Friday, February 28, 2014

Colloquium: "Friendship's Underbelly: Ethical and Epistemic Considerations"

Sheila Lintott, Associate Professor of Philosophy & Chair, Department of Women's and Gender Studies
Monday, March 3rd @ 4:30PM
   » Willard–Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building

Abstract: Significant inequalities persist in the United States today despite a multitude of anti-discrimination laws and virtually everyone’s alleged commitment to egalitarianism. Explanations for these obstinate inequities have been sought in the structure of institutions, the culture of organizations, the momentum of power, and even in the possibility of innate “natural” differences among races, genders, and ethnicities. A critical unexamined aspect necessary for a full understanding of the seemingly intractable inequalities that plague the United States is how the personal relationships that ground and shape our lives might contribute to furthering or frustrating the attainment of democratic ideals. In our democratic society, personal relationships like friendship largely escape critical ethical scrutiny.
    Traditional philosophical analysis shows friendship is important largely for the roles it plays in individual lives and for the ethical issues that confront it in that context such as friendship’s apparent unfair privileging: we favor our friends while claiming to believe all people should be treated equally. Personal relationships, friendships in particular, are also important for the social and political roles they play and for the ethical issues they confront as social phenomena. Friendship formation, for example, seems to be guided by myopic and provincial tendencies; in selecting friends as we gravitate too easily to those we perceive as most similar to us, a phenomenon known as homophily (“love of the same”) or in-group preference. When we share our lives, our assets, and our knowledge with our friends, we favor people who share significant aspects of social identity with us. As a result, friendship helps maintain structural inequities, including systems and arrangements that participate in large-scale institutional racism and sexism. In this talk I explore the possibility that friendship plays a mechanistic role in maintaining and reproducing inequality.