Presentation on theme: "Today’s Lecture Preliminary comments about Feminist Epistemology Lorraine Code Lori Gruen."— Presentation transcript:
Today’s Lecture Preliminary comments about Feminist Epistemology Lorraine Code Lori Gruen
Preliminary comments about Feminist Epistemology Do beware here. I am not merely contending that women were presumed not to have the cognitive skills they do have, and so were excluded from the class of (mature) epistemic subjects. The knowledge women did acquire relative to their social stations was downgraded to intuition or non-inferential perception and the like. This effectively excluded certain kinds of epistemic practices from being seriously considered by those male philosophers developing theories of knowledge. Thus certain values or forms of knowing were privileged over others in the development of theories of knowledge.
Lorraine Code This is our first female philosopher. Contra Darwin, this is by no means a reflection on the lack of worthy female philosophers up to Code in the Western ‘tradition’. Born in 1937, Lorraine Code is another philosopher who remains with us. She is a professor of philosophy at York University, Toronto, Ontario. She specializes in epistemology and feminist epistemology. Your readings are the first chapter of her 1991 book What Can She know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press).
“The Question” Note that in the first paragraph of Code’s first section she nicely captures some of the central features of traditional epistemology, features that tie together the various epistemologists we have hitherto examined. (i) So the knower assumed in the ‘S knows that p’ formulation that begins typical contemporary analyses of knowledge treat S as an abstraction, or a generic epistemic subject (because epistemic subjectivity does substantial differ from one rational individual to another) (FP, p.899). (ii) Such analyses of knowledge seek to find necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge that will determine the positive epistemic status of any belief held by any epistemic subject (FP, p.899).
“The Question” (iii) Once a belief’s epistemic status is determined by such conditions, it stands as knowledge for time immemorial (FP, p.899). She goes through these characteristics again under the section “Knowers and the known” (FP, pp ).
“The Question” Questions about the characteristics of the epistemic subject and whether these might be epistemologically significant threatens to spoil the universality and absolutism of traditional epistemology. Code puts this is in terms of epistemological relativism: the view that there is no one set of standards for determining positive epistemic value that all rational subjects (or all responsible epistemic subjects) must hold (FP, p.900).
“The Question” Code considers three criticisms critics have directed at epistemological relativism (see FP, p.900). (Criticism 1) A relativity of epistemological standards entails a conceptual relativism. This seems to fall out of epistemological relativism because some, or most, of the basic terms or concepts adopted in a belief community’s epistemic practices will be thought to have idiosyncratic or contextualized significance that is not transferable to other communities. This will make discussion between communities impossible.
“The Question” (Criticism 2) Knowledge is rendered meaningless by epistemological relativism. What is left are beliefs that are variously valued across diverse belief communities. Knowledge, for all intents and purposes, drops out of the picture. In an important sense, the skeptic wins.
“The Question” (Criticism 3) Epistemological relativism is self-referentially incoherent. One the one hand it claims that epistemic standards are relative to specific belief communities or forms of life, while on the other hand treating this meta-claim about epistemic standards as if it is true of all epistemic standards. This seems to trap the relativist in an intractable incoherence.
“The Question” After conceding that epistemological relativism can, in its extreme forms, fall victim to the kinds of weaknesses mentioned in the three criticisms already covered, Code provides the following responses in the form of advantages that follow from a non-extreme epistemological relativism (see FP, pp ). (Response 1) Non-extreme epistemological relativism frees the philosopher from the constraints of seeking a monolithic narrative from which to talk of knowledge or the other kinds of positive epistemic value. This will free the philosopher from the risk of merely privileging one set of epistemic standards in the name of simplicity or theoretical plausibility. It also allows the philosopher to see or recognize alternative ways of knowing.
“The Question” (Response 2) The political considerations that raise concerns about the relevant characteristics of epistemic subjects assumed in epistemology create “stringent accountability requirements of which knowers have to be cognizant. Thus it introduces a moral-political component into the heart of epistemological inquiry” (FP, pp ).
“The Question” (Response 3) Though a non-extreme epistemological relativism denies that there are universal epistemic standards to which all epistemic subjects are accountable, this does not commit it to an extreme subjectivism where anything goes, or what’s true for me is true for me and what’s true for you is true for you. A mind-independent world, a social community with which one identifies, and shared interests and goals in daily affairs, works against any arbitrariness in a belief community’s epistemic standards.
