PHIL 406 A: Philosophical Topics In Feminism

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
Location: 
SIG 228
SLN: 
18961
Instructor:
Alison Wylie

Syllabus Description:

Feminist Philosophy of Science: Standpoint Matters
Winter 2017

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  Instructor: Professor Alison Wylie (Philosophy)
  Course meetings:
M/W 1:30-3:20
  Contact:
aw26@uw.edu
  Weekly readings and assignments:
wikipage
  Syllabus:
pdf
  Course policies: pdf


Course description

Critics of the very idea of feminist philosophy of science insist that, because feminism is an explicitly political stance, it can have nothing to do with science or how we understand it philosophically. What distinguishes scientific inquiry and understanding is its ability to transcend partisan, political interests and the relativism that threatens if these are allowed a role in science. The epistemic ideals implicit in such arguments have come in for sharp and sustained criticism in recent decades, especially by feminist philosophers of science who have built a compelling case for recognizing that scientific knowledge – its production, its content and its authority – is inevitably configured by a range of social, contextual factors; there is no escape to a ‘view from nowhere’. And yet, feminist philosophers of science routinely insist that this robust contextualism need not entail a reductive relativism.

The aim of this seminar is to explore the range of positions articulated by feminist philosophers of science in response both to conventional ‘value-free’ ideals and charges of relativism. Following the line of argument developed by Elizabeth Potter in Feminist Philosophy of Science (2006), our point of departure will be an argument for ‘naturalized’ approaches to philosophy of science and a feminist reformulation of empiricism developed by Lynn Hankinson Nelson. We then consider several other responses to the challenge of reconceptualizing the empirical foundations of scientific knowledge and the role of social values in scientific practice as taken up by feminist value theorist Elizabeth Anderson, and contextual empiricist Helen Longino. In the final segment of the course we discuss several variants of feminist standpoint theory, chiefly as developed by Sandra Harding, and consider the prospects for reconfiguring ideals of objectivity in terms of jointly epistemic and social/ethical norms. At the close of the quarter we return to the meta-philosophical questions with which we started and consider the goals and status of feminist philosophy of science as a form of ‘non-ideal’ theory.

Course texts

Elizabeth Potter, Feminism and Philosophy of Science: An Introduction (Routledge, 2006).
All other readings are linked to the weekly readings page.

Requirements

This will be a reading-intensive, discussion-based course. Class meetings will include short lectures and student presentations designed to generate seminar-style discussion. The requirements emphasize close reading and analysis of the assigned texts. In addition to reading responses posted online and one in-class presentation, you are required to write a short expository essay, an abstract and a thesis-driven term paper. Details are posted on the Canvas assignments pages.

Grade breakdown
Participation: 10%
Seminar presentation: 15%
Reading responses: 15%
Essays: 60%

Learning objectives

My central goals for this seminar are that you should come away with the following:

  • Content knowledge of the range of positions that have been central to the formation of and debate about feminist philosophies of science.
  • Skills of conceptual analysis relevant for disembedding and assessing assumptions that underpin popular, scientific, and philosophical debate about the role of contextual values in scientific inquiry.
  • Insights about how ideals of objectivity, epistemic integrity, empirical credibility can be reframed in face of critiques of logical empiricist / positivist conceptions of science.

Additional Details:

Critics of the very idea of feminist philosophy of science insist that, because feminism is an explicitly political stance, it can have nothing to do with science or how we understand it philosophically. What distinguishes scientific inquiry and understanding is its ability to transcend partisan, political interests and the relativism that threatens if these are allowed a role in science. The epistemic ideals implicit in such arguments have come in for sharp and sustained criticism in recent decades, especially by feminist philosophers of science who have built a compelling case for recognizing that scientific knowledge – its production, its content and its authority – is inevitably configured by a range of social, contextual factors; there is no escape to a ‘view from nowhere’. And yet, feminist philosophers of science routinely insist that this robust contextualism need not entail a reductive relativism.

The aim of this seminar is to explore the range of positions articulated by feminist philosophers of science in response both to conventional ‘aperspectival’ ideals and charges of relativism. Our point of departure will be a close reading of sophisticated arguments for feminist empiricism as developed by Helen Longino and Lynn Hankinson Nelson. We then turn to an appraisal of several variants of feminist standpoint theory, as developed by Nancy Harstock, Sandra Harding, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith, and consider the agential models advocated by Karen Barad and Donna Haraway. The quarter will close with discussion of the growing body of critical race and feminist literature that articulates jointly epistemic and political/ethical conceptions of trustworthiness as a regulative ideal for scientific practice.

TEXT: Feminism and Philosophy of Science: An Introduction, Elizabeth Potter.

Catalog Description: 
Detailed examination of questions raised by recent feminist scholarship in particular areas of philosophy, such as political theory, ethics, epistemology, or philosophy of science. Emphasis varies.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Credits: 
5.0
Status: 
Active
Last updated: 
August 7, 2017 - 9:05pm