In epistemology (theory of knowledge) and philosophy of science, contemporary women philosophers have asked interesting questions. They began by asking the usual question what can we know? Most feminist philosophers answer this question in the usual way we know what is supported by our senses and reason.
A few vocal contemporary feminist philosophers appear to have bought the usual gender stereotypes (men are dispassionate and rational, women are intuitive and emotional) and as a last resort, begun to defend "female" emotion and intuition as sources of knowledge. They have even gone so far as to claim that women have radically different understandings of physical reality, so that a "womens science" or a "womens mathematics" would be far different from their "masculinist" counterparts.
Most contemporary female philosophers find these moves incoherent and dispiriting. Questions about what is so, or whether a claim is well-supported, or reasonable to believe, can often be answered to everyones satisfaction. The notion of a distinctively female epistemological standpoint flies in the face of that fact. Most female philosophers do not even bother to address the notion of "female epistemology." As eminent epistemologist Susan Haack puts it, the notion of female epistemology makes about as much sense as Republican epistemology or senior citizens epistemology. If oppression by itself confers knowledge -- if oppressed people just "know better" than non-oppressed people, why dont they just use that knowledge to liberate themselves from their oppression? Where is the female science and mathematics? (The feminist visionaries say, conveniently, that these disciplines are "currently unimaginable.") Furthermore, the female theorists who argue that oppression confers an advantage seem not to be oppressed themselves; they are usually comfortable middle- or upper-class white professional academics. For an excellent and well-documented overview of this issue, see Christina Sommers Who Stole Feminism?, Chapter 4.
Is there really such a thing as "dispassionate observation"? Is the ideal of the Man of Reason an essentially masculine ideal? Does the bellicose and divisive language we use about knowledge and morality reflect masculine rather than feminine experience (truth and goodness "win" or "are victorious", they must be "defended", one position "defeats" or "is stronger than" another, etc.)? Is another model possible? These are important questions. They deserve careful analysis."Feminist pedagogy" often spurns careful analysis as "masculinist"; it encourages "taking action." But "taking action," e.g., by imposing arbitrary rules for "politically correct" classroom discourse ("ovular" for "seminar") is no substitute for rational analysis.
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