Carol Hay is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her work focuses primarily on issues in analytic feminism, liberal social and political philosophy, oppression studies, and Kantian ethics. Her work in public philosophy has appeared in venues such as The New York Times, Aeon Magazine, and The Boston Globe. She’s the Secretary / Treasurer of the Society for Analytical Feminism.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?
Definitely Kant. I’d sit him down and bitch him out about how he could be so mindbogglingly smart about so many things and yet so stupid about the way his work applies to women, people of color, and other people who were marginalized in his time. And then—after he’d apologized and admitted that he clearly should have known better and seen the radical implications for equality that are inherent in his work—if I had any time left I’d get him to talk me through the transcendental unity of apperception.
What’s your personal philosophy?
I think this question means something very different to people who aren’t professional philosophers—I don’t think many of us philosophers have anything we could boil down to a quippy little aphorism that’d fit on a t-shirt—but I can say a bit about how I, personally, approach philosophy. If I had to characterize my general philosophical approach, I’d say it’s been to try to see what we can do with the philosophical canon that we’re not supposed to be able to. In some ways, my work is the antithesis of Audre Lorde’s admonition about how we can’t dismantle the Master’s house with the Master’s tools. I want to see just how much dismantling we can do with these tools. I think the description I like best was when Charles Mills called my work “contrarian.”
My biggest contrarian project to date has been my 2013 book Kantianism, Liberalism, and Feminism: Resisting Oppression. Its central thesis is that people who are oppressed are bound by the duty of self-respect to resist their own oppression. The book defends certain core ideals found in the Kantian and liberal traditions—specifically, the fundamental importance of autonomy and rationality, the intrinsic and inalienable dignity of the individual, and the duty of self-respect—making the case that these ideals are pivotal in both understanding and counteracting oppression.
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
Probably winning the APA’s Gregory Kavka/UC Irvine Prize in Political Philosophy in 2015, as much as anything because of what it says about the direction the profession of philosophy is heading in. I don’t think a prize like this would’ve been awarded to an explicitly feminist piece of philosophy even five or ten years ago. It’s been a long time coming, but I think the discipline is finally starting to accept into the mainstream the work feminists and other socially engaged philosophers have been doing for decades. And I’m thrilled and honored to be a small part of it.
What do you like to do outside work?
We recently moved from a tiny condo in Boston to an old farmhouse in the country, and my partner John and I have been reveling in the domesticity—mucking about in the garden, figuring out how to run the wood stove, watching the new cat do battle with mice, avoiding ticks and poison ivy while trail running, that sort of thing. And it’s been fun to watch our 4-year-old daughter Becca transform from a city kid who was squeamish about bugs into a grubby little nature expert.
Find out more about Carol here.
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