“The Question” “From the claim that no single scheme has absolute explanatory power, it does not follow that all schemes are equally valid. Knowledge is qualitatively variable: some knowledge is better than other knowledge” (FP, p.901).
“The Question” Do note that Code does not think that the relevant characteristics of epistemic subjects will be the sole determinant of what is known in a given belief context. It is just that they may well have epistemic import (FP, p.901).
“Knowers and the known” Cartesian epistemology, for Code, implies some questionable things about the Cartesian view of epistemic subjectivity. (1) It is individualistic. This means it tends to down play the social components of knowledge making. Knowers are seen as basically self-sufficient. In principle each one of us can take on Descartes’ method of doubt and secure our respective belief systems from doubt (FP, pp.901, 902).
“Knowers and the known” (2) It over emphasizes the role of abstract or theoretical reason in knowledge making Introspection and the imagination are favored over the sense faculties in the philosophical method commended in Cartesian epistemology (FP, p.902). This is the ‘armchair’ element of Cartesian epistemology I spoke of yesterday.
“Knowers and the known” (3) Epistemic subjects are essentially the same. In the so-called Rationalist Tradition this primarily refers to a basic similarity in our reason, while in the Empiricist Tradition it is extended to include our noetic faculties in general (FP, p.902). Remember Russell’s talk of similar perceptual experiences being shared by normal spectators finding themselves adopting ordinary points of view in usual environmental conditions (FP, p.246).
“Knowers and the known” Cartesian epistemology also tends to favor the privileging of certain simple beliefs as paradigmatic of knowledge, and then developing analyses of complex knowledge by adding bells and whistles (i.e. various amendments and addendums) to the analyses of the simpler cases. This precludes significant variability in cases of knowledge as we move from one type of belief context to another (FP, p.902).
“Knowers and the known” It is important to note that Code does not endorse the view that introducing considerations about the characteristics of epistemic subjects will solve traditional problems with skepticism, will be included in the conditions of justification or knowledge, or privilege one sub-set of humanity as the best producers of certain kinds of epistemically valuable beliefs (FP, p.903).
“The Sex of the Knower” In this section Code broadens the list of male supremacists beyond the list I provided yesterday. She mentions Aristotle and Rousseau, but goes on to include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and von Humboldt (FP, pp ). Clearly these thinkers think that the sex of the epistemic subject is important, and that males are superior knowledge makers than females (FP, p.905).
“The Sex of the Knower” Code cautions us not to go too far in thinking that sex will have any great impact on knowledge making. (1) There is evidence that gender differences are socially constructed rather than merely emerging from human sexual ‘dimorphism’. (2) Sex or gender roles are not constant across cultures or time (or even within complex societies such as our own). (3) Sex or gender characteristics are not constant across cultures or time (or even within complex societies such as our own) (FP, p.906).
“Reclaiming the Feminine” Under this section Code notes how various feminist theorists have tried to reclaim characteristics that have be used to devalue women’s knowing. This will include maternal thinking, intuition, aesthetic responses, and ‘right-brain’ dominance (FP, pp ). Code worries that such moves are predicated on a poor understanding of the relevant faculties or characteristics, they tend to merely reify sex or gender stereotypes and tend to assume sex or gender essentialism(which is itself highly questionable) (FP, p.910).
“Reclaiming the Feminine” In passing over the rest of this section two points stand out over the rest. (1) Even if Harding’s treatment of Hume and his view of epistemic subjectivity is unfair, and I think it is, she does make the good point that one’s metaphysical view of the self, reason and subjectivity can have significant import for one’s epistemology. We have seen how this has been the case for the likes of Descartes and even Berkeley (FP, p.913).
“Reclaiming the Feminine” (2) The Adversary Method does indeed characterize the philosophical approach adopted in mainstream Western philosophy (particularly Anglo-American or Analytic Philosophy). This method, though it has its place, has a number of disadvantages. (i) It tends to encourage aggressive combative styles of philosophy, where the main goal often becomes winning the argument. (ii) It tends to treat issues or problems in isolation from ‘a bigger picture’ or an appreciation of the greater philosophical landscape.
“Reclaiming the Feminine” (iii) The emphasis shifts from understanding and exploration to building defensible positions against extreme opposing views. (iv) The method tends to exclude, or contribute to the devaluing of, other ways of engaging in philosophy (FP, p.914). The Adversary Method does seem plausibly tied to the dominance of men in the field and the nature of those qualities they are socialized to exhibit. Gender, then, does seem to be relevant to metaepistemology (FP, p.914).
