Lefevere Merel | Contextualism, relative rationality and feminist epistemology


Feminism is still a widely discussed topic in epistemology. In 2009 the journal Frontiers dedicated a special issue to feminist epistemology, methodology and science studies. Feminist epistemology is not the study or the defense of female intuition. Its goal is to uncover different forms of male bias and create a space for feminist research programs. I will clarify this by presenting two feminist proposals.
Longino & Lennon start their argument with the undertermination thesis, the claim that there is a gap between empirical evidence and hypotheses and theories, which is filled by noncognitive values. They plead for a different set of cognitive values such as novelty instead of traditionalism, heterogeneity as a replacement for ontological simplicity and unification, reciprocity as opposing singular causal explanations. They also argue for a pragmatic and decentralized account of epistemology. Another suggestion they make is to endorse the new set of cognitive values on a local level, as opposing the universal claim that `traditionalists' make. [Longino and Lennon, 1997]
Anderson uses a case study of divorce to show that a feminist approach is a surplus value in research [Anderson, 2004]. She presents the traditional research as lacking respect for different values, by opposing it to Stewarts study of divorce. She distinguishes eight phases in the research process that are positively influenced by feminist values: the background interests, the research question, the topic, the selection of required data, the collection of data, data-analysis, closing the inquiry and formulating conclusions. In each phase of Stewart's inquiry different alternatives were considered, which led to unexpected results. Also Rolin shows that gender plays a negative role if it biases scientist's evaluation of their colleague's trustworthiness, hinders communication, and so forth [Rolin, 2004]. Gender plays a positive role if it increases the probability that alternative theories and hypotheses will be developed and tested.
In my presentation I want to show that those feminist approaches are not only compatible with Batens' proposal for a relative, contextual rationality, but they have become unnecessary, since Batens can make equal claims in a gender-neutral style.
As for the argument from Longino and Lennon, they criticize the use of the `traditional' set of cognitive values and propose a different set. However Batens suggests that the use of cognitive values in itself is a pragmatic factor. They are an obstacle in reaching proper knowledge, but they are impossible to eliminate. The solution is to be found in the critical analysis of the cognitive value by comparing it to alternatives. By exposing the set of used cognitive values, one is at least aware of their influence.
This relates to Anderson's argument that in the eight phases of research there should be more room for alternatives, and in a more general way also to Rolin's remark. Both claim that the consideration for alternatives is due to feminist values, but I doubt this. Yet Batens has a similar proposal. To solve a problem properly, one has to pass through different problem solving contexts. In a first context one has to fix the research question. Lest this happens rationally, one has to consider the possible alternatives. In a different context one determines the measuring instruments, again by considering the alternatives. Anderson's phases of research each correspond with a different context, in which different aspects of the research process are questioned.
By demonstrating that the two feminist claims are compatible with Batens' suggestion, I will show that it is possible to meet these feminist claims in a non-feminist approach. By reducing the feminist aspect, another pragmatic factor is reduced.
[Anderson, 2004] Anderson, E. (2004). Uses of value judgements in science: a general argument, with lessons from a case study of feminist research on divorce. Hypatia, 19(1):1{24.
[Batens, 2004] Batens, D. (2004). Menselijke Kennis. Pleidooi voor een bruikbare rationaliteit. Garant.
[Longino and Lennon, 1997] Longino, H. and Lennon, K. (1997). Feminist Epistemology as a Local Epistemology. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 71:19{36.
[Rolin, 2004] Rolin, K. (2004). Why gender is a relevant factor in the social epistemology of scientific inquiry. Philosophy of Science, 71:880{891.