The following is the continuation of a series of profiles on Loyola philosophy graduate students, giving you a brief sense of their thoughts on their research, teaching, and the value of philosophy. This profile covers Claire Lockard, 2018-2019 AGSP president.
What made you become a philosopher?
Looking back now, I notice that I
was accidentally doing philosophy back in high school when I took a Great Books
class three years in a row – we read from themed anthologies in addition to
reading novels that matched the theme. I remember reading Aristotle on
happiness and Hobbes on the role of the state, for example. But since the
course was sort of billed as an English class, I just thought I was reading
cool books with my friends. I ran into my old Great Books teacher a few months
back, and he admitted that he didn’t frame the class as one about philosophy,
because he wanted students to be excited about it – that is quite funny to me
because what it also did (though I don’t think he intended this) was attract
lots more women than one typically finds in a philosophy class.
Even my more “formal” introduction
to philosophy did not happen in a philosophy class – it happened, funnily
enough, in a feminist theory course that was taught by a philosophy professor.
Everything that we read and talked about in that class seemed to have this
explanatory power that I hadn’t encountered before, even if it did not answer
all the questions I had about what kind of a thing gender is, how best to
navigate a patriarchal and oppressive social system, what it might mean for so
many different feminisms to coexist, etc. I wanted to get better at formulating
those kinds of questions, and using those questions to inform how I lived my
Since you’re just finishing your coursework,
what has been the most interesting class you’ve taken at Loyola, and why?
Definitely the Race Theory course
that I took with Jackie Scott in the fall of my second year. Taking Jackie
Scott’s class allowed me to approach questions of race through additional
philosophic frameworks. I was particularly excited to think more about
conceptions of race throughout the history of philosophy, and to explore José
Medina’s work on epistemic oppression and epistemologies of resistance. Medina
even came and visited our class on one of the days when we discussed his book,
and I love meeting the philosophers whose work I am engaging with! I used so
much of what I learned in the race theory class to write my master’s paper and
I am still drawing from that course material to write my dissertation proposal.
What specific idea or topic are you working
on for your dissertation?
I am working on a project about the
uses and misuses of the call for charitable interpretation in academic
philosophy. Often, philosophers seem to take reading charitably or exercising
the principle charity as an unambiguously beneficial approach to engaging with
philosophic texts. I want to problematize that assumption, particularly when
the call for charitable interpretation is made in response to a speaker’s
critique of a text or author’s racism and/or sexism.
As it stands now, my central claim is that calls for charity are misused when made in response to concerns about authors’ or texts’ racism and sexism, and it becomes a disciplining move that contributes to unjust and oppressive epistemic conditions. “Charity,” as we use it in North American philosophy now, has racial, religious, and colonial history. In the current climate in academic philosophy, when we call on others to be charitable, we can contribute to what what I have come to call the charitability gap: while we are often willing to give generous interpretations to privileged (predominately white, male, upper-middle class) philosophers, that level of charity is not usually extended to marginalized voices. Additionally, the call for charitability is unevenly distributed – marginalized people in philosophy are, I suspect, more often told that we must be charitable in our interpretations and analyses. This charitability gap emerges, I suggest, because the call for charity is misused.
You’ve published(in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, an open access journal) some work on use of in-class focus groups in relation to getting more women involved in philosophy. What were your findings?
Our findings were quite specific to
the philosophy department at Elon University (where we conducted the focus groups),
but we hope that the results are at least suggestive of what might be at play
for female-identified students involved in philosophy at other universities as
well! We had three central findings:
only one philosophy class did not necessarily cultivate a growth mindset among
female-identified students of philosophy. There is some evidence that
female-identified students are more likely than male-identified students to
adopt a fixed mindset about learning in general, where one’s skill at a given subject
is based on inherent aptitude or genius (not so good for learning, because
students are more likely to give up if they think they “just aren’t good at” a
subject). Growth mindset, on the other hand, involves the belief that one can
improve at something if they practice. We found that exposure to philosophy (by
taking one course) did not convince students that philosophy was something at
which they could get better.
instructors have the potential to either ameliorate or reinforce students’ (mis)perceptions
of philosophy. Many students in the focus groups we conducted mentioned
that they stuck with philosophy at least partly because their professor told
them that they were talented, or encouraged them in some other way. On the
other hand, many students also mentioned that they had some instructors who
reinforced the idea that philosophy is only for older white men with beards.
Basically, as instructors, we might have more power than we tend to think
regarding whether female-identified students feel encouraged to take more
who have not taken philosophy are likely to see their manner of thinking as
being at odds with the manner of thinking required (or thought to be required)
by philosophy. We had participants mention that they just don’t think
philosophically, even though they had never taken a philosophy course before.
Their ideas of what philosophy was and what would be required of them to
succeed at it were already cemented, and often were in contrast with how they
That was fairly
long summary of our key findings, so to put it another way, we found that there
are tons of factors outside the philosophy classroom that are contributing to
female-identified students’ reluctance to take philosophy classes, or to see
themselves as unlikely to succeed once there.
