A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF EPISTEMIC TERMS WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF FEMINIST EPISTEMOLOGY
This work takes a critical look at the term “Feminist epistemology” as well as their evaluation of the “epistemic terms” Feminist who are trying arguing that the quest for knowledge, which epistemology is centred on, should not be male oriented only, but that the female gender should be given an ear-say in the discus of knowledge. The task of this project is to elucidate on the terms used in epistemology within the view-point of the feminist as opposed to the traditional epistemology. And how these terms have been able to help epistemological attempt to refute or answer the skeptical challenges that nothing can be known for certain. Epistemic terms such as knowledge, justification, truth and falsehood, perception, subjectivism, objectivism, reason e.t.c
1.1 BACKGROUND TO STUDY
History of philosophy make scant mention of women philosophers prior to the twentieth century, For a long time it was assumed that this was due to lack of influential women philosophers. Scholars such as Mary Ellen Waithe suggested that women have been more important in the history of philosophy than is often mentioned1. Before now, women have often been excluded from prestigious area of human activity (for example, politics or science), thereby making these activities seem clearly “male”. Such areas in this 21st century can be said to have been more embracing of the “women folk”, due to the feminist clamour for equality and opportunity to be heard, rather than been sidelined and seen as inferior to men.
Female or women issues have often been at the topmost at both local and international conferences, feminism can be opposed, rejected, criticized but it cannot be ignored like religion there seems to be some amount of passion, emotion and contradiction involved in its debate. Even those who are male centered (male chauvinist) have come to realize the absurdity of not recognizing the validity of the core questions surrounding the issues of feminism. Feminist theory applied to epistemology has resulted in a wide variety of arguments and claims, but common to all of them is the idea that gender is an important (and historically neglected) consideration for the study, critique and reconstruction of epistemology. For feminist epistemologists, traditional western epistemology is endocentric and male-biased. It fails to take women’s experience and perspectives into account.
Due to the existence of male domination, male norms have become dominant norms and been regarded as objective and universal standards for all. As such women’s was of thinking and knowing have been considered as something inferior and invalid2. Due to this fact of traditional Western epistemology been male-centered, feminist epistemologists have share the view that it is inadequate, as knowledge is meant to be seen in a pure, abstract, universal way, detached from gender, social class and other important differences. Although, among feminist epistemologists there are disagreements on whether there are uniform women’s way of knowing in the global sphere, to what extent traditional Western epistemology is male-biased, and whether some ways of knowing are shared by both genders, but all feminist epistemology is gender-biased and that feminist criticisms of it will significantly contribute to the improvement of theories of knowledge3. As such for them, traditional epistemology is not a true representation of human unbiased epistemology. It is to critically evaluate the above and their (feminist epistemologists) view on some of the epistemic terms that this project is being carried out and also to acknowledge the contributions of at least some women to the history of philosophy (epistemology).
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEMS
The issues of feminism are always problematic and sensitive. These issues then becoming more problematic when transferred to the area of knowledge. Looking at the problem of “power control”, where traditional epistemology has been predicated on the ideas of men, and women are gradually rising to question this inequality, which feminist epistemologists are accusing the traditional western epistemology of, because if this patriarchal nature continues, current epistemology will not be complete, but would have been guilty of male chauvinism, making it not a true representation of human knowledge. As such current epistemology is labeled as “Incomplete”. This problem will be considered in this work.
1.3 PURPOSE OF STUDY
The purpose of this study though legion, we shall be looking at two; First, it is obvious that the fight for equality can sometimes be exaggerated; equality itself is an ambiguous term that should not be interpreted univocally or equivocally but analogically. Men have told a lot of lies of their suppose superiority, women are gradually trying to counter some of these lies with their own lies. As such the search for the truth about the relationship that ought to exist between male and female should constitute the core or essence of feminism. Lastly, knowledge is central to human awareness. Humanity comprises of both male and female. As such human knowledge should not be male centric. The purpose of this study is therefore to construct knowledge in such a way that women are excluded.
1.4 SCOPE OF STUDY
This project shall in scope be limited to a critical evaluation of some epistemic perspective on such epistemic terms as knowledge, justice and injustice, belief, pragmatism, empiricism and rationalism e.t.c as in contrast to traditional western epistemology.
