Monday, March 22, 2010

The Purging of Philosophy

When I signed up for this class I was concerned that feminist philosophy could only pertain to me tangentially. I thought that as a man I would not be inspired and motivated to the same degree that most women would be by the subject. On the contrary, however, I have been captivated by the way in which much feminist philosophy challenges the most basic assumptions of mainstream philosophy itself.

Philosophy is a discipline which prides itself on thinking critically about society and the human experience in a way that no other does. Often have philosophers looked down upon the masses (and women) as ignorant of the supposed faulty and irrational basis of their simple lives. Feminist thinkers turn this arrogance on its head, pointing out as Oyewumi does that Western thought is based on “bio-logic,” or revealing as Alcoff does that Western epistemology is controlled by privileged white males. These bold thinkers have challenged philosophy to become self-conscious, to understand how it has served to perpetuate the widespread irrationality that it so tirelessly bemoans. I use the term “self-conscious” because these feminist scholars are calling philosophy to engage in a process that is painful and embarrassing, but all the more significant because of it.

Of course, there is the legitimate concern that a reevaluation of philosophy’s basic tenets threatens to disintegrate into mere relativism. Alcoff, however, deals with this concern when she writes: “We do not need to uphold the relativist notion that everyone’s view has an equal claim to truth in order to hold that truth is more likely to be obtained through a process that includes the articulation and examination of all possible views.” Indeed, the defect with mainstream philosophy as feminists view it is not that philosophy has an overly conservative definition of truth which it needs to expand, but that it must increase its acceptance of different avenues to the truth. Therefore, to address feminist critique, philosophers need not accept a hopeless relativism; they need only cease excluding arguments from consideration based on sexism and racism.

By challenging philosophy to undergo a purging of its prejudices, feminist philosophers have shown feminism to be of direct benefit to al sexes, races, and classes. For how can the consideration of all well supported arguments ultimately come to anything but the benefit of all? In fact, the changes that feminist thinkers are calling for would prove to be some of the most revolutionary in the history of Western philosophy.


  1. Throughout this class, I have wondered how the men in the room view the topics we are discussing. It was a concern of mine if they understood the significance that came from our discussion and if they could let go of our socialized perceptions to fully grasp the importance of the issue. This post set aside any of those thoughts. I think you have a great way of stating how the way feminist philosophy helps to shape all other aspects of philosophy and also alters the way we percieve issues at stake. I feel that a change in the perception of women through feminist philosophy will be a gateway for others to follow as well as open the eyes of those under the veil of social construction.

  2. Feminism really is for everyone, despite how difficult it is to show others. It crosses boundaries by not only looking to barriers between women and men, but also individuals of various sexualities and genders. It questions economics, religion, and politics. Feminism is an incredible movement that makes perfect sense.

  3. I came to our feminist philosophy class wondering how the men in there would be as well. I figured that it might be harder or more difficult for men to relate to and comprehend feminist philosophy. However, through this class, I understand that the men in the class grasp the material equally fast and just as accurately as the women.
    I agree with Jonathan that philosophy really is for everyone. As is pointed out in the blog, I agree that feminism helps to shape not only the views within feminism but has a huge impact on other sexes, races,and classes.
    Thanks for a really interesting post!

  4. Thanks for the posts, guys. I have been impressed by just how much this class has changed my worldview. It tangibly affects me every single day, something which only good philosophy does. As one would suspect in such a male dominated field as philosophy, feminist scholarship is an exciting breath of fresh air.

  5. I think one of the main misconception about feminist philosophy is that is only pertains to women's issues, but from an epistemological standpoint, the feminist attitude proves useful, as Alcoff suggests, in trying to expand the wealth of knowledge, as well as call for a more critical analysis of its past. How can anyone really disagree with this?


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