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The fundamental aim of feminist theories in general is to analyze and change gender relations.

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For the most part it is a comprehensive concept that refers to various aspects of both know ledge claims and grounds for knowledge in not only scientific, but also ethical, moral, and political contexts. The discussion in this paper, however, will concentrate mainly on epistemological questions as they relate to science. While feminist critical theory has a lot in common with other radical oppositions to traditional philosophy of science, it differs in its strong emphasis on epistemological concerns.

The point is that tradi tional science and philosophies of science are considered to be male-biased, while a science grounded in a feminist epistemology is regarded as potentially non-biased. They have been presented as a basis for both a radical critique of traditional philosophy of science and as a logical and coherent alternative. I shall argue that both of these claims are beset with immense difficulties; they somehow create more problems than they solve.

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My point of departure in discussing these issues is the theory of science, especially that branch of it that focuses on the relationships and interaction between social and cognitive aspects or factors in science and research. First of all I want to emphasize that, in my view, the recent epistemological turn in feminist theory tends to over-estimate metatheoretical aspects; it tends to do so both when criticizing existing science and in its proclamation of a science grounded in a feminist epistemology. On both counts there is a tendency to misconstrue science as an activity dominated by philosophical conflicts and obligations.

Such one-sided epistemology-centred philosophy of science has been questioned by, among others, Richard Rorty and Rom Harre This development, though an unintended effect of feminist critiques of science, is nevertheless a possible outcome. Although there are, of course, many important differences between traditional epistemological orientations and the feminist discussion, the exaggerated focus on epistemology may lead to untenable conclusions, particularly when it comes to the significance of metatheoretical aspects in science.

Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

One consequence is that important distinctions between cognitive and social factors tend to collapse. My main concern in this paper is with feminist epistemologies. I have found that many female, and of course feminist, scientists and theorists discuss issues related to the theory of science. The recent philosophical turn, however, has to a certain extent introduced a new kind of interest in feminist philosophy, which is sometimes only rather distantly connected to political feminism.

Feminist epistemologies are constructed to justify feminist scientific and philosophical activity and to provide a new basis for the new kind of feminism; a process that is fraught with its own special difficulties. In this paper I shall be concerned with some of the problems confronting the feminist epistemological project. They may be formulated in many different ways, but there are at least three main tensions and oppositions that appear to be most influential and relevant to the present discussion.

These are:. These three related issues are difficult to settle in feminist discourse, and each of them tends to create new problems.

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In what follows I shall deal with each of the issues under a separate heading. Objectivism and relativism There are many more or less sophisticated definitions of these two terms, but I find that Richard Bernstein has given a valuable one in his book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism He writes:. In its strongest form, relativism is the basic conviction 3. Under objectivists Bernstein means to include not only the rationalists and empiricists, but also foundationalists and essentialists. Relativism, on the other hand, is defined as the dialectical antithesis of objectivism.

It may be argued that this definition is too inclusive as far as objectivism is concerned, and that it misses some of the central aspects of relativism. Also, it might be argued that the complete counterposition of objectivism and relativism belongs to a traditional, Enlightenment discourse, and has no validity outside this discourse. Most oppositions have a common logic underlying their polarity, which makes it possible for them to define each other negatively.

For my purposes, however, this counterposition of two opposing trends has the advantage that it alerts us to some of the incompatible tendencies in feminist epistemologies. Also, there should be plausible and tenable ways of explaining why traditional knowledge is male-biased, while feminist knowledge is not.

Some feminist theorists tend to subscribe to this view, but I would not call it representative, at least not among feminist philosophers.

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This assumption, however, tends to lead to some kind of objectivism: but objectivism is at the same time associated with a masculine epistemology, which feminism sets out to oppose. Consequently, feminist epistemologists need very strong and convincing arguments. These problems place feminists in the same boat as some Marxist standpoint theories, for example the one outlined by George Lukacs in which the proletarian class-standpoint is designated as cognitively privileged.

The common point of departure in privileged-position views is that social position in society is the ultimate guarantee in truth-finding procedures or practices.

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Even though this postmodern trend is far from unitary and is wide-ranging in its opposition to modernity, some of its critical assumptions and insights are particularly significant when viewed from a feminist perspective. In brief, its critical position is really a radical one, because it challenges what lies at the root of the entire Enlightenment project, viz.

Anti-foundationalism rejects all of the dichotomies on which Enlightenment epistemology rests, including subject! It also rejects the presuppositions involved in these dichotomies — the ideas of a coherent, unified self, a rationalist and individualist model of knowing and the possibilities of a metalanguage. All thought is biased and there exists no position from which a correct view, in an absolute sense, may be grounded.

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Postmodernist challenges, when taken seriously, undermine the feminist epistemological project, unless the idea of a new cognitively privileged position can be defended. To examine that issue, I will now turn to the second of the above-mentioned tensions in feminist epistemology. Some feminists, such as Mary Daly or Dale Spender , together with most of the French feminist deconstructivists, have asserted that theory as well as language is male-biased and completely permeated with masculinity. Closely related to this view is a concept of the essential female.

Daly is but one example of feminists arguing for a return to a focus on femaleness. In my opinion, there are several problems with this view. First of all, it is far too inclusive — it gives no room to distinguish masculine aspects in thinking or in the products of thought, from aspects not genderized at all.

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It tends to see every idea in, for example, philosophy or meta-theory about everything as male-biased, as if the hegemony of dominant conceptions were complete. Patriarchy appears free of conflicts and contradictions, totally dominated by a unified masculinity. Closely related to this is the fact that rationalism may be and has been questioned and criticized without any references to gender.

It seems to be of the utmost importance then to define what masculinity entails and also what it excludes. Why is it masculine at all to reason in a rational way? Secondly, the assumptions cited rely too heavily on popular views of typical male and female behaviour; stereotyped versions of how we are supposed to act and think are reflected in these stances. Such views easily fall into mystifications about male rationality and female intuition, masculine clear thinking as opposed to feminine emotional thinking, without paying attention to the possibility of a dialectical interaction within the two sexes between the two principles — the masculine and the feminine.

If we recognize all thinking as social, the assumption would cease to be problematic. It is only when the gender categories are used to distinguish between male and female reasoning that I find the claim suspect and doubtful. The premise on which the argument rests, then, if a tenable one, postulates radically different experiences between men and women, and very similar and gender-specific experiences within the two sexes. The problem with all of these proposals is that the experiences referred to are not shared by all women; even if they did, they are always inserted in different social relations and not all women would necessarily live through the touchstone experiences in the same ways. Could gender, race, and sexuality be relevant to knowledge? Although their positions and arguments differ in several respects, feminists have asserted that science, knowledge, and rationality cannot be severed from their social, political, and cultural aspects. This book presents a comprehensive introduction to feminist epistemologies situated at the intersection of philosophical, sociological, and cultural investigations of knowledge.

It provides several critiques of more traditional approaches, and explores the alternatives proposed by feminists. In particular, this book contains extensive discussions of topics such as objectivity, rationality, power, and the subject. Drawing on a variety of sources, the author also argues that when knowledge is conceived in terms of practices, it becomes possible to see it as normative and socially constituted.