“Knowledge, Methodology and Power” This section closes the paper. Code here merely recapitulates her main points. Perhaps of most note in this section is the connection of knowledge making and power. Indeed, as we may now be on the verge another arms race, this is a point with particular relevance and timeliness (FP, p.915). You need not leave the Twentieth Century to find evidence of the correlation between knowledge making and power. It is no mistake that in those countries where women continue to have little or no rights, they also have little or no education or literacy skills.
Lori Gruen Our second female philosopher is a professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. I don’t know when she was born. She specializes in feminism, ethics, and political philosophy. Her selection in our course pack concerns the biases that can affect scientific research.
“Introduction” In this introduction Gruen rightly points out that it is a consequence of being embodied that scientists are affected by the belief communities, cultures, and sub-cultures with which they identify. This is one of the reasons of course for doubting the Cartesian view of epistemic subjectivity. Their situatedness is reflected in the kinds of questions that they consider, the paths they take to answer them and the values they seek to instantiate in their preferred theories (CP, p.17).
“Introduction” In Gruen’s view science is a social process. This means that it is an essentially cooperative venture. It also means that the standards of what is good or bad science, or not science at all, is created, maintained and enforced within the various scientific communities (CP, p.18). Some theorists think that accountability extends beyond the scientific communities to the greater society.
“How Gender Affects Category Construction” Gruen suggests that in the feminist literature that critiques the androcentricism of science, or its male bias, you find three general crtiques: Objectivity as male bias, Investigative Bias and Interpretative Bias (CP, p.18). The critique of objectivity has already been discussed by Code in your readings, so I will pass over that section here.
“Investigative Bias” The impact of the societal interests and values on scientific investigation are not difficult to find. Key advances in nuclear science in the Twentieth Century were inspired, or necessitated, by first the Second World War and then the Cold War. The various Western space programs of the Twentieth Century were themselves inspired, or necessitated, by Cold War politics.
“Investigative Bias” The long term profitability of certain research programs motivates medical research in the private sector. Concerns to advance our current space transportation technology partially arise from hopes to exploit the resources of other planetary bodies in our Solar System. This requires the continued contribution of scientists as sites for resource exploitation are sought, viable ways of getting there are developed, and proper understanding of the expected environmental conditions on the relevant planetary bodies is obtained.
“Investigative Bias” Male bias appears in those areas that touch upon received narratives of male supremacy in Western societies. We have seen this most clearly in the areas of primatology and sociobiology. Social hierarchies based on male dominance were once sought in the communities of various nonhuman primate species. It was seen as a validation and explanation of the various patriarchal hierarchies observed through human history. It took some time for primatologists to recognize the role played by nonhuman female primates in regulating order or choosing mates, and to also recognize social arrangements among nonhuman primates that did not involve dominance.
“Investigative Bias” A useful book to look at would be Shirley Strum and Linda Fedigan’s edited collection of papers entitled Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press published in Also check out: Strum, S.C. and L.M. Fedigan “Theory, Method, Gender and Culture: What Changed Our Views of Primate Society?” In The New Physical Anthropology. Edited by Shirley Strum, Donald Lindburg and David Hamburg.
“Interpretative Bias” and “Androcentric Bias in Practice” Interpretative bias is an area of particular relevance to those concerned about male bias. This will be found in those sciences that involve a great deal of interpretation involving individuals or subjects that have a particular connection to societal interests, dominant ideologies, or dominant narratives concerning human nature. Studies that have been adversely affected by societal or male bias include studies of homosexuality in nonhumans, competition within nonhuman primate communities, sexual selection, and sexual behavior (CP, pp.19-20).
“Some Implications” The extent to which hidden cultural assumptions or gendered bias can adversely affect science means that it is not enough to merely insist that scientists ‘pull up their socks’ when it comes to making their studies suitably rigorous. What is required is a concerted effort to critically evaluate the assumptions that inform how we approach various phenomena in our environment. It is also important to recognize that a science without bias is not possible. That is to say, it is not possible to achieve a truly neutral perspective from within which to engage in science, or any other kind of knowledge gathering. This is the consequence of scientists being embodied social animals from particular cultures in particular periods of human history (CP, pp ).