To what extent does feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology successfully escape the ‘paradox of bias’?

Feminist philosophy started in the 1970’s and has developed itself into a subdiscipline that plays a major role in contemporary philosophy. It focusses on three subjects. The first, to criticize historical philosophical writings, the second, to criticize areas of contemporary philosophy such as epistemology and ethics, third, criticize patterns of imaginary and symbolism in philosophy. In this essay I’m going to be focussing on the second subject of feminist philosophy. I’m going to explain to what extent feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology successfully escapes the paradox of bias. Firstly, I will explain what analytic methodology is. Secondly, what feminist epistomology’s critique on this is. Lastly, I will explain the paradox of bias . Then I shall justify my claim that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias. This justification will include arguments in favour of my claim as well as the objection that feminist philosophers raised against the paradox of bias.

It is hard to define the concept of analytic methodology because we should approach it with a wide range of philosophical methods. To be of use in this essay, it is enough to define the basic elements of what analytic methodology is about. For this we can use the claim of Ann Garry. Ann Garry states that “analytic methodology is the philosophy that has prevailed in English-speaking countries for most of the twentieth century, including the logical positivists, ordinary language philosophers, postpositivists and their myriad successors”.[1] She also adds Richard Rorty’s ‘clear and rigorous tools’ view. It says that analytic methodology has a stylistic approach. It values clarity in writing style and rigor in argument, and a sociological basis, the consideration of its philosophical ancestors and the philosophers that are read nowadays.[2] Furthermore she defines the method that analytic philosophers tend to use. They always start with, or against, something they can improve.[3] These claims combined make a workable definition for analytic methodology.

By means of a feasible definition of analytic methodology, we can analyse the critique that feminist epistemology provides us. According to E. Anderson, “Feminist epistemology studies the ways in which gender should and  undeniably influences our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification.”[4] Alison Stone and Ann Gary, both feminist philosophers, share their own interpretation on the influence of gender in analytic methodology. Alison Stone claims that philosophical methods have only focussed on reasoning, justice, rights, impartiality and moral rules. This focus reflects only the view point of a man’s experience.[5] In addition to that, Ann Garry revealed a method in which to measure the influence of gender in philosophical methods. Garry states that feminist philosophy required methods that could facilitate the full diversity of women.[6] According to her, there are nine viable questions suitable for determining whether a philosophical method achieves a minimum acquired defination for feminist philosophers. She applied her nine questions to the method of analytic methodology, which resulted in the  following deduction: ‘Analytic methodology is only partly minimally exemplary.  It can be useful within its scope but it could also be constraining. In limited ways it is minimally decent, in other ways it restrains, hinders feminists’ work. Analytic methodology makes one feel as if it’s possible unlock the right results. ‘Analytic tradition tries to overcome the objections of its critics, it has become more feminist friendly’[7] So the main critique of feminist epistemology towards analytic methodology is that it’s partially male biased and less acceptable for feminists.

Since we have discovered what feminist epistomology’s critique on analytic methodology is, the next step is to find out what the paradox of bias is. In order to find out whether the critique is able to escape the paradox, we will have to refer to Alison Stone. According to her feminist criticism of male bias or masculine attitude suggested that theories which are less biased should be incorporated. Yet it also seemed that one must have feminist views before one could begin to detect these biases.’[8] As you can see, there is a paradox in this because you need a bias to detect another bias. This is what’s called the paradox of bias

Now that there is a clear view on the different subjects of the thesis, I can argue towards the fact that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias. It is possible to divide the analysis of the paradox in this critique into two levels, a macro-view and a micro-view of this paradox.
Firstly, the macro-view. The way in which feminist epistomoly critiques analytic methodology, is trough analytic methodology. As seen in the definition of analytic methodology above. It always starts with or against something that can be improved. This has a bias in it because it is stated that there should be an improvement in benefit of women.
Second, the micro-view, in order to determine whether analytic methodology is suitable for feminism, there is an analytic method of reasoning. Garry, for example, uses 9 questions to value analytic methodology. Garry uses the outcome of these questions to come arrive at a conclusion. This is method is a form of analytic methodology with reasoning, which was supposed to be associated with male gender. Nevertheless there is already a bias that states that an analytic method is an decent one. If that was not the case, Garry would never have used the analytic method. But this was the question for critique? So there is a bias in the use of method itself and therefore, the conclusion was already made before . These two claims can prove that the critique does not escape the paradox of bias at all.

A general objection that feminist epistemologists pursued against the paradox of bias, which can also be applied on my conclusion above, is the concept of standpoints. It argues,  men and women occupy different social locations whilst developing in different ways of seeing the world.[9] Women are usually unable to fully articulate their standpoint due to men possessing more power which therefore over rules their standpoint.[10] Therefore, women can only achieve their own standpoint if they struggle against the male dominated character of society.[11] There are a few problems regarding this objection. At first, it claims that there is a male bias which ensures that male standpoints prevail to female standpoints. But sophistication and education is mostly done by women, it is one of those social locations in which women tend to operate according to the standpoint theory. By nurturing and education they are a fundament of our society and have great opportunities to articulate their standpoint. Secondly, Stone provides us with the argument that the standpoint concept could be argued because the vast majority of people who act oppressively in some ways are oppressed in others.[12] Stone questions if all women share a common standpoint or position of oppression.[13] The view of black feminism underlines Stone’s criticism on standpoints. They claim that a common social position, being dominated by men, overlooks the differences of woman, especially the dominance of white women.[14] These two problems concerning the standpoint theory ensure us that is not a proper objection against the paradox of bias in the feminists critique.

As a conclusion I can say that I have been reasoning toward the thesis that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias. In order to do so, I defined the different subject of the thesis, such as analytic methodology, the paradox of bias, feminist epistemology and its critique. Using these definitions I could explain my reasoning towards my thesis. Then I raised  a serious objection, but also explained why we should not take it into account. So I can successfully claim that feminist epistemology’s critique of analytic methodology does not escape the paradox of bias.

This essay was graded for the contemporary philosophy premaster course at Tilburg University

 

 

 

 

[1] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p. 10.

[2] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p. 10.

[3] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p. 11.

[4] E. Anderson, Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, 2017, P1

[5] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.20.

[6] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p.8.

[7] A. Garry, A minimally decent philosophical method? Analytic philosophy and feminism, 1995, p.23

[8] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[9] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[10] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[11] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[12] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[13] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.24.

[14] A. Stone, An introduction to Feminist Philosophy, 2007, p.15.

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