Methodology makes a work to be systematic, scientific, coherent and organized. A good project ought to posses the above qualities. The method of research therefore becomes imperative in searching for the solutions to the problems in a given research. The method here shall be both analytic and critical. Analysis involves clarification of concept for easy comprehension, while critical means not to accept assumptions but to question them until the truth stands out clear. We shall not only analyse, but shall seriously and critically evaluate the assumptions of feminist epistemology with hope of finding solutions to the problem raised under the “Statement of Problems”.
1.6 LITERATURE REVIEW
The first book reviewed is titled The Power of Ideas, (ed) by Brooke Noel Moore and Kenneth Bruder, 5th edition, published in 2002 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, inc. Newyork. Chapter 14 of this book is devoted to feminist philosophers and brings to limelight the work of feminist (women) who have struck out their neck to fight for women’s freedom. Feminist like Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), well known when she published “A vindication of the Rights of Women”. She was also well known for her argument against Rosseau’s view about women in his “Sophic”, when he advocated that women’s education should be designed entirely to make them pleasing to men. As he said; “To please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young and take care of us, when grown up to advise us, to console us, to render our lives easy and agreeable – these are the duties of women at all times; and what they should be taught in their infancy”4.
These words by Rosseau, Wollstonecraft employed several arguments against and also against his allies. Saying that educating women to be the ornaments to, and playthings of men would have bad consequences for the society, that how could women who have been tagged silly, vain creatures ever be expected to do an adequate job of raising a family? They would become “mere propagators of fools”5. This and other arguments she used against Rosseau’s view about women. We also have other great feminist contributors like Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and Gloria Steimen (1934) in this chapter. The Second book here is entitled The Blackwell Companion Co Philosophy, (ed) Nicholas Bunnin and E.P.tsui-James, published in 2001 by Blackwell Ltd, Oxford. Chapter 32 of this book is devoted to Feminism and Philosophy. The author of this chapter Jean Grimshaw examines some main features of contemporary feminist and considers proposals for the future.
The next book reviewed is Feminist epistemology (ed) by Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter, published in 1993 by Routledge, Newyork. The book centers on feminist view on epistemology of feminist way of knowing or “women’s knowledge”. The authors pull together the feminist epistemology which is an uneasy alliance of feminism and philosophy. The authors are concerned with the many problems that have vexed traditional epistemology which are the nature of knowledge itself, epistemic agency, justification, objectivity and whether and how epistemology should be naturalized. The Fourth book reviewed is titled Introducing Feminism, co-edited by S.A Watkins, M. Rueda and M. Rodriguezi, published at Cambridge by Icon Books Ltd in 1998. The book has the following central issues; (a) Rebelling against all power, structures and convention that keep women service, subordination and second best (b) Women consciously working together for their own rights (c) Equality and the sacred right of property for married and single women (d) The story of changing the subordinate condition of women begins with feminism. The book also cut through the myths surrounding the subject and provides an incisive account of the women’s movement from its surprisingly recent birth in the French revolution to the world wide explosion of women’s liberation in the 1970’s. it looks at the achievements of feminism and the challenges still confronting women throughout the world, even in the 21st century.
The fifth book reviewed is titled Basic issues in the theory of knowledge, written by Ben Eboh, in 1995, published by Fulladu publishing company Nsukka. According to the author, the human mind is insatiable in its desire for deep and more extensive knowledge and so it does not remain satisfied with the obvious and transparent explanation of the universe. This natural urge for a reliable knowledge compels man to raise questions as these; what is common to all the different activities that are involved in knowing? What can we know beyond the information provided by the senses?6. These and allied questions are discussed indepth in this book with a view to determining the foundation, the ultimate grounds and reasons of human knowledge (feminist knowledge).
Next book reviewed is written by TanesiniAllessandra, titled An Introduction to feminist epistemologie published in 1993 by Blackwell publishers, Oxford. This book laid emphasis on feminist epistemology as an outgrowth of both feminist theorizing about gender and traditional epistemology as a concern. The author explains feminist epistemology as a loosely organized approach to epistemology, rather than as a particular school or theory. She sees that what is common to feminist epistemologies is an emphasis on the epistemic salience of gender and the use of gender as an analytic category in discussions, criticism and reconstructions of epistemic practices, norms and ideas. It portrays feminist epistemology as not easily and simply characterized, that feminist approach to epistemology tends to share an emphasis on the ways in which knower’s are particular and concrete, rather than abstract and universalizable. And also, gives insight on some of the tradition in which feminist get their sources to approach epistemology, traditions such as feminist science studies, naturalistic epistemologies, cultural studies of science, Marxist feminism and related work in and about the social sciences7.
