with Work, Kathi Weeks boldly challenges the presupposition that work, or waged labor, is inherently a social and political good. While progressive political movements, including the Marxist and feminist movements, have fought for equal pay, better work conditions, and the recognition of unpaid work as a valued form of labor, even they have tended to accept work as a naturalized or inevitable activity. Weeks argues that in taking work as a given, we have “depoliticized” it, or removed it from the realm of political critique. Employment is now largely privatized, and work-based activism in the United States has atrophied. We have accepted waged work as the primary mechanism for income distribution, as an ethical obligation, and as a means of defining ourselves and others as social and political subjects. Taking up Marxist and feminist critiques, Weeks proposes a postwork society that would allow people to be productive and creative rather than relentlessly bound to the employment relation. Work, she contends, is a legitimate, even crucial, subject for political theory.

    Comment: This text serves as an excellent introduction and comprehensive overview of contemporary philosophical critiques of work, as one of the central texts in the literature on anti-capitalist and post-capitalist critiques of work. Although a sociologist by profession, many of the author's questions and arguments are, at their core, philosophical. Therefore, she serves as a good starting point for any broad examination of existing systems and structures of work, and for encouraging creative discussion about alternate visions.

    Discussion Questions

    Introduction, pp 1-13

    1. To begin, discuss your own critical reflections about the concept and experience of work.
      • Can we think of work as a cohesive, overarching system? Why/Why not?
      • If yes, does the current system have problems? What might some of those problems be?
      • Who has a responsibility to resolve them?
    2. Why does Weeks think it is so difficult to reflect critically about work as a social system, as opposed to the more narrow project of addressing particular problems within the system? Why might it be important to critique work as a social system?
    3. Weeks discusses some of the problems that arise when we think about work as a private, rather than public sphere of activity. In what ways can work be private, public, or both? What problems does the privatization of work present?
    4. Weeks writes, “The social role of waged work has been so naturalised as to seem necessary and inevitable, something to be tinkered with but never escaped.” She is drawing attention to the degree to which wage work, and the norms associated with it, are taken for granted and assumed to be part of the natural order of things. Why might this be a problem?

    Introduction, pp 16-23

    1. How does work shape society, according to Weeks? How does the work system embed certain ways of thinking about morality?
    2. How does the work system interact with gender?
    3. How does the work system interact with, and influence, class and social status?
    4. Do you think work legitimize a particular type of exploitation, by arranging people in hierarchical relations with an imbalance of power? Is this an inevitable feature of work, or can it be resolved (e.g. through democritization)?
    Week 2. Organisational Structures
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Herzog, Lisa. Reclaiming the System: Moral Responsibility, Divided Labour, and the Role of Organizations in Society
    2018, Oxford University Press
    Introduction, 1.1 Individuals in Organizations: Normative Theory's Blind Spot (pp. 1-7), and 1.3 Reclaiming the System (pp. 12-17).
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: The world of wage labour seems to have become a soulless machine, an engine of social and environmental destruction. Employees seem to be nothing but ‘cogs’ in this system—but is this true? Located at the intersection of political theory, moral philosophy, and business ethics, this book questions the picture of the world of work as a ‘system’. Hierarchical organizations, both in the public and in the private sphere, have specific features of their own. This does not mean, however, that they cannot leave room for moral responsibility, and maybe even human flourishing. Drawing on detailed empirical case studies, Lisa Herzog analyses the nature of organizations from a normative perspective: their rule-bound character, the ways in which they deal with divided knowledge, and organizational cultures and their relation to morality. She asks how individual agency and organizational structures would have to mesh to avoid common moral pitfalls. She develops the notion of ‘transformational agency’, which refers to a critical, creative way of engaging with one’s organizational role while remaining committed to basic moral norms. The last part zooms out to the political and institutional changes that would be required to re-embed organizations into a just society. Whether we submit to ‘the system’ or try to reclaim it, Herzog argues, is a question of eminent political importance in our globalized world.

    Comment: This text, an introduction to a longer work on organisational ethics, proposes and discusses novel arguments about the nature of organisations, and organisational spaces, as moral entities. By challenging long held common sense assumptions that corporate organisations are 'amoral' or outside the scope of human morality, Herzog offers an alternate view. It is therefore useful as a way to examine and discuss alternate visions of organisational structure and the role that human beings play as moral agents within those structures.

    Discussion Questions

    Introduction 1.1

    1. Why, according to Herzog, is it important to resasses the moral nature of organisations and organisational structure? Do you find her initial arguments to be convincing?
    2. Herzog writes that, within organisations, “individuals face specific moral challenges, which are different from the moral challenges they encounter in other spheres of life.” What are some examples of these challenges, either from the text or from your own experiences? Why are these moral problems different from the ones we encounter in other spheres of life?
    3. Do you think organisational morality can be ‘reclaimed’, as Herzog does? Why/Why not?
    4. It is relatively commonplace these days to encounter the idea that corporations are evil and that all large organisations are “irresponible monsters” incapable of moral action. But Herzog insists that organisations can be forces for good. What are some examples of this? Why might organisational morality be worth reclaiming?

    Introduction 1.3

    1. What factors contribute to the sense that organisational structures are amoral, or outside the scope of normal human moral demands? How has traditional normative theorising failed to account for organisations, and the particular moral problems they face?
    2. What assumptions do we make about organisational structure, and why (e.g. organisations as ‘systemic’, or like machines)? How does this affect our perspective of their moral responsibility?
    3. What assumptions do we make about individual agents, and why (e.g. that they behave opportunistically)? How does this affect our perspective of organisational moral responsibility?
    4. What are some ways, either concrete or abstract, that we might reorient organisational life?
    Week 3. Meaning and Purpose
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Veltman, Andrea. Meaningful Work
    2016, Oxford University Press
    Chapter 4, What Makes Work Meaningful?, pp. 105-112, 135-141.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: This book examines the importance of work in human well-being, addressing several related philosophical questions about work and arguing on the whole that meaningful work is central in human flourishing. Work impacts flourishing not only in developing and exercising human capabilities but also in instilling and reflecting virtues such as honor, pride, dignity, self-discipline, and self-respect. Work also attaches to a sense of purposefulness and personal identity, and meaningful work can promote both personal autonomy and a sense of personal satisfaction that issues from making oneself useful. Further still, work bears a formative influence on character and intelligence and provides a primary avenue for exercising complex skills and garnering esteem and recognition from others. The author defends a pluralistic account of meaningful work, identifying four primary dimension of meaningful work: (1) developing or exercising the worker’s capabilities, especially insofar as this expression meets with recognition and esteem; (2) supporting virtues; (3) providing a purpose, and especially producing something of enduring value; and (4) integrating elements of a worker’s life. In light of the impact that work has on flourishing, the author argues that well-ordered societies provide opportunities for meaningful work and that the philosophical view of value pluralism, which casts work as having no special significance in an individual’s life, is false. The book also addresses oppressive work that undermines human flourishing, examining potential solutions to minimize the impact of bad work on those who perform it.

    Comment: Veltman's text can be used first, to introduce students to the concept of meaningful work and philosophical analysis of its core characteristics; and second, to facilitate discussion on the importance of meaningful work in society, such as discussion about what types of activities counts as meaningful work, whether all people should have access to it, or what role the state plays in providing it, etc.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are the features of meaningful work, according to Veltman? Does Veltman think meaningfulness – and consequently, meaningful work – is a subjective characteristic?
    2. Why does Veltman think it is useful to have objective measures of meaningfulness?
    3. Is all work meaningful? Why / why not?
      • Is work that is not meaningful the same as work that is meaningless?
      • According to Veltman, what characteristics makes work bad? How do you think we should respond to the existence of such work?
    4. How do you think we should understand the importance of meaningful work? Is it a basic need, something all people should have a right to, or is it simply a matter of personal preference?
    Full text Read free
    Terkel, Studs. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day And How They Feel About What They Do
    1974, Pantheon Publishers
    Introduction, pp. xi-xxvi.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Perhaps Studs Terkel's best-known book, Working is a compelling look at jobs and the people who do them. Consisting of over one hundred interviews with everyone from a gravedigger to a studio head, from a policeman to a piano tuner, this book provides an enduring portrait of people's feelings about their working lives.

    Comment: Terkel's interviews are useful for a few reasons. They offer a firsthand account of how individuals relate to their particular types of work, and of the sorts of features that people tend to value in their work. Since many of these features align with Veltman's features of meaningfulness, i.e. mastery, a sense of purpose, socialisation, etc., the interviews serve as complementary material. They can help offer examples or cases to supplement discussion about Veltman's analysis.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are some of the general conclusions that Terkel draws from his interviews? What values or experiences does he notice are common across different kinds of work?
    2. Do these align with Veltman’s objective measures of meaningful work?
    3. Do you think it is important for one’s work to be meaningful? Why / Why not? What role has meaningful work played in your own life?
    Full text Read free
    Marhoefer, Paul. Over the Road [Podcast]
    2020, Radiotopia & Overdrive Magazine
    Optional Material: Season 1 Episode 2 (Transcript or Audio).
    Expand entry
    Abstract: A tale of two truckers in Grand Island, Nebraska: former real-estate agent Kenyette Godhigh-Bell, and third-generation owner-operator Jared Sidlo. One is testing the waters of a new career, while the other weighs the personal costs of a job he can’t (and won’t) quit.

    Comment: The podcast provides more anecdotal material through interviews, but from a more present-day context than Terkel's interviews, and therefore also serve a similar, supplemental role.

    Discussion Questions

    1. The interviewees discuss the experiences of their work as truck drivers. Are there any common experiences or features that emerge in the interviews? Are any of these experiences universal or shared across other professions? Discuss how your own experience of work relates to these interviews.
    2. Do you see evidence of Veltman’s objective measures of meaningfulness in the interviews? Give examples and discuss.
    Week 4. Economic Structures and Income
    Full text Read free
    Penner, J. E.. Aristotle, Arendt, and the Gentleman: How the Conception of Remuneration Figures in our Understanding of a Right to Work and Be Paid
    2015, In Virginia Mantavalou (ed.), The Right to Work: Legal and Philosophical Perspectives. Bloomsbury
    Chapter 5 in The Right to Work: Legal and Philosophical Perspectives, pp. 87-97.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: This chapter is part of a larger work concerning what I call 'property fetishism', which is, briefly and roughly, a particular phenomenon or outlook in moral and political philosophy under which the "social thesis" is denied, or obscured, or diminished. The "social thesis" is the thesis that the "default" characterisation of human existence for the purposes of exploring interpersonal (including political)morality is not that of a hermit in some state of nature who shares no interests with others, but one in which interpersonal relations of real significance are native or natural to human existence. As such, those normative means, like the power to consent or to make agreements so as to be able to act cooperatively with others, are not some cultural achievement which we could plausibly be without, but are part and parcel of our natural endowments, in the same way as our basic responsiveness to reasons makes us (in part) the kind of creature that we are. Property fetishism works to deny, obscure, or diminish the significance of this human sociability principally by characterising acting in the social and political sphere as the interaction of "self-owners", as individuals principally constituted by the way in which they interact as possessors of property. As a rough picture that will do for the nonce; we shall return to the idea below.

    Comment: This article offers an interesting and accessible argument for a novel conception of remuneration. In doing so, Penner challenges one of the most foundational premises of a modern system of work - the idea that work and employment are synonymous - in a unique and original way. Therefore, this article can be used to prompt students to think about alternate models of remuneration, and to consider whether those models might offer a more humane system of paid work.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the author’s main aim in this article?
    2. What is the distinction between labour, work, and action that Arendt makes? Why might this conceptual distinction be useful?
    3. The author argues that remuneration was once conceptualised differently, through the practice of patronage. How did remuneration function in the case of the professional gentleman, according to Penner?
      • In what ways is this conception different from our current one?
      • Why makes such a conception attractive to the author? Why might it be useful?
    4. What are some objections that might be raised against this model of remuneration? How does the author respond?
    5. Do you find Penner’s argument convincing? Why / Why not?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Greene, Amanda. Making a Living: The Human Right to Livelihood
    2019, In Jahel Queralt and Bas van der Vossen (eds.), Economic Liberties and Human Rights. Routledge.
    Chapter 8 in Economic Liberties and Human Rights, Introduction and Section 2, pp. 153-163.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In this chapter I argue that we have a human right to livelihood. Although some economic rights have been defended under a human rights framework, such as freedom of occupation and the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to livelihood requires a separate defense. We have a livelihood when we are able to exercise some control over how we generate income and accumulate wealth. I argue that this control is good in itself, and that it leads to two further goods, social contribution esteem and a sense of self-provision. Beyond its being a right per se, having a livelihood also fulfills Joseph Raz’s conditions for being a constitutional right, insofar as it is a right that can be fairly and effectively protected through legal mechanisms, and for being a human right, insofar as it a right that can be suitably enforced through a system of international law.

    Comment: Greene's perspective, although not the same as Penner's, does share some important features, and as a result, she presents an argument for a right to livelihood which can help push students into another set of questions related to this weeks topic. These ask whether having agency over one's material resources and the manner of their acquisition is so important as to be essential, and consequently, whether that can be considered a right. One could also use this text to challenge the dominant rights narrative - perhaps a having a livelihood is essential, but not the sort of good that can be protected by rights. In that case, one could use the text to explore what other ways this important human capability might be protected, and by whom.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the author’s main aim in this article?
    2. In what three ways, according to the author, does a livelihood contribute to a person’s well-being?
      • Is having control over resource inflow the same as complete economic independence?
      • How is social contribution esteem different from simply the personal satisfaction of a job well done?
      • In what ways is the opportunity for self-provision morally significant?
    3. Why does the author think that market-based income is superior to publicly financed income?
    4. Is Greene’s argument persuasive? What might be some objections to a right to livelihood?
    Week 5. Disability, Gender, and Access to Work
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Albin, Einat. Universalising the Right to Work of Persons with Disabilities: An Equality and Dignity Based Approach
    2015, In Virginia Mantavalou (ed.), The Right to Work: Legal and Philosophical Perspectives. Bloomsbury
    Chapter X in The Right to Work: Legal and Philosophical Perspectives, Section I, pp. 65-71, Section III and Conclusion, pp. 81-85.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Rarely do labour law theories draw on disability studies. However, with the growing acceptance that both disability and labour are human rights issues that are concerned with dignity and equality, and that both fields of study tempt to address the social context of disadvantage, an opportunity emerges to bring the two discourses together. In this chapter, I take advantage of this opportunity to discuss the right to work. The interest lies in the new and crucially important direction that Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereafter the CRPD or the Convention) has taken. Article 27, the latest international human rights instrument that has been adopted regarding the right to work, offers what I consider to be an innovative and welcome approach towards this right, while addressing some of the main concerns that were raised in the literature regarding the right to work as adopted in other international human rights documents and implemented in practice.

    Comment: This text presents several interesting arguments regarding the right to work of persons with disabilities and its relationship with a universal right to work. It can be used, first, to engage students with literature at the intersection of critical disability theory and philosophy of work; and second, to further discuss philosophical questions concerning who should have access to good work and why.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are some of the barriers that persons with disabilities face in the labour market and workplace?
    2. Why might access to work be especially important for persons with disabilities to feel like full members of society? Albin discusses this in Section I, but you can also think about previous discussions on meaningful work.
    3. Why, according to Albin, does the CRPD represent a critical shift in the discussion about a right to work for persons with disability?
    4. What does Article 27 of the Convention state? Discuss any features of the article that you find interesting.
    5. What are some of the main concerns that confront a universal right to work? How, according to the author, does Article 27 provide an answer to these problems?
    6. What argument does the author provide as justification for a universalist approach? How does thinking about a right to work in terms of ‘abilities’ augment an understanding of the right to work?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    McKay, Ailsa. Promoting Gender Equity Through a Basic Income
    2013, In Karl Widerquist (ed.), Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research. Wiley Blackwell
    Chapter 26 in Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research, Karl Widerquist (ed.), pp 178-184.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research presents a compilation of six decades of Basic Income literature. It includes the most influential empirical research and theoretical arguments on all aspects of the Basic Income proposal.

    Comment: This text presents several interesting feminist arguments in favour of basic income, while offering some novel criticisms about the way 'work' is typically conceptualised in traditional UBI debates. In particular, McKay points out that most UBI discussion disregards unpaid work, which has a variety of impliciations for gendered labour and class division. Therefore, it can be used, first, to engage students with literature at the intersection of feminist philosophy, philosophy of gender, and philosophy of work; and second, to further discuss philosophical questions concerning how we conceptualise work and what happens when certain forms of work are prioritsed over others.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the author’s purpose, in this article?
    2. In what way, according to the author, does the current debate around basic income fail to recognise the social experiences of women? Why is it important to do so?
    3. How does basic income literature typically treat references to women and questions of gender inequality, according to the author?
    4. What solution does the author propose to these problems? How does she argue we should reconceptualise work?
    5. Why does the author refer to traditionally female work as “invisible”?
    Week 6. Class, Race, and the Work Ethic
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Shelby, Tommie. Justice, Work, and the Ghetto Poor
    2012, The Law and Ethics of Human Rights. 6 (1): 69-96
    Excerpts. Introduction, pp.71-72; Section VI through Conclusion, pp. 86-96
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In view of the explanatory significance of joblessness, some social scientists, policymakers, and commentators have advocated strong measures to ensure that the ghetto poor work, including mandating work as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. Indeed, across the ideological political spectrum, work is often seen as a moral or civic duty and as a necessary basis for personal dignity. And this normative stance is now instantiated in federal and state law, from the tax scheme to public benefits. This Article reflects critically on this new regime of work. I ask whether the normative principles to which its advocates typically appeal actually justify the regime. I conclude that the case for a pro tanto moral or civic duty to work is not as strong as many believe and that there are reasonable responses to joblessness that do not involve instituting a work regime. However, even if we grant that there is a duty to work, I maintain that the ghetto poor would not be wronging their fellow citizens were they to choose not to work and to rely on public funds for material support. In fact, I argue that many among the black urban poor have good reasons to refuse to work. Throughout, I emphasize what too few advocates of the new work regime do, namely, that whether work is an obligation depends crucially on whether background social conditions within the polity are just.

