As we begin another academic year, there is a lot to celebrate in the philosophy world, with large prizes being handed out, and prestigious fellowships achieved. But before that, an update on the last issue’s news and the controversies at the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. You might recall objections to the publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s article “In defence of Transracialism”, and an open letter with 830 signatures calling for its retraction.
The editorial board have since stepped down and the Board of Directors at Hypatia have introduced a set of interim editors. Ann Garry (CSU Los Angeles) has been appointed as Interim Editor, whilst Serene Khader (Brooklyn College/CUNY) and Alison Stone (Lancaster) are both taking up roles of Interim Co-Editors. Alongside this interim editorial board, Hypatia announced the creation of a task force “to move the journal through the current crisis and to assure that the journal can deal more effectively with controversy in the future.” The board of directors explained that the task force will be charged with:
“1) revising Hypatia’s governance structure to ensure the protection of appropriate editorial autonomy and integrity while providing checks and balances in the form of editorial advice and a transparent dispute resolution process; 2) providing guidance to Hypatia so that it may strengthen and deepen its commitments to pluralism and inclusion and help heal the feminist philosophy community; and 3) appointing a search committee for Hypatia’s next permanent editorial team.”
Chairs and members of the Task Force will be announced shortly. The board went on to add:
“Hypatia is committed to publishing multiple, diverse, and marginalised approaches to feminist philosophy. Because these commitments may at times result in deep and divisive controversy, it is critical that all those associated with Hypatia share common standards of publication ethics. To that end, we would like to reassure potential authors and peer reviewers that all who are associated with Hypatia in editorial or non-profit board positions will now be required to sign a statement of adherence to guidelines issued by COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics.
We encourage feminist philosophers who wish to help heal the feminist philosophy community and see Hypatia flourish as a journal committed to pluralism and inclusion to submit your work, serve as peer reviewers, and send us and the Task Force your thoughts about how the journal should move forward.”
This seems like a very positive step forward, and with such a strong interim editorial team the journal should be able to move swiftly on from the controversies of the last academic year.
Other good news this autumn comes in the form of the election to the British Academy of two excellent philosophers. Each year the British Academy “elects up to 52 outstanding UK based scholars who have achieved distinction in any branch of the humanities or social sciences”, and this year Professor M.M. McCabe and Professor Jennifer Hornsby have been elected as fellows. McCabe is professor of ancient philosophy emerita, King’s College London; Keeling Scholar in Residence, University College London and Bye-Fellow, Newnham College, Cambridge. She specialises in ancient philosophy, with a particular focus on Plato’s metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. She also researches in ethics and the philosophy of medicine. Alongside McCabe, Professor Jennifer Hornsby of Birkbeck College, University of London and visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, also joins the British Academy. Hornsby’s work focuses on philosophy of mind, action and language and feminist philosophy.
A particularly rigorous selection process exists for election to the British Academy, with only one or two people elected from each discipline each year, despite hundreds of potential eligible candidates. Their entry into the academy is a fantastic accolade for both McCabe and Hornsby, and wonderful news for the philosophical community at large. In recent years, the underrepresentation of women in philosophy has often been noted, so to have two prominent female philosophers receive such a prestigious commendation for their work certainly helps to increase the visibility of women in the discipline. This acknowledgement of female achievement also reflects a broader trend in the British Academy’s selection process, with the academy reporting that “[t]he proportion of women elected to the Fellowship has doubled in the last five years.” This year, 38% of the new fellows were women. Hornsby commented:
“I’m honoured to be elected to the British Academy. 45 years ago, when I first knew of the Academy, it seemed as if Fellows were fellows – men, that is to say. Well, nearly all of them were then. It’s very good to see how many women have been elected in recent years. I’m proud to join other philosophers in the Academy and other Birkbeck FBAs.”
But it’s not only the distinguished professors who are celebrating. Over the summer it was announced that James Williams, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford Internet Institute, had won the newly launched Nine Dots Prize for his essay exploring whether digital technologies are making politics impossible. Williams, who works on the philosophy and ethics of technological design, and previously worked at Google, penned the successful essay, entitled “Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Persuasion in the Attention Economy”, which was selected as the winner from over 700 entries. The award carries with it a $100,000 prize and a book deal with Cambridge University Press to expand on the essay. Here’s an excerpt from Williams’ essay:
“Digital technologies privilege our impulses over our intentions. They are increasingly designed to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities in order to direct us toward goals that may or may not align with our own. In the short term, this can distract us from doing the things we want to do. In the longer term, however, it can distract us from living the lives we want to live, or, even worse, undermine our capacities for reflection and self-regulation, making it harder, in the words of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, to ‘want what we want to want.’ A primary effect of digital technologies is thus to undermine the operation and even development of the human will. This militates against the possibility of all forms of self-determination at both individual and collective levels, including all forms of politics worth having.”
The Nine Dots Prize is funded by the Kadas Prize Foundation, directed by financier Peter Kadas. The prize derives its name from “the nine dots puzzle – a lateral thinking puzzle which can only be solved by thinking outside the box.” According to its website, “The Nine Dots Prize seeks to reward original thinking in response to contemporary societal issues” and aims to “promote, encourage and engage innovative thinking to address problems facing the modern world.” Each Prize cycle lasts two years, with a new question being announced every other October. Anyone over the age of 18 can enter, so if you fancy a book deal and a lump sum, keep an eye on the website and put your thinking caps on.