Philiminality Oxford is a student-run platform for cross-cultural and interdisciplinary philosophy. We discuss philosophical ideas, thinkers, and approaches which are frequently marginalized in both Anglo-American and “continental” academic circles. We engage with broader horizons of what it means to do philosophy by discussing intersectional perspectives on brands of thought from across the world. We also recognize the value of exploring how philosophical issues interrelate with other disciplines, such as politics, theology, sociology, classics, history, psychology and natural science. We welcome contributions from graduate students and early career academics on our panels. Our events are all open to everyone, whether you are interested in the basic day-to-day relevance of philosophical questions, through to the conditions for a more global approach to philosophy.
OPEN LETTER: DIVERSIFYING THE PHILOSOPHY FACULTY AND CURRICULUM AT OXFORD
Sent to the Philosophy Faculty by the ‘Diversifying Philosophy Student Collective’ on June 30, 2020
We are a collective of students that has come together to write this letter in order to push for swift and systemic representational and curriculum change within the philosophy faculty. We are made up of both undergraduate and graduate level philosophers from a wide range of degree subjects, with a shared passion for diversifying the formal teaching of philosophy at Oxford. In writing this letter, we want to make a public affirmation on behalf of philosophy students at Oxford that we recognise that more work needs to be done, and express that we are willing and eager to work alongside the philosophy faculty to implement the changes that we express such a strong sentiment for. We find ourselves in a crucial moment, and we seek to use the recent weeks’ momentum to continue to promote important change in the spaces in which we operate, including the philosophy faculty in which we study. As students, we cannot do this alone, and we hope that we will be able to work together with the faculty in order to ensure that the Oxford philosophers now and of the future –and the world they affect– will be able to flourish under conditions of broader diversity of thought. We intend that the measures that we suggest in this letter will be able to facilitate this educational and ethical endeavour. We emphasise our willingness to work together in this introduction so as not to lose the strength of our commitment expressed in the following letter. Please take this as a sign of how eager we are to engage.
Dear Professor Chris Timpson, Professor Stephen Mulhall, & Dr. Anil Gomes (we assume Dr. Gomes still holds the faculty Equality & Diversity position; if not, we apologise and ask this be directed towards the appropriate person while nonetheless recognising Dr. Gomes’ experience in the role means his attention would be appropriate),
Students found encouraging and inspiring Professor Timpson’s recent statement about the Philosophy Faculty’s interest in opening a discussion about the scope and possibilities of philosophical pedagogy in Oxford, in light of the tragic events that have taken place in the US and around the world in the past weeks and months. A group of Oxford philosophy students would like to affirm our willingness to work with the faculty to request and shape changes in order to promote representation and a broader curriculum in the Faculty.
We understand that the path to change is complex; but we think the urgency of change supersedes the difficulties: we must do all we can to learn about currently under-discussed topics and to support minority academics, in structures whose curricula can either perpetuate systemic oppression and silencing or strive to envision a just future. We recognise there might not yet be a consensus for how to best go about this; we also recognise that there may never be consensus. We must begin to take steps to remedy the effects of systemic racism, sexism, and much more that pervade our discipline. This might involve a learning curve. We understand student demand is also a deciding factor towards making changes. We want you to know this demand exists, and we want to help build active feedback and communication systems to promote faculty-student interaction in combating structural injustices. This letter represents one step in this direction. It goes without saying that the philosophy curriculum does have an influence on the world; we too would like to take responsibility for this.
We would like to distinguish between two different types of change which we are requesting;
Firstly: more representation of ethnic minority thinkers in the department and on our reading lists. The latter can happen much more quickly than the former for which we can also take significant steps now (see appendix), but both are necessary. The lack of diversity in philosophy is well known. It is shocking that the representation of ethnic minority thinkers in each FHS reading list is less than 5%. To provide some examples: Knowledge and Reality, 3-4%; Philosophy of Science, 1.5%; Ethics, 2%; Early Modern Philosophy, below 1%. Philosophy is a discipline that benefits from diversity of opinion and rigorous critical appraisal of often preconceived, presumed ideas about the topic material therein. A diverse country, and undergraduate body, and academic discipline, should not be limited to such a narrow portion of the body of work that makes up what we call philosophy.
We need representation to support those highly competent individuals who face more obstacles to graduate programmes, job placement, and tenure; we also need representation to encourage minorities at the undergraduate level so that they have a chance of viably pursuing a career in the discipline. We need their names and works on our reading lists, in our graduate programmes, in our faculty, as professors, and on the lecture stage. We need them in working groups where data is collected and examined, hypotheses are suggested, and decisions are made. Such measures, of course, also entail diversity training and support. We must recognise that just hiring currently absent minorities is not enough; we must provide them with support for working in a historically racist and sexist institution while working to change those racist and sexist systems, including by highly valuing and acting upon their testimony as to what needs to change.
