Anatomy of a Cancellation

We’re publishing a guest post today by longtime contributor Dr. Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University, about having a lecture cancelled because the title was thought to be too provocative: “Our Age of Vanishing Gender”. She was told her talk – due to be given at a student conference hosted by the Newcastle Philosophy Department – couldn’t go ahead due to concerns for students’ ‘mental health’. Here is an extract:

I thought of ending my presentation to the students with some recent examples of the demonisaton of gender, with the Conservative Woman’s report on September 25th 2021 in which Isabel Logan described how a teacher at her daughter’s all-girls school apologised to the class for having addressed them as “Girls”, with British Airways’ recently reported decision to stop using the phrase, “Ladies and Gentlemen”, with the Scottish Government’s publishing of its Covid vaccination statistics for “pregnant people”, and with Californian governor Gavin Newsom having last month signed a new law compelling large toy stores to provide gender-neutral toy sections.

As part of a conference entitled “Thinking Differently”, I judged that it might be worth ending by asking whether these apparently progressive moves against the alleged straitjacket of gender might not rather represent a further and final erosion of our greatest hope for aptitude and autonomy: our gendered bodies.

As it happens, however, I am no longer to give a presentation to students of Philosophy on November 17th this year. Having been asked to submit a title for my talk by the member of staff overseeing the event and having submitted the title “Our Age of Vanishing Gender”, I was informed a couple of days later that the students who were designing the poster for the event had resigned from their participation in it on account of my presentation’s title and that the event had been cancelled out of concern for students’ “mental health”.

Thinking differently? Only so long as we are thinking the same.

As with all Dr. Murphy’s pieces, this one is worth reading in full.

The Measure of Man

We’re publishing a new essay today by Sinéad Murphy, a Research Associate in Philosophy at Newcastle University, about the light that the work of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer can throw on the Government’s handling of the pandemic over the last 12 months. Here are the three opening paragraphs:

One year later, and the Coronavirus Act that has enabled much of the UK Government’s lockdown has just been renewed for another six months. Debate in the lead-up to its renewal has included admissions from the Prime Minister of his failure last year to introduce measures early enough and ‘hard’ enough, submissions from Tory opponents of the Act showing that cases of COVID-19 are now so low as to make continued measures unnecessary, and ongoing concern by the bravest Tory of them all, Charles Walker, about the health of the population when measures continue in defiance of falling cases.

All of these aspects of the debate are important. But it is well past time for scientific analyses and disagreements in respect of measures, cases and health to be supplemented, perhaps even undercut, by a philosophical perspective. These concepts – measure, case, health – have this year been our bread and butter. We have bandied them endlessly, sometimes desperately. But are we fully aware of what they mean?

In a short essay from 1990, entitled “Philosophy and Practical Medicine”, the German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, provides us with just what we need: a philosophical account of the concepts of measure, case, and health, which reveals just how truncated has been the understanding and application of them during the past year.

Worth reading in full.