Could the content of philosophy be gendered?

I always caution students and colleagues in other departments that philosophers often ask questions that they cannot answer.  I think, though, that the material below, however simplistically put, might make us take the question more seriously than perhaps we may do ordinarily.

There is a starting point in this reflections, and it comes from Jenny Lloyd’s The Man of Reason.  Lloyd argued that, among other things, the role of the isolated ego in philosophy (e.g., the Cartesian Ego) reflected and may have been supported by philosophers’ own removal from any of the material duties in life.  All those were left to the women (or, in Oxford colleges, one’s scout).

We now have nearly four decades of feminist critiques of mainstream philosophy as embodying a bio-social position that places women as outsiders.  Furthermore, if we look at the differences between mainstream philosophy and feminist philosophy, we can see some remarkable differences that may reflect different social settings for many men and women. The human being in today’s philosophy of mind appears to spring into existence fully formed at about 25 years of age. He has acquired his concepts by relatively solitary causal interactions with the world, and much of the results of his interactions are fully contained in his head. It may be, as some have argued, that mind contents can be found outside his head in records he keeps in a diary or even indeed in his ways of moving in the world. Nonetheless, he is by and large alone.

The self of feminist philosophy is largely very different. She often knows that Descartes was wrong, as Annette Baier has argued, to hold that the human mind is whole and entire unto itself. She cannot be the whole respository for the normativity that is needed for a theory of concepts, for example. Her intellectual thriving is dependent on social inputs, corrections and co-constructions. She is going to be less worried by books such as The Invisible Ape, that argues that individuals by themselves are much less good at getting truths than we have thought, because the idea of individuals going it alone was not her idea.

Finally, when the NY Times announces a new theory of reason as inherently social, she can say that she’s been there and done at least quite a bit of that. She may, however, resist the accompanying trope that we need knowledge of other minds because we want to control others and protect ourselves. That thought is much more common in mainstream philosophy than feminist philosophy.

As the NY Times tells us, “Darcia Narvaez, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and a contributor to the journal debate, said this theory “fits into evolutionary psychology mainstream thinking at the moment, that everything we do is motivated by selfishness and manipulating others, which is, in my view, crazy.””