Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Why Black American Philosophers are so few in number

Thomas Sowell has pointed out the paradox that worsening discrimination in Federal Employment faced by African-Americans led to very highly educated Black women being employed as School Teachers with the result that Du Bois's 'talented tenth' got a head-start.
As an economist, Sowell knows that information asymmetry can lead to signalling failure- as happened when 'busing' was introduced and ordinary African Americans thought their children would be better off being taught by under-educated Whites rather than highly educated people of their own background.

Few American philosophers were adept in Continental philosophy, back in the Sixties, and fewer still had the impact or visibility of Angela Davies whose Doctorate was from East Berlin. Yet, her example encouraged women not to lose themselves in the couvade maiuetics of the Socratic tradition but, rather, to acquire the practical skills of an Agnodice who helped actual women give birth to real babies, not Platonic Ideas. Agnodice was acquitted of corrupting the women of Athens because she could lift her skirt and thus disprove the allegations against her.

If it is really the case that only 40 Afro-American women have been given PhDs in Philosophy since 1965 then the question arises whether there was something wrong with the subject ab ovo.  Either, as Nietzche said of Kant, it seeks to use arcane arguments to support popular prejudices- this is like Bergson or Putnam arguing that Theories like Relativity or Quantum Mechanics don't really mean what they say they mean, even though this has been empirically confirmed- or else it cashes out as paranoid ranting directed at some long dead pedant who, supposedly, poisoned the wells of thought for all eternity- or till the Revolution ad kalendas Graecas or some Fuehrer's final Final Solution.

It is noticeable that a J.D who adds a Philosophy PhD to her skill-set can have an impact on Public Policy and, to my knowledge, there are black female Economists and Area Studies Specialists whose Doctorate could easily have come under the purview of the Philosophy Dept. but for the fact that this might have lowered the value of the Credential.

Kathryn Gines, at Penn State, has taken a different tack- one reminiscent of Agnodice who went to Egypt to acquire medical knowledge- by linking Philosophy once again to Healing, Self-Actualization, and restoring Sanity to Society.

 However, incentives have to be created and maintained, perhaps by fostering links to Enterprises outside the Academy (which has proved such a benefit for STEM subjects) so that the Social Value of what is being created is properly recognized and rewarded.

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