Gender Differences in Philosophical Intuitions

Buckwalter and Stich just posted a very interesting survey of results concerning gender differences in answers given to philosophical thought experiments.  That there are such differences is one of the factors considered in explanations of the underrepresentation of women in philosophy — if women have the "wrong" intuitions in these cases more often than men do, it might turn them off from pursuing philosophy.  Interestingly, the one case that figures in my classes that’s discussed is Putnam’s twin earth experiment. And here women actually have the "right" intuition more often than men do.

The paper’s here and there’s comment thread at Feminist Philosophers. Brian Leiter might also open a comment thread on the paper on his blog.

The paper also has data (some new) on the rate of representation of women in philosophy worth looking at. Here’s the abstract:

In recent years, there has been much concern expressed about the underrepresentation of women in academic philosophy. A full explanation of this troubling phenomenon is likely to be quite complex since there are, almost certainly, many factors that contribute to the gender disparity. Our goal in this paper is to call attention to a cluster of phenomena that may be contributing to the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, though until now these phenomena have been largely invisible. The findings we review indicate that when women and men with little or no philosophical training are presented with standard philosophical thought experiments, in many cases their intuitions about these cases are significantly different. We suspect that these differences could be playing an important role in shaping the demography of the profession. But at present this is only an hypothesis, since we have no evidence that bears directly on the causal relation between the gender gap in academic philosophy and the facts about intuition that we will recount. In future work, we plan to focus on that causal link. However, we believe that thefacts we report about gender differences in philosophical intuitions are both important and disturbing, and that philosophers (and others) should begin thinking about their implications both for philosophical pedagogy and for the methods that philosophers standardly use to support their theories. It is our hope that this paper will help to launch conversations on these issues both within the philosophical community and beyond.

Margaret J. Osler, 1942-2010


My colleague and friend Maggie Osler died yesterday.  She was a wonderful person, and an admirable scholar of early modern science and natural philosophy, the Scientific Revolution, and especially on Boyle, Descartes, Gassendi, and Newton.

University of Calgary obituary