Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Feminist Epistemology: An Exposé

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2017 at 10:01 AM

On March 23, 2017, I gave a talk to the philosophy society at Birkbeck College, University of London on feminist epistemology.  My talk was mainly about the feminist theory of domination and power as outlined by Catharine MacKinnon.  While I did not read my talk, had I read it, what I would have said would have been what is on the PDF below.

Ezra – Feminist Epistemology – An Expose – Talk – Birkbeck 170323


  1. I was very lucky to be taught epistemology by Susan Haack – her reaction to feminist epistemology as I recall was more driven by her pragmatism, fallibilism and adherence to the goal of objective truth. Just did a quick search and saw this quote from her which puts things much better in this context than I could:

    “What is most troubling is that the label [‘feminist epistemology’] is
    designed to convey the idea that inquiry should be politicized. And that is
    not only mistaken, but dangerously so…[T]he presupposition on
    which it rests – that genuine, honest inquiry is neither possible nor
    desirable – is, in Bacon’s shrewd phrase, a “factitious
    despair”….[I]nquiry is really best advanced by people with a genuine
    desire to find out how things are, who will be more persistent, less
    dogmatic, and more candid than sham reasoners seeking only to make
    a case for some foregone conclusion”

    The last sentence is almost quoting CS Peirce btw – see eg http://www.peirce.org/writings/p107.html (I’m sure you’ve seen this one before, the first line may recall one or two commenters on HP/twitter) but implied in the quote is that inquiry is best advanced through adherence to the scientific method in which the search for truth is an iterative process driven by testing theories and learning from mistakes.

    If any inquiry is always political by its nature, the possibility of inqury towards objective truth becomes impossible.


  2. Hi Tevya,

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, Susan Haack’s attack on feminist epistemology is excellent. She is right to argue that the view that inquiry should be politicised is “dangerously mistaken from an epistemological point view.” With such a method, honest inquiry is secondary to political expression. Those who hold such a stance are not in the truth-seeking business but “the propaganda business.”

    Susan Haack, “Epistemological Reflections of an Old Feminist,” Reason Papers 18: 31-43.
    Free online here: https://reasonpapers.com/pdf/18/rp_18_3.pdf

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