Category Archives: Sex and Gender

Imagination

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out in the UK on June 26, 1997, their author was almost thirty-two. I had been that age since March. The seventh Harry Potter book came out ten years later. I don’t remember when I heard that the series had become a sensation, but I did wonder if one day I would try to see what made the books so popular.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, on a cluttered table

Now I have read the first two books in the series, in part because their author has become popular as a figure of hatred for people who adored her books as children.

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Feminist Epistemology

To this post, I am adding this introduction in July 2021. I have returned to some of the ideas of the post, and I see that I left them in a jumble. They may still be that, but I am trying to straighten up a bit.

Beyond this introduction, the post has three parts. Part III takes up more than half of the whole post and consists of my notes on

  1. Elizabeth Anderson, “Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, February 13, 2020. 61 pages.

In Anderson’s article I see – as I note below – ideas that are familiar, thanks to my previous reading of philosophers such as Robin George Collingwood, Mary Midgley, and Robert Pirsig. Henry David Thoreau may not exactly be one of those philosophers, but he is somehow why I came to write this post in the first place.

Here is a table of contents for the whole post:

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Words

This post is based on recent readings, often on or through Twitter, especially of

  • Lilith Saintcrow on “Domestic abusers, white supremacists, and religious bigots”;
  • C. S. Lewis on gulling the educated, and objectivity as a dubious value;
  • Marilynne Robinson on consensus as concealing the objectively true;
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson on objectivity as a good value;
  • Plato on seeming wise, without being so;
  • Mark Vernon on imagination in William Blake;
  • whoever wrote an “Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy,” signed by many professional philosophers;
  • Kathleen Stock, the subject of the “Open Letter”;
  • Agnes Callard on how philosophers shouldn’t be signing petitions;
  • Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, on the incoherence of the notion of gender identity;
  • Aaden Friday, on what’s wrong with Reilly-Cooper and other such women;
  • Brian Earp, on declaring pronouns;
  • John Steinbeck, on being a man;
  • Christa Peterson, on what gender identity might be.

I have edited and augmented this essay since originally posting it on January 9, 2021; the current version is from January 19.


A lot of old PSA’s about drugs are on YouTube and the Web Archive, and sometimes they are linked to by articles that ridicule them. There is one that I have not been able to find, perhaps from around 1970, in which parents confront their teenager with the drug paraphernalia that they have found in his room. The boy storms out of the house, saying, “You don’t understand!”

There’s a lot that I don’t understand. I must not, since it seems childish, but is coming from adults. Some of these adults stormed the US Capitol the other day; others encourage them; still others are professors of philosophy.


“Human egg and sperm cells.”
Asimov’s New Guide to Science (1984), page 600

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What Mathematics Is

Mathematics “has no generally accepted definition,” according to Wikipedia today. Two references are given for the assertion. I suggest that what really has no generally accepted definition is the subject of mathematics: the object of study, what mathematics is about. Mathematics itself can be defined by its method. As Wikipedia currently says also,

it has become customary to view mathematical research as establishing truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions.

I would put it more simply. Mathematics is the science whose findings are proved by deduction.

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Be Sex Binary, We Are Not

Content warning: suicide.

The following sentence is bold in the last paragraph of an essay: “the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real.” I don’t know what the writer means by this. As far as I can tell, as a biological concept used for explaining reproduction, sex has two kinds or parts or sides or aspects, and the essay tacitly affirms this; at the same time, obviously persons called transgender exist.

☾ ♂ ☿ ♃ ♀ ♄ ☉

The title of the essay is a command: “Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia.” I can support that. I don’t even need the qualifier “phony.” If transphobia is the kind of morbid fear suggested by the suffix “-phobia,” then science ought to help dispel this, not promote it.

One might also just say, Stop using phony science.

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Sex and Gender

A certain thesis is reasonable to me, and yet it would seem to anger persons whom I wish to respect. I am trying to understand why it does.

The hypothesis of the homunculus in the sperm
by Nicolaas Hartsoeker, 1695

Perhaps the manner of expression of the thesis is the problem. Thus one person tweets:

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Math, Maugham, and Man

A human being was once a man. A female of the species was a wife; a male, a were. The word “were” was used in werewolf, but also were-eld, which became our “world.” Our word "woman" comes from wife-man.

That is roughly the history, which I shall review later in a bit more detail. It would be a fallacy to think the history told us how we must use the words “woman” and “man” today. The history does suggest what may happen again: in a world dominated by men, a word like “person,” intended for any human being, may come to have its own meaning dominated by men. Yet again, this is no reason not to try to make our language better.

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