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Department of Philosophy

Durham Diversity Inclusion Group

Spring Workshop: Responsibility and Resistance

Where: IAS Seminar Room

When: 22 April, noon to 3:15pm (includes light lunch)

How much: free of charge

Any Questions: contact


12 noon-12:15 Welcome

12:15-1:15 pm Lunch and discussion

1:30-2:30pm 3 panel presentations roughly 30 min each:

Kathy Puddifoot “On why “I am too busy” is not an acceptable excuse”

Ian James Kidd “Resisters – or, Why Do Some People Resist Efforts to Improve the Representation of Women in Philosophy?”

Katharine Jenkins “Difference, Philosophy, and Doing Philosophy Differently”

2:30-2:40pm Brief coffee break and time to formulate questions

2:40-3:10pm Question and Answer session with panel

3:15pm Close workshop


Dr Kathy Puddifoot

Teaching Fellow

University of Glasgow

“On why “I am too busy” is not an acceptable excuse”

In response to recent campaigns to highlight the small numbers of women and members of minority groups in philosophy initiatives are being established in philosophy departments across the United Kingdom aiming to increase equality and diversity. However, heavy workloads leave many academics feeling that they lack the time needed to monitor their own behaviours and those of their colleagues to ensure that attention is paid to issues of equality and diversity. I call this the I’m too busy excuse. In this paper I argue that this excuse does not free one from responsibility or blame for failing to take action to increase diversity and equality. This is particularly the case when the actions involve dealing with one’s cognitive biases, which can be the source of prejudice against members of women and minority groups.

I compare the plight faced by philosophers qua busy academics to the situation that all humans encounter most of the time in our everyday cognition. Many if not all cognitive tasks are approached with limited computational and time resources. This means that in everyday tasks humans often don’t monitor their responses or those of other people, tending to depend on habits and reasoning shortcuts. Arguably this is an effective strategy given the limited resources. However, I show that it is nonetheless inexcusable in these everyday situations to fail to meet a reasonable expectation to be aware of and respond to evidence suggesting that one’s habits of thought or reasoning shortcuts are likely to lead to mistakes. By showing that the similarities between the conditions under which most everyday cognition is undertaken and the plight of philosophers I will show that it is likewise unacceptable to fail to meet a reasonable expectation to be aware of and respond to evidence suggesting that one is likely to think prejudicially due to the influence of cognitive biases. As a reasonable expectation of such awareness now exists because of the abovementioned initiatives to increase equality and diversity, the I’m too busy excuse does not free academic philosophers from blame if they fail to take action to reduce the negative influences of their cognitive biases.

Dr Ian James Kidd

Addison Wheeler Fellow

Durham University

“Resisters – or, Why Do Some People Resist Efforts to Improve the Representation of Women in Philosophy?”

This paper describes four main types of ‘resister’ – persons who delay, obstruct, dilute, or otherwise try to weaken efforts to improve the representation of women (and other underrepresented groups) in philosophy. The efficacy of counter-resistance often depends upon a proper understanding of the type of resister at hand, since there are different reasons for resistance, and better and worse ways to respond to them. The first type are the ‘naifs’ – those who deny the fact, extent, or severity of the ‘demographic problem’ because they are empirically or conceptually naïve: ignorant of the statistical data, psychological phenomena like implicit bias, and lacking crucial concepts, such as ‘chilly climate’. The second are ‘conservatives’, who resist because they want to protect (certain aspects of) current norms, structures, and cultures that they perceive to privilege them. They might be averse to the investment of effort needed to do the ameliorative work, or like things ‘the way they are’, or want to maintain a system that privileges them. The third type are ‘the proud’, who resist because they perceive in calls to respond to the ‘demographic problem’ an actual or perceived challenge to their professional pride, intellectual integrity, or moral character. The fourth type of resister – the worst – are the ‘misogynists’, those who resist because they are hostile to women, derive satisfaction from acting injuriously towards them, and wish to preserve a social and disciplinary culture where such behaviours are possible. A person can belong to more than one type and also switch type, especially under critical pressure from others. I describe these four types and sketch some ways to effectively challenge them.

Katharine Jenkins

PhD candidate

University of Sheffield

“Difference, Philosophy, and Doing Philosophy Differently”

Over the last few years, the observation that philosophy as an academic discipline is mostly male and overwhelmingly white has prompted efforts to change that situation, most prominently with regard to gender but increasingly with regard to race. In this talk I consider the extent to which fixing these problems requires a change in the way we do philosophy. I distinguish three kinds of change: changes to disciplinary arrangements; changes to philosophical style (i.e., to how we do philosophy); and changes to philosophical substance (i.e., to what we consider to be philosophy). I argue that all three kinds of change are vital, but that the second and third types of change will arouse progressively more resistance than the first.

Consider first changes to disciplinary arrangements - introducing anonymous peer-reviewing, for example, or having more family-friendly timetabling. It is remarkable how much resistance even such modest efforts can arouse in some quarters. Nevertheless, lots of people in the profession are getting on board with these kinds of measures and changes are being made in many departments. However, it seems much more difficult for people to get on board with anything that involves changing the way we conduct ourselves philosophically – for example, adopting different interpersonal styles and norms of behaviour in philosophical discussions. Moreover, changes to our conception of what counts as philosophy – for example, alterations to the kinds of material that are included on syllabi – arouse still more resistance, often being derisively dismissed or outright ignored.

I explain this differential resistance by reference to the following observation: to the extent that proposed changes challenge one’s self-conception as a philosopher, they seem much more difficult to accept. What we are dealing with here, essentially, is a hostile response to perceived threat.It is crucial to recognise that this perception, and accompanying resistance, is not illogical. Insofar as we have adapted ourselves to the current institution of academic philosophy and are doing reasonably well within it, we have some short-term prudential interest in keeping it the way it is, and we will be liable to experience proposed changes to the institution as threatening. This is, I believe, something that even those of us who consider ourselves committed to justice in the profession will need to confront. Unless and until we are willing to do philosophy differently in all three senses, our efforts to render philosophy more equal will be severely limited.

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