    Comment: This text is useful for several reasons. First, it introduces an argument examining a civic obligation to work; second, it discusses that obligation in relation to structural injustices regarding socio-economic and racial inequality. It can be used to discuss the intersection of these topics more generally, or to further discuss philosophical questions concerning who should have access to good work and why.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the author’s main aim in this article?
    2. Does the author assume there exists a civic obligation to work? On what grounds? Do you agree or disagree with this assumption?
    3. What are some reasons, according to the author, for which the ghetto poor may reasonably refuse to work but which could be altered by small structural changes to American society? How does the author think these reasons could be addressed or resolved?
    4. What are the three major objections to a pro tanto civic obligation to work that the author presents? How does the author think these could be addressed or resolved?
    5. Do you think that these major objections are enough to override a pro tanto obligation to work?
    Full text Read free
    Rose, Mike. Blue Collar Brilliance: Questioning Assumptions About Intelligence, Work, and Social Class
    2009, The American Scholar. 78 (3): 43-49
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Intelligence is closely associated with formal education - the type of schooling a person has, how much and how long - and most people seem to move comfortably from that notion to a belief that work requiring less schooling requires less intelligence. These assumptions run through our cultural history, from the post-Revolutionary War period, when mechanics were characterized by political rivals as illiterate and therefore incapable of participating in government, until today. More than once I've heard a manager label his workers as "a bunch of dummies." Generalizations about intelligence, work, and social class deeply affect our assumptions about ourselves and each other, guiding the ways we use our minds to learn, build knowledge, solve problems, and make our way through the world.

    Comment: This text is included because while written in a lay style and directed at non-academic readers, it still presents a philosophically interesting argument which challenges the normative assumptions that are often held about 'blue collar' work and professions. The text is therefore useful to raise questions about normative attitudes towards work ethic and work competance, especially as it falls along socio-economic class lines, and their implications for social justice.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What basic assumptions about work and intelligence is Rose attempting to challenge in this essay?
    2. What values are tradtionally associated with the working class, according to the author? Can you list any that he does not mention?
    3. What are some cultural or conceptual reasons, according to Rose, why we might associate working class jobs with low intelligence, lack of cleverness, etc.?
    4. What are some examples – involving verbal, mathematical, or physical skills – that the author raises to counter these long held cultural assumptions?
    5. What might be the value of subverting or challenging these basic assumptions? How could it help us create a fairer, more just system of work?
    Week 7. Political and Social Implications
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Estlund, Cynthia. Working Together: Crossing Color Lines at Work
    2005, Labor History. 46 (1):79-98
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Amidst signs of declining social capital, the typical workplace is a hotbed of sociability and cooperation. And in a still-segregated society, the workplace is where adults are most likely to interact across color lines. The convergence of close interaction and some racial diversity makes the workplace a crucial institution within a diverse democratic society. Paradoxically, the involuntariness of workplace associations—the compulsion of economic necessity, of managerial authority, and of law—helps to facilitate constructive interaction among diverse co-workers. Where racial diversity is a fact of organizational life (and the law can help to make it so), then employers and workers have their own powerful reasons—psychological and economic—to make those relationships constructive, even amicable. I contend here that it is where we are compelled to get along, and not where we choose to do so, that we can best advance the project of racial integration.

    Comment: This text raises interesting questions about the relationship between diverse workplaces and democratic practices, and in particular, makes an interesting argument about the implications for racial integration. It can therefore be used to prompt students to think generally about democratic political structures, citizenship, and equality, while also encouraging discussion in particular about the role that work plays in promoting good civic practices.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are the author’s main claims in this article?
    2. What are some of the reasons why diversity can be good for communities?
    3. What two propositions about the workplace does Estlund make before beginning her argument? Do you agree or disagree with these fundamental assumptions?
    4. What are some of the social benefits of work – the benefits of connectedness – that Estlund identifies?
    5. Why does Estlund think that the workplace presents a unique location for integration?
    6. What does Estlund argue are some of the consequences and social implications of racially diverse workplaces?
    7. What are some of the challenges still present in racially diverse workplaces?
    8. What are some of the political implications of diverse workplaces for democracy? What are some suggestions Estlund offers for how to promote or protect diversity in the workplace? Are there any ideas you might add?


Sex, What Is It Good For?

Expand entry

by Emma Holmes, David MacDonald, Yichi Zhang, and Samuel Dando-Moore
Funded by: The School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies, University of St Andrews


This Blueprint is about the ethics of sex and the place of sex in our lives. We explore consent, desire, love, and responsibility. We hope it will help participants to delve deeper into well-known concepts, like consent, as well as to explore issues relating to sex they might not have considered before.

How to use this Blueprint?

This Blueprint features one main reading per week, accompanied by some further readings. The questions refer to the main readings, but your understanding will be enriched by exploring the other sources.

We suggest you spend a session before you start reading, having some preliminary discussions. This would include:

  • General content warnings for the group, which include discussions of unwanted and forced sexual interactions, personal identity where relevant for sexual consent (e.g. trauma experience, mental health, LGBT+ membership, ethnic or racial identity).
  • Making sure everyone is aware of the available support at your university/school/community in case the discussion causes emotional difficulties of any sort.
  • Collectively setting rules for how the discussions should go.
  • Researching the university/school/community’s policies about sex as well as the laws where you are.
  • Discussion of meaning of morally charged terminology such as “rape”, and how giving definitions might be complicated.
  • Discussion of what participants already know and hope to learn from the group.


    Week 1. Consent

    This week tackles a core question: what is consent? This is an important building block for most of the topics we will go on to cover and a central concept in ethical and legal discussions of sex.

    On DRL Full text Read free
    Alexander, Larry, Hurd, Heidi, Westen, Peter. Consent Does Not Require Communication: A Reply to Dougherty
    2016, Law and Philosophy. 35: 655-660.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Tom Dougherty argues that consenting, like promising, requires both an appropriate mental attitude and a communication of that attitude.Thus, just as a promise is not a promise unless it is communicated to the promisee, consent is not consent unless it is communicated to the relevant party or parties. And those like us, who believe consent is just the attitude, and that it can exist without its being communicated, are in error. Or so Dougherty argues. We, however, are unpersuaded. We believe Dougherty is right about promises, but wrong about consent. Although each of us gives a slightly different account of the attitude that constitutes consent, we all agree that consent is constituted by that attitude and need not be communicated in order to alter the morality of another’s conduct.

    Comment: The authors argue that consent is an attitude, rather than an act of communication. They give two examples to support this view where the communication of consent doesn’t occur or goes wrong somehow, but nonetheless (they claim) it is intuitively a consensual interaction.

    On DRL Full text Read free
    Jenkins Ichikawa, Jonathan. Presupposition and Consent
    2020, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly. 6(4).
    Further Reading
    Expand entry
    Abstract: I argue that “consent” language presupposes that the contemplated action is or would be at someone else’s behest. When one does something for another reason—for example, when one elects independently to do something, or when one accepts an invitation to do something—it is linguistically inappropriate to describe the actor as “consenting” to it; but it is also inappropriate to describe them as “not consenting” to it. A consequence of this idea is that “consent” is poorly suited to play its canonical central role in contemporary sexual ethics. But this does not mean that nonconsensual sex can be morally permissible. Consent language, I’ll suggest, carries the conventional presupposition that that which is or might be consented to is at someone else’s behest. One implication will be a new kind of support for feminist critiques of consent theory in sexual ethics.

    Comment: Here Ichikawa argues that the language of "consent" to sex presupposes that there is a 'requester' who asks for sex and a 'consenter' who then replies yes or no. Ichikawa argues that this reinforces sexist norms of how sex works.

    On DRL Full text
    Hurd, Heidi. The Moral Magic of Consent
    1996, Legal Theory 2(2): 121-146.
    Further Reading
    Expand entry
    Abstract: We regularly wield powers that, upon close scrutiny, appear remarkably magical. By sheer exercise of will, we bring into existence things that have never existed before. With but a nod, we effect the disappearance of things that have long served as barriers to the actions of others. And, by mere resolve, we generate things that pose significant obstacles to others' exercise of liberty. What is the nature of these things that we create and destroy by our mere decision to do so? The answer: the rights and obligations of others. And by what seemingly magical means do we alter these rights and obligations? By making promises and issuing or revoking consent When we make promises, we generate obligations for ourselves, and when we give consent, we create rights for others. Since the rights and obligations that are affected by means of promising and consenting largely define the boundaries of permissible action, our exercise of these seemingly magical powers can significantly affect the lives and liberties of others

    Comment: Good introduction to the topic of consent as it makes clear both how strange it is as a power and how pervasive it is in our moral practices. Goes on to provide an interesting argument for consent as a subjective mental state and offers an account of what that might be. Could support a lecture or seminar on consent, or would make good further reading if the topic is only touched on briefly.

    Study Questions

    1. What is “wanting” to have sex (in the sense that is relevant for consent)? Is it a desire, impulse, decision, or something else?
    2. Is it possible to consent to sex while communicating to your partner that you don’t consent?
    3. Is it possible to lie about whether you consent (or don’t consent) to sex?
    4. If consent is an attitude, do we always know whether we consent to sex?
    5. Is communication necessary for consent? Does the fact that Jane and Jim don’t talk at all about whether Jim can come to the party undermine their view that he comes to the party with Jane’s consent?
    Week 2. Lies and Disclosure

    This topic investigates the relationship between consent and lying or deceiving. We will ask when a lie renders sex non-consensual, or otherwise unethical, and why. We aim to build on the understanding of consent built in the previous week and use it to work out difficult questions about deceit and consent.

    Full text Read free
    Dougherty, Tom. Sex, Lies, and Consent
    2013, Ethics, 123(4): 717-744.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: How wrong is it to deceive someone into sex by lying, say, about one’s profession? The answer is seriously wrong when the liar’s actual profession would be a deal breaker for the victim of the deception: this deception vitiates the victim’s sexual consent, and it is seriously wrong to have sex with someone while lacking his or her consent.

    Comment: Dougherty argues that if something is a ‘deal-breaker’ for someone’s sexual consent - for example, they will only have sex if their partner is not a soldier - and their partner lies about it, then the sex they have is seriously wrong, because it is non-consensual. The argument goes like this: 1. It is seriously wrong to have non-consensual sex with someone because of their right to bodily autonomy - they should be able to decide when they want to have sex for any reason they choose. 2. When someone is deceived about one of their deal-breakers, they would not have consented to having sex if they had known the truth, so they haven’t really been able to make the decision for themselves about the sex they would actually be having. Therefore, sex when someone is deceived about a deal-breaker is seriously wrong. Dougherty spends the most time arguing for 2 - that deceit about deal-breakers renders sex non-consensual.

    Full text
    Fischel, Joseph J.. Screw Consent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice
    2019, University of California Press.
    Further Reading: Chapter 3, 'The Trouble with Transgender "Rapists"'
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Joseph J. Fischel argues that the consent paradigm, while necessary for effective sexual assault law, diminishes and perverts our ideas about desire, pleasure, and injury. In addition to the criticisms against consent levelled by feminist theorists of earlier generations, Fischel elevates three more: consent is insufficient, inapposite, and riddled with scope contradictions for regulating and imagining sex. Fischel proposes instead that sexual justice turns more productively on concepts of sexual autonomy and access.

    Comment: This reading documents a troubling implication of certain views about consent and deceit so is useful for a real-life application of the debate.

    On DRL Full text Read free
    Tilton, Emily, Jenkins Ichikawa, Jonathan. Not What I Agreed To: Content and Consent
    2021, Ethics, 132(1): 127-154.
    Further Reading
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Deception sometimes results in nonconsensual sex. A recent body of literature diagnoses such violations as invalidating consent: the agreement is not morally transformative, which is why the sexual contact is a rights violation. We pursue a different explanation for the wrongs in question: there is valid consent, but it is not consent to the sex act that happened. Semantic conventions play a key role in distinguishing deceptions that result in nonconsensual sex (like stealth condom removal) from those that don’t (like white lies). Our framework is also applicable to more controversial cases, like those implicated in so-called “gender fraud” complaints.

    Comment: Tilton and Ichikawa attempt to work out what goes wrong in certain deception cases but not in others. This is useful as a reply to Dougherty's argument that sex from deception is always morally serious and it engages with the issues Fischel raises around gender deception.

    Study Questions

    1. Can sexual deception ever be innocuous? What sort of lies seem alright? 
    2. Stealthing is the practice of one partner secretly removing the condom from their penis without telling their partner during sex. Brosky (2017) asks: is stealthing only as bad as secretly putting on a condom when someone has said they don’t want to use one? If it is not as bad as stealthing, does this tell us that what is really going wrong in deception cases is the harm?
    3. Are there things that we ought to disclose before having sex just in case it is a deal-breaker for someone? Is it only if the “deal-breaker” has been made explicit?
    4. What are the difficulties in a legal response to consent and deceit? 5. What if I know someone will lie to me and I want to have sex with them anyway? Is that sex non-consensual?
    5. Is it really true that having sex with an unconscious person and deceiving someone into sex are wrong “for the same reason”, as Dougherty claims?
    6. Fischel (2019) documents how trans people have been prosecuted in the UK for failing to disclose to sexual partners that they are transgender. Are these cases different to the others (such as stealthing), as Fischel claims they are?
    7. Fischel replies that in these cases what is lied about is “bullshit” – questions like “are you a man?” are “bullshit questions” because of the differing social meanings these terms can have. Are these “bullshit questions”? Are there any “bullshit questions” when it comes to sexual consent?
    Week 3. 'Bad' Desires

    This week concerns whether fantasies, desires, or sexual preferences can be morally or politically ‘bad’ and, if so, what someone can and should do when they have such a desire. In the reading for this week, Bartky is focused on masochistic sexual desires, which she thinks are sometimes at odds with feminist beliefs. Other examples might be: sadistic desires; racial fetishes or preferences (only or especially being attracted to people of a certain race); only finding certain conventionally beautiful bodies attractive; and so on. Is there anything troubling about these desires? If there is, what is to be done?

    On DRL Full text
    Bartky, Sandra Lee. Femininity and Domination
    1990, Routledge.
    Feminine Masochism and the Politics of Personal Transformation, pp. 45-62.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Bartky draws on the experience of daily life to unmask the many disguises by which intimations of inferiority are visited upon women. She critiques both the male bias of current theory and the debilitating dominion held by notions of "proper femininity" over women and their bodies in patriarchal culture.

    Comment: Chapter 4 is about what a feminist should do when they have a sexual desire which is in tension with their feminist beliefs in a way that makes them feel ashamed. There are two natural choices: to give up the shame and continue to have the desire, or to give up the desire. Bartky examines both of these choices and finds us in a tricky situation: it is sometimes apt and understandable to feel shame about a sexual desire (when it really is in tension with your principles), but she is sceptical about the view that we can change our desires at will or with therapy.

    On DRL Full text Read free
    Zheng, Robin. Why Yellow Fever Isn’t Flattering: A Case Against Racial Fetishes
    2016, Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 2(3): 400 - 419.
    Further Reading
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Most discussions of racial fetish center on the question of whether it is caused by negative racial stereotypes. In this paper I adopt a different strategy, one that begins with the experiences of those targeted by racial fetish rather than those who possess it; that is, I shift focus away from the origins of racial fetishes to their effects as a social phenomenon in a racially stratified world. I examine the case of preferences for Asian women, also known as ‘yellow fever’, to argue against the claim that racial fetishes are unobjectionable if they are merely based on personal or aesthetic preference rather than racial stereotypes. I contend that even if this were so, yellow fever would still be morally objectionable because of the disproportionate psychological burdens it places on Asian and Asian-American women, along with the role it plays in a pernicious system of racial social meanings.

    Comment: Zheng argues that some sexual desires are morally problematic - namely, racial fetishes. Some people defend racial fetishes by claiming they are mere aesthetic preferences, lacking racist content or origins. Zheng responds that they are objectionable regardless because of their role in the sexual objectification of certain racial groups. This is useful as a case study of a "bad" desire: is it really bad? What is bad about it? Can someone change it?

    On DRL Full text
    Willis, Ellen. Toward a Feminist Sexual Revolution
    1982, Social Text, 6: 3-21.
    Further Reading
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In this essay I argue that a sexual liberationist perspective is essential to a genuinely radical analysis of women's condition. Much of my argument centers on the psychosexual dynamics of the family, where children first experience both sexism and sexual repression. This discussion refers primarily to the family as it exists - actually and ideologically - for the dominant cultures of modern industrial societies. Clearly, to extend my focus backward to feudal societies or outward to the Third World would require (at the very least) a far longer, more complex article. I strongly suspect, however, that in its fundamentals the process of sexual acculturation I describe here is common to all historical (i.e., patriarchal) societies.

    Comment: Willis describes the double binds women are in: between being too good – boring, frigid, a sexual failure, a cold bitch – and being bad – easy, insatiable, demanding. Willis argues that the only way to solve this is to end the association between sex and badness. This presents an answer to Bartky's dilemma: we should choose to eradicate sexual shame, rather than our desires.

    Study Questions

    1. Is there anything wrong with having masochistic sexual desires? Does it depend on who has them and their social context? Does sadomasochism challenge or reinforce any sexual norms? (Does it create new sexual norms?)
    2. Are there unobjectionable sexual desires?
    3. Should we only be concerned with reality and not with fantasy?
    4. Is consent legitimate if your desires have been shaped by an oppressive society?
    5. Can you really be an advocate of sexual freedom while morally critiqueing sexual desires as Bartky does?
    6. Are there other “bad” desires (e.g. racial fetishes, sadistic desires, restrictive beauty conventions,…)?
    7. Can people change their desires generally? Can they change their sexual desires?
    8. Is there anything worrying about a movement calling for people to change their sexual preferences?
    9. Are getting rid of the desire and getting rid of the shame our only two options, as Bartky claims?
    Week 4. Sex, Desire and Love

    Proust’s The Captive and The Fugitive explore the complex relationship between sex, desire, and love in intimate relationships and shows how the boundary between sexual and romantic desire is often unclear. This session seeks to use the novel to explore questions about love, sex, and jealousy; as well as how the use of different artistic mediums affects our understanding of these issues.

    Full text Read free
    Proust, Marcel. In Search of the Lost Time, vol. 5, The Captive.
    1929, Various editions. Moncrieff, C.K. Scott and Kilmartin, Terence (trans).
    From the paragraph starting 'No doubt, in the first days at Balbec' until 'These means of action are not wanting, alas!' (pp. 58-82 in the Read Free copy PDF conversion)
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Proust’s main character in the book, the narrator, lives with his major love interest, Albertine, in a Paris apartment during this time. He falls in love with her but is constantly tormented by her due to his jealousy. He suspects and accuses Albertine has other same-sex lovers. The volume’s name refers to how he wants to keep Albertine to himself, but she keeps trying (and eventually succeeds in) running away from him.

