Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feminist Epistemology... a quandry

A few things seem pretty clear to me at this point in my short study of feminist philosophy... (i.e. they could and probably will change... )

1) Finding any one thing feminist philosophers agree upon is rare. I think they'd all agree that traditional philosophy was done by men and tended to marginalize women in some ways -- beyond that there seems to be no common ground.

2) I think that all well-functioning people do something that is roughly thinking and nearly all of them also reason in some ways. This includes both men and women in about equal proportions.

3) There are a substantial and influential cohort of philosophers who are also feminists that say 'reason' is corrupt because, certainly historically and arguably currently, female points of view are excluded from the class of the reasonable.

4) There are two implications the historical exclusion of feminine perspectives a) views of what is 'reasonable' have been (and are??) used as the basis for oppressive actions, and b) The way in which science is (has been??) done has been harmed.

5) Many influential feminist philosophers conclude that the concept of rationality is so off-kilter that it must be discarded.

Given the above... My quandry....

It may be the case that I have been successuflly brainwashed by the patriarchy -- but it seems as if my thinking process is, essentially, reasoning. According to some versions of feminist epistemology, this makes me male -- or, perhaps tainted by the maleness of my philosophical background -- or, something. I sure feel female -- every day.

What I don't understand, perhaps because I'm a 3rd generation feminist, is how some feminist philosophers can justify elimination of rationality as a basis for knowledge? (It isn' completely clear to me that they do this -- but it does seem as much right now...) They do this in the same basic move as they eliminate the possibility of an objective point of view. While I don't agree with the former move, I do agree with the latter. If the point of feminist thought is to promote a plurality of views, isn't it the case that the view of knowledge based on reason ought to be valued along with kinds of views?

Also -- something I don't understand about sex and gender....

Isn't it the case that, in general, biology provides the foundation for the social constructions of gender?

If this is the case, and if it is the case that there are significantly fewer women in math and science occupations, then shouldn't science seek to understand why? Isn't it possible that, at the points girls and boys learn math and science concepts, their brains are different? If this is the case, and if brain science in education has any validity, then shouldn't boys and girls be taught math and science in different ways -- i.e. in ways that maximize learning in both sexes/genders?

I may be wrong, but isn't this kind of what Larry Summers (former Harvard President) was getting at? Granted, he may have framed the question in a manner unacceptable to most feminists, but would he have had any less of a hassle had his question been properly framed?

I'm still thinking about this -- and would love your thoughts.

9 comments:

Addy N. said...

Here I am, chiming in again! I wish I was more familiar with the literature on this, but I think that the gender differences in science and math have less to do with biology (i.e., the idea that male and female brains are different) and more to do with social constructs (i.e., girls are typically not as encouraged to do math and science). I know there is a body of literature on this (i.e., studies of junior high schools girls and their attitudes toward science and math) but again I am not too familiar with the details. Some things that are important are: lack of role models (everyone pictures a scientist as a man with gray hair in a lab coat), less connection to "girl-like" interests (if girls grow up playing with dolls, there are less obvious connections to science and math than when boys play with building toys, etc.), it still isn't always "cool" for girls to be smart- especially in math and science. The point I am trying to make is that SOCIETY not BIOLOGY is responsible for the lack of women in science and math. If I find some good articles, I'll email you or post again!

Addy N. said...

It's me again! Here's a quick and dirty list of articles from Google Scholar and this one from a specific author.

Silvia P. said...

Philosophy Factory, for all practical purposes you are being too manichean in your writing...

Christopias Spritopher said...

I have several points to make, Madam Speaker,

(1) If I were to accept the generality that girls are less likely to do math and science than other disciplines - and I do not - I would forward the idea that this is not because of the increasingly discredited and lame arguement of socialization and more to do with incredibly simple biology. I will grant that my training and study of pediatric neurology centers on literacy I would submit that my training is informative in this area. The female brain matures before the male brain, this is why a great deal of our boys have reading difficulties - it has to do with the timing and type of literacy education. Hemispheric Cohesion is delayed in boys, most boys develope coping strategies and/or focus on other areas of learning. * I would like extra speaker points of avoiding the cheap shot about brain maturation.

