A gray beard à la Aristotle may no longer be the look of most philosophers—but the ability to grow one remains a common trait in the field.
Alida Liberman and Emily Barranco, 2008 graduates of the College’s Department of Philosophy, are hoping to change that. Both are currently working toward PhDs in philosophy: Barranco at the University of California at Davis, where she’s studying the psychology of happiness with a focus on how current methods of data acquisition and measurement can be improved, and Liberman at the University of Southern California, where she’s studying meta-ethics and practical reasoning—or as she explains, “human action and deliberation.”
In terms of the representation of women as professors and students, philosophy has historically been more akin to physics, math, and engineering than to other fields in the humanities and the social sciences, said Pierre LeMorvan, associate professor of philosophy. In 2009, women represented only about 30 percent of PhDs in the philosophy, according to National Center for Education Statistics.
Because of this and the highly competitive nature of philosophy doctoral programs, Liberman and Barranco’s acceptance into their respective programs is a major source of pride for TCNJ’s philosophy department, said LeMorvan.
“Hopefully, up-and-coming philosophers like Alida and Emily will make a difference” in the male-dominated field of philosophy, said LeMorvan.
Both Liberman and Barranco acknowledge that challenges await them once they graduate and seek to advance. Each is tackling the deficit of women in the field in their own way.
Barranco blogs about the topic at http://womeninphilosophy.blogspot.com/, where she challenges visitors to think about why women have not been entering philosophy in the same numbers as men. She has encountered several theories.
“I saw many women in my undergraduate classes, but the further up I went, the less they appeared,” said Barranco. “I think some of this is due to combative norms in the culture of philosophy. … Some have speculated that women just don’t want to fight as much, so they end up dropping out of the discipline for more harmonious waters. Some of it may be related to male-oriented reasoning and conversational tactics.”
Liberman said she’s looking forward to using her career in academia to encourage more women to enter her field.
“Philosophy has historically been a very male-dominated profession,” said Liberman. “Most philosophy faculty are men. So because they are primarily being taught by men and reading work written by men, perhaps some female undergraduates do not pursue philosophy at the graduate or professional level in part because they see it as a ‘man’s game…. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have excellent female philosophers teaching undergraduates — they can set an example and serve as role models.”
The College is doing its part to change the trend. Out of seven full-time faculty members in the philosophy department, two are women. This is a higher proportion than national averages, LeMorvan said.
Over the past five years, around 28 percent of the College’s graduating philosophy majors were female. That statistic mirrors national averages according to the National Center for Education Statistics.