What is Philosophy for Girls?
The questions and resources below connect to Philosophy for Girls (OUP 2020). The questions are created by the book’s readers, with supplementary materials identified by them that complement any individual or group-based reflection about the book’s topics. Philosophy for Girls is a rigorous yet accessible entry-point to philosophical contemplation designed to inspire a new generation of philosophers.
Resources, Questions, Things to Ponder
Identity: Being in the World and Becoming
1. How does the Ship of Theseus relate to a person’s identity? Does a person “stay the same” over time, or change? Why do I think what I do?
2. How do I understand my own bodily identity to be shaped by “social normalization” practices (23)? How might other people’s identities be shaped in this way?
3. How does thinking about identity relate to other ideas in this book, like ideas about autonomy?
4. What would I like to add to thinking about a person’s identity? For some, ideas about the mind or soul are important; for others, ideas about the past and future are significant: What would I keep, and what would I discard, in my own ideas about identity?
Autonomy: On Being True to Ourselves
Serene J. Khader
1. What books and shows have similar themes about autonomy as The Hate U Give? Coming-of-age stories tend to feature this theme: Why? What are other good examples of code-switching, moving between multiple worlds, and finding oneself?
2. How does society shape the ways a person understands herself? What is the relationship between a person and society, anyway?
3. Khader presents three main conceptions of autonomy: coherentist, reasons-responsiveness, and socially constitutive. What are the differences and similiarities among them? How do these ideas help me consider my own conception of my “self”?
Pride: The Complexities
of Virtue and Vice
1. How does the linguistic evolution of the adjective ‘proud’ demonstrate its complex identity as both a virtue and vice?
2. Which concurrent events in history may have influenced the change in the word’s form and connotation?
3. What do similarities in the etymology of “pride in different languages suggest about its “true” classification as virtue or vice?
4. When have I experienced pride as a virtue? How about as a vice? When have I seen these things in others?
Questions: The Heart of Philosophy
Melissa M. Shew
1. When do we tend to ask different kinds of questions? For instance, when do I ask transactional questions, and when do I ask more philosophical questions? How do I understand the difference between them?
2. Shew says, “many people appear to lack epistemological curiosity, having been trained and educated out of it” (57): Do I think this is right? How might our educational systems discourage curiosity, if they do? How might the world at large encourage or discourage inquisitiveness?
3. How might questions be “existentially transformative” (59), especially if they’re not particularly efficient or useful?
4. How does thinking interrupt our daily activities, as Arendt suggests?
Self Knowledge: The Importance of Reflection
1. In what ways and in which domains am I liable to make mistakes or misjudgments based on my constructed perspectives about the world? Have I done so in recent memory?
2. What beliefs do I have about myself that may lead me to make misjudgments/ epistemic failures? Do I tend to overestimate or underestimate my abilities? What consequences has this had (on my relationships, achievements, life fulfillment)?
3. Do I perhaps lack self-trust? Based on my experiences, do I think it would be most helpful to trust myself more or question myself more?
4. In which domains do I think it might be most helpful for me to shift my perspective or try to see the situation from someone else’s point of view? In what domains do I tend to stray farthest from exhibiting the “appropriate amount” of self-trust? Might there be people in my life who could help me determine where I am or am not exhibiting appropriate self-trust? Are there others whose opinions I may have been too quick to dismiss?
Logic: A Feminist Approach
Gillian R. Russell
1. What is a “feminist approach”to logic? What may be missing from traditional studies of logic?
2. Which controversies about logic are most interesting to me?
3. How do I use logic in my daily life? What value might I see in learning more formal studies of logic?
4. How do I understand ideas in this chapter to connect to, and differ from, Chung’s chapter on doubt and skepticism?
5. Russell says, “logic has traditionally been gendered masculine” (88). Do I agree or disagree with this statement? What’s at stake in it, and why might gender “matter” in this kind of “objective” discipline?
6. Russell says that reconceiving of logic in some fundamental ways would allow us to turn logical lenses to power differentials, social hierarchies, and other places where we see inequalities. How might strengthening our logical understanding of the world help identify social problems and ills?
1. Can doubt give rise to truth? In what ways? How do classical skeptical ideas of doubt pertain to knowledge?
2. In relating to humanity at large, how can doubt mean different things to different people?
3. Socrates claims that only an examined life is worth living. Is it true that the meaning of life depends on a question-seeking existence?
4. If we cannot be certain about or know everything, what is the purpose of pursuing knowledge? Is it moral-based, logic-based, etc.?