That article was coauthored with several
other people. What did you find most interesting about co-authoring? What was
most challenging about the collaboration process? Are there any pieces of
advice for how to go about doing collaborative work?
The most interesting part of
co-authoring was the way that, after such a long time (2+ years) working and
writing together, we were able to predict the kinds of concerns that others
would have, the kinds of changes they’d recommend making, and which part(s) of
the project they would want to take the lead on. Co-authoring requires, I
think, building a lot of trust over quite a bit of time, but it was an
incredible experience that taught me more than most of my individual writing
One challenge of co-authoring is
related to what can make it so generative: not everyone has the time or academic
resources to work on a sustained project or to build up collegial relationships
outside the context of paper-writing. I’ve done other collaborative work since
this paper’s publication, and it is much more challenging when I do not know my
collaborators as well!
During your academic career so far, what
have you changed your mind about? Has there been a figure or argument you
initially thought was really wrong but have become more sympathetic to (or vice
I am going to talk about a topic
that I thought would be boring, but that turned out to be quit interesting:
Aristotle. I’ve never been very interested in ancient philosophy, and so when I
signed up for Dr. Ward’s “Aristotle on Friendship” class it was really only
because I needed to fulfill my ancient requirement. But I was really interested
in the ways he distinguished between kinds of friends (even though I’m not so
sure he’s right to do that!), and in the ways his friendship framework applies
(or doesn’t) to the Greek tragedies we also read in that class. I even ended up
taking a second class in ancient philosophy.
Is there a figure that you would consider to
be underrated that you think more people should engage with more?
Sara Ahmed’s work is read super widely
in feminist philosophy, queer theory, and critical race theory, but maybe not
so widely in other circles. She has written on queer phenomenology, whiteness,
affect theory, living as a feminist, politics of diversity in higher education,
willfulness, and more. Her work engages tons of figures from the history of
philosophy, but always with a creative feminist twist. I find myself returning
to her work over and over, for a variety of different purposes. For those new
to her work, I would suggest her most recent book, Living a Feminist Life.
Are there two or
three sources–I’m thinking books and articles mostly, but feel free to include
any other sources if you want–that you would recommend for thinking about your
area of research and why?
I am going to cheat and do four – two articles and two books!
In this essay, Dotson provides a framework that has been quite helpful
to me in thinking about when calls for charitable interpretation are misused.
For Dotson, sometimes a hearer of testimony is so ill-equipped to listen
properly/justly to a socially-marginalized speaker that once the speaker
identifies this “testimonial incompetence, they withhold their testimony.
Dotson calls this withholding “testimonial smothering,” which is a kind of
coerced self-silencing. Silencing is one branch of epistemic injustice, and so
I’ve been using Dotson’s analysis to understand what might happen (or what we
risk) when we call for a marginalized speaker to be charitable, rather than
engaging seriously with their questions or concerns about a text.
If you are looking for a charitable reading of the practice of
reading, this is the essay for you! Sedgwick talks about the ways that a
hermeneutic attitude of suspicion (inherited from Ricoeur) can turn into an
unhealthy paranoia, where a reader expects that every text is problematic in
some way, and goes looking for those problems from the get-go rather than being
open to other, less harmful, readings of the texts. Sedgwick is such a joy to
read, and her essay strikes a beautiful balance between acknowledging the
reasons that we’d want to be highly suspicious of texts and then offering reasons
that we’d want to take on a less suspicious approach as well.
Ask my colleagues how often I mention this book to confirm my
obsession with it. Shotwell offers a nuanced analysis of “purity politics” – an
approach toward the suffering and injustice of the world that assumes one can
stand above the fray if only one makes a particular set of good ethical choices
on an individual level. Shotwell starts from the assumption that we will always
already be implicated in a mess that we cannot solve with our individual
efforts (that we cannot solve at all, in fact). From there, she explores what
sorts of ways of engaging in the world emerge. She covers issues of disability,
environmental degradation, responses to the AIDS crisis, and more. What I take
to be useful about her book for my project is that Shotwell helps us understand
why we should not entirely reject, or entirely embrace, a charitable approach
to philosophy. Either one would be a purity move – assuming that a text can be
made to stand outside of its racism or sexism, or assuming that because it
can’t, it must be of no use to us.
Medina is interested in both the epistemic injustices that make it
difficult for marginalized people to participate in epistemic communities, but
also in the resistant ways of knowing and understanding that they/we have
developed in response to hermeneutic and epistemic marginalization. I have been
using his work to think about how to know when one should offer interpretative
charity – Medina suggests that one should allocate more charity when listening
to marginalized speakers, because there is a higher risk of not properly
understanding their testimony for. I’ve also been thinking about his
development of particular kinds of epistemic virtues and vices, and the role
the calls for charity might play in cultivating or reinforcing those. I also
really recommend his book to anyone who wants to learn more about feminist
philosophy, philosophy of race, or epistemic injustice/oppression.
This is a place for our faculty, students, and alumni to share news, events, and other items of interest. Our hope is that this blog will reflect our diverse philosophical interests and foster community among philosophers at Loyola and beyond.