Rae Helen Langton

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Rae Helen Langton (born 1961) is an Australian and British professor of philosophy in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. She has published widely on Immanuel Kant's philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, metaphysics, and feminist philosophy. In particular, she is known for her work on questions about the ethics of pornography and objectification. She is married to fellow philosopher Richard Holton.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Rae Langton was born in 1961 in Ludhiana, India. She attended Hebron School, Coonoor and Ootacamund, India. In 1980 she moved to Australia and attended the University of New England. In 1981 she enrolled at the University of Sydney where she majored in philosophy.[1] There she became interested in Kant. Her Honours thesis argued that Kant's scientific realism did not fit with his idealism.[2] She graduated with First Class Honours in 1986. She was one of a group of women honours graduates at the time encouraged to continue their studies by applying to graduate school in the United States.[3] In 1986 Langton moved to the United States and began graduate work at Princeton University in the Philosophy department.[1] While studying social philosophy at Princeton she became interested in the philosophical debates on free speech and pornography.[2] In 1990, in response to Ronald Dworkin's Is There a Right to Pornography?,[4] she published Whose right? Ronald Dworkin, Women, and Pornographers. In it she argued that the positions Dworkin takes on segregation and affirmative action are not consistent with his position in defence of pornography.[5] The paper was voted one of the ten best articles in philosophy that year.[6] Langton received her PhD in 1995 from Princeton.[1] Her thesis advisor was Margaret Dauler Wilson;[2] and her thesis topic was Kantian Humility.[7]


In 1990, before writing her PhD thesis, Langton moved back to Australia. From 1990 to 1998 she was a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy department of Monash University in Melborne.[2] In 1993 she published her paper Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts.[8] According to Mary Kate McGowan, "Rather than focus on the harms allegedly caused, Langton explores the hypothesis that pornography actually constitutes harm."[9] In 1998 she was a Fellow in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. She also published her first book, Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves,[10] based on her thesis. According to one reviewer, "In this perspective there is no idealism in Kant, rather what Langton calls epistemic humility."[11] Another reviewer described the book as "one of the most original and thought-provoking books on Kant to have appeared for quite some time."[12] Langton moved to the United Kingdom in 1998. From 1998 to 1999 she was a Lecturer at Sheffield University. From 1999 to 2004 she was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. From 2004 to 2013 she was back in the United States as a Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1] Many of the papers she published from 1990 to 1999 were collected in her 2009 book Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, along with her responses to some of her critics.[13] In 2012 she was one of several philosophers who submitted evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.[14] She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October 2013.[15] In 2013 she joined the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and became a Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge.[1] She will give the John Locke Lectures at Oxford University in 2015.[1]


Langton has written two books – Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves in 1998 and Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification in 2009.[1] Kantian Humility was generally well-received, with Ralph C. S. Walker commenting in Mind that Kantian Humility was "...one of the most original and thought-provoking books on Kant to have appeared for quite some time. Its scholarship and its philosophical insight are equally impressive, and it raises philosophical questions of considerable interest for the present day."[12] Sexual Solipsism was also well-received, with Mary Kate McGowan commenting in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews that "...Langton's crisp, clear, and careful argumentation proves that philosophy has much to offer the socially, politically and even legally charged issues addressed here... This is feminist scholarship at its very best. It's first-rate philosophy."[9] Langton has also written more than fifty articles about subjects ranging from feminist approaches to pornography, to animal ethics, to hate speech.[1]

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Curriculum vitae – Rae Helen Langton". Academia.edu. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gardner, Steve (2011). "Rae Langton". In Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis. The Antipodean Philosopher: Volume 2. Interviews on Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand. Lexington Books. pp. 85–104, 254–255. ISBN 978-0-7391-6656-7. 
  3. ^ Green, Karen (2011). "Australian Women Philosophers". In Graham Robert Oppy, Nick Trakakis. The Antipodean Philosopher, Volume 1. Lexington Books. pp. 67–79. ISBN 978-0-7391-2733-9. 
  4. ^ Dworkin, Ronald (1981). "Is There a Right to Pornography?". Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 1 (2): 177–212. doi:10.1093/ojls/1.2.177. 
  5. ^ Langton, Rae (1990). "Whose right? Ronald Dworkin, Women, and Pornographers". Philosophy and Public Affairs 19 (4): 311–359. doi:10.1023/A:1010619209334. 
  6. ^ "Past Volumes". The Philosopher's Annual. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "Alumni PhDs by Last Name". Princeton University Department of Philosophy. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  8. ^ Langton, Rae (1993). "Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts". Philosophy & Public Affairs 22 (4): 293–330. 
  9. ^ a b McGowan, Mary Kate (June 2009). "Review: Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. 
  10. ^ Langton, Rae (1998). Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-823653-5. 
  11. ^ Esfeld, Michael (2001). "Rae Langton, Kantian Humility. Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves". Erkenntnis 54 (3): 399–403. doi:10.1023/A:101061920933. 
  12. ^ a b Walker, Ralph (2002). "Review: Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves". Mind 111 (441): 136–143. doi:10.1093/mind/111.441.136. 
  13. ^ Langton, Rae (2009). Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924706-6. 
  14. ^ Langton, Rae. "Submission from Prof. Rae Langton to the Leveson Inquiry". Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  15. ^ "Nine MIT faculty members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among 198 elected this year to the prestigious honorary society" (Press release). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  16. ^ "British Academy announces 42 new fellows". Times Higher Education. 18 July 2014. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 

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