5. In what ways does doubt inform one’s identity? Or how does it not?
Science: Unmasking Objectivity
Subrena E. Smith
1. What role does history play when shaping our ideas about scientific knowledge?
2. What is the relationship between art and science? What are notable differences between the two, both as they relate to each other and as they address truth?
3. How do ideas about capacity, gender, and possibility shape what we think we can know?
Technology: Experience and Mediated Realities
Robin L. Zebrowski
1. How does technology shape our understanding of reality?
2. Though technology gives us clear benefits, what are some ethical challenges it presents to us, both on large-scale issues and in our daily lives?
3. Zebrowski writes, “[w]e are all surrounded by Victor Frankensteins right now, creating technologies without grounding them in philosophical ideas and principles” (134). What ought the relationship between what we can do and what we ought to do be, when it comes to scientific advancements? And who decides?
Art: Seeing, Thinking, Making
Patricia M. Locke
1. How is art an expression of self-knowledge?
2. Locke quotes Gertrude Stein at the beginning of the chapter: “An artist puts down what she knows and at every moment it is what she knows at that moment” (138). How do I interpret this statement?
3. Do I agree that an artist expresses what she knows? Is knowing different from feeling when we talk about art? Could I argue that knowing and feeling are one and the same when we talk about art?
4. In what ways do Morisot and Martin express knowledge similarly in their works? How are they different?
5. Locke writes that Agnes Martin’s art resists the impulse of the mass market and the hypervirtuality of social media. Do other artists come to mind that fall into this category?
6. How has social media helped and harmed both artists and viewers of art?
7. Locke writes that “[The world] has stability because of art, and it can change because of our responses to art” (147). How do Locke’s arguments throughout the chapter lead up to this claim? Do I agree?
Credibility: Resisting Doubts, Reimagining Knowledge
Monica C. Poole
1. How does social inequity shape judgements about credibility?
2. How is epistemology entwined with social and political issues?
3. What forms of epistemic injustice have you observed?
4. Poole writes that music, movies, and fiction popular with teen girls are dismissed as unserious and that artistic “legitimacy” is only achieved once adult men recognize it (157). What are some examples of this? How can this lead to internalized misogyny in adult women?
5. Poole writes that “credibility needs a gut renovation” (162). That relies upon working on feminist epistomologies and reshaping how academic philosophy understands knowledge. How do you imagine women and nonbinary people working together to remake knowledge and credibility?
6. Do you agree that lived experience is a “criterion for credibility,” as Patricia Hill Collins thinks (162)?
Language: Power Plays
1. What aspects of individuals are usually used against them, and how do these aspects contribute to the essence of the individual as a whole, if at all?
2. How can a single word change the intonation or implication of a question or statement?
3. What inequalities exist in how people of different identities are expected to speak and express themselves?
4. What determines a slur? Can these words be reclaimed by the communities they are used against?
Race: The Ontological Crisis of the ‘Human’
1. What is “truth” in race history and how do we come to know it?
2. How does the media play a role in shaping narratives about identity and race while maintaining objectivity?
3. Is there a more effective way to teach about our history which allows for correction, reevaluation, and error?
4. What are the most effective means of sharing the stories of marginalized and underrepresented groups and aiding them in communicating their truth?
Gender: To the Binary and Beyond
1. What myths might I hold onto regarding any objective, clear-cut differences between men and women? How can I challenge these myths more consciously?
2. Which social structures or systems of power have a stake in maintaining the gender binary status quo? How do they exert their influence? What radical changes might take place in a world without such binary differences, akin to Le Guin’s Winter?
3. Would it be possible to imagine a world where gender identity is not rooted in or necessarily built off of gender norms (either as a person of a binary or non-binary gender)? Should such a world be one we should strive towards? Might there be positives to holding onto gender norms on an “opt-in” basis?
4. Do I feel like it would be liberating to be a part of Le Guin’s Winter universe, or would there be some things I might miss about having gender norms? Why might I feel some attachment to binaried constructions of masculinity/femininity being clearly delineated?
Recognition: Living a Queer-Alien-Mixed Consciousness
1. Is it possible to construct unique meaning in nonwhite racial identities, which inherently exist in opposition to whiteness? How might doing so be radical or liberating?
2. How do expectations related to performing gender have higher stakes in the context of multiracial identities? How might they be more difficult to achieve?
3. How might we see multiracial identities being entangled in radical conceptions of queer identities? Can multiracial identities hold a similar potential for a radical self-identification? If so, how?
