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What is philosophical about feminist philosophy?

Unlike women's studies, which is focused on the factual and historical aspects of women's lives, feminist philosophy rethinks much of social philosophy and ethics from the perspective of women and the interests of women. Some feminist philosophers have created new philosophical subject matter, whereas others have revisited traditional philosophical approaches that were created by male philosophers. For example, political philosophers have often assumed that the basic political unit is a male head of household, thereby neglecting both female workers and the kind of unpaid work performed by women in traditional families. Feminist philosophers seek revisions and expansions of such assumptions so as to include women.

What have been the main themes in philosophical feminism?

Philosophical feminists have thus far been very open to theoretical work from other disciplines. They have concentrated on theorizing the oppression of women in the history of philosophy, as well as contemporary culture. The result in the United States alone has been a vast body of work with many facets.

Although feminism is hardly part of mainstream philosophy in academia, most philosophy departments now have women members. Examples of influential feminist scholarship include feminist reclamation, feminist epistemology, feminist political theory, and gender theory. An excellent overview of these subjects is Alison M. Jagger and Marion Young's A Companion to Feminist Philosophy (2000).

What is feminist reclamation?

In philosophy, as well as other fields, feminist reclamation has been the rediscovery of women thinkers, who have been neglected in traditional intellectual history, especially before the 1980s. Some of these women are considered philosophers only if philosophy is broadly construed. But others worked comprehensively on issues central to their field, influenced their peers, and have only recently been fully recognized for their achievements. A strong example of this category is Ruth Barcan Marcus.

Who is Ruth Barcan Marcus?

Ruth Barcan Marcus (1921-) was educated at Yale, received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1952, and was a founding chair of the philosophy department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After working as a professor at Northwestern University, she was Halleck Professor of Philosophy at Yale University from 1973 to 1991. She worked in the formal subjects of quantification theory and modal logic, sometimes in disagreement with W.V.O. Quine (1908-2000).

One of her most striking achievements was an early formulation of the new causal theory of reference, made famous by Hilary Putnam (1926-) and Saul Kripke (1940-). The causal theory of reference held that words for things have a history from the first time someone used a specific word to stand for a specific object or idea. For example, we call apples "apples" because that word was the first at some time, in some specific place, to be used to name the fruit. As proponents of the causal theory of reference put it, apples were baptized "apples."

Marcus' ground-breaking journal articles are collected in Modalities: Philosophical Essays (1993). She received the American Philosophical Association Quinn Prize for service to the profession in 2007.

How did feminist epistemology develop?

Nancy Chodorow (1944-) showed in The Reproduction of Mothering (1978) how social roles within the nuclear family are "reproduced" socially by girls identifying with their mothers and boys becoming unlike their mothers. Recognition of the social construction of female gender resulted in broad rejection of biological determinism of women's traditional roles. This cleared the way for feminists to seek social causes for the disadvantageous status of women.

Carol Gilligan's (1936-) In a Different Voice (1982) criticized Lawrence Kohlberg's account of moral development because it left out the relational nature of girls' moral perceptions, in contrast to the more abstract and individualistic nature of boys' moral development. The idea that women had relational identities led to an ethics of care, most notably based on Stanford University psychologist Nell Noddings' Caring (1982), which was foundational for the work of Sandra Lee Bartke in Femininity and Domination (1990) and Eva Kittay's Love's Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependence (1999).

Genevieve Lloyd's The Man of Reason: "Male" and "Female" in Western Philosophy (1984) sparked a view that philosophy itself had been identified with distinctively masculine capabilities of reason to the intellectual as well as literal exclusion of women. These perspectives led to the articulation of feminist epistemology, stressing connected, rather than individual knowers (or people who learn and come to know things), and the role of emotion and action in knowledge. The collection of papers in Linda Alcoff (1955-) and Elizabeth Potter's (1947-) edited work Feminist Epistemologies (1993) relates some of this ground-breaking work to traditional epistemology. An additional development of feminist epistemology is feminist philosophy of science.

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