Feminist Philosophy As The New “Pluralist Revolt”


“Feminist philosophy should be an essential resource for all philosophers, whatever their views about its political agenda,” says Gary Gutting (Notre Dame), in his latest column in “The Stone” at The New York Times.

Changes, including the rising popularity of feminist philosophy, as well as the increased number of institutional roles women are occupying (e.g., as officers in the American Philosophical Association), he says, are fruitfully transforming philosophy in a way that echoes the “pluralist revolt” against the dominance of analytic philosophy in the profession 30-40 years ago.

For those too young to remember, Gutting provides a little history:

It will help to reflect on an earlier disruption to the philosophical establishment: the “pluralist revolt” against the dominant analytic philosophy of the 1970s and ’80s. The pluralists were a disparate group of philosophers: pragmatists in the tradition of Peirce, James and Dewey; metaphysicians following classical thinkers such as Aristotle and Aquinas or the process philosophy of Whitehead; and, most prominently, “continental philosophers” working out of recent European movements such as phenomenology (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre); post-structuralism (Foucault, Derrida); and critical theory (Habermas and the Frankfurt School).

Pluralists challenged the dominance of the A.P.A. by the analytic philosophy that they saw as modeling itself on mathematics and natural science. This mode of thought, they said, imposed standards of conceptual clarity and logical rigor that restricted philosophical thinking to a narrow range of abstract and artificial questions. These restrictions, they argued, marginalized pluralist philosophers and, more important, excluded the great perennial questions that had defined philosophy from Plato to Hegel.

The pluralists gained a good deal of power within the A.P.A., made room for alternative voices and no doubt played a role in the broadening of analytic interests. Their efforts supported an increased interest in traditional questions, particularly in metaphysics and ethics, and a turn to pragmatic positions in epistemology. But the pluralists did not overcome the analytic hegemony, with analytic philosophers remaining a large majority in the most highly regarded departments.

Further, the pluralists did little to blunt the sharp division between analytic philosophy and so-called continental philosophy, which maintained its own (relatively marginalized) departments, national organization and journals. Indeed, we are now seeing a good deal of work on “continental” philosophers move from philosophy to other humanistic disciplines (for example, in language, communication and film studies departments) and to the softer social sciences.

Gutting thinks that feminist philosophy has “produced an awakening far beyond that of the pluralist revolt.” He says that is has “further broadened and deepened analytic philosophy” and cites among its benefits its promoting serious engagement with continental philosophers and ideas. He takes the development of the ethics of care, thoughtful scrutiny of the”natural,” increased sensitivity to injustices, a focus on institutions and practices, the emergence of feminist epistemology that emphasizes situated knowledge, and the growth of feminist metaphysics that questions long-prevalent categories as all part of this turn.

Left out of Gutting’s essay (perhaps for reasons of space) is a description of the “opposition” to these changes. It may (or may not) be importantly different. Does the resistance now seem the same as the resistance to the pluralist revolt? Is misogyny a factor? Is information technology? Politics? Economics?

The whole column is here.

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Brooklyn Bridge”

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