PHI/WSP 750 Feminist Epistemologies


Philosophy 750 Sec. M001 / Women’s Studies 700 Sec. 2


Tuesdays 4 - 6:45
Professor Linda Martín Alcoff
523 Hall of Languages
Office Hours: By appointment

Course Description:
A cornerstone of the justification given for discriminations against women is the claim that women are unreliable knowers, highly suggestible, overly emotional, and thus generally irrational or less rational than men. Women therefore often continue to receive less presumptive credibility than men. Feminist epistemology is an area of inquiry with a large variety of research programs, methodological orientations, and feminist epistemologists make diverse philosophical claims and framing assumptions, sometimes in contradiction to one another. (This makes it parallel to every other research area of philosophy). But much of feminist epistemology is concerned with the question of what role epistemologies of the past, and present, have played and continue to play in the epistemic disauthorization of women. Feminist philosophers do not assume prior to investigation that all such epistemic disauthorizations are unwarranted, but they are interested in examining carefully these disauthorizations, and the assumptions about rationality, processes of justification, the nature of truth, and the intellectual virtues that may be motivating them. This project benefits epistemology as a whole. In exploring with a fresh eye the ways in which women have been epistemically discredited, we may develop new insights and theories about the nature of knowledge and of knowers.

Under the rubric of this very general question, then, this seminar will explore three related topics.

(1) How have theories of knowledge participated in the epistemic disauthorization of women throughout the world, in which women are, to paraphrase Austin, presumed not to know? If so, what can we learn from this history?

(2) Is the social identity of the knowing subject epistemically relevant, and if so, how? Also, how should we epistemically evaluate personal experience? That is, When can we trust ourselves to know the nature of our own experience?

(3) Given that most of human knowledge is achieved in collective and communal processes, how do we epistemically assess these processes? Even individual knowledge is largely based on testimony from others, either written or oral, and thus we need to ask, on what grounds is testimony epistemically reliable? These questions will bring us into the large arena of social epistemology and the social studies of science.

Course Requirements:
One or two students will be assigned for each class to present one section of the assigned readings and develop questions for discussion. These will be scheduled during the first class. Each student will only have to do this once, though they may volunteer for more.

There are two types of written assignments. The first type consists of a 2 page weekly essay on the week's reading assignment. These will require students to pick two or three main points of the readings to explain. The focus will be on explication here, not criticism. These essays will be graded and inadequate essays will be returned with an option to rewrite. Students may drop one essay during any week they choose. They must be turned into my mailbox, in hard copy, no later than 2:00 each Tuesday. I do not accept papers by email.

There is also a 15 page typed paper due at the end of the term on some aspect of the topics and readings we have covered. By the last two weeks of the course students will be expected to have a three to five page draft of this paper; depending on class size, this may be read to the class for discussion and criticism, or just read by the instructor for feedback. No extra reading beyond what is already required in the course will be necessary for these papers. I will distribute a list of sample topics half way through the semester.

Required Books: Available at the Orange Bookstore. There is also required a Course Reader at the Campus Copy Center in Marshall Square Mall.

1. Genevieve Lloyd The Man of Reason.

2. Alcoff and Potter, eds. Feminist Epistemologies.

3. Susan Bordo The Flight to Objectivity.

4. Sue Campbell Relational Remembering.

5. Helen Longino The Fate of Knowledge.

6. Lorraine Code, Rhetorical Spaces.
Reading Schedule:

Jan 13: Introduction to the course

Section One: Epistemology and the Epistemic Disauthorization of Women

Jan 20: Lloyd, The Man of Reason

Jan 27: Bordo, The Flight to Objectivity

Feb 3: Margaret Atherton, “Cartesian Reason and Gendered Reason”; (Course Reader)
Naomi Scheman “Othello’s Doubt, Desdemona’s Death”; (CR)
Eileen O’Neill “Women Cartesians, ‘Feminine Philosophy,’ and Historical Exclusion” (CR)

Section Two: The Question of the Subject

Feb. 10: Feminist Epistemologies eds. Alcoff and Potter, pp, 1-82.

Feb. 17: Feminist Epistemologies eds. Alcoff and Potter, pp 121-159, 217-244

Feb. 24: Elizabeth Lloyd “Objectivity” (Handout)
Sara Ruddick, “Maternal thinking” selections (CR)
Alison Jaggar “Love and knowledge” (CR)

Section Three: Personal Knowledge and Memory

March 2: Code, “The Autonomy of Reason” (CR)
“Survivor Discourse” Alcoff and Gray (CR)
Naomi Scheman, “Anger and the Politics of Naming” (CR)

March 16: Campbell Relational Remembering

March 23: Campbell Relational Remembering

Section Four: Testimony

March 30: Code, Rhetorical Spaces chap. 3 6, 7
Karen Jones, “The Politics of Credibility” (CR)

No class April 6

Section Five: Social Epistemology

April 13: Longino, The Fate of Knowledge

April 20 : Longino, The Fate of Knowledge

April 27: Student papers