Cuteness, Crop-Tops and Epistemological Philosophy – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Cuteness, Crop-Tops and Epistemological Philosophy

Philosopher Draws Standing-Room-Only Crowd in Fisher Center

When we hear the word “philosophy, we don’t typically think of crop-tops (also called “belly shirts) or other things that middle school kids find cute. However, in this year’s Ann Palmeri Lecture sponsored by the philosophy department and the Fisher Center, MIT Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Sally Haslanger showed her audience exactly how philosophic some of the most common arguments between parents and kids can be.

“When a mother and daughter debate over whether not a crop-top is cute and should be bought for the seventh grader, I don’t think that they are really contradicting each other, Haslanger said during her lecture. “I also don’t think that they are simply talking past one another, using the word ‘cute’ in subtly different ways.

During her lecture, titled “But Mom, Crop-Tops are Cute!, Haslanger put this ordinary conflict to the philosophic test. Using her knowledge of various perspectives as an epistemologist, feminist and parent, Haslanger said, “I think that the daughter is right that there is a social meaning of ‘cute’ that is constituted in her social milieu. However, the girl’s practice of calling something ‘cute’ in her milieu implies that it is not other things, such as dorky, harmful or boring. This should be the basis of parents’ argument. They should point out reasons why crop-tops are harmful, providing an internal criticism of their child’s view.

In addition to the surprise of how philosophic this ordinary crop-top problem is, Haslanger astonished her audience with how understandable yet conceptually complex her presentation was. “I thought Professor Haslanger’s lecture was clear in a way that many academic lectures tend not to be. We may not have agreed with her, but we all understood the philosophy being lectured, said Tiffany Bennett ’08.

Bennett along with other students, faculty and staff left the Fisher Center conversing and questioning thanks to Haslanger, the Fisher Center and the philosophy department.