Analytic Feminism

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Analytic feminism applies analytic concepts and methods to feminist issues and applies feminist concepts and insights to issues that traditionally have been of interest to analytic philosophers. Analytic feminists, like analytic philosophers more generally, value clarity and precision in argument and use logical and linguistic analysis to help them achieve that clarity and precision. Unlike nonfeminists, they write against a background of recognition of sexism (practices that take women and feminine things to be inferior to men and masculine things) and androcentrism (practices that take males or men or men's life experiences to be the norm or the ideal for human life), and work with the aim of contesting both.

Analytic feminism holds that the best way for scholars to counter sexism and androcentrism in their work is through forming a clear conception of and pursuing truth, logical consistency, objectivity, rationality, justice, and the good, while recognizing that these notions have often been perverted by androcentrism throughout the history of philosophy. Analytic feminists engage the literature traditionally thought of as analytic philosophy, but also draw on other traditions in philosophy, as well as work by feminists working in other disciplines, especially the social and biological sciences.

Analytic feminists assert the sex/gender distinction, a distinction between the biological concept of sex and the socially constructed concept of gender (non-isomorphic to sex), though they may disagree widely on how this distinction is to be drawn and what moral or political implications it has. Although they share the conviction that the social constructions of gender create a fundamentally unjust imbalance in contemporary social and political arrangements, there is no other political thesis generally held by them. Analytic feminists who are political philosophers defend political views that reflect progressive positions found in contemporary nonfeminist political philosophy, from liberalism (Okin 1989, Nussbaum 1999) to republicanism (Phillips 2000) to socialism (MacKinnon 1989, Ferguson 1991). They also draw on views of previous generations of feminist political philosophers from John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft to Friederich Engels, Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Simone de Beauvoir. Analytic feminists, like nonanalytic feminists, have written much about social and political issues like abortion, pornography, prostitution, rape, sexual harassment, surrogacy, and violence against women. What characterizes analytic feminism here is the use of logical and conceptual analysis and, sometimes, decision theoretic analysis (see article by Cudd in Antony and Witt 2001).

Analytic feminists often defend traditional analytic methods and concepts against criticism from nonanalytic feminists. Many nonanalytic feminists charge (in various ways) that the notions of reason, truth, objectivity, or the methods of logical and linguistic analysis are hopelessly masculinist, and cannot be reclaimed for feminist purposes. They criticize canonical male philosophers, including Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Rousseau, Frege, Quine, and Rawls, as sexist or at least androcentric, and at times suggest that these philosophers have nothing useful to say to women. These charges challenge feminist philosophers who have been trained in the analytic tradition and who find that tradition valuable. To reject philosophers on those grounds, they argue, would indict similarly almost the entire history of philosophy. The question analytic feminists ask is whether those androcentric or sexist writings can be corrected and rescued by an enlightened critical reader. Annette Baier's work on Hume in "Hume, the Women's Moral Theorist?" and "Hume, the Reflective Women's Epistemologist?" (Baier 1994), Marcia Homiak's work on Aristotle in "Feminism and Aristotle's Rational Ideal" (Antony and Witt 2001), Barbara Herman's work on Kant in "Could It Be Worth Thinking about Kant on Sex and Marriage?" (Antony and Witt 2001), and Peg O'Connor's work on Wittgenstein in Oppression and Responsibility: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Social Practices and Moral Theory (2002) exemplify such attempts.

An important insight of feminism has been to expose the androcentric bias toward seeing human individuals as essentially isolated, epistemically, socially, and morally, from others. One early result of this insight was the ethics of care (Held 1995), which challenges the dominant tradition of ethical theory with the idea that caring for others is a central ethical activity. Eva Kittay developed the "dependency critique" (Kittay 1999) of Rawls's theory of justice, arguing that the capacity for caring for dependent others is one of the central moral powers, just as basic as the capacities to form a sense of the good and a sense of justice. Analytic feminists have joined other feminist theorists in focusing much of their recent attentions to questions of the self. In the anthology Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Automony, Agency, and the Social Self (2000), several articles examine the notion of relational autonomy, which takes seriously the idea that humans must define their identities in relation to others in ways which challenge their ability to be completely autonomous in the traditional sense. These articles attempt to define a new notion of autonomy that incorporates that insight. Another important book on the self (Brison 2002) connects traditional theories of personal identity with recent research on trauma, arguing that the trauma arising from sexual violence, for example, challenges those theories.

