17 thoughts on “Most Influential Feminist Philosophy Texts

  1. From Cressida’s e-mail to the lists:
    “My research assistant has put the results together in a very eccentric (!) bibliography: it lists authors alphabetically by first name, many of the references are incomplete, and I suspect a number are inaccurate in minor ways. It wasn’t worth her time for the purposes of our project to tidy it up, but I hope this won’t make it harder for anyone else to use. Asterisks next to a text indicate how many “votes” it received.”

  2. There’s a serious mistake in one of the listings. Moral Understandings is by Margaret Urban Walker, not Margaret Gilbert, who is otherwise an excellent philosopher.

  3. It’s interesting to me how many of the texts are not philosophy. I don’t mean that they are not good, useful for philosophers, or philosophical, in a broad sense, but just that, whatever they are, they are not philosophy if that has a clear meaning at all. I don’t mean that it’s stuff done by people not trained in philosophy (though it’s also interesting how much on the list falls in that category, too) as, for example, I think a lot of work by Evelyn Fox Keller is clearly philosophy, though her training is in physics and she’s not in a philosophy department. (I’m surprised only one of her papers make it- surely more should.) I mean things like some of Catherine MacKinnon’s work which, though I admire it and think it’s useful for philosophers, is clearly not philosophy nor is it intended to be. There are other examples, too. I don’t have a moral to draw from this nor do I think the worked I have in mind ought not be on the list or anything like that. It’s just something that’s interesting to me.

  4. Well, both of the Mackinnon papers both explicitly relate the topic to epistemology, and whatever else may be said, epistemology certainly is philosophy; the purpose may not be directly to contribute to discussions within academic philosophy itself, but that’s a different thing from saying it is not philosophy: e.g., saying that something is not intended to be a contribution to discussions between epistemologists is different from saying that the contribution is not intended to say something substantive about epistemology.

    But I suspect, too, that there would be plenty of people on the philosopher side of things who would regard any sort of feminist analysis as, directly or indirectly, philosophy, almost by definition; the only difference being between theoretical feminist philosophy, i.e., the sort done by professional philosophers, and applied feminist philosophy.

  5. I know the MacKinnon pieces well, as I’ve assigned them in classes I’ve taught several times. They obviously deal with philosophical topics, but in a way that I, at least, would want to say isn’t philosophy. (That’s not a criticism. Many times philosophers use “not philosophy” to mean “not good” and “philosophy” to mean good. I’m not doing that and think it’s a bit dumb as way of looking at things. ) It also seems wrong to say that any sort of feminist analysis is philosophy. Much of Gilligan’s work is empirical psychology of a sort. It’s relevant for philosophers and should be read by them, but that doesn’t make it philosophy, any more than much of John Maynard-Smith’s work is philosophy as opposed to biology that’s relevant and important to philosophers.

  6. I would suspect that most philosophers generally, and probably at least a few feminist philosophers specifically, would regard this sort of division to consist of arbitrary lines of convenience for academic purposes rather than anything else. That is, they would take the thoughtful discussion of philosophical topics to be philosophy, regardless of where it fits in terms of standard disciplinary lines. At least, almost every philosopher I know holds something like such a view. I know philosophers who regard Gilligan’s texts as obviously philosophical arguments that are informed by her psychological research. They would perhaps concede that we teach Gilligan differently in philosophy than we would in psychology, but not that Gilligan’s work itself isn’t philosophy: they would think it is both. And likewise with MacKinnon.

    But I suppose in the end, it would depend entirely on what one thought had to be done in order to deal with philosophical topics in a philosophical way; philosophers, I think, tend to have a fairly generous view of this, and arguably require such a generous view in order to do their work, which often requires building on interdisciplinary foundations. In any case, my only point was that I doubt — although this is based purely on anecdotal experience — that most of those nominating for the list would have agreed that MacKinnon’s work is clearly not philosophy, so that would help account for its placement.

  7. One reasons I’d not want to say that MacKinnon’s work, at least much of it, useful though it is, isn’t philosophy is that if it is philosophy, it’s quite bad philosophy- it’s written in a highly polemical form that has much more in common with a legal brief than with philosophy (being a lawyer as well as a philosophy I get to see lots of both) and the style of argumentation is such that it would be thought out of place in almost any normal philosophical setting- a conference, journal, paper by a student, etc. It’s not out of place in its own field. It engaged topics important to philosophers. But it does seem to me to be importantly different from the large majority, at least, of philosophy. Again, many philosophers use “not philosophy” as a pejorative term, and I’m not doing that. (Similarly, if you read Gilligan as presenting “obviously philosophical arguments” then it seems to me you’re forced to say it’s bad philosophy. But if it’s doing something else it can be quite good and very helpful to and of interest to philosophy and philosophers. The same applies to several others on the list, though of course there are many that are clearly philosophy, and some that are, to my mind, more clearly border-line cases.) But anyway, I don’t think there are necessary and sufficient conditions for something being “philosophy”, nor do I think much turns on it, so I’ll not belabor the point more. If the list was named “texts most influential _for_ feminist philosophy” I wouldn’t even have thought it odd.

  8. Matt and Brandon, this is an intriguing discussion and I’m tempted to do a post on it. I expect there are a lot of different takes among even our philosophy faculty readers.

    I think it is very unclear what philosophy is, and I don’t think I myself distinguish among the disciplines I read in very much.

    Professional academic philosopher, especially those of us who are analytically trained, tend to say that what’s important is the quality of argumentation, but in practice what we value seem to be original ideas. Many of our best don’t give very clear arguments. I mean, Wittgenstein?? I’ve been in discussion after discussion of great works where people decide finally there isn’t really any good argument. Lots of people think Naming and Necessity, which is hugely important, isn’t well argued at all. Etc, etc.

    Of course, this all has a problematic side. It is always permissible to reject a paper for having few and/or poor arguments, even though often the best papers are weak in that respect. So who is allowed to have publishable original ideas and who isn’t?

    The same question goes through the sciences, by the way.

  9. With reference to the demarcation between philosophy and non-philosophy:

    1) In the 20th century, the demarcations between disciplines developed as a response to political conflict. Reichenbach’s distinction between the context of discovery (the thing studied by historians and sociologists of science) and the context of justification (the thing studied by philosophers of science), for example, was at least partly motivated by a desire to isolate the work of certain members of the Vienna Circle from the politicization of German-speaking universities in the 1920s and 1930s. George Reisch argues in How the Cold War transformed philosophy of science that something similar happened to US philosophy of science during the Cold War.

    For politically-active intellectuals (like, say, feminist philosophers), there’s some reason to reject disciplinary divisions. They tend to isolate us our allies in `other disciplines’, after all.

    2) Looking through my electronic files for another article earlier, I happened across an article by Cristina Bicchieri of Penn, arguing that a practical demarcation is detrimental to philosophy, and worrying about conceptual demarcation is a waste.

  10. I’m tempted to say that Cristina (who is a friend of mine) _would_ say that, given that many people argue that _her_ work isn’t philosophy! (See the review of her recent book in Ethics, for example.) I think that at least most of her work is philosophy, though she does work with a lot of people whose work isn’t philosophy, though it’s relevant for philosophy. (I assume we all here think that _some_ things are clearly philosophy and some clearly not, even if we can’t all tell in every case.)

    (I’m not a huge fan of Reisch’s book, which seems to me to cherry-pick facts to fit his narrative to quite a large degree, to ignore alternative explanations for real problems that don’t fit his narrative, and seem to me to get some positions clearly wrong.)

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