    Comment: In the excerpt, the narrator talks about his feelings for Albertine. Sentiments such as sexual desire, love, jealousy, and obsession intertwine, forming a vivid image of a possessive and miserable lover. One highlight of this part is him looking at Albertine sleeping. (See the interpretation of choreographer Roland Petit with the same excerpt/chapter ‘Look at her sleeping’.) To a large extent, this excerpt is also representative of the same mentality expressed throughout the entire book. NOTE: As the book has multiple editions, it is impossible to indicate the page range. The range listed above refers to the linked free e-book copy. The e-book itself doesn't have page numbers, but it can be converted to a PDF online and then it will.

    Petit, Roland. Looking at her sleeping
    2007, Harmonia Mundi.
    Further Materials
    Expand entry
    Abstract: A contemporary dance piece performed by Paris Opera Ballet.

    Comment: By showing body movements of love and sexual desire, this clip would provide an representation of the embodied dimension of Proust’s emotional and sexual rumination. We can learn from it that it will be partial understanding if we only describe, analyse and debate sex topics in a dryly manner within academia.

    Full text
    Luhmann, Niklas. Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy
    1987, Harvard University Press.
    Further Reading. Chapter 11, 'The Incorporation of Sexuality'
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Niklas Luhmann is one of the greatest of contemporary social theorists, and his ultimate aim is to develop a conceptual vocabulary supple enough to capture what he sees as the unprecedented structural characteristics of society since the eighteenth century. Ours is a society in which individuals can determine their own sense of self and function rather than have that predetermined by the strict hierarchy of former times, and a key element in the modern sense of individuality is our concept of love, marriage, and lasting personal relationships. This book takes us back to when passionate love took place exclusively outside of marriage, and Luhmann shows by lively references to social customs and literature how a language and code of behavior were developed so that notions of love and intimacy could be made the essential components of married life. This intimacy and privacy made possible by a social arrangement in which home is where the heart is provides the basis for a society of individuals—the foundation for the structure of modern life. Love is now declared to be unfathomable and personal, yet we love and suffer—as Luhmann shows—according to cultural imperatives. People working in a variety of fields should find this book of major interest. Social scientists will be intrigued by Luhmann’s original and provocative insights into the nature of modern marriage and sexuality, and by the presentation of his theories in concrete, historical detail. His work should also be capital for humanists, since Luhmann’s concern throughout is to develop a semantics for passionate love by means of extensive references to literary texts of the modern period. In showing our moral life in the process of revising itself, he thereby sheds much light on the development of drama and the novel in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    Comment: What is the difference between friendship and passionate love? By analysing history of European literature, Luhmann proposes a history of evolving emotional, intimate and conversational systems. This adds to the main reading in discussing nuances between relationships.

    Study Questions

    1. Can you think of any important ethical effects of jealousy? What does the novel have to say about the potential ethical upshots of jealousy?
    2. How does sexual desire function in the narrator’s relationship in the chapter?
    3. How do you feel about the same portrayal with different mediums, one with words (the novel), and the other with body movement (the dance)?
    4. How do we write about and analyse the subjective experience of desire and love?
    5. What is the relationship between love and sex?
    6. Does the interconnectedness of sex, love, and desire have implications for the morality of some types of sexual interaction? Is it harder or easier to work out if sex is consensual when love is also present?
    Week 5. Responsibility

    This week seeks to explore an alternative view of how consent works in sexual morality: the relational view. Focusing on Quill Kukla’s 2021 paper, the intended outcome of this session is to allow participants to discuss how much care and attention one owes one’s sexual partners. This revolves around questions of how an individual’s characteristics affect how they consent, and how much others will need to construct a positive environment for this consent to function best. Example included in the paper are women’s ability to consent to sex with men being undermined by sexism, and people with memory loss’s ability to consent being undermined by their own capabilities, or lack thereof. The aim of this week is to ask what people can do to ensure other’s consent is looked after, and when (if ever) we can say that an individual cannot consent to sex at all.

    On DRL Full text Read free
    Kukla, Quill R.. A Nonideal Theory of Sexual Consent
    2021, Ethics, 131(2): 270-292.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Our autonomy can be compromised by limitations in our capacities, or by the power relationships within which we are embedded. If we insist that real consent requires full autonomy, then virtually no sex will turn out to be consensual. I argue that under conditions of compromised autonomy, consent must be socially and interpersonally scaffolded. To understand consent as an ethically crucial but nonideal concept, we need to think about how it is related to other requirements for ethical sex, such as the ability to exit a situation, trust, safety, broader social support, epistemic standing in the community, and more.

    Comment: Kukla uses this paper to describe a view of consent which is relational. This means that rather than asking questions about what each person individually consented to or not, the question is how the people having sex communicated. If they communicate sufficiently well then the sex is consensual, and if they do not it is not. We can use this to challenge a view of consent which has been implicit in most of the readings so far. This paper is used to discuss blameworthiness and responsibility for wrongful sex, and to ask questions about what the real world obligations of agents are, given their lack of complete information

    Full text Read free
    Dougherty, Tom. Affirmative Consent and Due Diligence
    2018, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 46(1)
    Further Reading
    Expand entry
    Summary: This paper tries to answer the problem of the moral luck of sex. It uses examples of conduct where the responsible agent fails to check properly for consent, and asks how much of a difference it makes whether their partner considers themselves to have consented or not. It concludes that there are two different obligations: one to conduct due dilligence to ascertain the prescence of valid consent and other to refrian from non-consensual sex.

    Comment: This paper provides an alternative answer to how to determine individual responsibility to Kukla, Quill R. (2018) 'A Nonideal Theory of Sexual Consent'.

    Study Questions

    1. How would mental illhealth (e.g. disability: ADHD, or Dementia; Illness: Anxiety, Depression, trauma experience or PTSD) affect one’s ability to consent to sex freely and how, if possible, could one skaffold the consent of a mentally ill partner?
    2. What do you think about Kukla’s example of sex in residential care for elderly people? Is it possible to have morally good sex in this situation?
    3. Is it possible to scaffold an unknown persons’s consent enough to be sure the sex is consensual on a one-night-stand under Kukla’s view?
    4. Does Kukla’s “relational” view of consent or Dougherty’s “Intentional” view explain sexual consent better?
    5. Does a requirement for an “enthusiastic Yes” that many university sexual consent campaigns focus on cover the issues in Kukla’s paper sufficiently?
    Week 6. Sex Work and a Caribbean Case Study

    This week aims to use research about the history of sex work and its perceptions in the Caribbean to explore questions of what counts as sex work, how sex work is viewed, what sex work is like, and the ethics of sex work in light of our discussions in previous weeks. 

    On DRL Full text
    Kempadoo, Kamala. Sexing the Caribbean: Gender, Race and Sexual Labour
    2004, Routledge.
    Chapter 3, 'Sex, Work, Gifts, and Money: Prostitution and other Sexual-Economic Transactions', pp. 53-87
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: This unprecedented work provides both the history of sex work in this region as well as an examination of current-day sex tourism. Based on interviews with sex workers, brothel owners, local residents and tourists, Kamala Kempadoo offers a vivid account of what life is like in the world of sex tourism as well as its entrenched roots in colonialism and slavery in the Caribbean.

    Comment: Chapter 3 is about the perceptions of sex as transactional in the Caribbean and how the definition of "prostitution" has shifted over time. It details how sex work is organised, both in brothels and in other establishments, such as hotels, nightclubs, etc. It explores the experiences and feelings of women who have experiences of various kinds of transactional sex. This chapter can be used as a case study which allows the reader to explore sex work through a variety of lenses: its interaction with broader social issues like racism and poverty; the place of transactions and intimacy in sex and sex work; sexual norms and the social meanings of sexual relationships; and freedom and choice when engaging in sex and sex work.

    Study Questions

    1. What is the social impact or function of sex work? What is the difference between it, concubinage, and marriage? How did it change over time?
    2. “Sex workers stress the possibility of finding tenderness and sexual pleasure for herself or himself.” What do we think of the possibility of transactional and intimate sex (or generally non-romantic sex)? Does this have any implications for whether sex work can be fulfilling or non-exploitative work?
    3. “In Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Belize, and Cartagena, various parts of the body are defined as off-limits to the client, commonly a woman’s breasts and lips.” They’re reserved for a romantic partner or spouse. Are there any aspects of sex which we find inappropriate for a transactional interaction? Does the fact that the intimate parts are “off limit” affect what you think of the sex work?
    4. What counts as sex work as opposed to merely someone having sex for materialistic benefit? What is the difference between paying for sex and giving a “gift” for sex? Can we describe ‘mistresses’ as prostitutes, when their primary motivation for being in the arrangement is to gain materialistic benefits?
    5. How do gender and race affect the definition and social effects of sex work?
    Week 7. Sexual Planning and Sexual Promises

    This week aims to use previous weeks’ analysis of the general conditions under which sex is morally permissible and apply it to a specific case. The case of promising challenges our intuitions about communication, responsibility for others, and other consent concepts. This leads to asking whether sex is fundamentally different from other actions, and if it is what the previous moral and social concepts discussed mean for whether sexual promises can be permissibly made.

    On DRL Full text Read free
    Liberto, Hallie. The Problem with Sexual Promises
    2017, Ethics, 127(2): 383-414.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: I first distinguish promises with positive sexual content (e.g., promises to perform sexual acts) and promises with negative sexual content (e.g., promises to refrain from sexual acts—as one does when making monogamy promises). I argue that sexual content—even positive sexual content—does not cause a promise to misfire. However, the content of some successful promises is such that a promisee ought not to accept the promise, and, if she does accept, she ought then to release her promisor from the promise. I argue that both positive and negative sexual promises have content of this kind.

    Comment: Liberto argues that promises to have sex, and promises not to have sex, are a special type of promise that it is morally wrong to make. She does this by first arguing why promises to have sex are “overextensive”. This means that sexual promises promise something too important: sex. After she concludes that promises to have sex are overextensive she spends the second half of the paper arguing why promises not to have sex (i.e. monogmany promises) are not disanalogous to promises to have sex, and thus are also overextensive.

    Study Questions

    1. Can promises to have, or not have, sex ever be morally binding?
    2. Is Jane obliged to have sex with John if he wins the football game?
    3. Is it permissible to hold your partner to being monogamous?
    4. Is there an important difference between making a binding plan to have sex and making a binding promise to have sex?


Philosopher Queens: Women in Philosophy and the History of Exclusion

Expand entry

by Rebecca Buxton (with thanks to Alix Dietzel)


Women have historical been excluded from the traditional canon of philosophy. This reading group aims to help students think through, first, why such exclusion as taken place and, second, to think about what ought to be done to remedy it. The reading list is therefore divided into two sections. The first two weeks focus on the deconstruction and reconstruction of the traditional canon; thinking about the exclusion of women and other marginalised groups, and then attending to the process of reconstruction (or abolition). The final six weeks of the course focus on individual women philosophers. This is (obviously) nowhere near exhaustive. But it provides a basic starting point for those wanting to read more women philosophers.

The Book

This Blueprint is based around an excellent introductory book co-edited by the author, titled: Philosopher Queens: The lives and legacies of philosophy’s unsung women. We will read some sections from it, but we recommend the entire book, of course! Here is what the publisher has to say about it:

The history of philosophy has not done women justice: you’ve probably heard the names Plato, Kant, Nietzsche and Locke – but what about Hypatia, Arendt, Oluwole and Young? The Philosopher Queens is a long-awaited book about the lives and works of women in philosophy by women in philosophy. This collection brings to centre stage twenty prominent women whose ideas have had a profound – but for the most part uncredited – impact on the world. You’ll learn about Ban Zhao, the first woman historian in ancient Chinese history; Angela Davis, perhaps the most iconic symbol of the American Black Power Movement; Azizah Y. al-Hibri, known for examining the intersection of Islamic law and gender equality; and many more. For anyone who has wondered where the women philosophers are, or anyone curious about the history of ideas – it’s time to meet the philosopher queens. 


    Week 1. Exclusion from the Canon
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Haslanger, Sally. Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)
    2007, Hypatia, 23 (2): 210–23.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: There is a deep well of rage inside of me. Rage about how I as an individual have been treated in philosophy; rage about how others I know have been treated; and rage about the conditions that I'm sure affect many women and minorities in philosophy, and have caused many others to leave. Most of the time I suppress this rage and keep it sealed away. Until I came to MIT in 1998, I was in a constant dialogue with myself about whether to quit philosophy, even give up tenure, to do something else. In spite of my deep love for philosophy, it just didn't seem worth it. And I am one of the very lucky ones, one of the ones who has been successful by the dominant standards of the profession. Whatever the numbers say about women and minorities in philosophy, numbers don't begin to tell the story. Things may be getting better in some contexts, but they are far from acceptable.

    Comment: In her 2007 paper, Haslanger sets out the situation of women in philosophy with a particular focus on instutional academic settings. This paper discusses how women are excluded from philosophy (both contemporary and historical) as well as thinking about disciplnary boundaries: why is it that feminist philosophy is not often thought of as 'real' philosophy?

    Discussion Questions

    1. How does Haslanger’s empirical data compare with how things are today?
    2. Has the position of women in philosophy improved over the last ten years?
    3. Do you agree that the exclusion of women from the history of philosophy is partly to do with disciplinary boundaries?
    4. Why is it that women are not being published in top academic philosophy journals at the same rate as men?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Waithe, Mary Ellen. Sex, Lies, and Bigotry: The Canon of Philosophy
    2020, In Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir and Ruth Edith Hagengruber (eds.), Methodological Reflections on Women’s Contribution and Influence in the History of Philosophy, Springer International Publishing.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In “Sex, Lies, and Bigotry: The Canon of Philosophy” I explore several questions: What does it mean for our understanding of the history of philosophy that women philosophers have been left out and are now being retrieved? What kind of a methodology of the history of philosophy does the recovery of women philosophers imply? Whether and how excluded women philosophers have been included in philosophy? Whether and how feminist philosophy and the history of women philosophers are related? I also explore the questions “Are there any themes or arguments that are common to many women philosophers?” and “Does inclusion of women in the canon require a reconfiguration of philosophical inquiry?” I argue that it is either ineptness or simple bigotry that led most historians of philosophy to intentionally omit women’s contributions from their histories and that such failure replicated itself in the university curricula of recent centuries and can be remedied by suspending for the next two centuries the teaching of men’s contributions to the discipline and teaching works by women only. As an alternative to this drastic and undoubtedly unpopular solution, I propose expanding the length and number of courses in the philosophy curriculum to include discussion of women’s contributions.

    Comment: In this scathing chapter, Waithe argues that people who have left women out of the history of philosophy are either inempt of bigoted. Rather than being an accidental fact of women's general exclusion, she argues that women philosophers have been ignored intentionally.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Why have women been historically excluded from the philosophical canon?
    2. What is the ‘traditional canon’ in philosophy and is it useful?
    3. Do you agree with Waithe that, rather than remaking the traditional philosophical canon, we should simply ecpand it?
    4. What are the dangers of this approach?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Llanera, Tracy. The Brown Babe’s Burden
    2019, Hypatia, 34 (2): 374–83.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In this paper Tracy Llanera relects on her experience as a non-white academic in an Australian university, recounting personal experiences. Many of these highlight the importance of an intersectional approach to the inclusion of women in philosophy. Llanera highlights the ongoing importance of mentorship and representation concluding that there is much more work to be done.

    Comment: Tracy Llanera discusses her personal experience as a non-white woman in philosophy. There is much to learn from this piece, most importantly the need for an intersectional approach. Focusing on the personal experience of women (as we also see in other pieces) is necessary to understand the whole picture of contemporary exclusion.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How could the inclusion of women in philosophy be more intersectional?
    2. What lessons can we learn from Llanera’s personal experience?
    Week 2. Recreating the Canon
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Hutchings, Kimberley, Owens, Patricia. Women Thinkers and the Canon of International Thought: Recovery, Rejection, and Reconstitution
    2021, American Political Science Review, 115 (2): 347–59.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Canons of intellectual “greats” anchor the history and scope of academic disciplines. Within international relations (IR), such a canon emerged in the mid-twentieth century and is almost entirely male. Why are women thinkers absent from IR’s canon? We show that it is not due to a lack of international thought, or that this thought fell outside established IR theories. Rather it is due to the gendered and racialized selection and reception of work that is deemed to be canonical. In contrast, we show what can be gained by reclaiming women’s international thought through analyses of three intellectuals whose work was authoritative and influential in its own time or today. Our findings question several of the basic premises underpinning IR’s existing canon and suggest the need for a new research agenda on women international thinkers as part of a fundamental rethinking of the history and scope of the discipline.

    Comment: In this paper, Hutchings and Owens put forward a new research agenda for women's international thought. This can help us to think though how new canon's might be created or transformed. The paper therefore begins to project of bringing women back into intellectual history.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Hutchings and Owens propose a new way forward for thinking about women’s international thought. Do you find this compelling?
    2. Hutchings and Owens discuss the gendered and racialised reception of work. How might this be overcome?
    On DRL Full text
    Tyson, Sarah. Where Are the Women? Why Expanding the Archive Makes Philosophy Better
    2018, Columbia University Press.
    Introduction, xiii-xxviii
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Philosophy has not just excluded women. It has also been shaped by the exclusion of women. As the field grapples with the reality that sexism is a central problem not just for the demographics of the field but also for how philosophy is practiced, many philosophers have begun to rethink the canon. Yet attempts to broaden European and Anglophone philosophy to include more women in the discipline’s history or to acknowledge alternative traditions will not suffice as long as exclusionary norms remain in place. In Where Are the Women?, Sarah Tyson makes a powerful case for how redressing women’s exclusion can make philosophy better. She argues that engagements with historical thinkers typically afforded little authority can transform the field, outlining strategies based on the work of three influential theorists: Genevieve Lloyd, Luce Irigaray, and Michèle Le Doeuff. Following from the possibilities they open up, at once literary, linguistic, psychological, and political, Tyson reclaims two passionate nineteenth-century texts―the Declaration of Sentiments from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and Sojourner Truth’s speech at the 1851 Akron, Ohio, Women’s Convention―showing how the demands for equality, rights, and recognition sought in the early women’s movement still pose quandaries for contemporary philosophy, feminism, and politics. Where Are the Women? challenges us to confront the reality that women’s exclusion from philosophy has been an ongoing project and to become more critical both of how we see existing injustices and of how we address them.