(2) The single greatest threat to Feminist Philosophy is the same threat that faces other philosophies and theologies which is allowing someone else to define it at the same time - which is comically the problem with Islam - when faced with a poor definition or unfair generalization of the philosophy those who believe it tend to fulfill the stereotypes of others in defending their ideology, the best example is the Pope says something (I would submit was absolutely true) and people across the Islamic countries (small, unstable, ends in 'stan' I know you vote against that joke but it was too clever IMCO to drop) and they respond to being called violent by protesting, lighting things on fire and killing nuns.

Christopias Spritopher said...

(3) Gender is not informative in this instance, it is economics. While I would argue that Gender makes a profound difference in many cases there are others where gender isn't the issue and economics is. While I am in no way presenting a dichotomy, I am submitting that economics plays a bigger role in determining a child's future than gender. Money opens and closes many doors to children and while gender was a bigger issue when we were being educated it is less to today's children.

silvia p. said...

see? that's what i mean...

Christopias Spritopher said...

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, I will always put economics above gender. In my experience class makes more a difference than gender.

bungle said...

Wherever you have Identity Politics you have a big huge steaming pile of shit. Wherever you have IP disguised as a respectable form of philosophical inquiry you have the violent diarrhea version.

Girls start deferring to boys in mental matters as an adaptive strategy.

For some odd reason known only to themselves women desire men. She usually wants one bigger and stronger than Herself. And She utterly digs one with a mind of His own. If He's big and strong with a mind of His own He may be more successful in bringing things and resources back to the nest. So how does She cope with such a creature? How does She get Him to continually cooperate? Force Him by beating His ass? Not happening if She chose well. Mentally dominate Him? Possible, but too much trouble that can end in trouble. So what does She do? She "lets him _______". Lets him what? All kinds of things, like think that he's in charge, that he's great, all that.

The biggest mental performance difference between the two is the way in which men are dealt with. For men the most 'feel good' way to deal with one another is to smash the living fuck outta each other. That's usually the first and most prominent idea, just not the most practical. Men don't respect Women 'cause the latter aren't ready to smash skulls at the drop of the wrong word or glance.

The foul Feminists, the drooling retard Multiculturalists and the like are so lost in the sauce of their own fucked up Desire that they don't even realize that the thing they so 'cleverly' try to subvert to their narrow, illusionary ends is itself a grand and unyielding smack upside the loopy collective head of Men. Philosophy, especially ETHICS, is a massive indictment of the idiocy of MEN. We don't even know how to act. We use words we don't even grasp the meanings of. The list goes on and on. Philosophy came about as the result of some of the better among the morons feebly making their way by asking better questions.
So to all of the faux cool Assholes... I mean Feminists, Thank you soooo much but you know what? we've already thought of that whole "men suck" notion and have been working on it for centuries now. All this ad hoc baffling with bullshit like inventing ontologies and epistemologies is really cute but utterly redundant and blows chunks because the reflection fundamentally pales in comparison to the original.

Breena Ronan said...

Ok, first I have to say...Wow, you are getting some wild comments!

I'm pretty sure that the literature on science/math achievement shows that in elementary school there is no gap between the genders. The gap develops as girls transition into junior high and then gradually widens. I guess someone could argue that it has to do with the hormonal changes happening in teens' brains, but a cultural explanation seems simpler.

There is so much that we don't know about brains and brain development that it's pretty difficult to tease this all out. Brain development isn't solely genetically programed. A child's environment greatly influences how the brain develops, for example, the lack of women in architecture has been attributed to lessened spatial reasoning in young women. Supposedly this is caused by parents/teachers/etc limiting girls ability to explore their physical environments as little kids. Is this true? Difficult to say for sure, I think an alternate explanation could be that architecture is a highly competitive and demanding field, which doesn't fit well with women's style of relating and working.