I just got done writing two posts which explicitly apply philosophy to the practical issues of gender and orientation. Meanwhile in the atheosphere, PZ Myers wrote two posts defending philosophy as a field, to the disagreement of many commenters. Anti-philosophy sentiments in the atheist movement are nothing new, but I continue to find them strange since the atheist movement is more dependent on philosophy than literally any other social movement I know of.
A lot of this has to do with what people consider to be the central example of philosophy. My central example of philosophy is modern analytic philosophy, particularly 20th century philosophy of language and logic. Most atheists, on the other hand, seem to think the central examples of philosophy are anti-scientific skepticism and religious apologetics.
One model of gender is that you are the gender that you identify as. This is a great model because everyone gets to be the gender that they want to be. It is, by definition, desirable for people to get what they want.1
Many people express concerns about the self-identity model of gender. What if someone abuses it? What if someone disingenuously claims to be a woman, not because they want it, but for some strategic advantage? I don’t think this is much of an issue, since empirically this does not appear to happen very often, if at all. But the concern is noted.
I think a far more common issue is when someone is deciding what gender to identify as. You can’t use the self-identity model as a guide when your self-identity is precisely the thing in question. When the self-identity model works, it defines what is desirable, and that is well and good. But it’s necessary to find at least one other model to supplement it so we can understand what it is exactly that we’re desiring. Here I will briefly describe a few alternative models.
This post was cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda. Yes, I finally found a way to pass off straight-up analytic philosophy as ace blogging.
Sciatrix once created an influential metaphor for attraction: it’s like everyone has an invisible elephant that only they can see. These invisible elephants are apparently very important in society, but hardly anyone can be bothered to describe them because it’s assumed that everyone has their own elephant and can see for themselves.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, once described a thought experiment: Suppose that everyone has a box with a “beetle” inside it, but each person can only see their own “beetle”. Wittgenstein argues that when we talk about “beetles”, we are only referring to that which is in the box. It doesn’t matter if the boxes actually contain different things, or if the things change over time, or if the boxes are actually empty. (watch this video)
That feeling when philosophical thought experiments become directly applicable to your daily life.
In the comments, I had a discussion on the structure of knowledge. There are two general points of view. The first point of view, called foundationalism, is that knowledge starts with a few basic principles, upon which the rest of knowledge is built. The second point of view, called coherentism, is that knowledge is structured like a web, with inferences going in every direction.
This is a long-standing philosophical question, and you can read superior accounts from more authoritative sources.
Both coherentism and foundationalism have features which should raise eyebrows among critical thinkers. Namely, foundationalism involves believing its foundations without evidence or reason. Coherentism involves circular reasoning.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy observes that coherentists typically defend their view by attacking foundationalism. Here I will instead mount a positive defense of coherentism by arguing for the virtues of circular reasoning. Continue reading