Feminist Philosophy of Science: Standpoint Matters

Wylie, Alison. “Feminist Philosophy of Science: Standpoint Matters.” Presidential Address delivered to the Pacific Division APA, in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 86.2 (2012): 47- 76.

Feminist standpoint theory has a contentious history. It is an explicitly political as well as social epistemology; its central and motivating insight is that those who are subject to structures of domination that marginalize and oppress them may, in fact, have epistemic advantage on a number of crucial dimensions. They may know different things, or know some things better than those who are comparatively privileged by virtue of what they typically experience and the resources they have for understanding their experience. Feminist standpoint theorists argue that gender is one dimension of social differentiation that makes such an epistemic difference. Feminist standpoint theory is, then, a form of social epistemology that provides a framework for understanding how a range of systematic biases arise that can compromise even our best, most authoritative knowledge, and for explaining the epistemic advantages afforded by socially marginal standpoints. It is also a normative theory of knowledge production, providing the rationale for social-cognitive norms of deliberative practice that require an active and discerning cultivation of relevant social diversity, not just a “balanced partiality” of individual perspectives within a research community, as a key source of potentially transformative criticism.