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Anita Superson: August 2013

posted Aug 12, 2013, 11:05 AM by Peggy DesAutels

Anita Superson
University of Kentucky

Anita Superson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has held visiting positions at the University of Michigan and the University of Waterloo, and was the recipient of an AAUW Fellowship.

Her influential research is in ethics and feminist philosophy, and much of her work intersects these two areas, applying feminist insights to traditional issues in ethics.  Her interests in ethics are wide-ranging, including metaethics, moral psychology, normative ethics, and health care ethics.  One main area of metaethics and the topic of her book, The Moral Skeptic, is moral skepticism.  This book is also an illustration of how her work imports feminist insights into traditional issues in metaethics.  In it, she challenges the traditional picture of the skeptic who asks, “Why be moral?”  She argues against the traditional picture that it is too weak and not sufficiently politically sensitive.  Building on attempts to defeat the action skeptic offered by Hobbes and Gauthier, grounded in self-interest, she defends a view according to which the rationality of dispositions is assessed interdependently of the rationality of actions, where dispositions and actions are seen as two sides of a coin, rationally related through the same reasoning on the part of the agent.  She argues that even though on the traditional view of the skeptic’s position, the skeptic would be successfully defeated with a defeat of the action skeptic, this is too weak:  a complete defeat of skepticism requires a defeat of the disposition skeptic, by demonstrating that having a moral disposition is rationally required, and the motive skeptic, by demonstrating that rationality requires that we have and act from certain motives deemed ideal by whatever moral theory we defend, rather than merely going through the motions in acting morally.  Furthermore, we need to address the amoralist, who is not moved by moral reasons even though he recognizes their existence.  Finally, she expands the traditional skeptic’s position, which is grounded in self-interest, to include immoral behavior other than self-interested behavior, including especially sexist forms, and re-construes the skeptic’s position as one of privilege rather than self-interest in order to capture immoralities directed against members of disenfranchised groups.  She develops what she calls the Interdependency Thesis, which assesses the rationality of moral dispositions and actions interdependently, in a way that reflects the complex connection between the agent’s reasons for adopting a moral disposition, and for having and acting from it, and whether these cohere with the agent’s reasons for acting and for wanting to be a morally good person, as well as the justification for the moral theory or principles the agent endorses.  A defeat of this more complete account of the skeptic will leave the skeptic little or no room for raising doubts about the rationality of moral behavior.

Much of her work in feminist philosophy falls under the rubric of moral psychology.  Some of the topics she has published on include blame for right-wing women for the choice of lifestyle when their choices are severely restricted by patriarchy, the notion of responsibility of oppressed persons such as the Deferential Wife for their own oppression in regard to their being self-respecting, the notion of deformed desires and their role in theories of morality and rationality, and the role that privilege plays in individuals’ immoral actions and whether the privileged are responsible for seeing the nonprivileged as “likes” who are deserving of similar treatment.  She is the author of an entry on “Feminist Moral Psychology” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and serves as a subject co-editor for Feminism entries for the same.

She has also published on topics relating to sexism in the academy, including the role of gender stereotypes in teaching evaluations of female faculty, the role of male socialization and how it gets played out in the backlash against feminism in tenure decisions, and the moral status of faculty/student amorous relationships.   She is co-editor with Ann Cudd of Theorizing Backlash:  Philosophical Reflections on the Resistance to Feminism.  Her research in this area overlaps her activism:  she serves on the Women in Philosophy Task Force, whose aim is to improve the status of women in the profession.  She has served on the APA Committee on the Status of Women.  She was a founding member of the Society for Analytical Feminism and served on the Executive Board and as President for four years, and co-organized several conferences.  The Society provides a forum for work in feminism that is done from an analytical perspective, and regularly holds sessions at the APA.  She co-edited an anthology with Sharon Crasnow, Out from the Shadows:  Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy, that showcases the import of feminism on issues in mainstream philosophy. 

            Her current research interests include moral bindingness (i.e., what, if anything, it is about moral reasons that makes them necessarily “take” with a rational agent who recognizes them), and bodily autonomy. She plans to write a book that analyzes and defends a right to bodily autonomy. She will serve as the Vice President (2014) and then the President (2015) of the Central States Philosophical Association.