Sunday, March 28, 2010

Too Contextual?

While I consider this objection as philosophical, nothing indicates that the problem of contextualization is strictly limited to philosophy. To clarify, why does philosophy lay any claims to this feminist re-imagining of epistemology? It seems that other disciplines, like psychology, have addressed these claims already, which would suggest that feminist theory and any contributions did not come from the “ivory tower” of philosopher. This would substantiate general claims that philosophy may have more use in the analysis of other criticisms, as the feminist influence is not specific to philosophy, but applying a critical attitude, one can comprehend the importance of the contribution as they relate to political influences and discursive power. Another question raised against Alcoff might read “how does this not lead to relativism?” While the charge is brought, Alcoff seeks to contextualize, not offer a form of relativism where truths are merely able to be substituted for one another without consequence. If relativism isn’t the goal, it does raises yet another question: what is the overall end to this suggestion? I believe that Alcoff would purport that the adding of descriptive genealogies of old philosophers and affirmative action style submissions to the overall discourse would work to disarm the privileges that certain discourse have due to an unreflective analysis of such discourses. Her solution mirrors Foucault’s solution to power relocation in a sense that by presenting alternate views, the power that an unjust discourse has will be weakened in the face of disputing claims. Her Foucault-ian solution also substantiates her inclusion of Dewey in the article, who would also call for more data and perspectives to be allowed into the “arena” (as he favors democratic intentions). Alcoff would acknowledge the privilege that epistemology seems to yield among other disciplines, at the expense that understanding why it has privilege and how analyzing it and previous engagers in its practice would broad the horizon of criticism, which, if contextual, would lead to a higher form of self-criticism of the philosophical discipline.


  1. Cal, I just wrote my blog post on the same question you raise in the beginning of your post. Why does epistemology have to be contextualized by a certain group? What does stereotyping how a group knows what they know contribute to everyone else's overall understanding of knowledge? If we suppose that epistemology is derivative in a certain context do we miss certain aspects that contribute an important part? These are the question I wonder when we talk about the certain type of epistemology. It makes me wonder if we miss the characteristics that would be englightening for a certain area or whether we over estimate certain aspects that do not contribute as much for the group as a whole.

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  3. I like your dialogic connection of Alcoff's use of Foucault and Dewey. I am interested in how you perceive Foucault's work on the dynamic between the insane and sane. It seems to me, in my reading of Foucault, that he would advocate for the inclusion of the voice of the "madman" into the realm of discussing epistemology. Based on a binary discourse system between the "sane" and "insane", "legitimate" and "illegitimate" and the "normal" and "abnormal", our language restrains our social understanding of the voice and mindset of the "insane". And, although I do not think that taking into careful consideration the madman's epistemological 'piece of the puzzle' risks criticism for being too relativistic, I do relish in hypothesizing a world in which the madman's epistemology shapes the dominant discourse and therein, the persevering political, economic and social institutions. Can you?


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