Secondly: a wider representation of types of philosophy on our curriculum. We distinguish between this and the former request to avoid the assumption that has been made elsewhere that a person specialises in a philosophy that relates specifically to their ethnic identity. This might appear to be an obvious error, but it is not uncommon. These two requests nonetheless go hand in hand in cultivating a more critical and comprehensive philosophical discipline –which can be done well at the undergraduate level without jeopardising rigour. Indeed, we believe this will increase our capacities to reflect critically on the traditions we encounter and broaden our array of philosophical tools. For this reason, we include an appendix of models that have been tested elsewhere. Vitally we must note that many practitioners of philosophies beyond the ‘mainstream’ canon are impressive individuals who have managed to be versed in the mainstream and beyond. We can strive to emulate this. Historically, many revered institutions flourished when contending with philosophies from around the world –from ancient Greece to classical India, from 9th century Baghdad to 12th century Cordoba, to name just a few examples. We too can look to these precedents for guidance while questioning what, in our case, ‘Western’ philosophy does not prioritise, including but not limited to, non-Western philosophies as well as philosophy of race, of disability, and feminism. We request that both these topics – philosophy of race, disability, and sexuality/queer theory – and other global philosophies be integrated into current reading lists and added as papers.
Rather than adding ‘sections’ to syllabi we recommend incorporating work into already delineated sections – a lot of work has been done on how to talk about knowledge, ‘free will,’ scepticism, and induction, for example, in these areas. We recognise that adding entirely new papers might take more time and work. But there is such an abundance of work in these areas that can be put in conversation with the philosophy we currently study that we find no excuse for much delay in adding readings to existing papers. If it is good academic practice to continually refresh acquaintance with writing in a field and to update reading lists, such an update must involve one of our two suggested priorities. We also include an appendix with resources. We can also look to our own university for resources, which often extend beyond the current philosophy faculty, as evidenced for the specialist Indian Philosophy paper. Resources. For long term change we must be willing to hire graduates in these areas, work with other faculties, and hire faculty in these areas while working towards adding more papers and general coverage in the curriculum. We suggest that the exposure is so vital and useful that while the faculty works towards these changes they might consider hosting more specialist seminars/lectures on these, such as those frequently led by graduate students, for undergraduates.
In line with the two main requests we believe the following would support students and faculty to enact these values:
- Reading list accountability at the faculty and college level – we understand that the faculty does not control individual tutors’ reading lists but also recognise that individual tutorials are the unique foundation of Oxford learning and so individual tutors play an important role in any developments. This may well therefore entail some systemic change in the relations between faculty lists and college tutors’ lists. This could take the form of an enforced quota, for example, or the emphasis that there will be questions touching upon the above topics in exams. We can and should expect faculty to update their practices and reading acquaintances as mentioned above. Such items could be further explored in a student-inclusive faculty working group.
- A public robust agenda and transparent updates of efforts – Some changes can be implemented imminently and some will take more time. We should both like to showcase faculty efforts as well as be assured that change is underway. Good practice for sustainability efforts has included making this available publicly on websites; we suggest likewise the faculty website could share with the general public the work underway and share progress regularly with students through a student-directed newsletter and through more actively promoted and facilitated student-faculty forums. We would like to see a clear pathway accounting for what is more achievable now and what the faculty will work towards, including the steps planned to get there. For example, this might include organising specialist topic papers in philosophy of race, Indian philosophy, and Chinese philosophy in the next year – for which we have enough resources already – while outlining steps towards how to be capable of adding papers in Africana diaspora, Latin American, and disability philosophy. This might also include an explanation of how the faculty develops new papers.
- More actively facilitated student participation: if the faculty values the voices and lives of the students they teach, they must more proactively promote current venues for students feedback –such as the UJCC– and develop more effective ways for students to be involved. We include some suggestions in our appendix.
- Pro-actively informing students about newly introduced topics: whether new readings or a new special paper. For new readings this could take the form of a written statement and for new special papers, such as for Indian Philosophy, this could take the form of both a written statement with resources as well as an information session. Global philosophies might seem more unfamiliar given the way our course is currently taught. If the faculty believes their introduction is valuable to the student philosophers and is putting effort into developing papers, then they must attempt to inform students as a faculty rather than depending on college tutors to be informed enough to do this job. We believe in-person information sessions are important ways to do this so that students might meet other interested students and ask questions in person to paper lecturers, tutors, and students familiar with the area. This is a viable model demonstrated by ‘Economics’ in both PPE and Economics and Management, and is less work than the efforts of the Theology & Religions Department to expose students to different ‘world religions’ before they decide to select one or more for further study.
We would finally like to note that many thinkers and work we already study are historically connected to the under-discussed groups and topics mentioned. Adding in these voices would allow us to more deeply understand the work we already study. It would be patently unforgivable for us not to address these issues now they are so raised to our collective consciousness. We must become aware of the complexities and have the courage to face our histories and confront the shape of our discipline. We can examine not only racist and sexist inflections but also how historical engagements with philosophy from around the world shaped the ‘Western’ philosophers we read. This would be more accurate and more responsible, giving credit to unacknowledged sources of influence –whether for Heidegger, Hegel, Hume, Nietzsche, or Wittgenstein. Strikingly there is a notable absence of any women on this list of philosophers we may study individually, including the conspicuous absence of women-identifying philosophers so recently prominent at Oxford such as the Quartet of Iris Murdoch, Mary Midgley, Philipa Foot, and G.E.M. Anscombe. If these brilliant women, so recently at Oxford, are absent, how much more adamant must we be in changing and how starkly must we face the restrictions placed on our syllabi?
