Rationalizing Epistemology: An Argument Against Naturalism in Feminist Philosophy of Science

Dissertation, City University of New York (1996)

Maureen Linker
University of Michigan, Dearborn
The dissertation involves an examination of recent work in Social Epistemology. In particular, I am concerned with the question of how one's social position could affect judgments regarding evidence and confirmation. To answer this question I undertake an investigation of feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. Feminist epistemologists have raised criticisms of the traditional analysis of knowledge by arguing against the primacy of the individual and for a more thorough-going analysis of the community in accounts of knowledge. This shift, in my view, is an important contribution toward a more complete theory of knowledge. Yet feminist epistemology is a controversial contributor to the area of social epistemology generally construed. Thus, in the first chapter I offer a defense of the contributions of feminist epistemology to analytic philosophy, against its various critics. ;In Chapters Two and Three I examine feminists' reliance on Naturalistic models of theory-choice such as Quinean Holism or the later Wittgenstein's Social Constructivism. I argue that the reliance on these models is a tactical mistake for feminists since these models are based on problematic accounts of meaning and truth. Alternatively, I advocate the adoption of a realist meaning theory along the lines proposed by Katz, as well as a rationalized epistemology in the service of explaining deductive and inductive inference. My argument involves showing how realism and rationalism entail the kind of strong program of justification and rational censure which is required if feminists want to successfully condemn existing biased practices. ;Consequently, I propose a reformulation of the distinction between a context of discovery and context of justification. My reformulation differs from the past positivist distinction in that "discovery" rather than being wholly random and subjective, is instead reflective of patterns of social experience. "Justification" is conceived of as more sensitive to the epistemic privilege of varying social standpoints. However, a separation is still maintained between how one comes to arrive at a belief and the methods for justifying that belief. My conclusion is that a partnership between rationalized epistemology and feminist theory can provide rich possibilities for both disciplines
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