Gender and the Philosophy Club

Women200 Stephen Stich and Wesley Buckwalter in The Philosopher's Magazine:

Once upon a time, a Club was started by some really clever people. It was a very prestigious Club whose members were thought to be some of the deepest thinkers in all the world. Since the members of the Club were lovers of wisdom, they were called “Philosophers”. To get into the Club, one had to be very bright and very well educated; one also had to relish argument and debate and be very good at it. The Club was founded a long, long time ago, back in the days when men got to do all the cool stuff, and women were treated as second-class citizens (or worse!). So there were no women in the Club.

In addition to being very clever, and very good at argument and debate, there was also another requirement for getting into the Club, and that will take a bit of explaining. In their arguments and debates, Philosophers frequently come up with rather odd hypothetical cases – thought experiments, as they are sometimes called – that pose interesting philosophical questions. Some of these thought experiments focus on whether a character in a hypothetical story really has knowledge of some proposition; others ask whether an action recounted in the story was just or morally permissible; still others raise questions about free will, personal identity, meaning and other matters. Here’s an example that focuses on knowledge:

Bob has a friend, Jill, who has driven a Buick for many years. Bob therefore thinks that Jill drives an American car. He is not aware, however, that her Buick has recently been stolen, and he is also not aware that Jill has replaced it with a Pontiac, which is a different kind of American car. Does Bob really know that Jill drives an American car, or does he only believe it?

Thought experiments like this one are called “Gettier cases” since a man named “Gettier” first proposed them. Philosophers often find that they can make spontaneous judgments about these questions. After hearing or reading a thought experiment, a compelling answer just pops into their minds. They have no conscious awareness of the psychological processes that lead to that answer. Nonetheless, the answer seems to be true.