    Comment: In her book, Tyson discusses why it is valuable recognise the contributions of women philosophers, arguing that their lost contributions have the potential to transform the current field. This opens up interesting questions about the value of representation and how we ought to approach campaigning for the inclusion of women.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Should we focus on the contribution that women philosophers can make to the discipline? 
    2. What is the value of representation among philosophers in the canon?
    3. Do you agree with Tyson that expanding the canon will make philosophy better?
    4. Do you think that, even if expanding the canon does not improve the discipline, we ought to do so anyway?
    Week 3. Hypatia
    Full text
    Whiting, Lisa. Hypatia
    2020, In: The Philosopher Queens: The Lives and Legacies of Philosophy's Unsung Women. Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting (eds.). Unbound.
    Expand entry

    Comment: A very clear and short introduction to Hypatia, her background, her mathematical works and her philosophical teachings. Whiting also offers a useful overview of the often misleading historiography on Hypatia as well as of 20th century feminist appeals to her character.

    Full text
    Watts, Edward. Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher
    2017, Oxford University Press.
    "A Philosophical Mother and Her Children", pp 63-78.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: A philosopher, mathematician, and martyr, Hypatia is one of antiquity's best-known female intellectuals. For the sixteen centuries following her murder by a mob of Christians Hypatia has been remembered in books, poems, plays, paintings, and films as a victim of religious intolerance whose death symbolized the end of the Classical world. But Hypatia was a person before she was a symbol. Her great skill in mathematics and philosophy redefined the intellectual life of her home city of Alexandria. Her talent as a teacher enabled her to assemble a circle of dedicated male students. Her devotion to public service made her a force for peace and good government in a city that struggled to maintain trust and cooperation between pagans and Christians. Despite these successes, Hypatia fought countless small battles to live the public and intellectual life that she wanted. This book rediscovers the life Hypatia led, the unique challenges she faced as a woman who succeeded spectacularly in a man's world, and the tragic story of the events that led to her murder.

    Comment: This books offers an deeper overview of Hypatia's life and work. In particular, it notes her political involvement and influences that she had on the city.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What did Hypatia mean by “breaking away from the world of matter”?
    2. What was the impact of Hypatia’s public philosophy and political activity?
    3. In what way is Hypatia’s execution comparable with Socrates’?
    Week 4. Mary Astell
    Full text
    Webb, Simone. Mary Astell
    2020, In: The Philosopher Queens: The Lives and Legacies of Philosophy's Unsung Women. Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting (eds.). Unbound.
    Expand entry

    Comment: Webb offers a clear summary of Astell's life and work, particularly her campaning on women's education. This can serve as an excellent introduction to Astell's famous text, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, as Webb offers some elements of context to understand what led Astell to write this text, as well as the paradoxical aspects of Astell's feminism.

    On DRL Full text
    Astell, Mary. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies: Parts I and II
    2002, Broadview Press
    Expand entry
    Publisher's Note: Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies is one of the most important and neglected works advocating the establishment of women's academies. Its reception was so controversial that Astell responded with a lengthy sequel, also in this volume. The cause of great notoriety, Astell's Proposal was imitated by Defoe in his "An Academy for Women," parodied in the Tatler, satirized on the stage, plagiarized by Bishop Berkeley, and later mocked by Gilbert and Sullivan in Princess Ida.

    Comment: This new edition by Patricia Springborg of Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies: Parts I and II includes helpful introductory material and explanatory annotations to Astell's text. Springborg's introduction places Astell's work in the context of the woman question and the debate over empirical rationalism in the eighteenth-century. Astell defends women-only education, arguing against the dangers of women failing to think for themselves. This text is good to use in an early modern course. It could also be considered in a course on feminist philosophy as an example of early feminist thought (predating Mary Wollstonecraft).

    Discussion Questions

    1. Why does Astell critique women’s ‘conduct books’?
    2. Astell does not argue that women and men are the same. What should we think about this claim?
    3. Is Astell concerns with the material position of women or their sense of self?
    4. How does Astell propose that women reclaim their autonomy?
    5. What benefits does Astell claim would stem from an all-women educational community?
    Week 5. The Oxford Four, a.k.a. The Wartime Quartet

    If you are interested in the work of Anscombe, Foot, Midgley and Murdoch, we have a whole Blueprint devoted to them! Find it here.

    Full text
    Robson, Ellie. Mary Midgley
    2020, In: The Philosopher Queens: The Lives and Legacies of Philosophy's Unsung Women. Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting (eds.). Unbound.
    Expand entry

    Comment: Robson offers an overview of the true breadth and holistic nature of Midgley's work, beyond the widely known aspects of her work such as her thoughts on animal ethics. As such it can serve as a great introduction to any of her works, from her ethics to her metaphilosophy.

    Full text
    Lipscomb, Benjamin J.B.. The Women are Up To Something
    2021, Oxford University Press
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: The story of four remarkable women who shaped the intellectual history of the 20th century: Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch. On the cusp of the Second World War, four women went to Oxford to begin their studies: a fiercely brilliant Catholic convert; a daughter of privilege longing to escape her stifling upbringing; an ardent Communist and aspiring novelist with a list of would-be lovers as long as her arm; and a quiet, messy lover of newts and mice who would become a great public intellectual of our time. They became lifelong friends. At the time, only a handful of women had ever made lives in philosophy. But when Oxford's men were drafted in the war, everything changed. As Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch labored to make a place for themselves in a male-dominated world, as they made friendships and families, and as they drifted toward and away from each other, they never stopped insisting that some lives are better than others. They argued that courage and discernment and justice—and love—are the heart of a good life. This book presents the first sustained engagement with these women's contributions: with the critique and the alternative they framed. Drawing on a cluster of recently opened archives and extensive correspondence and interviews with those who knew them best, Benjamin Lipscomb traces the lives and ideas of four friends who gave us a better way to think about ethics, and ourselves.

    Comment: This text discusses the lives and work of four women philosophers in mid-20th century England: Mary Midgley, Phillipa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe, and Iris Murdoch. As such it is relevant to discussions of the challenges that women face in academic settings, but it can also serve as historical background on contemporary ethics, as these four philosophers developped ideas that revolutionised the field.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Is there anything about the political context surrounding the Oxford Four that makes their time at Oxford together distinctive?
    2. Why should we think of these four women as a collective (if we should at all)?
    3. How does discussing these women’s’ relationships with one another help us to understand the development of their thought?
    Week 6. Sophie Oluwole
    Full text
    Salami, Minna. Sophie Bosede Oluwole
    2020, In: The Philosopher Queens: The Lives and Legacies of Philosophy's Unsung Women. Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting (eds.). Unbound.
    Expand entry

    Comment: In this chapter, Salami offers some very useful historical background on Nigeria's pre-colonial past and Yoruba thought. This helps us understand Oluwole's situation as an African philosopher born in colonial Nigeria and influenced by Western philosophy, as well as a staunch defender of Yoruba oral genres and African philosophy as a whole. Salami also notes that Oluwole is one of the rare philosophers to have been influential and admired within and without the academy.

    On DRL Full text
    Oluwole, Sophie. Socrates and Ọ̀rúnmìlà: Two Patron Saints of Classical Philosophy
    2014, Ark Publishers.
    Introduction and Chapter 1.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: Oluwole's teachings and works are generally attributed to the Yoruba school of philosophical thought, which was ingrained in the cultural and religious beliefs (Ifá) of the various regions of Yorubaland. According to Oluwole, this branch of philosophy predates the Western tradition, as the ancient African philosopher Orunmila predates Socrates by her estimate. These two thinkers, representing the values of the African and Western traditions, are two of Oluwole's biggest influences, and she compares the two in her book Socrates and Orunmila.

    Comment: This book compares Socrates to Ọ̀rúnmìlà, an 'Orisha' or an important sprit in Yoruba. Both Socrates and Orunmila undertook their philosophy orally and passed their teachings and thinking onto students. Oluwole therefore challenges the western assumption that African philosophy does not have a long-standing on deep tradition.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Why is the comparison between Socrates and Ọ̀rúnmìlà so powerful?
    2. What is the place of the oral tradition in philosophy?
    3. Oluwole wants to highlight what is African about African philosophy. What are the main features that she highlights?
    Week 7. bell hooks
    On DRL Full text Read free
    hooks, bell. Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism
    1981, South End Press
    Chapter 5: "Black Women and Feminism"
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: In this classic study, cultural critic bell hooks examines how black women, from the seventeenth century to the present day, were and are oppressed by both white men and black men and by white women. Illustrating her analysis with moving personal accounts, Ain't I a Woman is deeply critical of the racism inherent in the thought of many middle-class white feminists who have failed to address issues of race and class. While acknowledging the conflict of loyalty to race or sex is still a dilemma, hooks challenges the view that race and gender are two separate phenomena, insisting that the struggles to end racism and sexism are inextricably intertwined.

    Comment: This text discusses Black women's struggle against oppression and subjugation in America, focusing on white women's role in slavery. hooks argues that this history of slavery is directly linked to Black women's contemporary marginalization.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What have ‘bourgeois white women’ done to feminist movements?
    2. hooks says that she struggles to choose between feminist and anti-racist struggles. How does she propose we proceed instead of choosing?
    3. Can feminism ever make sense of the diverse nature of women’s’ experience?
    Week 8. Iris Marion Young
    Full text
    Lim, Désirée. Iris Marion Young
    2020, In: The Philosopher Queens: The Lives and Legacies of Philosophy's Unsung Women. Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting (eds.). Unbound.
    Expand entry

    Comment: In this chapter, Lim recounts Young's childhood and educational background as a way to inform our understanding of her philosophical and political practice. In this sense, this text should deeply enhance students' comprehension of Young's feminist political thought and would serve as uselful introduction to some of her writings on structural injustices and minority rights.

    On DRL Full text
    Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference
    1990, Princeton University Press
    Chapter 2: "The Five Faces of Oppression"
    Expand entry
    Publisher's note: In this classic work of feminist political thought, Iris Marion Young challenges the prevailing reduction of social justice to distributive justice. It critically analyzes basic concepts underlying most theories of justice, including impartiality, formal equality, and the unitary moral subjectivity. The starting point for her critique is the experience and concerns of the new social movements about decision making, cultural expression, and division of labor--that were created by marginal and excluded groups, including women, African Americans, and American Indians, as well as gays and lesbians. Iris Young defines concepts of domination and oppression to cover issues eluding the distributive model. Democratic theorists, according to Young do not adequately address the problem of an inclusive participatory framework. By assuming a homogeneous public, they fail to consider institutional arrangements for including people not culturally identified with white European male norms of reason and respectability. Young urges that normative theory and public policy should undermine group-based oppression by affirming rather than suppressing social group difference. Basing her vision of the good society on the differentiated, culturally plural network of contemporary urban life, she argues for a principle of group representation in democratic publics and for group-differentiated policies.

    Comment: This is an important work of feminist political philosophy. It would be useful to teach in a course on feminist philosophy, or as part of a course or unit on theories of justice, as it engages with many of the seminal thinkers in this area, such as Locke, Rousseau, and Rawls.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is Young’s argument against liberal approaches to distributive justice?
    2. Is there anything missing from Young’s account of oppression?
    3. What is the concept of ‘structural injustice’ and how does it explain the Sandy case?
    4. Do you agree that we should move from a ‘liability’ model to a forward-looking ‘responsibility’ model of justice?


Feminist philosophy

Expand entry

by Anne-Marie McCallion
Funded by: AHRC


This reading group blueprint offers an introductory overview to the topic of feminist philosophy. It explores key texts within the fields of feminist ecology, black feminist epistemology, Queer theory, and Marxist feminism. It offers students the opportunity to critically engage with a variety of global feminist issues as well as a series of thinkers who are situated across a variety of persuasions and feminist specialisms. There are eight texts in total contained in this blueprint and they are best accessed in the order that they are laid out as each text builds – in some way – on the one prior.


    On DRL Full text Read free
    Menon, Nivedita. Seeing Like a Feminist
    2012, Penguin India and Zubaan Books.
    Chapter 3: 'Desire', pp. 91-111
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    For Nivedita Menon, feminism is not about a moment of final triumph over patriarchy but about the gradual transformation of the social field so decisively that old markers shift forever. From sexual harassment charges against international figures to the challenge that caste politics poses to feminism, from the ban on the veil in France to the attempt to impose skirts on international women badminton players, from queer politics to domestic servants’ unions to the Pink Chaddi campaign, Menon deftly illustrates how feminism complicates the field irrevocably. Incisive, eclectic and politically engaged, Seeing like a Feminist is a bold and wide-ranging book that reorders contemporary societ

    Comment: Nivedita Menon is an influential feminist academic, who briefly taught in Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, and is currently a professor of political science in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. What probably heightens her ability to see through the flawless nude makeup of our patriarchal culture is the fact that she was brought up in the Nair community of Kerala which, until her grandmother’s generation, was matrilineal. Seeing Like A Feminist is about both the challenges faced by feminism in India as well as global and intersectional movements of feminism. It covers a wide range of issues like the Hindu Code Bills, the Pink Chaddi campaign that was heavily criticized by the media, ‘gender verification’ tests for the Olympic Games, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, gender performativity, the Women’s Reservation Bill (Sharma, 2016). In this chapter, Menon critically examines the concept of ‘nature’ how it functions to corset our perception and actions, and in turn, constrain woBTQ+ emancipation.

    Discussion Questions

    1. “Selectively equating ‘unnatural’ with ‘immoral’ is a way of suffocating the debate” In what other social debates do we see this move being made? (p. 94)
    2. Would you say ‘nature’ itself is an inherently politically loaded idea, or is it simply its persistent equivocation with normative ethical frameworks which has rendered it synonymous with an unquestionable necessity about the way things are/ought to be? (pp. 93-4)
    3. Is describing queerness as the result of nature a solution to homophobia? (p. 97)
    4. “But the whole unpredictable thing about politics is that, often, counterhegemonic voices are able to tip the scales within a constellation produced by range of heterogenous ideas and circumstances.” What does Nivedita mean by this? And can you think of some examples of this? (p. 100)
    5. What is the relationship between class and queerness? (pp. 103-104)
    6. To what extent can hijras be said to share women’s experiences? (pp. 105-106)
    7. Should people everywhere be given the option of a third gender on passports and other legal documents? Should gender simply not be a question which is asked on such documents? (p. 106)
    8. Would you say the ‘glamorisation’ of the gay ‘lifestyle’ has mostly helped or hindered the LGBTQ+ movement? (p. 109)
    9. What are some of the central lessons which can be extracted from this chapter?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mystery of Nature
    1994, Routledge.
    Chapter 1: 'Feminism and Ecofeminism', pp. 19-41
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    Two of the most important political movements of the late twentieth century are those of environmentalism and feminism. In this book, Val Plumwood argues that feminist theory has an important opportunity to make a major contribution to the debates in political ecology and environmental philosophy. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature explains the relation between ecofeminism, or ecological feminism, and other feminist theories including radical green theories such as deep ecology. Val Plumwood provides a philosophically informed account of the relation of women and nature, and shows how relating male domination to the domination of nature is important and yet remains a dilemma for women.

    Comment: Val Plumwood (11 August 1939 – 29 February 2008) was an Australian philosopher and ecofeminist known for her work on anthropocentrism. From the 1970s she played a central role in the development of radical ecosophy. Working mostly as an independent scholar, she held positions at the University of Tasmania, North Carolina State University, the University of Montana, and the University of Sydney. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature draws on the feminist critique of reason to argue that the master form of rationality of western culture has been systematically unable to acknowledge dependency on nature, the sphere of those it has defined as ‘inferior’ others. Plumwood illuminates the relationship between women and nature, and between ecological feminism and other feminist theories. This chapter on Feminism and Ecofeminism is situated here in the list because it furthers the critical evaluation of nature which Menon draws by turning the discussion on it’s head. Whilst Menon illustrates the ways in which the of nature is utilised as a means of distorting ‘moral’ and political action, Plumwood illustrates the ways in which the concept of nature itself has been distorted and corrupted by colonial and patriarchal realities.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Why is the relationship between nature and culture gendered?
    2. What are the different ways in which feminists have theorised about the distinction between nature and culture?
    3. What do you think about this distinction?
    4. What is ‘backgrounding’? And what other aspects of women’s lives do you think are ‘backgrounded’?
    5. On page 32 Plumwood quotes Alison Jagger’s discussion of gender roles leading to the overdevelopment/underdevelopment of certain aspects of our character. Do you agree with this? What are some ways this can be evidenced?
    6. On page 37 Plumwood states that women have been associated with nature because of their ‘uncontrollable’ bodies. What does she mean by this?
    7. In what ways have women’s choices surrounding reproduction been constrained?
    8. What do you think about the ‘abstract pro-nature’ approach to reproduction? Is there anything to be said in favour of it?
    9. What is Plumwood’s suggestion for how we ought to go about theorising about reproduction in light of her rejection of dualism?
    10. Has this chapter changed your position/opinion on anything? If so, what.
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Davis, Angela. Women, Race, and Class
    1981, Random House.
    Chapter 1: 'The Legacy of Slavery: Standards for a New Womanhood'
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    Angela Davis provides a powerful history of the social and political influence of whiteness and elitism in feminism, from abolitionist days to the present, and demonstrates how the racist and classist biases of its leaders inevitably hampered any collective ambitions. While Black women were aided by some activists like Sarah and Angelina Grimke and the suffrage cause found unwavering support in Frederick Douglass, many women played on the fears of white supremacists for political gain rather than take an intersectional approach to liberation. Here, Davis not only contextualizes the legacy and pitfalls of civil and women’s rights activists, but also discusses Communist women, the murder of Emmitt Till, and Margaret Sanger’s racism. Davis shows readers how the inequalities between Black and white women influence the contemporary issues of rape, reproductive freedom, housework and child care in this bold and indispensable w

    Comment: Angela Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic and author. She is a professor at the University of California and a longtime member of the Communist Party USA. She is also a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) and the author of over ten books on class, feminism, race, and the US prison system. Women, Race and Class is a Marxist feminist analysis of gender, race and class. The third book written by Davis, it covers U.S. history from the slave trade and abolitionism movements to the women's liberation movements which began in the 1960s. In this chapter, Davis examines and describes the unwritten history of black women slaves and their legacies.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What does the lack of scholarly engagement with the female slave tell us about historical scholarship more broadly? (p. 7)
    2. To what extent does this alter the credibility of the scholarship which has already taken place on the black male slave?
    3. What kind of labour was common for the female slave? And what can this tell us about contemporary notions of femininity? (p. 8)
    4. “The special abuses inflicted on women thus facilitated the ruthless economic exploitation of their labour” (p. 10) This was the position of the Black Woman slave. To what extent can this be generalised as a universal remark upon the woman’s condition?
    5. What was the condition of pregnant slaves who laboured in the fields? (p. 11)
    6. “As the ideology of femininity—a by-product of industrialization—was popularized and disseminated through the new ladies’ magazines and romantic novels, white women came to be seen as inhabitants of a sphere totally severed from the realm of productive work.” What is the ‘ideology of femininity’? (p. 12)
    7. How was the ‘matriarchal’ family structure – which was supposedly present in slave families – utilised to legitimise the denigration of black men, women, and families?
    8. “The salient theme emerging from domestic life in the slave quarters is one of sexual equality.” Discuss. (p. 16)
    9. Who was Harriet Tubman? Please feel free to revisit the text or use any other resources you have to hand at the moment to answer this question. (p. 18)
    10. “This was one of the greatest ironies of the slave system, for in subjecting women to the most ruthless exploitation conceivable, exploitation which knew no sex distinctions, the groundwork was created not only for Black women to assert their equality through their social relations, but also to express it through their acts of resistance.” Discuss.
    11. Does the utilisation of rape as a method of intimidation tell us something salient about the eroticisation and hyper-sexualisation of women who belong to oppressed racial groups? (p. 19)
    12. Discuss Genovese’s diagnosis of the problem of raphite men against black women. (p. 20)
    13. “It was those women who passed on to their nominally free female descendants a legacy of hard work, perseverance and self-reliance, a legacy of tenacity, resistance and insistence on sexual equality—in short, a legacy spelling out standards for a new womanhood”. In what ways have you witnessed the standards of a new womanhood emerge in your own lives and in the lives of the women around you? (p. 21)
    On DRL Full text
    Phadke, Shilpa. Why Loiter?: Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets
    2011, Penguin India.
    Chapter 3: 'Good Little Women', pp 34-43
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    1950s Calcutta. Seventeen-year-old Shankar walks on to Old Post Office Street to become a clerk in the Calcutta High Court. There he meets the last English barrister, and thus begins their unusual and unforgettable relationship.

