8 thoughts on “On Feminist Philosophy

  1. Funny, I was just beginning to question whether I was overreacting in my vehement defense of the legitimacy of feminist philosophy. I was starting to have people imply that there was no reason to campaign explicitly for feminist philosophy since it was sure to become a stable sub-area of philosophy.

    This attitude I picked up from people, though, may have been a mis-perception that, because philosophy is no longer explicitly sexist, no one harbors ill will or prejudice against feminist philosophy. (or misconceives what it is.)

    It’s crazy how, depending on what group of people I talk to, feminism is perceived as either a noble and natural area of philosophy, or as a crazy interloper into ‘real’ philosophy.

    …I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me. I know philosophers disagree about the importance of all sorts of areas. I’ve seen people sneer at metaphysics, ethics, Kant, and all of history of philosophy.

    But, I don’t think Kantians have to defend the legitimacy of Kant scholarship in quite the same way that feminist philosophers do, though I can’t quite articulate why.

  2. I agree that there is a misguided sentiment that feminist philosophy is not real philosophy- but pretty much anything from the folks at what’s wrong with the world I take to be the position of outliers. There was a post there a while back complaining about a female police cheif, and female police officers generally destroying their femininity and simultaneously preventing real police work from being done (because, y’know, girls just aren’t “manly” enough to be real cops).

  3. One of the telling marks of the essay that Brandon is writing about is that the author nowhere (as far as I can see) considers whether there might be reasonable rebuttals to her charges.

    It’s unusual, I think, for philosophers to write with such obvious and complete conviction that what they are saying is unquestionably true.

    If it were an undergraduate essay, I’d give it a C, and tell the author she must learn to foresee the reasonable objections she will encounter.

    Or perhaps I read it too quickly. However, it doesn’t take a feminism to get some critical distance on the idea that we just have to pick the best person, as though our minds were capable of picking up enough indisputable signs of merit. She might try reading some of the many, many recent books on how the clear light of reason fails even highly educated, dispassionate seekers of truth time and again. And why it does so; that is, what are the biases that bring this about.

    Very little of that literature is feminist, and it’s been growing since the early 70’s.

  4. feminist work is “tiddly-winks”. that’s brilliant! it reminds me of a time in a seminar when one participant was clearly in a huff about a claim that was being made. the leader of the seminar stopped and asked the huffer ‘you sound like you have a good objection. care to chime in?’ and the huffer replied ‘i just _flatly_disagree_!’ classic.

    btw, tho, brandon’s example of something on which most feminists will tend to agree–abortion–is an interesting one. my suspicion is that most *philosophers*, full stop, will tend to agree on abortion. no?

  5. Thanks for the link, Jender, and for the comments, everyone.

    I picked abortion as an example because it is a political issue and seems to have something very like universality among feminist philosophers, so it would be the sort of thing that would have to fall under ‘group politics’ as McGrew understands it. I do suspect you are right that the majority of philosophers would agree; I doubt, however, that it even approaches the same degree of consensus, especially when all levels of the profession are considered. But it’s hard to get a handle on the profession as a whole, and it’s difficult to find much in the way of hard data to confirm or disconfirm anything, so I don’t really know how it breaks down.

  6. There are parts of this defense that I like, but parts that I disagree with. One major aspect of my dissertation (think of it as the major case study) is an account of how feminists scientists have made important contributions to their *scientific* fields *as feminists*. They weren’t just, say, great primatologists; in important ways, they were great primatologists because they were feminists. Still more particularly, I plan on arguing (all this is two chapters after the one I’m currently writing) that feminist critiques of mainstream sciences in the mid-twentieth century made those sciences more rigorous. So, more generally, I think that incorporating feminism into intellectual discipline X doesn’t lead to unrigorous or otherwise shoddy versions of X. Indeed, quite the opposite.

    On the other hand, the first line of argument sounds to me like `feminists don’t actually care about politics, so don’t worry about them importing a political agenda’. And the premise there is clearly false. I understand what’s going on in the conclusion and why Brandon feels the need to give an argument for it — indeed, in the chapter I’m currently writing, I’m developing an account of all this in the case of science that can probably be applied to philosophy in a straightforward way. But the way to respond to this worry isn’t to deny that feminists have political aims!

  7. Re-reading it, I’d agree completely that that’s a weak point in the post; I think I went too far in this direction. In part I think I make it sound, as you say, as if feminist philosophers did nothing but discuss problems, which is surely not right. On the other hand, saying that feminists have political aims doesn’t in itself imply that they all have the same political aims (even if they disagree more on political means than political ends broadly construed), and likewise doesn’t tell us anything about how those aims are related to their philosophical reflection, and I think it’s often important to emphasize this.

  8. brandon’s example of something on which most feminists will tend to agree–abortion–is an interesting one. my suspicion is that most *philosophers*, full stop, will tend to agree on abortion. no?

    I think the situation has changed a fair amount, but it’s worth remembering that quite a few important feminist thinkers* in the 70’s and early 80’s “radical feminist” line were at least ambivalent about abortion, with many thinking that its main purpose was to make women more sexually available to men, and that it betrayed a lack of proper respect for life. Many held that, given the world as it was, abortion should be legal, but that in a just and equal world it should not be, because of the disrespect for life.

    *At least some of the people pushing this line were not strictly philosophers. Adrienne Rich, for example, was one who took this line. I’m pretty sure some others did, too, including some philosophers, but I don’t have time to go back and look through the literature now. But even on these issues feminists haven’t be monolithic.

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