Analytic feminism holds that many traditional philosophical notions are not only normatively compelling, but also in some ways empowering and liberating for women. While postmodern feminism rejects the universality of truth, justice, and objectivity and the univocality of "women," analytic feminism defends these notions. They recognize that to reject a view because it is false or oppressive to women, one needs some rational, objective ground from which we can argue that it is in fact false or oppressive. An important task for analytic feminism involves investigating the objectivity of science. Helen Longino's Science as Social Knowledge (1990) was the first such analytic feminist work. Elizabeth Anderson's "Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense" (Anderson 1995) shows how a carefully aimed feminist critique can improve the objectivity of science by distinguishing and illustrating four ways that feminist critiques have corrected the distorted lenses of masculinist science: through the critique of gendered structures in the social organization of science, through the analysis of gendered symbols in scientific models, through exposing sexism in scientific practices and focuses, and through revealing androcentrism in its concepts and theories.

Louise Antony, in "Quine as Feminist: The Radical Import of Naturalized Epistemology" (Antony and Witt 2001) presented what she called the bias paradox : Feminists (and others) want to criticize certain claims as false because they are biased, and yet feminism is also clearly a bias; in effect, a particular slant on the world. She locates a solution in naturalized epistemology. First we must see that what we can know necessarily comes through our particular human cognitive apparatus, which biases the content of our claims. Thus, bias per se is not the problem, but some biases lead us away from the truth. Her more recent work has emphasized the importance of embodiment generally in epistemology (Antony 2002), and she credits feminism in large part for this insight. Other analytic feminists (Grasswick and Webb 2002) have extended the naturalized epistemology analysis to argue for a social feminist epistemology, which asserts that socially induced sexist and androcentric biases can affect the content and justification of knowledge. In its analysis of traditional philosophical topics like objectivity and personal identity and new topics such as sexism in language (Vetterling-Braggin 1981), analytic feminism reveals the blurriness of the distinction between metaphysics, epistemology, and social/political philosophy.

See also Feminist Epistemology; Feminist Ethics; Feminist Metaphysics; Feminist Philosophy; Feminist Philosophy of Science.


Anderson, Elizabeth. "Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense." Hypatia 10 (1995): 5084.

Antony, Louise M. "Embodiment and Epistemology." In The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology, edited by Paul K. Moser. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Antony, Louise M., and Charlotte Witt, eds. A Mind of One's Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2001.

Baier, Annette C. Moral Prejudices. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Brison, Susan. Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Cudd, Ann E., and Virginia Klenk, eds. Hypatia 10 (1995). This is a special issue of the feminist philosophy journal devoted to analytic feminism.

Ferguson, Ann. Sexual Democracy: Women, Oppression, and Revolution. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1991.

Grasswick, Heidi E., and Mark Owen Webb. "Feminist Epistemology as Social Epistemology." Social Epistemology 16 (2002): 185196.

Haslanger, Sally. "Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them to Be?" Nous 34 (2000): 3155.

Held, Virginia, ed. Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995.

Kittay, Eva Feder. Love's Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Longino, Helen. Science as Social Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Mackenzie, Catriona, and Natalie Stoljar, eds. Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Automony, Agency, and the Social Self. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

MacKinnon, Catharine A. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Nelson, Lynn Hankinson. Who Knows: From Quine to a Feminist Empiricism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1990.

Nussbaum, Martha. Sex and Social Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

O'Connor, Peg. Oppression and Responsibility: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Social Practices and Moral Theory. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Okin, Susan Moller. Justice, Gender, and the Family. Boston: Basic Books, 1989.

Phillips, Anne. "Feminism and Republicanism: Is This a Plausible Alliance?" Journal of Political Philosophy 8 (2000): 279293.

Vetterling-Braggin, Mary, ed. Sexist Language: A Modern Philosophical Analysis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981.

Ann E. Cudd (1996, 2005)