    The Great Unknown is the moving story of the many people Shankar meets in the courtrooms and lawyers’ chambers of Old Post Office Street—some seeking justice, others watching the drama of life unfold. It offers a uniquely personal glimpse into their PBI – World of unfulfilled dreams and duplicity, of unexpected tragedy, as well as hope and exhilaration.

    Here you will meet Marian Stuart, who journeys from Lebanon to PBI – India in search of a husband and happiness; the once-rich but now-destitute Englishman James Gould; Helen Grubert, the embittered Anglo-PBI – Indian typist, who wins her breach-of-promise case but has a miraculous change of heart; Nicholas Droulas, the betrayed Greek sailor desperate for revenge; Shefali Mitra, the distraught mother fighting to hold on to er she did not give birth to; Chhoka-da, the benevolent babu who takes the young clerk under his wing; and the barrister sahib who profoundly enriches Shankar’s life with his own experiences.

    The Great Unknown (Kato Ajanarey), Sankar’s debut novel, first appeared in Desh in 1955. An instant success, it remains immensely popular more than fifty years after its publication. This first-ever English translation captures the simplicity and poignancy of the origi

    Comment: Shilpa Phadke is a researcher, writer, and pedagogue. She is a Professor at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences and chairperson for the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Culture, School of Media and Cultural Studies. Her research interests include: gender and the politics of space, the middle classes, sexuality and the body, feminist politics among young women, reproductive subjectivities, feminist parenting, and pedagogic practices. Why Loiter presents an original take on women’s safety in the cities of twenty-first century India, it maps the exclusions and negotiations that women from different classes and communities encounter in the nation’s urban public spaces. Basing this book on more than three years of research in Mumbai, Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade argue that though women’s access to urban public space has increased, they still do not have an equal claim to public space in the city. And they raise the question: can women’s access to public space be viewed in isolation t of other marginal groups? In this chapter, Phadke explores the myth of the ‘good woman’ and how gendered virtues such as chastity and ‘respect’ function ultimately to inhibit women’s safety on urba

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are the images that come to mind when you think of the ‘Good Woman’? And how much influence do you think this has had over your own life?
    2. “She is the woman who can make the habitually apathetic Mumbaikars take to the streets in outrage when she is sexually assaulted” Do you think that public outrage at sexual assault is selective? If so, how much of this conditioned by the image of the ‘good woman’? (pp. 34-35)
    3. How is dialogue surrounding safety on the streets dominated by concerns for middle-class women? Would you say that working-class women are entirely excluded from consideration on this matter? (pp. 36-7)
    4. Are there other performative displays of respectability that you can think of? (p. 37)
    5. Do you agree that the binary between public/private perfectly maps onto the binary between good/bad women? If so, can you think of any further examples to illustrate this? (p. 38)
    6. Do you think there is a general anxiety surrounding being able to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women? If itself differently in men than it does in women? (p. 39)
    7. What does the lack of public outrage at rape cases which are committed against sex workers tell us about hegemonic depictions of women’s sexuality, and women’s societal position more broadly? (p. 40)
    8. The author points out that the general reluctance to press charges after sexual assault reveals the embedded shame that families (and women themselves) prioritise over the mental and physical health of the victim of the crime. What else might this tell us? (p. 41)
    9. Discuss some of the ways in which “The inextricable connection of safety to respectability” bars women from safety. (p. 42)
    On DRL Full text Read free
    hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions
    2000, New York: William Morrow.
    Chapter 2: 'Justice: Childhood Love Lessons'
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    All About Love offers radical new ways to think about love by showing its interconnectedness in our private and public lives. In eleven concise chapters, hooks explains how our everyday notions of what it means to give and receive love often fail us, and how these ideals are established in early childhood. She offers a rethinking of self-love (without narcissism) that will bring peace and compassion to our personal and professional lives, and asserts the place of love to end struggles between individuals, in communities, and among societies. Moving from the cultural to the intimate, hooks notes the ties between love and loss and challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all.

    Visionary and original, hooks shows how love heals the wounds we bear as individuals and as a nation, for it is the cornerstone of compassion and forgiveness and holds the power to overcome shame.

    For readers who have found ongoing delight and wisdom in bell hooks's life and work, and for those who are just now discovering her, All About Love is essential reading and a brilliant book that will change how we think about love, our culture-and one another.

    Comment: bell hooks, is an American author, professor, feminist, and social activist. The name "bell hooks" is borrowed from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. The focus of her writing is the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. All About Love offers radical new ways to think about love by showing its interconnectedness in our private and public lives. In this book, hooks explains how our everyday notions of that it means to give and receive love often fail us, and how these ideals are established in early childhood. In this chapter on Justice, hooks confronts the injustice of childhood by critically examining the lack of autonomy and respect often endured by children. She gracefully articulates the manner in which this injustice lays the groundwork for further distortions and injustices in the world.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Would you say it was fair to claim that our conception of ‘discipline’ particularly when it is applied to children – is ‘masculinised’?
    2. “There can be no love without Justice.” Discuss.
    3. Do you agree that there should be some systems in place to uphold ‘children’s rights’?
    4. Is the neglect and abuse of children a structural injustice? If so, to what extent does Hooks’s proposition for a children’s ‘rights’ represent an individualistic solution to a structural problem?
    5. Is there a chance that such systems may disproportionately legislate against and penalise actions by mothers as opposed to fathers?
    6. How might such systems be potentially distorted by sexist ideals of the ‘good’ mother?
    7. What does Hooks’s analysis of popular support for physical punishment of children tell us about dominant attitudes towards violence?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought
    2000, 2nd Edition. Routledge.
    Chapter 11: 'Black Feminist Epistemology' pp. 251-271
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, originally published in 1990, Patricia Hill Collins set out to explore the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals and writers, both within the academy and without. Here Collins provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. Drawing from fiction, poetry, music and oral history, the result is a book that provided the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought and its canon.

    Comment: Patricia Hill Collins is an American academic specializing in race, class, and gender. She is a Distinguished University Professor of Sociology Emerita at the University of Maryland. She was the 100th president of the ASA and the first African-American woman to hold this position. Collins's work primarily concerns issues involving race, gender, and social inequality within the African-American community. In Black Feminist Thought, Collins sets out to explore the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals and writers, both within the academy and without. Here Collins provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. In this chapter, Collins outlines and illuminates the framework for a black feminist epistemology by juxtaposing it against Western epistemologies that have dominated and hindered thought. In doing so, Collins also underlines the necessity of alternative epistemologies to render the lives of black women intelligible.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the difference between an epistemology, paradigm, and methodology? (p. 252)
    2. Can you think of some examples of how knowledge validation processes reflect the interests of elite white men? (p. 253)
    3. Collins claims that part of the way Black feminist thought is kept out of legitimised spheres of knowledge is by allowing a few select black women into the academy and encouraging them to espouse the same Eurocentric ‘universally’ accepted knowledges as their white male colleagues. Do you agree with this? If so, do you think black women are the only marginalised group that we can observe this happening to? (p. 254)
    4. Do you agree with the claim that women are more likely to rely on first-hand experience than men? If so, why? (p. 259)
    5. “the differences distinguishing U.S. Black women from other groups, even those close to them, lies less in Black women’s race or gender identity than in access to social institutions that support an ethic of caring in their lives”. Do you agree with this claim? (pp. 264-5)
    6. Many feminist scholars have pointed out that the widespread exclusion of situated perspectives and situated knowledge is damaging to women, but why is it so central to Black women’s oppression in particular?
    7. Does the ‘universal’ emerge from attending to the fine details of the particular? (pp. 268-9)
    8. “Partiality, and not universality, is the condition of being heard” What does Collins mean by this? (p. 270)
    9. How does the existence of Black Feminist Epistemology challenge what currently passes for Truth? Be as specific as possible.
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
    1990, Routledge.
    Chapter 1: 'Subjects of sex/gender/desire'
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    One of the most talked-about scholarly works of the past fifty years, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is as celebrated as it is controversial. Arguing that traditional feminism is wrong to look to a natural, 'essential' notion of the female, or indeed of sex or gender, Butler starts by questioning the category 'woman' and continues in this vein with examinations of 'the masculine' and 'the feminine'. Best known however, but also most often misinterpreted, is Butler's concept of gender as a reiterated social performance rather than the expression of a prior reality. Thrilling and provocative, few other academic works have roused passions to the same exten

    Comment: Judith Pamela Butler is an American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer, and literary theory. In 1993, Butler began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, where they have served, beginning in 1998, as the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory. They are also the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School. In Gender Trouble Butler argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance. The work is influential in feminism, women's studies, and lesbian and gay studies, and has also enjoyed widespread popularity outside of traditional academic circles. Butler's ideas about gender came to be seen as foundational to queer theory and the advancing of dissident sexual practices during the 1990s. In this chapter, Butler critically assesses central literatures that have sought to define and illuminate gender and sexuality; in doing so, they lay the groundwork for their subsequent critique of hegemonic depictions of gender binaries.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Paraphrasing Foucault, Butler writes: “Juridical systems of power produce the subjects they subsequently come to represent”. What does this mean? (p. 2)
    2. Do you agree with Butler’s claim that the existence of the ‘subject’ should be understood as arising from the mythical state of nature hypothesis and illusionary social contract? (p. 2)
    3. What is political ‘representation’? And is there an alternative to the ‘stable subject’? (p. 4)
    4. What is the central point of Butler’s discussion of De Beauvoir and Irigaray? (p. 10)
    5. Do you think the destruction of ‘sex’ would lead to women assuming the status of the universal subject? (pp. 18-20)
    6. Is this a desirable goal? (pp. 18-20)
    7. What does Haar mean by “All psychological categories … derive from the illusion of substantial identity”? (pp. 20-21)
    8. What does Butler mean by “it would seem that the ontology of substances itself is not only and artificial effect, but essentially superfluous”? (p. 24)
    9. Do you agree with Wittig that ‘Sex’ does not precede oppression? (p. 25)
    10. How significant do you think the role of language is in ‘marking’ gender? (p. 25)
    11. Discuss the claim that Butler extracts from Foucault that “the subject” does not have access to a sexuality that is somehow ‘outside’ or ‘before’ the power that prohibits, regulates, and creates it. (p. 29)
    12. What are some of the “contingent acts” that present gender as a “naturalistic necessity”? (p. 33)
    Full text Read free
    Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mystery of Nature
    1994, Routledge.
    Chapter 2: 'Dualism and the Logic of Colonisation', pp. 41-69
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    Two of the most important political movements of the late twentieth century are those of environmentalism and feminism. In this book, Val Plumwood argues that feminist theory has an important opportunity to make a major contribution to the debates in political ecology and environmental philosophy. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature explains the relation between ecofeminism, or ecological feminism, and other feminist theories including radical green theories such as deep ecology. Val Plumwood provides a philosophically informed account of the relation of women and nature, and shows how relating male domination to the domination of nature is important and yet remains a dilemma for women.

    Comment: Here we return to Feminism and the Mastery of Nature by Plumwood, but this time to the second chapter which discusses Dualism. This chapter is situated here in the list to provoke discussion of the gender binary and the extent to which critical analysis of dualism can be utilised to dismantle dominant depictions of sex and gender. In this chapter, Plumwood argues that the dualisms like man/woman, black/white, and good/bad all posses the same logical form and they are what underlie the logic of colonisation, domination and patriarchy. In making this argument, Plumwood gives us reason to be sceptical of other philosophical dualisms like subject/object, reason/emotion.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Do you agree with Plumwood that colonisation creates the identity of the colonised? (p. 41-2) And that ‘woman’ is made from the dross and refuse of a man? (p. 44) Is there anything you don’t understand about the list of dualisms which is presented on page 43?
    2. What do you make of Plumwood’s assessment of Aristotle’s justification for various forms of dominion on page 46? Do you agree that they are all inseparably interconnected?
    3. Is it true that the more unstable a ‘master’s identity’ the more aggressively it needs to be asserted? Can you think of any additional examples for this?
    4. In what ways has ‘Inclusion’ impacted women and – what has historically been segregated as – women’s work?
    5. Do you think homoginisation and stereotyping happens only to oppressed classes of people? Is there a difference between the stereptypes we have for men and the ones we have for women?
    6. If there is a difference here, do you think it is morally significant?
    7. What is the difference between a dualism anAre there any instances in which it may be suitable to adopt the cavern of reversal strategy? (p. 62)
    8. What do you think of the Mackinnon quote captured on page 65?
    9. Do you agree with Plumwood that a desolution of gendered dualisms necessitates the weaving of this dualism into other dualisms?


Race, Disability, and Gender in Bioethics

Expand entry

by Chris Blake-Turner


This blueprint is organized into three sections, each corresponding to an area that has been underdiscussed in the dominant bioethics literature. The first considers issues of race and bioethics. It focuses especially on bioethics and Black Americans, an intersection on which important work has recently been done. The second highlights new work on disability and bioethics. Topics include taking seriously the testimony of disabled people, and the triaging of care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The third section considers work on gender and bioethics. It begins with a paper that applies feminist ethics to moral distress, an important concept in nursing ethics that is often left out of physician-dominated mainstream bioethical discussion. The last two papers are on the care of transgender adults and children, respectively.

Together these papers can be used as the basis of an 8-week reading group. There are 9 papers, but both the Ray and Ashley papers are short, and either could be doubled up with the reading that comes after it. Despite being short, however, both papers are rich enough to furnish material for a week on their own.

These readings just scratch the surface of important and expanding areas of bioethics. But by the time you’ve worked through them, you should have a better grasp of some central concepts, and you should have a good idea of where to look to find further readings.


    Race and Bioethics
    On DRL Full text
    Ray, Keisha. It’s Time for a Black Bioethics
    2021, The American Journal of Bioethics. 21(2): 38–40.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: There are some long-standing social issues that imperil Black Americans' relationship with health and healthcare. These issues include racial disparities in health outcomes (Barr 2014), provider bias and racism lessening their access to quality care (Sabin et al. 2009), disproportionate police killings (DeGue, Fowler, and Calkins 2016), and white supremacy and racism which encourage poor health (Williams and Mohammed 2013). Bioethics, comprised of humanities, legal, science, and medical scholars committed to ethical reasoning is prima facie well suited to address these problems and influence solutions in the form of policy and education. Bioethics, however, so far has shown only a minimal commitment to Black racial justice.

    Comment: In this short, seminal piece, Keisha Ray argues that bioethics needs to address issues of health and well-being of Black individuals. She applies Beauchamp and Childress’s famous four principles of bioethics to a particular issue: the disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women in the United States. Ray argues bioethics must incorporate the lens of Black bioethics, if the discipline is to remain relevant.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Ray writes: “Bioethics, however, so far has shown only a minimal commitment to Black racial justice” (p. 38). Why do you think that is?
    2. How does the lens of Black bioethics help us explain Black women’s higher maternal mortality rates in the United States?
    3. Ray deploys the principles of autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence, and justice in a Black bioethics framework. But she is also explicit that “There are… other ways of doing bioethics” (p. 38). How might Black bioethics help us, if at all, understand other ways of approaching bioethical issues?
    4. Ray raises the possibility of medical reparations for Black patients. What kind of reparations, if any, might be appropriate and why? Do you think they should be implemented?
    5. Ray’s discussion focuses on a particular case: Black women in the United States. To what extent does her argument about Black bioethics generalize to other contexts?
    6. What, if anything, can we learn from Ray’s paper about bioethics and non-Black marginalized groups?
    On DRL Full text
    Wilson, Yolonda, et al.. Intersectionality in Clinical Medicine: The Need for a Conceptual Framework
    2019, The American Journal of Bioethics. 19(2): 8–19.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Intersectionality has become a significant intellectual approach for those thinking about the ways that race, gender, and other social identities converge in order to create unique forms of oppression. Although the initial work on intersectionality addressed the unique position of black women relative to both black men and white women, the concept has since been expanded to address a range of social identities. Here we consider how to apply some of the theoretical tools provided by intersectionality to the clinical context. We begin with a brief discussion of intersectionality and how it might be useful in a clinical context. We then discuss two clinical scenarios that highlight how we think considering intersectionality could lead to more successful patient–clinician interactions. Finally, we extrapolate general strategies for applying intersectionality to the clinical context before considering objections and replies.

