I am learning about feminist epistemology through the text of Lorraine Code (What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge) and that of Susan Bordo (The Flight to Objectivity: Essays on Cartesianism and Culture).

Although I understand that one of the ideas of this field is to trace the influence gender might have on the way theories of knowledge are established and formalized, I do not see really the merit such approach to knowledge may have: what could be the merit? And is it not the case that once imposing gender-considerations on the nature of epistemology (rationality, objectivity, etc.) we no longer talk about general theory of knowledge? And if so, what at all could feminist theory of knowledge contribute, except for pointing to (if not preserving) allegedly intrinsic differences between the genders?

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    SEP and IEP both have long exposes on feminist epistemology. As long as we acknowledge social influence on scientific content why not of gender biases in particular, especially in soft sciences.
    – Conifold
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:48
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    A scamming of Google Scholar results strongly indicates that the terms refer to social phenomena in the first place, in this sense not fulfilling the whole field of epistemology, but being used to undermine certain concepts (especially rationalistic ones) of general epistemology.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:53
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    If there is any chance they are right, isn't the field itself incomplete without their contributions? Feminism is often in the position of pointing out that general solutions are not general, simply because they ignore something obvious mostly to women. The point is not to narrow epistemology but to broaden it. That is either impossible, or obligatory. If it is impossible, let them fail, instead of preventing them from trying.
    – user9166
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:33
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    See Social, Cultural, and Feminist Studies of Science on SEP.
    – Conifold
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:37
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    @L.M.Student, the theoretical importance of feminist epistemology derives in part from the fact that such notions as rationality and objectivity received their meanings largely via men's experience and reasoning, whereas women's point of view was excluded ahead. This has been the case throughout many centuries. Part of feminist epistemology in turn focuses on the possibility that the exclusion of women's point of view resulted in a biased epistemology.
    – Jordan S
    Oct 8, 2016 at 19:33

3 Answers 3


Some of the central lessons that 'culture' feminism has had to inject in other places (e.g. Gilligan's criticism of Kohlberg, or Fox-Keller's of abstraction as dominance) are that:

  1. independence is not in-and-of-itself good (roles are ok, when they are fairly chosen),

  2. mutual dependency is not automatically ambiguous or complex (a fair family structure is natural to humans),

  3. a lot of what we believe is in order to agree with other people, which doesn't make it false (culture is ok, and is not a war) and

  4. the choice of those people seems free, but is often really about power (interpersonal dynamics happen and are not evil, nor are they blameworthy 'lower motives').

(None of these are deep, or inaccessible in the writings of men, but they clash with components of the male role, based on defending boundaries, negotiating hierarchy, and seeming to make one's own decisions. So they fall out of theories, or they take pernicious, confrontational forms as in Marx or the Frankfurt School.)

Consider how long it took epistemology to get to Wittgenstein's notion of language-games, which after failing at a more forthright sort of logical positivism, finally injects a lot of these aspects very directly into the theory of meaning: meaning is a human game, upon which we are totally dependent, based on consensus, and we play to win, but we do not win without mutual support (because then the consensus around the game breaks down and we start saying nonsense and claiming it is deep).

This whole summary is made up of those same recurring feminist principles. Can anyone be sure it is thoroughly irrelevant that he happened to be gay?

(Before I go further, apologies: If it offends you to link homosexuality and femininity, I understand, but I cannot agree -- they are not similar, but they are linked. And on other fronts, I could equally emphasize aspects that are characteristically German, Owning-class, Jewish and Catholic, though I won't because they are not relevant here. So if this makes me a bigot, I am at least an equal-opportunity bigot. After all, I am a Nietzsche fanboy.)

Maybe that means we would have gotten to this point earlier, from a history with a better mixture of masculine and feminine perspective. And maybe that means we can get a cleaner way forward from there with a more equally mixed perspective.

  • In that case, the answer is, "yes, it does it away with general theory of knowledge." That's what Wittgenstein did--dismantle epistemology, not evolve it forward. I've always been confused by Wittgensteinian epistemologists, who attempt to recover foundationalist projects with Wittgensteinian ideas. Nov 25, 2019 at 4:26

I don't know the reasons of proposing you that read, but I've found this topic in a casual conversation, also related to the construction of knowledge by white people. I found the subject highly provocative to reflection, so I rephrase a bit the conversation:

Contemporary science, mainly on the quantum physics field, show that some physical facts can be contradictory[1], meaning that logic, and even causality can be broken. Therefore, science makers are turning their microscopes not to the object, but to the subject (tehirselves): part of the problem, or the misunderstanding could be caused by the subjectivity in our experiences with the quantum world[2]. Probably that since then, subjectivity is starting to be considered an important fact in making knowledge[3], not only on quantum physics, but in all science.

So, the merit of the approach of your reading is probably not related to gender or differences, but to subjectivity. What would be the difference if knowledge would be developed by woman, by black people or in a different continent? That difference could the proof of our subjectivity when making knowledge. Why? Because formal knowledge is supposed to be objective (as the title of your second book suggests), and it is mandatory to make the maximum effort to avoid subjective elements.

[1] https://physics.aps.org/story/v16/st10 [2] https://www.quora.com/Is-it-true-that-quantum-physics-is-subjective [3] http://www.monorealism.com/qm/quantum-mechanics


Gender has to do with what you know about yourself; different people are going to argue differently about what qualifies "knowing" about yourself. This is all I can say without inserting my own extremely liberal opinions on this issue (despite being a moderate).

For example, you can look at Plato's JTB - the justification part can be valid or invalid depending on different points of view, and the "Truth" part can be bifurcated into psychology and physiology. The belief part is impossible to reckon with because what you believe is what you believe.

Hope this is helpful. I'm starting out in philosophy - not sure how helpful I can be.

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