Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Three Reasons Why You Should Read Feminist Philosophy

I'm a fairly big fan of feminist philosophy; I've read pretty widely in it since undergrad. And I always try to make sure that I have short units on feminist philosophy in both my courses, Intro and Ethics, despite the fact that they are lower-level surveys and the number of things I should be covering in them, and would be covering in a rational universe that gave teachers what they needed, is far larger than I could possibly cover in a term. I think everyone should take at least a bit of interest in the field, and here are three reasons you should, too.

(1) There's the obvious one that the basic goal in feminist philosophy is a good and reasonable one: justice for women (and, indeed, everyone).

(2) I find the most common misconception about feminist philosophy is that people think it is a relatively homogeneous field. In fact, it is extraordinarily diverse. As I think I mentioned somewhere before when talking about Hypatia, the major feminist philosophy journal, feminist philosophy is not a narrow-topic field. Just as history of philosophy in some sense covers everything in philosophy, considered historically, so feminist philosophy in some sense covers everything in philosophy, considered in light of justice for women. And on most of the major topics feminist philosophers have a wide variety of views, and there are enough people doing it (despite the various ways in which it is marginalized) that there is well-developed discussion and argument on many fronts. This is actually one of the exciting things about feminist philosophy at present, I think; lots of intelligent minds with diverse backgrounds arguing things out is exactly the sort of infrastructure on which excellent philosophical work gets built.

(3) There's chaff among the wheat of feminist philosophy, of course, but my own assessment is that there's actually much less than in more 'mainstream' fields of philosophy, and the reason for this is that there is less room for taking things for granted. I mean, while everyone takes things for granted, feminist philosophy is an area in which there is a greater likelihood of someone pointing it out. And whatever your answers, part of your reading really should be something that raises questions about things you usually take for granted.

Here are some works in feminist philosophy, or relevant to it, that I would recommend.

* Lorraine Code, What Can She Know?
* Lorraine Code, Epistemic Responsibility

The second of these I would place as one of the better works on epistemology that has been written in the past twenty-five years. The first is quite good, too. She has another book, Ecological Thinking, that has some good points, but that I think gets too bogged down in vague generalities at too many points to be very successful.

* Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice

This is one of those books that I'm going to have to go back to and give a much closer reading; there are too many interesting ideas and too much excellent thought here to do justice to in a single quick reading.

* Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland

Not a work of feminist philosophy, per se, being an early feminist utopia novel. But it's readable, fun, and raises interesting questions.

* Susanne DeCrane, Aquinas, Feminism, and the Common Good

This is in many ways an exemplary work of feminist history of philosophy. A number of things I disagree with, but always worth thinking about.

* Annette Baier, The Commons of the Mind

A bit broader than what people usually think of as feminist philosophy, but relevant to it, through and through.

* Nell Noddings, Caring

Ethics; I think Noddings often skips too many steps in her arguments, but the core ideas are really worthy of reflection.

* Sandra Harding, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?

Harding is very widely misunderstood. One can get a good entrance into her work if you start with the question: What role do we give to scientific investigation and practice in the ethical character of our society?

* Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
* John Stuart Mill, The Subjugation of Women

Classics that you should have read anyway.

* Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies
* Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II
* Damaris Masham, Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life

Should be classics that you should have read anyway.

* Catherine Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy
* Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women

A superficial reading could lead one to take Beecher's work as a very conservative women-in-the-home sort of work, and Beecher was, in fact, very conservative and very critical of a number of strands of nineteenth century feminist thought. But closer look at the work shows hundreds of ways in which Beecher takes a strand of the common view of the 'domesticity' thought to be appropriate to women and shows that if people actually allowed women to follow through on it, rather than hampering them in it, it would inexorably lead to women playing a larger and more powerful role in society. The elder Grimke sister's work forms a useful balance to Beecher's work, since they were in many ways representatives of opposing sides in the drive for equality and votes for women in the nineteenth century (they had opposing views about the best way to go about obtaining such things).

* Marjorie Suchoki, The End of Evil

Lots I disagreed with here; but this is a very interesting attempt at a feminist process theology.

* Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity

Better, I think, than her more famous work, The Second Sex (and better also than much of Sartre's work).

The list could possibly be expanded; but it's enough to start you on your way, assuming you haven't already started. And if you have already started, do you have any recommendations of your own?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.