    Comment: Wilson et al. argue that intersectionality is an important concept in clinical practice. They clarify the concept and distinguish their call for intersectionality from nearby claims. For instance, they argue that intersectionality goes beyond mere cultural competence that healthcare providers are already trained in, at least to some degree. Their paper is anchored around two fictionalized case studies, which they use to make vivid and explain their central claims. They end by responding to objections, including the very idea of intersectionality itself.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How do you understand intersectionality? How, if at all, does that differ from Wilson et al.’s understanding?
    2. What are we supposed to learn about intersectionality in clinical medicine from the two cases, i.e. History of Trauma and Chronic Pain? What are the similarities and differences between the two cases when it comes to applying intersectionality in clinical contexts?
    3. Why do Wilson et al. say that “an intersectional framework to clinical practice does not call for simple concordance of physician-patient race and gender” (p. 12)?
    4. Wilson et al. argue that “clinicians can be as knowledgeable about the impact of social policies on their patients as they are about [medical issues]” (p. 14). Is it feasible to expect physicians and other healthcare providers to be knowledge about socio-historical contexts and structures, in addition to having medical expertise?
    5. Which of the three objections that Wilson et al. consider do you find most compelling? Do they address it adequately?
    6. How might you put Wilson et al.’s paper in conversation with Ray’s? Are Black bioethics and intersectionality in clinical medicine compatible? If so, how? If not, under which circumstances is each approach to be preferred?
    On DRL Full text
    Yearby, Ruqaiijah. Race Based Medicine, Colorblind Disease: How Racism in Medicine Harms Us All
    2021, The American Journal of Bioethics. 21(2): 19–27.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: The genome between socially constructed racial groups is 99.5%-99.9% identical; the 0.1%-0.5% variation between any two unrelated individuals is greatest between individuals in the same racial group; and there are no identifiable racial genomic clusters. Nevertheless, race continues to be used as a biological reality in health disparities research, medical guidelines, and standards of care reinforcing the notion that racial and ethnic minorities are inferior, while ignoring the health problems of Whites. This article discusses how the continued misuse of race in medicine and the identification of Whites as the control group, which reinforces this racial hierarchy, are examples of racism in medicine that harm all us. To address this problem, race should only be used as a factor in medicine when explicitly connected to racism or to fulfill diversity and inclusion efforts.

    Comment: Yearby argues that appeals to racial categories—social, but especially biological—in medicine harm people from all races, including those from dominant racial groups, like Whites. Yearby first gives evidence for the claim that there is no biological reality to race. She then argues that the continued use of racial categorization in medicine—for instance, as a basis for different standards of care—leads to worse outcomes for all. For example, because Whites are often the de facto standard group in healthcare, their worse health outcomes are sometimes overlooked. Yearby ends by making suggestions for improving the categorization of people in healthcare.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How does Yearby distinguish between biological and social race?
    2. How does Yearby argue that using racial categories in medicine leads to racial health disparities?
    3. Do you agree with Yearby that “the root cause of poor health outcomes for all groups… is racism” (p. 21)?
    4. How, if at all, does Yearby’s discussion of morality in childbirth affect your understanding of Ray’s argument?
    5. What does Yearby mean by “the corruption of knowledge production” (pp. 22–23)? How does she argue that racism plays a role in this process?
    6. Yearby argues that race-based medicine with respect to breast cancer “not only reifies the racist belief that Whites are superior, but also prevents women of all races from equal to treatment” (p. 24). Is her argument a good one? How might it extend beyond breast cancer?
    7. Like the other authors in this section, Yearby focuses on the medical system in the U.S. To what extent do Yearby’s arguments apply to other medical systems, for instance those with state-provided medical access as in the U.K.?
    Disability and Bioethics
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Taylor, Sunaura. Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation
    2017, The New Press.
    “On Ableism and Animals”, excerpt published by The New Inquiry.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: How much of what we understand of ourselves as “human” depends on our physical and mental abilities—how we move (or cannot move) in and interact with the world? And how much of our definition of “human” depends on its difference from “animal”? Drawing on her own experiences as a disabled person, a disability activist, and an animal advocate, author Sunaura Taylor persuades us to think deeply, and sometimes uncomfortably, about what divides the human from the animal, the disabled from the nondisabled—and what it might mean to break down those divisions, to claim the animal and the vulnerable in ourselves, in a process she calls “cripping animal ethics.” Beasts of Burden suggests that issues of disability and animal justice—which have heretofore primarily been presented in opposition—are in fact deeply entangled. Fusing philosophy, memoir, science, and the radical truths these disciplines can bring—whether about factory farming, disability oppression, or our assumptions of human superiority over animals—Taylor draws attention to new worlds of experience and empathy that can open up important avenues of solidarity across species and ability. Beasts of Burden is a wonderfully engaging and elegantly written work, both philosophical and personal, by a brilliant new voice.

    Comment: In this excerpt from her book, Beasts of Burden, Taylor resists the way that animals and intellectual disabled people are often framed in terms of one another. She argues that this does a disservice to both groups. Animals are not voiceless, as they are often constructed. And their comparison to disabled people in the (in)famous argument from marginal cases should not be accepted. Perhaps most importantly, the argument opens for discussion the worth of disabled people’s lives. But this is not something that should be open for discussion, especially given the marginalization of disabled people.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How does Taylor cast doubt on the idea of animal advocacy as giving “voice to the voiceless”? Do you agree with her?
    2. What is the argument from marginal cases?
    3. Why, according to Taylor, is there a “danger” in the argument from marginal cases?
    4. How does Taylor argue for the conclusion that to “compare animals to intellectually disabled people… harms both populations”?
    5. What does Taylor mean when, in the final paragraph, she claims that “We need to crip animal ethics”? Do you agree?
    6. How might Taylor’s article have implications for bioethical issues beyond animal ethics?
    On DRL Full text
    Wiesler, Christine. Epistemic Oppression and Ableism in Bioethics
    2020, Hypatia. 35: 714–732.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Disabled people face obstacles to participation in epistemic communities that would be beneficial for making sense of our experiences and are susceptible to epistemic oppression. Knowledge and skills grounded in disabled people's experiences are treated as unintelligible within an ableist hermeneutic, specifically, the dominant conception of disability as lack. My discussion will focus on a few types of epistemic oppression—willful hermeneutical ignorance, epistemic exploitation, and epistemic imperialism—as they manifest in some bioethicists’ claims about and interactions with disabled people. One of the problems with the epistemic phenomena with which I am concerned is that they direct our skepticism regarding claims and justifications in the wrong direction. When we ought to be asking dominantly situated epistemic agents to justify their knowledge claims, our attention is instead directed toward skepticism regarding the accounts of marginally situated agents who are actually in a better position to know. I conclude by discussing disabled knowers’ responses to epistemic oppression, including articulating the epistemic harm they have undergone as well as ways of creating resistant ways of knowing.

    Comment: Wieseler draws on resources developed by feminists and disability theorists to critique the practice of philosophical bioethics (bioethics done by philosophers). In particular, she argues that philosophical bioethics involves and perpetuates ableism. Among its many problems, this ableism is epistemically fraught. It interferes with disabled people’s ability to participate in various kinds of knowledge production. Wieseler uses a lot of technical terms—like epistemic exploitation, epistemic imperialism, and willful hermeneutical ignorance—but she explains everything clearly and the payoff is worthwhile. Wieseler uses these concepts to develop a powerful and thought-provoking critique of bioethical practice with respect to disability. The concepts are also useful in broader contexts, as we’ll see in section 3.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How does willful hermeneutical ignorance differ from hermeneutical injustice?
    2. What is the “double bind” of epistemic exploitation (p. 717)?
    3. What is the “standard view of disability” and why is not a “value-free starting assumption”, according to Wieseler (pp. 719–720)?
    4. How does Wieseler draw on the notions of epistemic exploitation, epistemic imperialism, and willful hermeneutical ignorance to critique Singer (a stand in for philosophical bioethicists more generally) on his approach to disability?
    5. What are “crip skills” and what is their significance for bioethics and epistemic resistance (p. 726)?
    6. As well as arguing that assuming that disabled people have a low quality of life is ableist, Wieseler claims that quality of life should not be conflated with value of life. What is valuable about lives other than their subjective quality?
    7. What points of harmony and friction are there between Wieseler’s piece and Taylor’s?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Stramondo, Joseph A.. Tragic Choices: Disability, Triage, and Equity Amidst a Global Pandemic
    2021, The Journal of Philosophy of Disability. 1: 201–210.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In this paper, I make three arguments regarding Crisis Standards of Care developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, I argue against the consideration of third person quality of life judgments that deprioritize disabled or chronically ill people on a basis other than their survival, even if protocols use the language of health to justify maintaining the supposedly higher well-being of non-disabled people. Second, while it may be unavoidable that some disabled people are deprioritized by triage protocols that must consider the likelihood that someone will survive intensive treatment, Crisis Standards of Care should not consider the amount or duration of treatment someone may need to survive. Finally, I argue that, rather than parsing who should be denied treatment to maximize lives saved, professional bioethicists should have put our energy into reducing the need for such choices at all by resisting the systemic injustices that drive the need for triage.

    Comment: Stramondo critiques triage protocols that were put into place, or at least proposed, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stramondo argues that protocols that prioritize quality of life involve ableist commitments. While chance-of-survival protocols might do better here, he argues that they are also vulnerable to creeping ableism. Stramondo’s paper is valuable not only for its perspective on triage protocols, but also for highlighting some crucial theoretical contributions by philosophers of disability and by bioethicists. Stramondo also argues not to cede too much ground to fatalism in thinking about triage protocols; bioethicists should also, and perhaps primarily, resist the framing of triage as inevitable, rather than a product of various privileged interests.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the so-called “disability paradox” and what are Stramondo’s reservations about that term (p. 202)?
    2. What is wrong, according to Stramondo, with the University of Washington’s invocation of “health” in their triage protocol?
    3. Stramondo writes: “I would argue that any triage protocol is unjustly discriminatory against disabled people insofar as it deprioritizes them due to a belief that their lives are of less value because they are of less quality” (p. 204). How is Stramondo’s argument affected, if at all, by Wieseler’s injunction to separate quality of life from value of life?
    4. Why is individual assessment, rather than assessment based on group membership, of likelihood of survival important?
    5. What is the distinction that Stramondo draws between inefficiency and waste? How does the distinction allow him to argue for accepting the likelihood-of-survival criterion while rejecting the level-of-resource intensity criterion? How does the distinction play a role in bioethical issues beyond triage?
    6. What is the “powerful paradigm shift” Stramondo interprets Shelley Tremain as calling for (p. 206)? What does Stramondo suggest that bioethicists do in response? Is he right?
    7. Taking Stramondo’s points into consideration, what do you think a just, and in particular an anti-ableist, triage protocol would involve?
    Gender and Bioethics
    On DRL Full text
    Peter, Elizabeth, Liaschenko, Joan. Moral Distress Reexamined: A Feminist Interpretation of Nurses’ Identities, Relationships, and Responsibilites
    2013, The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 10: 337–345.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Moral distress has been written about extensively in nursing and other fields. Often, however, it has not been used with much theoretical depth. This paper focuses on theorizing moral distress using feminist ethics, particularly the work of Margaret Urban Walker and Hilde Lindemann. Incorporating empirical findings, we argue that moral distress is the response to constraints experienced by nurses to their moral identities, responsibilities, and relationships. We recommend that health professionals get assistance in accounting for and communicating their values and responsibilities in situations of moral distress. We also discuss the importance of nurses creating “counterstories” of their work as knowledgeable and trustworthy professionals to repair their damaged moral identities, and, finally, we recommend that efforts toward shifting the goal of health care away from the prolongation of life at all costs to the relief of suffering to diminish the moral distress that is a common response to aggressive care at end-of-life.

    Comment: Moral distress is, roughly, when a healthcare worker is institutionally constrained to act against their best moral judgement. A typical example is a nurse being prevented from giving care they deem morally required because they are hierarchically constrained by the orders of a physician. Moral distress has been much discussed in nursing ethics, but is almost entirely absent from broader bioethics syllabi and conversations. This paper examines moral distress through a lens of feminist care ethics. In doing so, it draws lessons that apply very broadly throughout professional ethics.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How do Peter and Liaschenko define moral distress? Is their definition a good one? Why or why not?
    2. What is a moral identity and why is it important in thinking about moral distress?
    3. Peter and Liaschenko write that “the identity of ‘nurse’ is a social construction” (p. 339). What do they mean by that? Are they right?
    4. How does foregrounding relationships shed light on moral distress?
    5. How does gender play a role in the moral distress of hospital nurses?
    6. What recommendations do Peter and Liaschenko make for alleviating the problem of moral distress? Are likely to work? What other recommendations might be implemented?
    7. Peter and Liaschenko focus on the moral distress of hospital nurses, but recognize that moral distress is a broader issue. What are some examples of moral distress beyond hospital nursing, or even beyond the context of healthcare?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Ashley, Florence. Gatekeeping Hormone Replacement Therapy for Transgender Patients is Dehumanising
    2019, The Journal of Medical Ethics. 45: 480-482.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: Although informed consent models for prescribing hormone replacement therapy are becoming increasingly prevalent, many physicians continue to require an assessment and referral letter from a mental health professional prior to prescription. Drawing on personal and communal experience, the author argues that assessment and referral requirements are dehumanising and unethical, foregrounding the ways in which these requirements evidence a mistrust of trans people, suppress the diversity of their experiences and sustain an unjustified double standard in contrast to other forms of clinical care. Physicians should abandon this unethical requirement in favour of an informed consent approach to transgender care.

    Comment: Ashley draws on their own experiences as a trans person, as well as that of the trans community more broadly, to argue against assessment and referral requirements for hormone-replacement therapy (HRT). Ashley argues instead for an informed consent model, on which providers of HRT are not gatekeepers of transness, but facilitators of thoughtful decision-making.

    Discussion Questions

    1. An important part of Ashley’s argument is their own experience in accessing HRT and other transition-related healthcare, as well the experiences of the trans community. Appeals to anecdotal, and especially personal, evidence mark a departure from the how bioethics is normally practised. What are the advantages and disadvantages of Ashley’s approach?
    2. How can the concepts of epistemic exploitation, epistemic imperialism and willful hermeneutical ignorance (explained in Wieseler’s paper) augment Ashley’s argument that trans people are subject to injustice when “physicians deny the authority trans people have over their own mental experiences” (p. 481)?
    3. “Medically transitioning is not all about gender dysphoria”, Ashley writes (p. 481). What do they mean? How do they argue that gender dysphoria assessments problematize and pathologize trans experience?
    4. How does Ashley argue that assessment and referral requirements either assume that trans people are mentally ill or involve double standards?
    5. In general, how should we think about the limits of informed consent? That is, what are the circumstances in which someone requesting medical treatment is not sufficient for providing that treatment? It might be helpful to think both about the circumstances of the person making the request and about the thing they’re requesting.
    On DRL Full text
    Priest, Maura. Transgender Children and the Right to Transition: Medical Ethics When Parents Mean Well but Cause Harm
    2019, The American Journal of Bioethics. 19 (2): 45-59.
    Expand entry
    Abstract: In this article, I argue that (1) transgender adolescents should have the legal right to access puberty-blocking treatment (PBT) without parental approval, and (2) the state has a role to play in publicizing information about gender dysphoria. Not only are transgender children harmed psychologically and physically via lack of access to PBT, but PBT is the established standard of care. Given that we generally think that parental authority should not go so far as to (1) severally and permanently harm a child and (2) prevent a child from access to standard physical care, then it follows that parental authority should not encompass denying gender-dysphoric children access to PBT. Moreover, transgender children without supportive parents cannot be helped without access to health care clinics and counseling to facilitate the transition. Hence there is an additional duty of the state to help facilitate sharing this information with vulnerable teens.

    Comment: Priest argues that the state should provide puberty-blocking treatment (PBT) for trans youth, even if their parents are not supportive. Priest’s argument is important partly because it avoids the issue of whether adolescents and children can give properly informed consent. This is a point that some of Priest’s critics seem to have missed (see, for example, Laidlaw et al. 2019. “The Right to Best Care for Children Does Not Include the Right to Medical Transition”, and Harris et al. 2019. “Decision Making and the Long-Term Impact of Puberty Blockade in Transgender Children”). Priest’s conclusion is founded instead on a principle of harm avoidance.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Priest argues that psychological harm is not less important than physical harm. How does she argue for this claim? Is she correct?
    2. Priest argues that the state should intervene and offer PBT to trans youth with unsupportive parents. What is her argument exactly? Is it a good one?
    3. How does Priest address the objection that some studies suggest “many transgender children do not go on to become transgender adults” and so shouldn’t be given PBT (p. 49)?
    4. Why does Priest not base her argument on the “mature minor doctrine” (p. 52)?
    5. What is the special role of schools in providing PBT, according to Priest?
    6. Priest considers several objections to her argument, especially in the section beginning on p 54. Are her replies convincing? Are there any other objections that she doesn’t address? How might you reply on her behalf?
    7. Although Priest is not committed to the idea that PBT should only be provided to trans youth when they give properly informed consent, it’s worth considering informed consent in children and adolescents as an issue in itself. If children can’t give properly informed consent to PBT, why not? Are there things they can give properly informed consent to? If so, why is PBT different?


Postcolonial Theory, Race and Caste

Expand entry

by Suddha Guharoy and Andreas Sorger
Funded by: AHRC


Postcolonial theory is, broadly speaking, the study of how societies have conquered, controlled, and perceived “other” societies – physically, spiritually, and intellectually – and how the resulting colonized societies have responded to and resisted being conquered, controlled, or perceived in those ways. It seeks to understand these things, but it also seeks to “de-colonize” aspects of the colonized societies in the hope of achieving physical, spiritual, and intellectual liberation and self-determination. It intersects with a number of intellectual traditions, including: various national and cultural traditions, critical race theory, feminism, existentialism, Marxism, liberation theology, and more. It also draws on a number of disciplines, including: sociology, history, literature, aesthetics, economics, geography, political science, and more. Each of the authors on this blueprint constitutes some of the best that such theorizing has to offer. Organization-wise, we have provided materials for 10 weeks worth of reading, and have provided questions for focused discussions about them. However, by all means, readers can pick and choose which weeks they want to focus on if less time is available. Or, if they have the time and energy, they can also pick and choose several readings to engage with per week, seeing as we have tried to make the readings relatively short.


    On DRL Full text Read free
    Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism
    2000, NYU Press
    Expand entry

    Publisher's Note: This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights, Black Power, and anti-war movements and has sold more than 75,000 copies to date.

