Socratic Society

"Why There are So Few Diverse Voices in Philosophy: A Psychodynamic Account, with Recommendations" by Alyssa Luboff (PSU)

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019  4.00-6.00 p.m.  SMSU 294

Philosophy, more than any other branch of the humanities, is dominated by white men. Yet the solution to its diversity problem may be as old as the discipline itself: embracing the ancient practice of philosophy as dialogue. In contemporary academic settings, philosophy is most often practiced as the analysis of arguments. The problem with this narrower conception of philosophy is the aggressiveness of the methods it tends to employ; participants must defend their arguments as if in a duel. While psychologists and neuroscientists have described the "fight-flight-freeze" response that such stressful situations elicit, philosophers have yet to recognize the social and political significance of this response, or of trauma in general. Whether we fight like predators or freeze/flee like prey in response to a social threat depends on our experience of power. Our experience of power, in turn, depends on our personal histories and our social locations. While a philosophical duel may encourage those with a positive experience of social power to argue well, or "fight", it primes those with a negative history of social power to "freeze" or "flee", leaving the conversation in a re-enactment of their past experiences of marginalization. In this way, the aggressiveness of philosophical argument reinforces the power divisions of systemic oppression, creating a discipline that mirrors our current social hierarchies, instead of one that is able to carefully discern and profoundly transform them. By cultivating instead the calm curiosity and respectful exploration of dialogue, philosophy may not only solve its diversity problem, but find that inclusiveness brings it closer to its ideals of truth, freedom, and an ever-expanding perspective.

Alyssa Luboff earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 2014 and is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor of University Studies at Portland State University. Her book, Facing Relativism, is forthcoming with Synthese Library (Springer) Studies in Epistemology, Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science Series.


"Borders: Representation and Reality"

Border Panel featuring Elena Aviles (PSU, Chicano/Latino Studies), Nica Aquino (artist), Craig Epplin (PSU, World Languages, Spanish), Hector H Hernandez (artist), and Angela Coventry [chair] (PSU, Philosophy)

Feburary 13th, 2019, 5:00pm, Location TBD

In his seminal essay, "What is a Border?" Etienne Balibar write of the "heterogeneity and ubiquity of borders" and observes that "borders are everywhere". Though people often conflate borders with official political borders, borders are also social, cultural, economic, and psychological. Border walls and barbed wire fences gouge landscapes. Borders are etched in law books and embodied by state officials charged with coercing, confining, and deporting transgressors. Languages and dialects nourish communities, but also exclude people without linguistic knowledge or access to interpretation. Borders are mobile, etched on bodies, accompanying people as they traverse space. Furthermore, they are polysemic so that their effects and even their visibility vary depending on people's individual characteristics and social belongings. As a result, borders immobilize some and facilitate the mobility of others, perpetrating structural inequalities. 

Though borders structure the fabric of the social world, their nature is mysterious and opaque. Borders are not static. Indeed, borders in significant ways are the efforts to maintain and contest them - if people do not recognize and legitimize them, they cease to exist. In many respects, it is more sppropriate to speak of bordering rather than borders.

The heterogeneity, complexity, and peculiarity of borders call for multidisciplinary efforts to explore the ontological, socio-political, and cultural dimensions of borders. In this spirit, we invite artists and theorists across disciplines and media to present and exhibit in our gallery/symposium Borders: Representation and Reality. 



Past Events


The Socratic Society of Portland State University is a venue for Philosophy faculty and philosophers from outside the University to present papers or speak on various topics of interest. 

Please check periodically for upcoming events, and if you are interested in presenting or participating with the Socratic Society at PSU, please contact Avram Hiller at or Brad Berman at