The Seventh book reviewed is written by W.F. Lawhead, titled The Philosophical Journey, An interactive Approach, 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, New York in 2003. The author in chapter 2 (2.7) takes a survey case at feminist epistemology. He sees feminism has another contemporary movement that questions some of the underlying assumptions of the Western tradition in philosophy and seeks to develop a new modelfor doing philosophy. And that feminism like any living movement that is breaking new ground, have many different and conflicting visions of what the character and agenda of their movement should be and holds that though there is no official creed or set of doctrines that all feminist agree upon, but that their thinking revolves around some common themes, such that feminism is seen as a movement within philosophy and other discipline that;
(1) emphasizes the role of gender in shaping how we think and how society is structured (2) focuses on the historical and social forces that have excluded women from full participation in the intellectual and political realms, and (3) strive to produce a society that recognizes women and men as both different and equal8. These three themes illustrate that feminism includes both theoretical understanding of the way things are and an attempt to use their knowledge to transform the status quo. Next book reviewed is titled Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology, (ed) by C.L. Pinnick, N. Koertge and R.F, Almeder, published by Rutger University Press, New Brunswick in 2003. This book offers a systematic critique against feminist epistemologists; its aim is to show that the entire enterprise is a failure. The authors level for charges against feminist epistemologists, such as (1) Political correctness- that feminist epistemologists aims at political-correctness, which is an attempt to legitimate the idea that “feminist values should determine what theories are accepted”9. That such politicized inquiry leads to “sham reasoners seeking only to make a case for some foregone conclusions”10. (2) Tribalism- that feminist epistemologists think that all women (or all feminist) do, or should think alike, and that they ought to adopts some common “feminine epistemic style applicable to all fields of inquiry and in serving women’s interest”. (3) Self- defeating conservatism- that feminist epistemologists defeat their own aims in taking women’s values as an uncriticized given, even when these values underwrite sex and caste oppression11. (4) Cynicism- that feminist epistemologists reject the quest for objectivity and truth as an impossibility, and regard the claim to pursue it is a mask for power play that in practice serves the interests of white heterosexual western men at everyone else’s expenses. All these arguments they used against feminist epistemologists in this book. The last book reviewed is by Elizabeth Anderson, “How not to criticize feminist Epistemology: A review of scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology”. The author in this book aims at debunking “Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology” by C.L. Pinnick and Co, with an attempt to show how a critique that purports to decisively undermine an entire field of enquiry be evaluated.
She proposes three major standards that should be followed, such as (1) Accuracy- that the critique must accurately represent the field as it stands today, paying close attention to what its actual proponents say in context (2) Perspectives- to be illuminating, that a critique should not simply deploy its presuppositions against it rivals, but make them explicit, situate them relative it rivals in a field of possibilities, explain why these are the possibilities and why its presuppositions should be accepted rather than its rivals. Lastly, Normative consistency- that a critique should live up to the same normative standards it applies to its object. Using these standards, she argues that the critiques against feminist epistemologists are based on gross misrepresentations of feminist epistemology.
1. K.I. Christensen, Philosophy and Choice: Selecting readings from around the world,(Toronto: Mayfield publishing Company, 1991) P132.
2. B.N. Moore and K. Bruder, Power of Ideas, (New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, 2002) p.iv.
3. Ibid, P.388
4. N. Bunnin and E.P.tsui-James, The Blackwell Companion Co Philosophy, (Oxford: Blackwell Ltd, 2001) p.552
5. L. Alcoff and E. Potter, Feminist Epistemology, (New York: Routledge, 1993).
6. S.A. Watkins, et al, Introducing Feminism, (Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd, 1998).
7. B. Eboh, Basic Issues in the theory of knowledge, (Nsukka: Fulladu Publishing Company, 1995)
8. T. Allessandra, An Introduction to Feminist Epistemologies, (Oxford: Blackwell Ltd, 1999)
9. W.F. Lawhead, The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach, (New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc; 2003) p.165
10. C.L. Pinnick, N. Koertge and R.F. Almeder, Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003)
11. E. Anderson, How not to criticize Feminist Epistemology: A review of scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology, (Unpublished).
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