    Aimé Césaire eloquently describes the brutal impact of capitalism and colonialism on both the colonizer and colonized, exposing the contradictions and hypocrisy implicit in western notions of "progress" and "civilization" upon encountering the "savage," "uncultured," or "primitive." Here, Césaire reaffirms African values, identity, and culture, and their relevance, reminding us that "the relationship between consciousness and reality are extremely complex. . . . It is equally necessary to decolonize our minds, our inner life, at the same time that we decolonize society."

    Comment: Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism is a foundational text in postcolonial theory, which provides an excoriating critique of not only European practices of colonialism, but also the underlying theories and logics used to justify them. Specifically, Césaire takes aim at the view of colonialism as a ‘civilising mission’, where benevolent Europeans would provide non-white non- Europeans with the tools necessary for modernisation. Instead, he argued that colonialism wrought destruction everywhere it went, killing people, eradicating civilisations, and obliterating any alternative cultural ideas that contrasted European values. Crucially, Césaire explores the psychological effects of colonialism on both the colonised and the coloniser – a theme that would be taken further by Frantz Fanon (a student of Césaire’s) in his writings.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Throughout Discourse on Colonialism, Césaire uses images of decay to describe European or Western civilisation. In the sections you are reading, he talks about it as a “stricken” and “dying” civilisation (p.31) and likens every act of brutality perpetuated by Europeans to a “gangrene” that spreads throughout Western civilisation as a whole. What do you think Césaire means by this image? What effect does it have on the reader?
    2. Césaire writes: “The colonialists may kill in Indochina, torture in Madagascar, and imprison in Black Africa, crack down in the West Indies. Henceforth the colonised know that they have an advantage over them. They know their temporary ‘masters’ are lying” (p.32). Why does Césaire suggest the colonialists are lying? Why does this give the colonised an “advantage over [the colonisers]”?
    3. What connections does Césaire draw between Nazism and colonialism? Why does he suggest that every “humanistic … Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century … has a Hitler inside him” (p.36)?
    4. What implications follow from Césaire’s claim that “no one colonises innocently” (p.39)? How might this change the way we examine the legacy of colonial practices today?
    5. What is the “boomerang effect of colonisation” (p.41) that Césaire diagnoses?
    6. What does Césaire mean by the phrase “Colonialism = thingification”? How does this relate to his discussion of the psychological effects of colonialism on both the coloniser and the colonised?
    7. What values does Césaire suggest we can find in pre-colonial non-European civilizations? What role do you think these values play in his wider argument?
    8. On the one hand, Césaire explicitly details the destructive power of Western colonialism, such that entire cultures and civilisations have been eradicated as a result of its On the other, Césaire defends the values of pre-colonial non-European civilisations (see p.44-46). Do you think this points to a tension within Césaire’s argument? If so, how might we resolve it? If not, why not?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time
    1963, Penguin Classics. pp. 3-22
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature.

    Comment: Published in 1963, this essay offers a scathing attack on the racist history of America and its contemporary present in the 1960s. The text provides a trenchant critique of the way racism has shaped, and continues to shape, relations between whites and blacks in American society by suggesting that whites are trapped by a history they refuse to acknowledge – thereby making them unable to conceive of black Americans as their fellow co-citizens. Thus, for Baldwin, it is imperative that whites are made to recognise this history, as a failure to do so will inevitably result in an outbreak of violence. It is a compelling narrative of various quotidian as well as extraordinary incidents interwoven with local and international political causes and repercussions.

    Discussion Questions

    1. With respect to the religious journey of Baldwin:
      • What made him enter the ‘church racket’ (p.6) and get indoctrinated in Christianity?
      • What was his subsequent understanding of the historical role that Christianity played ‘in the realm of power and in the realm of morals’?
    2. “The white God has not delivered them; perhaps the Black God ” (p.12). How would one describe Baldwin’s conception of God?
    3. “…this leads, imperceptibly but inevitably, to a state of mind in which, having long ago learned to expect the worst, one finds it very easy to believe the worst”
      • Why does Baldwin consider not being able to believe ‘the humanity of white people is more real to them than their colour’ to be worst? What do we understand about Baldwin’s idea of love for people?
    4. What was the initial impression Baldwin had of Elijah? Did the impression change? If yes then what was the revised impression of Elijah that Baldwin had?
    5. “…the Negro has been formed by this nation…and does not belong to any other — not to Africa, and certainly not to Islam.” (p. 16)
      • Why does the identity of the Black Americans not belong to Africa and Islam?
      • Why does Baldwin claim that only a radical change in the constitution of American social and political structure can bring a real change in the life of a Black American? Do you believe that radical change in the social-political structure has occurred?
    6. What is the definition of ‘tokenism’ (p.18) that we get in the text? What are its material causes and consequences?
      • Against the idea of tokenism, how does Baldwin envisage freedom?
    7. “…a vast amount of the white anguish is rooted in the white man’s equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror.” (p.19)
      • What, according to the text, was Baldwin’s diagnosis of the problem in America? What does the idea of the mirror evoke?
      • “To create one nation has proved to be a hideously difficult task; there is certainly no need now to create two, one black and one ’ (p. 20) How does Baldwin envision the creation of a new America?
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Said, Edward W.. Orientalism
    1978, Pantheon Books.
    pp 1-23
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    More than three decades after its first publication, Edward Said's groundbreaking critique of the West's historical, cultural, and political perceptions of the East has become a modern classic.
    In this wide-ranging, intellectually vigorous study, Said traces the origins of "orientalism" to the centuries-long period during which Europe dominated the Middle and Near East and, from its position of power, defined "the orient" simply as "other than" the occident. This entrenched view continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding. Essential, and still eye-opening, Orientalism remains one of the most important books written about our divided world.

    Comment: Orientalism is a classic text in postcolonial theory which successfully brought out the politics of ‘othering’. It shows how the ‘Orient’ was constructed by delineating it from the supposedly morally, culturally and politically advanced (and superior) ‘Occident’. The book is not so much about the East as much as it is about how the Orient was ‘produced’ by the imperial masters of Europe and America and perceived as the ‘other’ to the rest of the ‘civilized’ world. The author traces and examines various literary and political sources which originated and perpetuated Orientalism. The abstract gives an overview of the argument and introduces the reader to the rest of the book.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the relationship between Orientalism and imperialism?
    2. What does Said mean when he says ‘producing the Orient, politically, sociologically, militarily…’ (p.3)?
    3. What is the Gramscian distinction between civil and political society? Express your views on whether you find the distinction helpful. How does the concept of ‘hegemony’ figure in the discourse? Why is it an important tool to understand the cultural life of the West?
    4. “Orientalism is after all a system for citing works and authors.” Discuss the relationship between the overarching ideology of Orientalism and the contribution of individual works. What position does Said take in the debate? Do you agree with his position? Give reasons for your answer.
    5. What is Said’s opinion on the ‘liberal consensus’ (p.10) about true, ‘non-political’ knowledge? Can there be non-political, pure knowledge in human sciences? State reasons for your agreement/disagreement.
    6. What does Said mean when he says orientalism is ‘premised on exteriority’ (p.20)? How does the Orient rest on representation? In relation to this discuss briefly the politics of ‘representation’. (Discussion in greater detail available in chapter 1)
    7. What special significance does ‘Islamic Orient’ add to the study of Orientalism, given contemporary geopolitics?
    On DRL Full text
    Wiredu, Kwasi. Philosophy and an African Culture
    1980, Cambridge University Press.
    pp 26-50
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    What can philosophy contribute to African culture? What can it draw from it? Could there be a truly African philosophy that goes beyond traditional folk thought? Kwasi Wiredu tries in these essays to define and demonstrate a role for contemporary African philosophers which is distinctive but by no means parochial. He shows how they can assimilate the advances of analytical philosophy and apply them to the general social and intellectual changes associated with 'modernisation' and the transition to new national identities. But we see too how they can exploit traditional resources and test the assumptions of Western philosophy against the intimations of their own language and culture. The volume as a whole presents some of the best non-technical work of a distinguished African philosopher, of importance equally to professional philosophers and to those with a more general interest in contemporary African thought and culture.

    Comment: Kwasi Wiredu’s Philosophy and an African Culture grapples with the relationship between African philosophy and African traditional folk thought in order to carve out a distinctive role for African philosophers in the present day. In the chapters for this week, Wiredu is contributing to a debate in African philosophy that seeks to answer the question: “What is African Philosophy?”. Wiredu takes issue with Europeans elevating the traditional folk beliefs of Africans to the status of philosophy, which historically has been used to justify and legitimise the racist belief in the inferiority of black Africans. Instead, Wiredu suggests that the absence of a written tradition of philosophy means that African philosophy can only exist in the present. Thus, it is up to contemporary African philosophersto create a ‘new’ tradition with distinctive insights for the problems faced by African societies.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How does the comparison between African philosophy and African versions of other disciplines, such as engineering, illuminate the problem Wiredu is grappling with?
    2. What is the difference between the universalist and nationalist conceptions of African philosophy? What, for Wiredu, are the limitations of the nationalist conception?
    3. Why does Wiredu suggest that traditional African philosophies are “pre-scientific”? Is this a distinct problem for African philosophy? Does the pre-scientific nature of traditional African philosophy mean that it should not be made the subject of further study?
    4. What is Wiredu’s conception of philosophy in a technical sense? Why does Wiredu think that this conception of philosophy is useful for contemporary African society?Can philosophy, in Wiredu’s sense, be universal and, if so, in what ways?
      • Similarly, how are cultural considerations relevant for philosophical thinking? In answering this question, refer to Wiredu’s comments about the relationship between language and philosophy.
      • What implications do you think follow from this relationship between language and philosophy?
    5. What is the definition of African philosophy Wiredu offers at the end of Chapter 2? Why does he suggest that this project is “urgent”?
    6. What are the criticisms Wiredu advances against Western anthropologists who focus on the “pre-scientific characteristics of African traditional thought” (p.39)? What are the problematic consequences of such thinking for the perception of Africans by the West, as well as the self-image of Africans themselves? Can you draw any connections between Wiredu’s remarks here and the effects of colonialism discussed by Césaire?
    7. How does Wiredu’s contrast between African and Western traditions of thought serve to undermine the binary opposition between a rational modern West and an irrational superstitious Africa?
    8. How do you interpret Wiredu’s conception of development as a “continuing world- historical process” (p.43) in which all peoples are engaged? What are the advantages of conceptualising development in this way?
    9. Towards the end of Chapter 3, Wiredu seems to suggest that a written tradition is necessary for possessing a philosophical heritage. Do you think this is fair or it does it unfairly marginalise oral traditions of philosophy as being ‘folk wisdom’?
    On DRL Full text
    Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
    2012, 2nd Edition. London and New York: Zed Books.
    “Imperialism, History, Writing, and Theory”, pp 19-41
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: To the colonized, the term 'research' is conflated with European colonialism; the ways in which academic research has been implicated in the throes of imperialism remains a painful memory. This essential volume explores intersections of imperialism and research - specifically, the ways in which imperialism is embedded in disciplines of knowledge and tradition as 'regimes of truth.' Concepts such as 'discovery' and 'claiming' are discussed and an argument presented that the decolonization of research methods will help to reclaim control over indigenous ways of knowing and being. Now in its eagerly awaited second edition, this bestselling book has been substantially revised, with new case-studies and examples and important additions on new indigenous literature, the role of research in indigenous struggles for social justice, which brings this essential volume urgently up-to-date.

    Comment: Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonising Methodologies argued that, for the colonised, the idea and practice of academic research was imbued with imperialism. Thus, to escape this problem and reclaim indigenous forms of knowing, an effort to decolonise the methodologies of research is imperative. The reading for this week is the first chapter of the book, in which Smith advances her critique of Western knowledge to show that “every aspect of producing knowledge has influenced the ways in which indigenous ways of knowing have been represented” (p.35). Smith’s critique is far-reaching, and her point is to suggest that Western notions of history, writing, and theorising are bound up in the way research is pursued such that they exclude and marginalise indigenous groups.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are the four different uses of the term ‘imperialism’ that Smith distinguishes between? What is the main difference between the fourth use of imperialism and the first three? Why is this significant?
    2. What are the two main strands of critique offered by indigenous scholarship on imperialism and colonialism? Why do discussions of globalisation and post-colonialism pose new challenges for the ways indigenous communities “think and talk about imperialism” (p.24)?
    3. How does Smith conceptualise the struggle to assert and claim humanity? What do you think Smith means by her suggestion that, for indigenous peoples, fragmentation is not “a phenomenon of postmodernism” but rather “the consequence of imperialism (p.28)”? What connections can you draw betweenthe ideas articulated in this section and the writings of Césaire?
    4. What are the 9 interconnected ideas that Smith suggests are central to Western conceptions of history? What is the critique of this kind of history raised by post-colonial and indigenous theorists alike? Do you find her critique convincing? If so, why? If not, why not?
    5. If history in its modern/Western construction is predicated on a sense of Otherness that marginalises indigenous peoples, how and why is history important for decolonisation? In answering this question, think about how Smith conceptualises the relationship between history and power, as well as what Smith means by “coming to know the past” (p.34) and what this entails for decolonisation efforts.
    6. On page 36, Smith writes “Writing can also be dangerous because we reinforce and maintain a style of discourse which is never innocent”. What are some of the dangers she talks about, and how have indigenous and post-colonial theorists attempted to resist and push back?
    7. In drawing on the work of Cherryl Smith and Edward Said, Linda Tuhiwai Smith highlights the importance of “‘writing back’ and simultaneously writing to ourselves” (p.37). How do you interpret this idea and what implications do you think it has for both writing and interpreting academic texts? Does it make you rethink the assumptions in your writing? Or does it reinforce concerns you may already have?
    8. How and why is theory important for indigenous communities? What kind of theory development is necessary for indigenous communities, and what does this process entail?
    On DRL Full text
    Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference
    2007, New Edition. Princeton University Press.
    pp 3 -23
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note: First published in 2000, Dipesh Chakrabarty's influential Provincializing Europe addresses the mythical figure of Europe that is often taken to be the original site of modernity in many histories of capitalist transition in non-Western countries. This imaginary Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, is built into the social sciences. The very idea of historicizing carries with it some peculiarly European assumptions about disenchanted space, secular time, and sovereignty. Measured against such mythical standards, capitalist transition in the third world has often seemed either incomplete or lacking. Provincializing Europe proposes that every case of transition to capitalism is a case of translation as well - a translation of existing worlds and their thought-categories into the categories and self-understandings of capitalist modernity. Now featuring a new preface in which Chakrabarty responds to his critics, this book globalizes European thought by exploring how it may be renewed both for and from the margins.

    Comment: This book is a watershed in Indian history, labour theory and postcolonial theory. Chakrabarty begins by accepting the idea that history has already provincialized Europe. However, time and again we find the author acknowledging that the categories and ideals that European thought and the Enlightenment produced are both indispensable and at the same time inadequate to understand the modern political relations of non-European, ex-colonial lands. On the one hand, the familiar theories we use to understand the lives of the proletariat or bourgeois political relations were inadequate to explain their postcolonial existence in Bengal and India. Yet, on the other, these frameworks are simultaneously indispensable for theories about the proletariat in postcolonial Bengal to be accepted as knowledge. A quest, therefore, ensued to interpret the lives of the working class and bourgeoisie political relations in parts of the world that did not replicate the historical transition of Europe. This book challenges the monolithic understanding of historical progression and attempts to follow a different historiography (using Marxist insights) to understand political modernity in places with different histories.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is understood by ‘Europe’? Is it a geographical identity or a historical and ideological category?
    2. Why does the author think that European thought is both ‘indispensable and inadequate’ for understanding political modernity in a non-European country like India?
    3. What is the meaning of historicism implied in the text? How did it turn into a political prescription to non-European peoples?
      • What was the response of the anticolonial movements to such an idea?
      • With respect to India, what could be considered as a national gesture of rejecting Mill’s historicist prescription? What tension did the Indian political modernity run into for making that gesture? (pp. 6-11)
    4. How does subaltern historiography extend the meaning of ‘political’ by critiquing the standard binaries of ‘political’ and ‘pre-political’? Discuss with reference to the debate between Eric Hobsbawm and Ranajit Guha. (pp.12-15)
      • How does the binary division of political and pre-political lead us to a ‘stagist’ reading of history, and to the assumption that capitalism brings with it bourgeois power relations?
    5. What are two strands of modern European social science?
      • How does a Marxist reading of history ‘occlude’ questions pertaining to belonging and diversity, thus producing an insufficient tool to read history? (p.18)
      • Was Marx himself clear about questions pertaining to History 2? (Discussions in greater detail available in chapter 2)
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Wynter, Sylvia. The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter
    2000, Small Axe 8. pp. 119-207.
    Expand entry

    Sylvia Wynter is a radical Jamaican theorist influenced, among others, by Frantz Fanon. This well known interview is often considered to be the best introduction to her thinking about the question of human in the aftermath of 1492 and the consequent racialisation of humanity.
    Wynter rethinks dominant concepts of being human, arguing that they are based on a colonial and racialized model that divides the world into asymmetric categories such as "the selected and the dysselected", center and periphery, or colonizers and colonized. Against this Wynter proposes a new humanism. According to Katherine McKittrick Wynter develops a "counterhumanism", that breaks from the classification of humans in static, asymmetric categories.

    Comment: Sylvia Wynter is a Jamaican novelist, playwright, and academic who draws on a huge breadth of academic literature, including amongst others anthropology, critical race theory, postcolonialism, and feminism, in her prolific academic writings that cover an equally diverse set of themes. One important strand of her work involves “unsettling” what she sees as the dominant (Western/European) understanding of “Man”, which she argues is responsible for enabling the brutal and harrowing treatment of non-whites by the European colonisers. Indeed, one of the goals of Wynter’s project is to theorise a new kind of humanism that does not collapse into violence and exclusion, as the current dominant Western paradigm has, but rather one that is truly “comprehensive and planetary” (p.121) in scope. The reading for this week is a long-form interview Wynter did with David Scott, the editor of Small Axe, and covers a huge breadth of her work. The preface of the interview offers a helpful contextualisation of Wynter’s work, while the section we will be reading offers an overview into Wynter’s thinking about the ways in which humanist discourse has functioned to exclude non-whites.

