Feminist Standpoint Theory as a Form of Naturalist Epistemology

Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario (Canada) (2001)

Catherine Elisabeth Hundleby
University of Windsor
In this dissertation I argue that naturalist epistemology would benefit if it were recognized to include feminist standpoint theory, a theory of knowledge that is based on the feminist critiques of science. Naturalists such as W. O. Quine argue that normative epistemology can be developed on the basis of science. However, they have mostly rested content with descriptions of how knowledge seems to work. Naturalists need to evaluate our epistemic practices against competing alternatives if they are to justify our knowledge claims. For this reason, they can benefit from taking up the feminist challenges to science. The feminist critiques of science challenge the warrant of many scientific claims but also are based on science. Even feminist standpoint theory, which is usually associated with Marxism, can be viewed as a form of naturalist epistemology because of its reliance on these scientific studies, especially those by Dorothy Smith and Patricia Hill Collins. So naturalists would benefit from addressing the claims of feminist standpoint theorists. ;Characterizing feminist standpoint theory as a naturalist epistemology reveals how an apparent weakness of both feminist standpoint theory and naturalist epistemology is really a strength: it shows that attending to the way beliefs are developed can be epistemically advantageous. The normative claim of feminist standpoint theorists that people ought to involve feminists and feminist values in their inquiries builds on descriptions of how gender politics affects knowledge. Feminist standpoint theory builds on the observations that feminism encourages the generation of competing alternative points of view about knowledge that can challenge scientific knowledge claims. The generation of alternative perspectives facilitates testing. In this way feminist standpoint theory actually demonstrates how naturalism can be normative epistemology. Other feminists who advocate naturalism have described the operation of gender in cognition but they have not recognized the importance of feminism as a source of critique within science. In this way, feminist standpoint theory is a better exemplar of naturalism than any accounts of knowledge that have previously been identified as naturalist
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