Social Philosophy


Social philosophy scrutinises our social world, and looks at the identities, relations, and power structures within it. Some social philosophy is concerned with what makes up our social world - what social kinds, such as race or gender or class, are. Social philosophy also examines the ways that, for instance, social relations or power dynamics affect our experiences of ourselves and the world (phenomenology), our knowledge-seeking practices (social epistemology), our language (applied philosophy of language), or the specifically social aspects of our cognition (how we think about social kinds, or navigate social norms). It also encompasses how all of these aspects interact with social structures, both informal ones, such as friendship groups or family structures, and formal ones such as the workplace, or institutions such as marriage. Much social philosophy is done with an eye on how we might change things in order to make our social world better (theorists engaged in anti-racist and feminist philosophy often have this goal in mind).

The department has considerable strengths in social philosophy, reflected both in the research interests of members of the department, the teaching at undergraduate level, and postgraduate supervision. Undergraduates can take modules in feminist philosophy, phenomenology - with a focus on the phenomenology of race and gender - and third year guided reading projects have recently focused on the intersection of gender and race. 

The Centre for Engaged Philosophy hosts talks and discussions on gender and race. A recent series of workshops (see here and here) examined the relationship between psychological and structural aspects of racism and gender oppression. Our engagement with philosophy of gender and race is not just theoretical, but involves struggles for gender and racial justice. The department hosts the long running Feminist Philosophy reading group, the annual Women in the History of Philosophy lecture, and a chapter of Minorities and Philosophy (a postgraduate movement to that strives for inclusion in philosophy). Department member Professor Jennifer Saul co-authored the British Philosophical Association Report on Women in Philosophy, and the BPA/Society for Women in Philosophy UK guidelines for gender inclusive departments. The department, of course, follows these best practice guidelines. The departmental Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee regularly influences faculty policy and beyond, including with the recently developed Gender Inclusion Policy, which sets out the steps the department takes to be trans inclusive. Members of the department have also worked with various institutions to help them become more inclusive - including the Civil Service, and the judiciary - and to improve how implicit bias training is provided. We strive to ensure that our reading lists on undergraduate modules are inclusive and represent perspectives that may traditionally have been overlooked within the canon. 

Philosophy of Race and racism

Komarine Romdenh-Romluc’s current work on the philosophy of Frantz Fanon considers both race and racism from a phenomenological perspective. Jenny Saul is currently working on racist language, with particular attention to ways that politicians convey racist messages non-explicitly. She has also worked on implicit bias.  Jules Holroyd works on implicit bias (in particular on holding people and institutions responsible for gender and racial biases), understandings of discrimination, and how implicit biases may have a role in sustaining institutional racism. Jules Holroyd has also been working with cognitive psychologists to examine the ways in which we think about race and class interact. Megan Blomfield is looking at the UK asylum claim system from the perspective of theories of epistemic injustice; that is, theories about how people can be harmed as subjects and sources of knowledge, such as when their word is undermined through the operation of racist and sexist stereotypes.

Representative publications

  • Blomfield, M. (in progress). “Structural testimonial injustice in the UK asylum claim process”.
  • Holroyd, J. (2015). “Implicit racial bias and the anatomy of institutional racism”. Criminal Justice Matters
  • Holroyd, J. (2016). “What do we want from a model of implicit cognition?” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
  • Romdenh-Romluc, K. (2016). “Hermeneutical injustice: blood-sports, and the English Defence League”. Social Epistemology
  • Romdenh-Romluc, K. (in progress) Fanon. Routledge.
  • Saul, J. and Brownstein, M., eds (2016).  Implicit Bias and Philosophy Volumes 1 and 2, Oxford University Press.
  • Saul, J. (2018) “Dogwhistles, political manipulation, and philosophy of language”. In D. Fogal, M. Cross and D. Harris (eds), New Work on Speech Acts. Oxford University Press.
  • Saul, J. (2019). “What is happening to our norms against racist speech?”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.

Philosophy of gender & feminism

Komarine Romdenh-Romluc has worked on various issues in feminist philosophy, including epistemic injustice and the nature of gender from a phenomenological perspective.

Jennifer Saul wrote the 2003 textbook Feminism: Issues and Arguments. She has written on feminist philosophy of language, gender, sexual harassment, implicit bias, and pornography. Jules Holroyd has done work in various areas of feminist philosophy, looking at implicit bias and epistemic injustice, implicit gender bias and collective vice, feminist perspectives on metaethics, feminist metaphysics, and feminist contributions to debates about well-being. She will be convening the feminist philosophy module for second and third years in 2020-2021, which covers topics such as how feminists have proposed work and economic relations might be reformed, proposals for restructuring the family, reproductive justice, and feminist perspectives on the climate crisis. Through his work on the Danish philosopher and theologian K. E. Løgstrup, Bob Stern has an interest in the tradition of care ethics which is often also associated with feminism. Chris Bennett has worked on the question of whether a liberal state should give the institution of two-person marriage privileged legal status.

Robbie Morgan works on feminist philosophy where this intersects with issues in sexual ethics, including on  the concepts of sexualisation and objectification, and examines the sexist biases that inform accounts of what it is for an act to be sexual. Yonatan Shemmer is interested in some debates in the feminist literature that bear on questions of consent and on questions of freedom of speech.

Representative publications

  • Holroyd, J. (2013). Feminist Metaethics. In H. Lafollette (ed), International Encyclopedia of Ethics.
  • Holroyd J (2015) “Feminism and well-being”. In G. Fletcher (ed), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being.
  • Holroyd, J. & Puddifoot, K. (2019). “Implicit bias and prejudice”. In M. Fricker, P. Graham, D. Henderson & N. Pedersen (eds), Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology. Routledge. 
  • Holroyd, J. (forthcoming 2020). “Implicit bias and epistemic vice”. In H. Battaly, I. Kidd & Q. Cassam (eds), Epistemic Vice. Routledge. 
  • Romdenh-Romluc, K. (2017). “Hermeneutical injustice and the problem of authority”. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly.
  • Saul, J. (2003). Feminism: Issues and Arguments. Oxford University Press.
  • Saul, J. (2013). “Implicit bias, stereotype threat and women in philosophy”. In F. Jenkins and K. Hutchison (eds.), Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change? Oxford University Press.
  • Saul, J. and Diaz-Leon, E. (2017) “Feminist philosophy of language”. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. 
  • Saul, J. and Brownstein, M., eds (2016).  Implicit Bias and Philosophy Volumes 1 and 2, Oxford University Press.

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