Query from a reader

I’m teaching intro to philosophy next semester, and I’ll be doing it via some focus on the problem of skepticism, the mind-body problem, and the problem of free will, primarily with an eye towards work done on these issues in the past 100 years.

I’m looking for accessible but philosophically rich pieces by women philosophers on these things, especially on skepticism and the mind-body problem parts of the course. Ideally they would be fairly well-known or even “contemporary classic” pieces on, for example, functionalism, identity theory, external world skepticism, and so on. The standard intro to philosophy text I would otherwise like to use has only white males in these sections of the text.

I’m wondering if readers of Feminist Philosophers have any recommendations for me about what might be especially promising pieces for use in an undergraduate classroom.

Thanks in advance.

7 thoughts on “Query from a reader

  1. I would highly recommend Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia’s response to Descartes’ Meditations. Her response nicely encapsulates the key problem of mind-body interaction in dualism (much more nicely than Hobbes’ response does, btw. There Hobbes and Descartes mostly talk past each other in a snarky, territorial way.) Descartes does a bit of obnoxious talking-down to Elizabeth, and she reciprocates with some self-deprecation. But her objection is on the money, and she does not give up. Finally Descartes is forced to concede, in essence, that his dualism can’t really explain mind-body interaction.

    I realize that you said you were more interested in “contemporary classics”. But I think the Elizabeth piece is nice, because it defuses the impression that women doing philosophy is only a recent phenomenon. Also, it shows a famous philosopher such as Descartes willing to engage with women on matters of philosophical import. Kudos to Descartes for this (and see Margaret Atherton’s excellent piece in A Mind of One’s Own for more on that score). For “contemporary classics” you might also look at Louise Antony’s piece on naturalized epistemology in A Mind of One’s Own.

    Happy hunting!

  2. Annette Baier’s Posture of Mind has some excellent stuff in it.

    I also agree with #1 that Princess Elisabeth’s interchanges with D are quite wonderful. I’m not sure she is being really self-deprecating. It may be a required social form. Also, I’ve certainly spoken deferentially to people when I didn’t want their egos to get confused with the philosophy or politics being discussed. You might do that if your goals are quite specific.

  3. The textbook Arguing about the Mind edited by Gertler and Shapiro is an excllent collection that includes many important pieces by women. For example, there’s Patricia Churchland’s “The Hornswoggle Problem,” and a paper by Barbara Montero called “Post-Physicalism.” These pieces were also published elsewhere if you don’t want to use the anthology.

  4. I do think two points should be noted: first, given the general neglect of women philosophers, especially of a generation or two ago, there are works by women that I would consider classics but which may still not have received that recognition by the mainstream of analytic philosophers; second, a serious attempt to include women may mean including feminist philosophy or the taking up of issues that are more salient to women philosophers (you may be surprised at how much your students will appreciate having these perspectives).

    I second jj’s endorsement of Baier’s work in Postures of the Mind — in these essays on intention and other concepts of mind, and philosophy of action, she engages constructively with Davidson, Dennet, Frankfurt, and others. The work of G.E.M. Anscome and Jennifer Hornsby would tie in here.

    Cora Diamond’s “Losing your concepts” (Ethics 1988) is a classic in philosophy that looks at the way in which philosophy of mind and moral psychology intersect.

    Philosophy of emotion has plenty of excellent analytic-style work by women such as Jenefer Robinson, Claire Armon-Jones and Pat Greenspan.

    In the area of epistemology there is so much to choose from; important contributions include Elizabeth Anderson, Elisabeth Lloyd and Helen Longino.

    Including a more poltical dimension to epistemology, as Longino and also Miranda Fricker (among others) do, might especially resonate with your students if they are not philosophy majors but have studied feminist theory in other disciplines.

  5. It is with mixed feelings that I can say my work is like Hume’s Treatise in falling still-born from the press. I also think that it is tacky to self-advertise on the web. But I’ve been working on a program for some time that might be interesting to feminists. It advances a non-naturalist approach that sees causal theories and philosophical theories invoking mental representations as faulty. It argues for a social account of human cognition, in part maintaining that what we are learning from brain science is that the incredibly active brain is not much like the mind, which certainly can’t be found inside the head. I also maintain that folk psychology as the folk actually explain one another is completely compatible with this view.

    (The articles about vision are equally about the mind; the neuro stuff is not very technical.)

    I’d be happy to send anyone copies of forthcoming work:

    “Vision as a Social Phenomenon: The Cognitive Sciences and Feminist Theory,” forthcoming in Neurofeminism, ed. Bluhm, Jacobson, Maibom, from Palgrave MacMillan

    “The Faux, Fake, Forged, False, Fabricated, Phony, Etc: Problems for the Independence of Similarity-Based Theories of Concepts,” comments on E. Machery’s Précis, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, forthcoming.

    “Empathy and Instinct: Cognitive Neuroscience and Folk Psychology,” Inquiry, 2009, 59(5) pp. 467-42.

    “What Should a Theory of Vision Look Like?” Philosophical Psychology, 2008, 21 (5), pp. 641-655.

    “Empathy, Primitive Reactions and the Modularity of Emotion,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Suppl. Vol. 32, 2006, 95-113.

    “The Psychology of Philosophy: Locke and Hume,”2004, in Alanen, L and Witt, C, Feminist Reflections on the History of Philosophy, Kluwer Academic Publishers. [This is one of several papers of mind challenging on empirical grounds the conception of human reason that shows up in much of philosophy.]

    “Mental representations: what philosophy leaves out and neuroscience puts in,” Philosophical Psychology, 2003, 16 (2), pp. 189-203.

    “A Problem for Causal Accounts of Reasons and Rationalizations,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, 1993, pp. 307-321

    “A Problem for Naturalizing Epistemologies,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXX, No. 4, 1992, pp. 31-49

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