Feminist Philosophy

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FEMINIST PHILOSOPHY

The rubric "feminist philosophy" applies to work in many philosophical subareas, often spanning several disciplines. The work is united by its authors' commitment to feminism in some form and by their belief that an engagement between feminism and philosophy will have both theoretical and practical benefits for everyone.

Some work in feminist philosophy focuses on philosophical issues that have arisen in the course of feminist political activism. Not surprisingly, much of this work is in political philosophy or ethics. Some work in feminist political philosophy consists of the articulation and defense of feminist theory, whereas other work examines the relationships between feminist political theory and other more general political theories, like liberalism and socialism. Much early work in feminist ethics dealt with issues in practical ethics that were of particular concern to women, such as abortion and affirmative action.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, however, feminist philosophers increasingly drew from other areas of philosophy to gain clarity about basic concepts in feminist theory and abstract foundational issues. Feminist work in metaphysics, for example, takes up such issues as the ontological status of categories like "gender" and "race," the basis of personal and cultural identity, the nature of truth, and the nature of freedom and autonomy. Feminist work in epistemology has been concerned, inter alia, with the relationship between practical and theoretical knowledge, the nature of intuition, the role of trust and other emotions in the achievement of knowledge, the social construction of expertise, and the nature of objectivity. Feminist philosophers of science ask such questions as why science has so often been enlisted on the side of sexism, and why so few women enter scientific fields, even today. Other burgeoning fields of feminist philosophy are feminist legal theory and feminist aesthetics.

Feminist philosophers have also been interested in understanding the ramifications of the historical exclusion of women from the discipline of philosophy. This exclusion has several forms: First, women have had very little opportunity, until very recently, to engage in systematic philosophical study; second, women and gender relations have received very little philosophical attention from the male authors who dominate the philosophical canon; and third, when women are discussed in the canonical literature, they are almost with exception represented as intellectually and morally inferior to men. Feminist philosophers have been concerned to document, analyze, and explain these various exclusions. Some feminist philosophers, including, prominently, many feminist philosophers of science, have concluded the methods and central concepts of traditional Western philosophy have been corrupted by an "androcentric" biasa pervasive presumption that distinctively male characteristics and experiences provide appropriate normative standards for the whole human race. Other feminist philosophers argue the problem is a matter of grossly false assertions about women that can be excised without affecting traditional methods or concepts. Feminist historians of philosophy have also been engaged in the "uncovery" of female philosophers not properly recognized either in their own times or in the present.

As a result of these sorts of investigations, many feminist philosophers have concluded that there is a need for distinctively feminist methodologies and have been engaged, along with feminist theorists in other disciplines, in developing such methodologies. Typically, these methodologies focus on ways of knowing that have been denigrated or excluded by mainstream philosophy and thus emphasize the cognitive value of the emotions, of practical experience, and of social interaction.

Feminist philosophers come from a wide variety of intellectual backgrounds and invoke a variety of figures and texts. While feminist philosophers do not all agree about how deeply sexist the field is, they do agree that there is much in the institutional culture of academic philosophy that is inimical to women. Feminist philosophers work for reforms individually and collectively through informal professional networks and through such organizations as the American Philosophical Association's Committee on the Status of Women and the Society for Women in Philosophy.

See also Analytical Feminism; Feminism and Continental Philosophy; Feminism and Pragmatism; Feminism and the History of Philosophy; Feminist Aesthetics and Criticism; Feminist Epistemology; Feminist Ethics; Feminist Legal Theory; Feminist Metaphysics; Feminist Philosophy of Science; Feminist Social and Political Philosophy.

Bibliography

Cudd, Ann, and Robin Andreasen, eds. Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Fricker, Miranda, and Jennifer Hornsby, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Feminism in Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Jaggar, Alison M., and Iris Marion Young, eds. A Companion to Feminist Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

Kourany, Janet A., ed. Philosophy in a Feminist Voice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Kourany, Janet A., James Sterba, and Rosemarie Tong, eds. Feminist Philosophies. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Louise M. Antony (2005)