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Feminist Interventions in the Sciences and in Epistemology: Significant Parallels

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
4:00 AM
2239 Lane Hall

Phyllis Rooney, Professor of Philosophy, Oakland University

Important developments in feminist epistemology and philosophy of science have drawn inspiration from specific feminist interventions in the natural and social sciences. Feminist interventions in the sciences provide insights into the ways in which social and cultural values and locations can influence the development of scientific knowledge in its many forms, and feminist philosophers have used these insights to provided richer philosophical understandings of science and, in epistemology, of knowledge more generally. I argue that an additional significant parallel between feminist work in individual sciences and feminist work in epistemology merits special attention. We can examine epistemology in the Western philosophical tradition as a specific knowledge project (in this case, knowledge about knowledge) that has a particular historical trajectory, not unlike the way we can examine the development of physics, biochemistry, or sociology. Drawing on important parallels with feminist examinations of the sciences, I maintain that feminist work in epistemology provides a critical perspective that uniquely enhances our understanding of epistemology as a knowledge project that (i) is historically, culturally, and politically situated, that (ii) requires greater reflexivity on the part of epistemologists (than has traditionally been the case), that (iii) compels new thinking about what we might take to be the constitutive questions and concepts in the field (knowledge, understanding, or wisdom, for instance), and that (iv) renews our understanding of epistemic normativity, that is, of the importance of good or better knowledge, and of the ways in which we humans might become good or better knowers.