The bias paradox

In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell (2011)
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Abstract

Feminist philosophers are often concerned with rejecting Cartesian notions of objectivity which eliminate all subjectivity on the part of knowers. However, this rejection of a notion of pure (non-subjective) neutrality has led the dilemma that Louise Antony calls the “bias paradox” (Antony 1993, 188-90). At the heart of this paradox lies the seeming choice between objectivism and relativism. It has two fundamental commitments that clearly focus this dilemma: (1) the explicit rejection of the concept of impartial objectivity and (2) the desire to assert the reality of women’s oppression. The problem is that in the absence of impartiality (at least as an ideal), there appears to be a lack of principled, normative criteria for evaluating beliefs across differing epistemic perspectives. While this tension is dealt with most straightforwardly in discussions of naturalized feminist epistemology and feminist philosophy of science, the bias paradox, nonetheless, is not merely a problem for feminists. Any view that rejects the Cartesian ideals of pure objectivity and value-neutrality will ultimately be forced to confront the dilemma that seemingly results from the paradox; namely, to either endorse pure impartiality or accept an “anything goes” relativism.

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Deborah Heikes
University of Alabama, Huntsville

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