On the apparent antagonism between feminist and mainstream metaphysics

Abstract

The relationship between feminism and metaphysics has historically been strained. Metaphysics has until recently remained dismissive of feminist insights, and many feminist philosophers have been deeply skeptical about any value that metaphysics might have when thinking about advancing gender justice. Nevertheless, feminist philosophers have in recent years increasingly taken up explicitly metaphysical investigations. Such feminist investigations have expanded the scope of metaphysics in holding that metaphysical tools can help advance debates on topics outside of traditional metaphysical inquiry (e.g. the nature of gender, sex, or sexuality). Moreover, feminist philosophers typically bring new methodological insights to bear on traditional ways of doing philosophy. Feminist metaphysicians have also recently begun interrogating the methods of metaphysics and they have raised questions about what metaphysics as a discipline is in the business of doing. In discussing such methodological issues, Elizabeth Barnes has recently argued that some prevalent conceptions of metaphysics rule out feminist metaphysics from the start and render it impossible. This is bad news for self-proclaimed feminist metaphysicians in suggesting that they are mistaken about the metaphysical status of their work. With this worry in mind, the paper asks: how does feminist metaphysics fare relative to ‘mainstream’ metaphysics? More specifically, it explores how feminist and ‘mainstream’ debates intersect, on what grounds do they come apart (if at all), and whether feminist metaphysics qualifies as metaphysics ‘proper’.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although it is hard to find an outright dismissal of feminist metaphysics in press, one sometimes hears it disparaged in conversation. And despite recent work on feminist metaphysics, some feminist philosophers have been deeply suspicious of the value of metaphysics. For more on the unhappy relationship of feminism and metaphysics, see Battersby (1998).

  2. 2.

    Sider talks mainly about substantive and verbal questions. I will talk in terms of ‘disputes’ and ‘questions’, but I do not take there to be significant difference between the two. Bluntly put, ontologically substantive disputes ask ontologically substantive (rather than merely verbal) questions.

  3. 3.

    Of course, we could reject Sider’s characterisation of the substantive/superficial distinction. I will accept it for now in order to discuss whether (as Barnes’s holds) his view does exclude feminist metaphysics.

  4. 4.

    I will not consider here the view that contextual values are inadmissible when making metaphysical theory choices. I do so elsewhere (Mikkola 2015).

  5. 5.

    One might hold that although epistemically speaking reductionism would not yield helpful results, nevertheless, metaphysically speaking only the fundamental level is important. This would undermine the claim that feminist insights demonstrate the value of the macro-level. But, then, Sider’s justification for why the fundamental matters becomes puzzling since he appeals to epistemic considerations. It seems that whatever we give priority to should yield both epistemic and metaphysical benefits. And this undercuts the view that epistemic benefits of feminism are unimportant.

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Mikkola, M. On the apparent antagonism between feminist and mainstream metaphysics. Philos Stud 174, 2435–2448 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-016-0732-1

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Keywords

  • Feminism
  • Metaphysics
  • Haslanger
  • Meta-metaphysics
  • Fundamentality
  • Sider