Jul 18, 2023·edited Jul 18, 2023Liked by Dr. Émile P. Torres

|Both histories are dominated by white men. This is largely due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who have written about human extinction have been white men; indeed, there are perhaps only 30 or so Western philosophers—that’s it—who have offered anything close to a systematic analysis of the ethics of extinction. Why it is that privileged white men have dominated Existential Ethics is a question that I hope to address in subsequent papers. The most obvious answer is that an extinction-causing catastrophe would directly affect them, whereas non-extinction catastrophes like global poverty and localized famines, and social injustices like racism and sexism, do not.

When you address the high count of privileged white men in Existential Ethics, I hope you compare to Western philosophers overall (adjusted for when these philosophers wrote). It seems to me the most obvious explanation is that Western traditions of philosophy in general are dominated by privileged white men.

Part of this has only an indirect relationship to injustice- the constructs of "Western" and "white" have been socially defined such that most Western persons were white. Even in a fully just society, this effect would be even stronger than national demographics imply. For example, an Australian philosopher who is a 2nd generation Indian immigrant might be less inclined to work in the Western tradition.

Additionally, injustice plays a role in all areas of Western philosophy. Until recently even the most privileged white women would have difficulty being employed as a professor or having their work taken seriously. Similarly a Black man would experience great barriers to tenure at a research institution. Identity aside, any person so impoverished that their family's life is endangered is unlikely to prioritize or have opportunities for a philosophy career.

That's not to say there isn't a statistical trend for Western Existential Ethics to be disproportionately privileged, white, or male compared to contemporary Western philosophy. But I would be surprised if it wasn't most of the explanation.

Expand full comment
Jul 18, 2023Liked by Dr. Émile P. Torres

On the topic of direct effects:

So far, extinction events have not been the cause of death for any privileged white male philosopher or their family. While they have less risk of smaller-scale disaster and less daily repression, the trend points to most of them dying of age-related conditions. The same would be true of their family (or at least the privileged white male ones).

An extinction event would upend this. But- and say it is a giant asteroid impact- the trend would be upended for everyone. Privileged white men would be killed by impact instead of age. People in a famine would die from impact instead of starvation. For a brief time, most would face a stress much more intense than poverty or injustice. If concern should be proportional to what harms you, then extinction threats are only slightly more of a concern for the privileged than for most.

From another angle, someone studying Existential Ethics while concerned only for themselves should not worry about risks from after their deaths. Someone concerned only for their children or great-grandchildren should not worry about events 200 years away. While I'm not aware of any surveys I doubt many people feel favor for their 17th generation descendants. Familial or selfish concerns are unlikely to motivate the study of intermediate- and long-term extinction risks, and instead motivate thinking about mundane causes of death.

The emotional motive is more likely a preference for people to do well, even if they are far away and very different. I suspect it's just easier to think and write about them if you have tenure and aren't threatened or stifled by your environment.

Expand full comment

Great points -- thanks so much for sharing. Really appreciate this, and will be thinking of your comments when writing future papers. Further thoughts are more than welcome!

Expand full comment

Thank you for sharing this. Very insightful, and giving a lot of handles to give some direction to thinking.

I do have another question. I think it would fit better with the article about the Guardian article, but the comments seem to be turned off there. I am aware this might be a sensitive issue, please forgive me if I say anything wrong.

On the book website LibraryThing we are having a discussion about what to do with deadnames of transitioned authors. Am I right that you would want the author page of Phil kept separate from your current author page? Should we add a note not to combine the two, or would that draw to much attention to the connection? We're just not sure how to handle this best, so any input from you would be appreciated.

Expand full comment