    Discussion Questions

    1. At the bottom of page 174, Wynter says “I am suggesting that from the very origin of the modern world, of the Western world system, there were never simply ‘men’ and ‘women’. Rather there was, on the one hand Man, as invented in the sixteenth century by Europe, as Foucault notes, and then, on the other hand, Man’s human Others”. What do you think she means by this? What is the significance of this construction for Wynter’s argument?
    2. In a similar vein, Wynter suggests that “at the beginning of the modern world, the only women were White and Western” (p.174). Why do you think Wynter specifically talks about the construction of women? What does this add to her analysis of the inherently exclusive conception of Man constructed by Western Europe in the modern period?
    3. What is the dilemma that Wynter talks about confronting on page 175? How does ‘appreciating the West’s intellectual breakthroughs’ help to “transform their world”?
    4. What is the relationship between “ethnoastronomies” and the ways in which old civilisations were ordered?
    5. Wynter states that “Copernicus’s breakthrough could only have been made in the wake of the earlier humanists’ invention of a revalorized natural Man in the place of Christianity’s fallen creature” (p.176). What do you think Wynter means by this? How does a “revalorized natural Man” enable the scientific revolution driven by Copernicus? Why is this significant for the construction of human Others as the opposite of the West’s ‘rational Man’? Finally, how and why does this characterisation become “purely secular” (p.177) and biological?
    6. Thinking back to Chakrabarty’s and Smith’s critiques of Western historicism, why does Wynter prefer to use the term “desupernaturalizing” or “de-godding” rather than “secular” to characterise the rising biological conception of Man?
    7. Wynter argues that, in a medieval scholastic order of knowledge, “a lay intellectual … had to think in paradigms which served to confirm the hegemony of the church over the lay world” (p.178). What does this mean?
      • From this idea, Wynter draws on the writings of AiméCésaire and Jean-François Lyotard to suggest that the Human Other is conceptualised as “the name of what is evil”. How does this occur and why is this significant for Wynter’s argument?
      • How is the above related to Wynter’s suggestion that the current dominant paradigm of Man enabled the white Western world to see non-whites as racially inferior?
    8. Does the change in the dominant conception of Man go directly from a theocentric religious conception to a biocentric one? Or is there a stage in between? If so, what is the in-between stage and how does it conceptualise the Human Other?
    9. How does Wynter conceive the relationship between race and gender? How and why does Wynter see gender as an “emancipatory opening”? How do you think Wynter understands gender and how does it relate to her wider argument?
    On DRL Full text
    Chen, Kuan-hsing. Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization
    2010, Duke University Press.
    “Asia as Method: Overcoming the Present Conditions of Knowledge Production” pp. 211-227.
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    Centering his analysis in the dynamic forces of modern East Asian history, Kuan-Hsing Chen recasts cultural studies as a politically urgent global endeavor. He argues that the intellectual and subjective work of decolonization begun across East Asia after the Second World War was stalled by the cold war. At the same time, the work of deimperialization became impossible to imagine in imperial centers such as Japan and the United States. Chen contends that it is now necessary to resume those tasks, and that decolonization, deimperialization, and an intellectual undoing of the cold war must proceed simultaneously. Combining postcolonial studies, globalization studies, and the emerging field of “Asian studies in Asia,” he insists that those on both sides of the imperial divide must assess the conduct, motives, and consequences of imperial histories.

    Chen is one of the most important intellectuals working in East Asia today; his writing has been influential in Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and mainland China for the past fifteen years. As a founding member of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society and its journal, he has helped to initiate change in the dynamics and intellectual orientation of the region, building a network that has facilitated inter-Asian connections. Asia as Method encapsulates Chen’s vision and activities within the increasingly “inter-referencing” East Asian intellectual community and charts necessary new directions for cultural studies.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is the potential of Asia as method? From the remarks Chen makes at the start of the chapter, what do you think Asia as method entails?
    2. What are some of the problems associated with both the idea of Asia as method and the Inter-Asia project that inspired it?
    3. Why does Chen suggest that “due to historical constraints and current local differences, the general mood does not justify using Asia” as an “emotional signifier to call for regional integration and solidarity” (p.213)?
    4. What is the relationship between “anxiety over the meaning of Asia” and the “politics of representation” (p.215)? What are the implications of this relationship for Asia as method? Why is this significant for Chen’s argument?
    5. What does Chen mean by an “imaginary West” and what role has it played in Asian nationalist discourses? Thinking back to some of the earlier readings, what is the relationship between the West and forms of knowledge production? Why is this a problem for Chen?
    6. What are the four strategies of “dealing with the West” Chen considers and how does he critique each of them? Thinking back to your reading of Dipesh Chakrabarty, are you convinced by Chen’s critique? If so, why? If not, why not?
    7. Chen diagnoses a particular “predicament of postcolonial discourse” (p.222). What do you think Chen means by this? How does he attempt to move beyond it?
    8. What are the similarities between Partha Chatterjee’s writings and Chen’s experiences in Taiwan? What is Chen’s idea of “shifting [the] points of reference” (p.225) and how does this inform his engagement with Chatterjee? How does shifting the points of reference collapse the “division between researcher and native informant” (p.227)?
    9. Are you convinced that Asia as method can meaningfully “deal with the West”? Do you think it entails similar ideas in other parts of the world, such as Africa as method or Latin America as method? If so, what implications follow for political philosophy and/or political science?
    On DRL Full text
    Khader, Serene J.. Decolonizing Universalism: A Transnational Feminist Ethic
    2018, OUP USA
    pp. 1-19
    Expand entry
    Publisher’s Note:

    Decolonizing Universalism develops a genuinely anti-imperialist feminism. Against relativism/universalism debates that ask feminists to either reject normativity or reduce feminism to a Western conceit, Khader's nonideal universalism rediscovers the normative core of feminism in opposition to sexist oppression and reimagines the role of moral ideals in transnational feminist praxis.

    Comment: The book is a prescription for feminist praxis in lands and cultures which have histories different from that of the vanguards of the (‘Western’) world. It challenges both the ‘progressive’ ideals of the Enlightenment, which (according to the author) are ethnocentric in many ways, and their universalizing tendencies. It recognizes, and is apprehensive of, the fact that Enlightenment values operate as background assumptions in the works of many Northern and Western feminists, all the more when they are concerned with advancing women’s rights in ‘other’ cultures. The author rejects such tendencies and proposes a different approach to the understanding of normativity and universalism.

    Discussion Questions

    1. The terms ‘Western’ and ‘Northern’ appear frequently in the text. (a) Do the words refer to the same idea? If not, then what is the difference? (pp. 16-17; pp.18-19)
      • Why does the author levy the charge of ethnocentrism against what they call ‘Western’ universalism?
      • What position does the author take against that brand of universalism? Is it relativism or is it any other conception of universalism?
    2. “Anti- imperialist feminisms, in my view, contain substantive normative claims.” (p.3)
      • What is the substantive normative claim of the anti-imperialist feminism?
      • How is this normative claim different from that of the Enlightenment liberalist/ universalist claim of normativity?
    3. “…according to the Enlightenment liberal retelling of history, moral progress means the erosion of community and tradition that the West has ostensibly already achieved.” (p.5)
      • Do Chakrabarty’s ideas of ‘historicism’ and the ‘imaginary waiting room of history’ shed some light on this understanding of history?
    4. What are the ‘specific values’ that the author wishes to examine in the book? Discuss in brief how the author engages with the values. (pp. 7-10) State your views about the discussions. (Discussions in greater detail are available in chapters – 2, 3, 4)
    5. With respect to feminist solidarity and praxis:
      • How does the author qualify the notion of ‘positive ideals’?
      • How must we understand the goods of human rights, and generally the universal indicators of advantage and disadvantage? (pp. 11-12)
    6. The stated feminist position challenges the conventions and methodology of Anglo- American political philosophy in three distinct and important ways. Discuss briefly each of them and register your own response to those.
    7. How does the stated feminist position interact with the notion of intersectionality of oppression? Do you agree that the expressed position is compatible with the intersectionality thesis or is the latter at odds with the former?
    On DRL Full text
    Dhanda, Meena. Philosophical Foundations of Anti-Casteism
    2020, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 120 (1): 71-96.
    Expand entry

    The paper begins from a working definition of caste as a contentious form of social belonging and a consideration of casteism as a form of inferiorization. It takes anti-casteism as an ideological critique aimed at unmasking the unethical operations of caste, drawing upon B. R. Ambedkar’s notion of caste as ‘graded inequality’. The politico-legal context of the unfinished trajectory of instituting protection against caste discrimination in Britain provides the backdrop for thinking through the philosophical foundations of anti-casteism. The peculiar religio-discursive aspect of ‘emergent vulnerability’ is noted, which explains the recent introduction of the trope of ‘institutional casteism’ used as a shield by deniers of caste against accusations of casteism. The language of protest historically introduced by anti-racists is thus usurped and inverted in a simulated language of anti-colonialism. It is suggested that the stymieing of the UK legislation on caste is an effect of collective hypocrisies, the refusal to acknowledge caste privilege, and the continuity of an agonistic intellectual inheritance, exemplified in the deep differences between Ambedkar and Gandhi in the Indian nationalist discourse on caste. The paper argues that for a modern anti-casteism to develop, at stake is the possibility of an ethical social solidarity. Following Ambedkar, this expansive solidarity can only be found through our willingness to subject received opinions and traditions to critical scrutiny. Since opposed groups ‘make sense’ of their worlds in ways that might generate collective hypocrisies of denial of caste effects, anti-casteism must be geared to expose the lie that caste as the system of graded inequality is benign and seamlessly self-perpetuating, when it is everywhere enforced through penalties for transgression of local caste norms with the complicity of the privileged castes. The ideal for modern anti-casteism is Maitri formed through praxis, eschewing birth-ascribed caste status and loyalties.

    Comment: This is a brilliant introductory essay to the problem of casteism which plagues not only Indian societies in India, but also the diaspora abroad. The essay provides a nuanced perspective of how we must understand caste (both in its concept and its practice), introduces us to the 20th century debates which were ongoing alongside the freedom struggle against the Raj, and links the caste debate to the debates around it in contemporary British politics. It is a novel attempt to unearth the philosophical underpinnings of the movement against caste oppression. The timing of the essay seems apposite, given the current political situation in India and its impact in the politics of the countries where Indians constitute a sizeable population.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is caste? Is a perfect definition possible? If not, what are ways to identify caste and the practice of casteism or caste discrimination? Does the notion of caste interact with the notion of class? If so, how?
    2. What is the connection between Colonialism and Casteism? Take into consideration viewpoints of deniers of caste discrimination as well as that of anti-casteists.
    3. Discuss the nature of relationship between the supposedly ‘amoral’ capitalist market and caste norms. Has the market been able to dissolve caste or is it entrenching caste divisions?
    4. What do we understand about Gandhi’s idea of caste and casteism?
      • What contradiction does Gandhi run into while describing the caste system?
    5. What is the notion of morality, inspired from Buddhism, that Ambedkar endorses?
      • What is ‘anti-social morality’ and how is it different from the morality that Ambedkar propounds?
      • Express your opinions on the two conceptions of morality.
    6. How does caste and casteism figure in the rubric of Britain’s ‘multi-ethnic’ politics and specifically in its legal discourse?


The Wartime Quartet

Expand entry
by Ellie Robson, Sasha Lawson-Frost, Amber Donovan, Anne-Marie McCallion, with special thanks to Clare MacCumhail and Rachael Wiseman


This reading list has been designed specifically to introduce undergraduates to the work of the Wartime quartet. It contains selected extracts from various texts, introductory readings and audio recordings alongside questions to accompany each extract, reading or audio recording. It has been written and put together by former members of In Parenthesis reading groups with the intention of inspiring future generations of IP reading groups to continue exploring the work of these wonderful women. With this in mind, we have each selected our favourite texts from the quartet and put together accompanying questions for them; we have for the most part only recommended extracts – as opposed to full texts – for this reading list as we are aware that the undergraduate workload can make it difficult to engage in reading groups such as this one. We very much hope that the addition of extracts does something to offset this and our questions function as a useful tool to facilitate your own discussions around the work of the quartet.

This reading list will be best utilised if the texts contained within it are followed week by week in the order that they are presented as the texts and extracts get progressively more complex as the weeks go by. The reading list begins and ends with work by Clare MacCumhail and Rachael Wiseman – an interview discussion in the beginning and the transcription of a talk at the end – which tackle the subject of these women as a unified philosophical school; they have been strategically placed at the beginning and end of this list in order to ensure that participants of the reading group are reading and engaging with each text with an eye to the bigger picture of the quartet’s unified philosophy. It is strongly recommended – even if participants wish to dip in and out of the other readings on this list – that these two pieces provide the introduction and the conclusion to the reading group.

In addition to this, the women are also presented as individual philosophers within this list. The list of extracts and accompanying questions begin firstly with an exploration of Mary Midgley’s work; specifically, her discussions of philosophical pluming, ‘Beastliness’ and Gaia; before moving on to the work of Philippa Foot. Chapter 1 of Foot’s Natural Goodness appears twice during this list, the first appearance deals exclusively with a small extract and the following entry deals with the chapter as a whole. Readers can either choose to do one or the other, however it is recommended that readers do both as the accompanying questions provide very different discussion topics. If both are read together, it is recommended that the general questions – which pertain to the whole chapter – are looked at after the more specific questions. Following this, an extract from Foot’s A Philosopher’s defence of Morality is presented before transitioning into the work of Iris Murdoch. We provide accompanying questions for two chapters taken from Existentialists and Mystics including ‘Against Dryness’ and ‘The Darkness of Practical Reason’. This list closes with an exploration of the work of Elizabeth Anscombe; beginning with an extract taken from her seminal text Modern Moral Philosophy, then moving on to an extract from Thought and Action in Aristotle and closing with a presentation of her work on the First Person.

We all very much hope that you will get as much enjoyment out of using this list as we did putting it together.


    Part 1: Introduction
    Wiseman, Rachael, Cumhail, Clare. Re-writing C20th British Philosophy: an interview with Rachael Wiseman and Clare MacCumhail discussing the Warime Quartet
    2018, BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking; Women in Parenthesis website
    Expand entry

    The history of Analytic Philosophy we are familiar with is a story about men. It begins with Frege, Russell, Moore. Wittgenstein appears twice, once as the author of the Tractatus and then again later as the author of the Philosophical Investigations. Between Wittgenstein’s first and second appearance are Carnap and Ayer and the all-male Vienna Circle. Then come the post-second-world war Ordinary Language Philosophers – Ryle, and Austin. After that Strawson and Grice, Quine and Davidson.

    The male dominance is not just in the names of the ‘star’ players. Michael Beaney’s 2013 Oxford Handbook of the History of Analytic Philosophy begins by listing the 150 most important analytic philosophers. 146 of them are men. For women who wish to join in this conversation, the odds seem formidably against one.

    Today we will be speaking about two of the four women who warrant an entry in Beaney’s list – Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot. We will be talking about them alongside two other women Iris Murdoch and Mary Midgley. We think they should also be in the top 150, but our broader aims are more ambitious than increasing the proportion of important women from 2.7% to 4%.

    Discussion Questions

    Questions by Annie McCallion

    1. Do you think Mary Midgley, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe and Iris Murdoch would have become a philosophical school if the men at Oxford had not gone off to war?
    2. How different, if at all, do you think your own philosophical educations would have been if the men of today were at war?
    3. Do you think you would be more or less inclined to pursue philosophy as a career after your degree (or become a member of your own philosophical school)?
    4. To what extent, if at all, do you think the task of the philosopher is distinct from that of the scientist?
    5. Is the separation between philosophy and science an important one? If so, why? If not why not?
    6. “Man is a creature who creates pictures of himself then comes to resemble those pictures”: What pictures do you think are prominent within our contemporary culture and in what way do you think we resemble them?
    7. Do you think consequentialist moral reasoning corrupts us?
    8. How prominent do you think the picture of the philosopher as an enlightenment hero is today? To what extent has this influenced the way you have been taught to approach philosophy?
    9. What does doing philosophy collaboratively mean to you?
    10. What are some practical ways in which we could create a collaborative environment within this reading group?
    Part 2: Mary Midgley
    On DRL Full text Read free
    Midgley, Mary. Philosophical Plumbing
    1992, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 33: 139-151
    Expand entry

    Introduction: Is philosophy like plumbing? I have made this comparison a number of times when I have wanted to stress that philosophising is not just grand and elegant and difficult, but is also needed. It is not optional. The idea has caused mild surprise, and has sometimes been thought rather undignified. The question of dignity is a very interesting one, and I shall come back to it at the end of this article. But first, I would like to work the comparison out a bit more fully.

    Comment: This text offers an accessible and vibrant discussion of meta-philosophical concerns regarding the nature and purpose of philosophical enquiry. It raises questions about what philosophy is, and what philosophy is for. No prior knowledge is assumed, and the text would make for a fruitful starting point – or introductory reading to – the topic of metaphilosophy or philosophical methods. It will be particularly useful for sparking interest in philosophical methods and demonstrating to students the purpose and value of asking meta-philosophical questions. Very suitable for students that are new to philosophy, for example in a first year History of Philosophy module.

    Discussion Questions

    Questions by Ellie Robson

    1. What do you make of Midgley’s analogy between plumbing and philosophy? Is it centrally a methodological comparison that she is trying to make?
      • Why you think the analytic philosopher would describe the philosophical plumber as ‘undignified’
      • Midgley claims ‘when trouble arises, specialized skill is needed if there is to be any hope of locating it and putting it right.’ (139) Do conceptual problems need professional/trained philosophers, just like plumbing needs trained plumbers?
    2. What does Midgley suggest is the key role of (philosophical) creativity, (or ‘the poet’) in the myth of philosophical plumbing?
      • (Hint.) Consider the claim that ‘these new suggestions usually come in part from sages who are not full-time philosophers, notably from poetry and the other arts. Shelley was indeed right to say that poets are among the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. They can show us the new vision.’ (140)
    3. ‘Great philosophers, then, need a combination of gifts that is extremely rare. They must be lawyers as well as poets. (141)
      • Do you think the roles of the ‘lawyer’ and ‘the poet’ may be combined to make the philosophical plumber? What traits does Midgley suggest we ought to take from both?
    4. Midgley claims ‘philosophising is not just grand and elegant and difficult but is also needed. It is not optional’ (139). And ‘It can spoil the lives even of people with little interest in thinking, and its pressure can be vaguely felt by anyone who tries to think at all. (140).
      • To what extent do you think human beings are naturally philosophical beings?
      • Do you think philosophy and human life are necessarily/inherently intertwined with one another?
    5. Do you think an overly ‘lawyerly’ approach to philosophy is combative? And if so, is this approach to philosophy is counterproductive to philosophical progress?
    6. Can you think of any examples of large-scale issues that have begun to work badly, resulting in a blockage in our thinking?
      • (Hint.) Think of some contemporary problems. What about dualisms of sexuality and its effects on transgender individuals?