New Philosophy

Feminist Philosophy

How did feminist epistemology develop?

Nancy Chodorow (1944–) showed in The Reproduction of Mothering (1978) how social roles within the nuclear family are “reproduced” socially by girls identifying with their mothers and boys becoming unlike their mothers. Recognition of the social construction of female gender resulted in broad rejection of biological determinism of women’s traditional roles. This cleared the way for feminists to seek social causes for the disadvantageous status of women.

Carol Gilligan’s (1936–) In a Different Voice (1982) criticized Lawrence Kohlberg’s account of moral development because it left out the relational nature of girls’ moral perceptions, in contrast to the more abstract and individualistic nature of boys’ moral development. The idea that women had relational identities led to an ethics of care, most notably based on Stanford University psychologist Nell Noddings’ Caring (1982), which was foundational for the work of Sandra Lee Bartke in Femininity and Domination (1990) and Eva Kittay’s Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependence (1999).

Genevieve Lloyd’s The Man of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy (1984) sparked a view that philosophy itself had been identified with distinctively masculine capabilities of reason to the intellectual as well as literal exclusion of women. These perspectives led to the articulation of feminist epistemology, stressing connected, rather than individual knowers (or people who learn and come to know things), and the role of emotion and action in knowledge. The collection of papers in Linda Alcoff (1955–) and Elizabeth Potter’s (1947–) edited work Feminist Epistemologies (1993) relates some of this ground-breaking work to traditional epistemology. An additional development of feminist epistemology is feminist philosophy of science.


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