4. How can we create and sustain a revolutionary new culture that recognizes multiracial identities in accordance with the internal “mixed consciousness” revolution?
Anger: Embracing the Medusa Trope as an Act of Resistance
1. Cherry says that the danger of anger “is not pejorative but necessary and even beautiful” (230). Do I agree with this? Why or why not?
2. Have I observed women staying in their “emotional place” in academic environments? When a heated debate unfolds in the classroom, are the emotional responses of young women and young men judged differently?
3. Throughout American history, women have upheld an image of maternal respectability to push for labor reforms, temperance, and other political causes. The COVID-19 pandemic built on the anger of women who find themselves constantly and indefinitely expected to do it all as a parent, teacher, spouse, caregiver, and employee.
Annelise Orleck, a historian at Dartmouth College who studies women’s political activism, says that women are mobilized on a bigger scale than we’ve seen in a generation. How have I observed the #MeToo movement and women’s increased political participation channeling anger for the greater good? Am I optimistic about women’s anger being more widely respected and credible in America?
4. In Chapter 11 (Credibility), Monica C. Poole writes about Brittney Cooper, a philosopher who analyzes how Black women manage their speech and behavior to try to avoid credibility deflation within a white-dominated culture (161). Cooper values rage and embraces her anger as a “feminist superpower.” How does anger affect women’s credibility? How have you observed race and social class compounding credibility deflation?
Consciousness-Raising: Social Groups and Change
1. How does the history of consciousness-raising affect our understanding of social justice issues today?
2. Leggett’s chapter outlines individual people who helped lead the cause of social change, but she also notes the importance of collaborative action. Often, we focus on individuals undertaking heroic actions, like Jael in Shapiro’s chapter or Shulamith Firestone in Leggett’s, but what role do others play in creating important changes? Who among us now is initiating these changes–and what role do communities play in supporting or challenging those people?
3. How should we look back to earlier movements toward equality, both in terms of their successes and their failures? What lessons can we really learn about persistent inequality and what we can do about it?
4. Where might I be best able to use my gifts and talents in identifying and changing social injustices?
Tzedek: Doing What Must Be Done
1. Shapiro states that, “When we do what must be done, we are the authors of our own lives” (248). Can it be extended out from our individual lives to the lives of others? To what extent?
2. If one’s identity is partially formed by the surrounding world (its norms, values, beliefs), how does one “stand alone” or diverge from the established norm? (this question is posed mainly through a moral lens as it relates to Shapiro’s ideas about doing what needs to be done).
3. According to Shapiro, integrity differs in meaning and standards when applied to different genders. Women and individuals who do not identify as men must balance various versions of themselves to appease society’s unrealistic, often paradoxical expectations. How does one identify their “true” self, freed from said standards?
4. There is no definitive answer as to how we know what needs to be done in order to create a virtuous world. With this in mind, are there certain universal ‘rules’ that we can adhere to in order to ensure our actions are truly virtuous? (Quick side note: I think of the musical Into the Woods, in which the fairytale characters are forced to question if their actions are ‘good,’ an example being Jack from the story “Jack and the Beanstalk” killing the giant).
Empathy: Entangled Human and Non-Human Relationships
1. Why is empathy essential from an individual standpoint?
2. Gruen and philosopher Karen Barad use the term “entanglement” to “capture the ways that we are co-constituted by our social and material relations” (262). In our current world, can social entanglements generate genuine empathy? What obstacles might occur?
3. In what ways might empathy transform or shift with changes in one’s identity?
4. Pertaining to philosopher Marilyn Frye’s idea that the “experience of oppression is one of confinement,” how might truth serve as a solution in the pursuit of freedom?
“Star pupil: Malala Yousafzai at Girls Prep in the Bronx, New York, which has a classroom named in her honor. ‘I want to become a leader,’ she says. ‘I want to unite people. I am not afraid of anyone.’”
Courage: Meliorism in Motion
Kimberly K. Garchar
1. Courage is an important word, but it has a gendered history, as Garchar notes. How might the militarism of earlier conceptions of courage still apply today? Where are they nonetheless challenged?
2. What is the difference between tzedek and courage? Might they overlap in some ways?
3. Garchar speaks of “[e]mpathic recognition” as a “necessary aspect of courage” (276). How might developing a concept of courage that’s responsive to the world (e.g., to those suffering) help honor a better idea of courage going forward?
4. Garchar encourages us to think of “more explicitly caring expressions of courage” (278), like bearing witness to the death of a loved one. Where do I witness caring expressions of courage in my own life? What about in the world at large?