Since all of undergraduate philosophy is only an introduction to vast areas of discourse, this also applies to any non-’Western’ philosophies that might be included on a syllabus. Indeed it would be almost inconsistent reasoning to debar work in these philosophies by such a premise as not being adequately acquainted with their cultural milieu. Students study here from around the world. There is no reason to suppose students are more acquainted with or should be more acquainted with the way the British establishment traditionally tells history, especially when our curriculum currently contains no explicitly historical papers. If Oxford is considered ‘world-leading’ in Philosophy, while historically and still systematically silencing non-Western and marginalised philosophies that influence or go unobserved by the narrow demographic of philosophers and topics we currently study, then it would be accurate to call Oxford Philosophy ‘world-dominating’, harkening to its imperialist tradition. We must examine our presuppositions about our current curriculum and perceptions of predominantly excluded traditions and discourses, to see both how we can begin to engage cross-culturally through and expand upon our existing categories – logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc – and how we can adjust and broaden our tools of analysis thereby. Our philosophy could be richer and more critical by conversing with a wider array of thought.
After World War I, when the university’s values were thrust into question amid globally devastating events, the department managed to relatively swiftly introduce a radically rigorous and then ‘modern’ degree focused on engaging with contemporary issues: PPE, now considered in high demand. We believe we face a time similarly urgent and ripe for drawing our attention to changes that must be made, from a tragic set of circumstances of our society’s own making –the environmental crisis, the pandemic, and racial injustice. We have yet to face these problems in Oxford’s philosophical institutional heritage; philosophers here will remain complicit and culpable as long as we do not educate ourselves on our role and responsibilities in justifying and perpetuating systemic oppression and destruction through ignorance, indifference, or more sinister insinuations. It is no longer tenable to avoid committing to a robust plan for systemic change, beginning with what we are taught here. We understand this is a big ask, but we also are certain it is necessary. We are therefore also willing to do our part as students. We are ready to engage in working groups and beyond, and ask therefore for more opportunities to enter into constructive dialogue and collaborative action to implement a more diverse philosophy curriculum and environment at Oxford.
Please do let us know your thoughts. We are looking forward to working with you and talking further. Please find a selection of appendices here.
Wishing you all health at this time.
In solidarity with BLM & all those who have been unjustly silenced;
The Diversifying Philosophy Student Collective
SOLIDARITY WITH BLACK LIVES MATTER: JOINT STATEMENT OF SUPPORT
Minorities and Philosophy Oxford
people for womxn* in philosophy
oxford public philosophy
Minorities and Philosophy Oxford, Philiminality Oxford, people for womxn* in philosophy, and oxford public philosophy strongly condemn the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota Police. This abhorrent behaviour is neither the first instance of police violence against Black members of society, nor is it an isolated incident. Unwarranted and disproportionate police action against Black people have gone on for a long time, ranging from outright murders to disproportionate numbers of stops and searches.
We echo the call of Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements that justice must be done. We additionally affirm these movements’ call for substantial institutional reform and societal changes, including in relation to the police. The problems facing Black members of society are systemic and institutional, as highlighted by this and other recent incidents — including how public officials have responded to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests. These issues are not restricted to the United States; they are a UK problem, and they are global. While the UK police are generally unarmed, Black people here too face highly elevated levels of harassment and brutality.
Institutional racism is not confined to police violence, but comes in many forms. One important aspect — and one which Black and other minority members constantly grapple with — is the systematic and continued exclusion from various facets of society, including from the university system. This exclusion has far-ranging implications for how universities relate to members of these minorities, and who is taken to possess appropriate standing to produce knowledge.
Various groups in Oxford are doing valuable and much-needed work exposing and counteracting these problems, including Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, Common Ground, Uncomfortable Oxford, Race and Resistance, and the African & Caribbean Society. At the same time, institutions should not rely upon the emotional and unpaid labour of minority groups to advance change. We require a pro-active institutional response that directly confronts the systemic injustices faced by minority groups in Oxford and beyond, and that results in concrete and significant changes that centre Black students, Black faculty, and Black intellectual heritage.
Even closer to home: academic philosophy has long been charged with institutional racism and the exclusion of the voices of minorities and women. Among other problems in Oxford: the history of Euro-American philosophy is taught as if it were the history of philosophy in its entirety (apart from a new, specialist paper on Indian philosophy, limited to ten students); there is no paper on the philosophy of race; and minority members, and in particular Black people, are severely underrepresented in faculty reading lists and amongst staff and students.
Minorities and Philosophy Oxford, Philiminality Oxford, people for womxn* in philosophy, and oxford public philosophy stand in solidarity against anti-Blackness, and in addition support all anti-racist activists and ongoing decolonisaton efforts. We are committed to changing the university, and to supporting the work of Black Lives Matter and anti-racist movements more widely.
Minorities and Philosophy Oxford
pwip – people for womxn* in philosophy
oxford public philosophy