Philosophy and Science of Social Justice
Discussions of justice in the 21st century focus increasingly on issues like sexism, racism, transphobia, and ableism. But what are things like race, gender, and disability? Are they biological differences, or are they socially-constructed? Is there such a thing as “implicit” prejudice? Can “equal treatment” sometimes be unjust? In this course we will examine discussions from the humanities and the sciences on topics such as structural and psychological oppression, microaggressions, implicit bias, and other topics. We will also examine how these theoretical perspectives can be informed by scientific methods, as well as how theories of social justice can be used to criticize and inform our scientific practices.
For syllabus, assignments, readings, announcements, and other material please see the course page on TCU Online.
- Michael Sandel describes his concerns about the right vs. the good in this lecture (you should imagine Rawls as taking Kant’s side, and Sandel as having Aristotelian worries about Rawls). There are also videos of Sandel’s lectures on the original position and Rawls’ principles of justice.
- The New Yorker ran a profile of Charles Taylor at the end of 2016 about some of his current work and his response to recent political developments in the United States. (Available here if you can’t access the New Yorker.)
- An editorial in the Irish Times by Conchúr Ó Giollagáin addresses the disappearance of the Irish language in Ireland, and echoes many of the concerns brought up by Charles Taylor. Letters (here and here) reflect a certain degree of ambivalence among other Irish citizens. NB: the Gaeltachtaí (singular: Gaeltacht) are districts where the Irish language is recognized as the primary language, and has extra protections.
- The racial contract
- Dr. Ibram X. Kendi suggests that racism doesn’t cause racist policies; rather, racist policies cause racism. Hear a short interview with On the Media at WNYC.
- The NPR show Code Switch always has interesting and relevant stories. If you're looking for a good place to start, try this episode about Mary Hamilton.
- My friend Leif Hancox-Li recently published a paper that draws on work in the philosophy of science to criticize Charles Mills’ discussion of ideal theory and idealization in political philosophy. The paper tackles some issues we haven’t discussed, but it’s still quite accessible—it is light on jargon, and patiently explains all its important concepts and examples.
- The podcast 99% Invisible has an episode on “arsenal of exclusion,” the ways that things like furniture and streets can be designed to exclude people, resulting in de facto segregation. It focuses on Baltimore (13 minutes).
- You might also check out this video about the “Troost Wall” in Kansas City and its history. It also includes a primer on structural racism (13 minutes).
- There is a recent Oscar-nominated documentary about James Baldwin (I Am Not Your Negro). See write-up here.
- Structural oppression
- Ijeoma Oluo storified an introductory discussion about privilege that might interest some of you.
- The Bechdel Test movie list. Look up a handful of your favorite films to see how they measure up. This page also has resources for reading more about the Bechdel test.
- After our concluding discussion on the subtlety of structural oppression (and related to our discussion of Jay Smooth), I might recommend Arthur Chu’s piece on “outrage culture” and the value of consciousness-raising.
- A friend of mine has recently spoken out about sexism in the Irish business community. Read about it here.
- A while back The Onion ran an article about objectification. We may discuss this in class.
- I may also bring up a 2014 study about women and body hair, discussed succinctly here and with some more consideration here.
- My friend Arthur Chu writes from time to time about social justice. This piece of his, about entitlement, misogyny, and the terrible mass shooting of women in a sorority house in Isla Vista, is worth a look. [CW: sexual violence.]
- An interesting article by Debbie Cameron has been going around recently about policing women’s use of language. The article is a reply to another recent article that advises women not to use the word “just” so much.
- Social construction of race and gender
- In 2018 the New Yorker Radio Hour featured an interview with the funny and charming Nigerian-American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which Adichie describes her experience as a black immigrant. Scroll down to the segment called “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Discovering America,” or listen to the whole episode.
- Much has been made recently about the strange case of Rachel Dolezal. Some philosophers have weighed in on what they make of Dolezal and the media attention her situation has received. Some of these philosophers refer to Sally Haslanger's view (which we will discuss in class). Charles Mills also weighs in, as does Quayshawn Spencer whom we’ll read later.
- If you’d like to see Sally Haslanger in action, there are videos of her lectures in YouTube. The videos are long and not of excellent quality, however, and may not be very accessible.
- The philosophy podcast The Partially Examined Life has an episode from 2012 about philosophy of race (with guest Lawrence Ware). Their discussion of DuBois and West makes contact in interesting ways with our topic of race and racial identity.
- See Stella Young’s talk about disability and “inspiration porn.”
- NPR’s TED Radio Hour did a segment on Daniel Kish and his echolocation. Personally I think the audio segment is much better than the original TED talk (embedded in the link above).
- Listen here to learn about the history of curb cuts: how disability rights activists fought for them, what people think of them now, and how the concept has been applied to other domains (like service counters and software design). A story from 99% Invisible.
- If you’re looking for more about cultural assimilation through education policy, there’s an episode of Radiolab about the Carlisle Indian School. Actually, the episode focuses on the early history of American football. It’s a good listen.
- Implicit bias
- If you’d like to see Tamar Gendler in action (and I highly recommend it; she is one of my favorite academic speakers) you can check out several of her lectures on YouTube. This one is relevant to our topics for this class, and if you skip to time index 32:18 you can see Professor Gendler introduce her students to what she calls “alief.”
- Scientific racism and ethics
- Wendy Zuckerman tells a story about American eugenics and the history of the word “moron” at her podcast Science Vs Well worth checking out.
- The Irish podcast Our Sexual History has a 15-minute episode about the history of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.
- Radiolab has a 25-minute segment on the story of Henrietta Lacks. The segment is part of a longer episode about famous tumors, and the other segments are interesting as well (though not related to scientific racism).
- Understanding science
- My friend and colleague Catherine Stinson, who is the most insightful philosopher of computer science I know of, has an op-ed on the need for ethics education and standards in AI and machine learning. I recommend it highly. (Bonus: she coins the term “nerd-sightedness.”)
- The WNYC radio show On the Media has an edition of their Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook on understanding science news. Their story focuses on healthcare news, but many of their lessons can be generalized to popular science.
- Language and prestige