A Raging Philosopher

Philosopher Sally Haslanger (MIT) is very unhappy about how she has been treated by her colleagues in philosophy:

There is a deep well of rage inside of me. Rage about how I as an individual have been treated in philosophy.
“Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)”, Hypatia 23 (2008), p. 221.

Well, let’s look at some details from her biography.

According to Haslanger’s CV on MIT’s website, although she had no publications in 1985, she got a tenure-track job in philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. The next year (still with no publications) she moved to a tenure-track position at Princeton. Three years later she moved to the University of Michigan.

In 1992 Haslanger was offered a tenured position at Cornell. Moreover, she was actually approached by Cornell and urged to apply for that job, although by that time she published only three articles (and no books). But she was not ready to accept the offer from Cornell because she wanted to explore the possibility of staying at Michigan and getting tenure there. The problem, however, was that apparently her publication record was so weak that the chair of the philosophy department in Ann Arbor advised her not even to think about applying for tenure so early. Luckily for her, a solution was found:

I was told that because Steve [Haslanger’s husband] was in the department (and because they had just told me that I couldn’t even count on being brought up early), it would have to be under “heightened scrutiny.” That meant I would have to have twice the usual number of tenure letters. It worked. [http://www.whatisitliketobeaphilosopher.com/sally-haslanger/]

A stunning change: the department first lets her know that her research output is clearly inadequate for tenure, but then soon reverses itself and puts her under “heightened scrutiny”, which amounts only to asking her to submit more recommendation letters. And, unsurprisingly, “it worked”.

Even far better philosophers than Haslanger would consider themselves extremely fortunate if they were showered with offers from UC Irvine, Princeton, Penn, Michigan, Cornell and MIT.

But not Haslanger. She feels rage about how she has been treated in philosophy.


  1. I’m a broken record, but this just shows that the system is fundamentally and almost universally corrupt. It’s evil, can’t be reformed. Not only does this lazy or incapable halfwit get multiple positions at the very top of the feudal system, but she thinks she’s a victim _and_ her insane whining is treated as if it were philosophical discourse worthy of publication _and_ she herself is treated as an authority within the “profession” on social justice and privilege and fairness, etc. And almost no one thinks this is weird, or those who do are afraid to say anything. If only the God Emperor would defund all humanities programs.

  2. Serious question: Do you think Haslanger is dishonest or, or is she self-deceived? Charity would recommend the latter, but these people are so morally corrupt that it’s getting harder and harder to err on the side of charity, especially when so many of them agree with Marx that the point of philosophy is not to correctly interpret the world, but to change it.

  3. Isn’t it possible that women in philosophy are advantaged in some respects and disadvantaged in some respects? And isn’t it also possible that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages?

    It seems undeniable that there are certain respects in which being a woman is an advantage (e.g., in many departments, if a woman and a man have equally impressive cv’s, the woman will get the job offer). But this is consistent with there being many disadvantages to being a woman, and with those disadvantages outweighing the advantages.

    Merely pointing out that women enjoy some advantages fails to refute the claim that women are, overall, disadvantaged.

    • Look at the high percentage of females to males that get jobs at (so-called) top philosophy programs in the first few rounds of job offers and compare CVs. Also, consider how many professors in those departments are activist feminists, be they male or female, and how many support affirmative action. Consider the scorn of one’s peers if one has very females in a department and the esteem for having a lot of “diversity.” I would say, yes, females are disadvantaged. They are disadvantages by all the progressives who treat them as trophy-wives rather than solely on the basis of their philosophical merits (and, no, I don’t believe that they are only getting jobs when their CVs are just as good as the white male’s, something which is justifiable).

  4. Did you actually look at Haslanger’s work at the time and consider the degree to which it was considered important, making significant contributions? Did you compare her level of publication to men who got jobs at the same level? Because not having presented any of that information, you appear to just be….well…..raging.

  5. Uh, how can you compare her work when she had zero publications over the three tenure-track jobs? She must have been one helluva teacher!

    • You realize that even if the work hadn’t been published, it was written. People can still read things that are in working form. If you know any actual philosophers, you’ve probably encountered their unpublished work. So you might, for example, look at the work she had that was published later and likely written or circulating in that period assess whether those who encountered it at the time would have found it significant. And of course you just willfully ignored the other part of my comment, which involved comparing her status to that of other people who got similar positions in those years.

      But you must be one helluva a researcher!

    • Wow you are a jerk,

      Disregarding the alleged male/female bias (which we would need your stated historical comparison for), something does seem a bit off about the timeline. Unless it was a relatively benign and not atypical occurence in the mid-80’s, the situation would likely be relevant to anyone interested in the power of institutional prestige, one’s ‘network’, and the like.

      1 year at UC Irvine, and 3 years at Princeton. That’s ~4 years of earning an assistant prof. salary before two papers are published (they are published in the same year). If we get rid of one year for the peer review process, we affectively have an extremely costly 3-year subsidy on the two papers of related topics, the longer one being explicity derived from the dissertation (check the title of the paper).

      What happened? My wild guess: there was a paper to be made out of the dissertation but it needed alot of work. The paper develops a bit at Irvine, but the work is highly related to work David Lewis is doing at Princeton, so a transition to Princeton occurs. At Princeton, Lewis helps develop the paper derived from the dissertation, as well as serving as a sort of incubator or spring-board for the 2nd paper (which is only 6 pages long).

      Was the work paradigm shifting so that it automatically justifies the salary, time subsidy, and institutional access? No, but academic work is rarely paradigm shifting. Was there enough observable potential to justify the whole process? We’ll never know. I like to think of these types of life occurences as significant strokes of good luck that can happen to different people at different times. I’ve had some as well.

      These rabbit holes, though, will always justifiably increase skepticism of the discipline in the eyes of many people. I mean, if my wild guess about the actual story is remotely true, how could it not?

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