What do you envision when you think of a philosopher? Maybe you imagine a stuffy old man in a messy office buried in archaic books ranging in subject matter from inapplicable to useless. Most of us don’t even know what is encompassed within the subject of philosophy. Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy Eve Rabinoff, however, debunks the popular conception of philosophy with regards to subject, gender and practicality.
“No matter what you do in your life, you’re going to be better at it if you have the skills of thinking clearly and deeply, of separating the wheat from the chaff of persuasive or persuasive-seeming arguments, of recognizing problems and questions, and the resilience to keep thinking about a problem even when it seems intractable,” Rabinoff said. “These are the things you’ll learn to do by studying philosophy.”
Rabinoff is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. She received her Ph.D from Boston College and her dissertation was titled, “Perception in Aristotle’s Ethics,” a subject that she continues to research. Rabinoff is broadly interested in ancient political philosophy.
“I am currently working on Aristotle’s ‘Politics,’ and specifically his claim that human beings are by nature political animals. What he means is that human beings depend upon political community in order to be human beings. Without political community, Aristotle says, an individual is either a god or a beast, not a human being,” Rabinoff explained.
Though this research synopsis may seem to further prove that philosophy is too far removed from “real life,” Rabinoff claims that her research can change the way we look at contemporary politics and our notion of the state.
“[Aristotle’s claim] strikes me as a provocative idea, and I’m working on figuring out why and in what sense we are so essentially dependent on political community,” she remarked.
Rabinoff, like many philosophers before her, was hooked on philosophy from her first class at University of Guelph.
“From my first encounter with philosophy, I developed the opinion that nothing could be more valuable to living a good life than learning to think deeply and carefully about important issues,” she said.
However, relating to many humanities students, Rabinoff struggled to come to grips with how she could make a difference in the world through studying philosophy, especially to academia.
“I also thought that it was important to have a career that helped people in a more concrete way than philosophy would. But in the end, philosophy won out! I eventually chose ancient philosophy because it seems to me to hold a wealth of insight, interesting arguments, and ideas that deeply shape the history of Western thought,” she said.
Apart from her research, Rabinoff is also an advocate for bringing more women in academia in philosophy. Unlike other humanities subjects, philosophy has the same disparate gender ratio in academia as physics and computer science.
According to a study by Princeton researchers published in Science magazine, less than 31 percent of philosophy doctorates are awarded to women, and even fewer of those doctorates stay on in academia. According to the same study, the one thing that tied the seemingly disparate fields that had low percentages of women together had one thing in common: they value perceived “innate” brilliance over hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, innate brilliance is a trait that our society typically assigns to white men above all others.
Rabinoff has a positive outlook on the future of gender equality in philosophy. “I do think, though, that philosophy is improving or at least it is self-consciously trying to improve on this score: there are several initiatives to support women and other underrepresented groups in philosophy, both as students and as faculty.”
Some initiatives that are taking place at universities across the country include support groups, summer programs for undergraduates and young graduate students and professional committees concerning the status of women in philosophy, including at the American Philosophical Association.
“Furthermore, departments are becoming increasingly aware that they need to take steps to make sure that they do not foster a hostile environment for women,” Rabinoff added.
While Rabinoff will not be at Wellesley College next year, she looks forward to continuing her research and teaching undergraduates, especially women. Her deep love for philosophy definitely shows in her classes, her research and general conversation.
“I am very lucky to already be doing what I hope to be doing in ten years!” Rabinoff exclaimed. “[In philosophy], there’s the added bonus of getting to read and think about all sorts of interesting questions and topics and see how really smart people tackle them.”
Rabinoff intends to use her wit, passion and enthusiasm to add to the ever-growing list of philosophical questions and contribute to the canon of Western philosophy.
Photo courtesy of Eva Rabinoff
Diederique van der Knaap ’18 is a contributing columnist for the Features section. She enjoys science, hiking, reading (especially George Eliot and Willa Cather), and documentaries. She is best reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ddVDK on Twitter