THE NATURALISM QUESTION. HOW TO RE-THINK THE ANALYTIC – CONTINENTAL DICOTHOMY FROM A FEMINIST EPISTEMOLOGICAL PRESPECTIVE

by Alessandra Allegrini


1. Introduction

Such a complex title to draw up a fifteen pages proposal derives from the elaboration of some parts from a five hundred pages long theoretical research, my recent graduation Thesis in Philosophy of Language, The Subject and the Knowledge. Epistemology, Analytic Philosophy and Feminism.

In that, I reconstructed the feminist debate on science, knowledge and their epistemological paradigms within the Anglo-American intellectual and academic contest, since the end of the Seventies till now a day, especially focalising on the area of intersection between feminist epistemologies and analytic thought’s scholarships.

A couple of years ago, my original interest in this way of approaching epistemological issues from a feminist point of view was pushed by my curiosity for new perspectives not only in feminist theories and in different malestream contests then the Italian and European ones, but also for areas of knowledge traditionally and still now a day distant and separated from my student’s background, that is Visual Arts.

Now I believe that my original interest and curiosity for both scientific-epistemological world and artistic-cultural world meet each other in that intersection’s axis that a feminist inter-disciplinary perspective may be able to delineate, starting from a shared challenge to that binary and dichotomical structure of thought which I consider to be the biggest heredity left by the history of western knowledge. I believe it is from this shared challenge that it may be possible for new subjective creativity’s forms and new creative subjectivity’s forms to emerge, so that new kinds of cultural imaginary can be created or only stimulated.

So, as an Italian student in Visual Arts, mainly trained in feminist critical studies within the Utrecht’s Women’s Studies field during the Socrates-Erasmus project, and later graduating within a very traditional contest, which I consider to be Italian university, my choice to look at the epistemological and scientific world has been strongly stimulated by the desire of drawing new connections, seeking for new points of intersections in disciplines, fields and feminist point of views, usually grown quite away from both malestream intellectual European contest and mainstream feminist European debate.

Consequently, I started to look for a configuration where these two Visions of Subject and World were put as binary or even opposite and I thought to find it in the way the malestream western contemporary perspective organises the so called debate on Analytic Philosophy and Continental Philosophy.

Furthermore, my wish to underline within this 4th European Feminist Conference some central points of a research which has been mainly oriented to the analysis of the Anglo-American contest, where the dominant malestream philosophical-epistemological tradition in the XX century is defined as Analytic Philosophy, would like to stimulate to think about the possibility and the opportunity for younger feminist generations to look back at a recent past, to read and re-read parts of theoretical feminist history, to make connections and comparisons between thinkers and issues. Of course this attempt will need more detailed views and analysis.

At the beginning of my Thesis, my intention to consider a theoretical contest which is rarely mentioned in the critical European feminist agenda, that is the analytic field, would have liked to be an answer to a double question: first of all, as I’ve just mentioned, the search for a comparison and connections with other feminist perspectives which express the strong and ambitious necessity to trust in some empirically founded truths, to believe in some minimum human universals, starting from the acknowledge and not from the negation of the diversity intrinsic to feminist acting and thinking concerning one contest, one place, one system. In some way this desire can be seen as a new global call for Equality, and it can arrive to re-quest the Equality Difference problem, when it’s possible to consider nature, reality, truth in science as the real world’s horizon line, as the natural limit within the plural cultural collocations.

Secondly, as a white, western feminist as I am in Italy and Europe, I actually feel the need to establish some stronger critical links, which can be connections or dis-connections, with malestream philosophical contests and, in particular, the need to compare myself with the a debate where not too often a feminist point of view emerges, that is the debate on Analytic Philosophy and Continental Philosophy. This absence may be a risk because a feminist point of view could be cancelled before having expressed its critical voice.

It is from the acknowledge of pluralism of the international feminist field, that progressively during the Nineties seams to be a mosaic of different voices, where the non-western standpoint (e.g. postcolonial and eastern standpoint) has a central role in the destabilisation of the white western hierarchical and dichotomical structures of thought, that I evaluate as necessary and urgent a reflection about the relationship between feminist epistemological international research and contemporary malestream discussion that organise in a binary way the analytic and continental terms.

I believe that the importance of feminist epistemological discourse consists in that indomitable difference of which it is a sign, from which the capacity of being a "bridge - term" between these two historical - conceptual traditions/institutions, grown for years independently from each other and still often thought now a day in a dichotomical way within the malestream western theoretical view, derives.

In the next paragraphs I will summarise some central parts of my Thesis. It will emerge very clearly quite a difficult aspect of that work, that is a sharp classifications of different feminist positions in a way that maybe feminist theoreticians would never agree.

That happened for two reasons: first, the academic inclination in Italian University for a historical demonstrative way of argumenting a thesis, most of all on feminism. That meant for me to answer to Italian malestream requests of definitions, categories and rigorous historical reconstruction. Second, it is the issue itself that imposed to me rigorous definitions and classifications. Analytic feminists such as Ann E. Cudd, Louise M. Antony, Sara Worley, Margaret Atherton define them selves as analytic feminists in order to affirm an intellectual necessity and a political opportunity to use rigorous and logical tools in knowledge and science theories.

At that moment I believed, and partly I still believe, that the risk of simplifying and reducing to categories and classes had to be challenged because it was not superior to my crucial need to find communal or only akin praxis, places, identities within feminist critical pluralism.

Now I consider this risk in feminist epistemology to be an analogous risk I’ve just started to face in feminist political approaches in theory and praxis. Working now within a feminist Italian association, leaving for the moment quite a part theories and academic debates, I face, at least in the Italian situation I’m experiencing, that feminist politics need to think about strong legal, massive and connecting strategies to move within our contemporary globalised world dimension, where a feminist politics issues/topics oriented is beginning to seam to me a more effective strategy then a feminist politics subjectivities/subjects oriented. In order to give visibility and power to women’s actions and thoughts, maybe it’s time that personal is political aphorism leaves space to new ones, which could label legally recognised conventions, visible and power connections networks between different women and associations .

2. Science, Epistemology and Feminism within the Anglo-American Contest. Re-reading Past.

Just in the years when epistemology, that is the theory of knowledge, for a long time central object of study in western philosophical history, has been radically challenged as a legitimate theoretical category between the Sixties and the Seventies, most of all in the European contests trough the critical work carried by Post-Structuralist French Thought and Feminist Though of Sexual Difference, Anglo-American Feminist Thought seams to resist to renounce to this speculation field in philosophy. On the contrary, between the Eighties and the Nineties, it focalises its theoretical reflection on epistemology, and more specifically on scientific epistemology and science, in order to understand its own position in the world primarily in political terms.

As it’s known, within the Anglo-American contest more then in any other national contest, the discussion about women and science, and more specifically about gender, science and knowledge, has been particularly radicalised since mid-Seventies, because since the beginning it inserted in a specific historical-intellectual frame which has been expression of the necessity to reconsider the relationship with the positivist traditions in science, confronting them with their non-neutrality and developing a peculiar issue about "internal history" and "external history" question.

Gradually, during the Seventies, the process of decentralisation and deconstruction of the Subject of knowledge derived from classic Ratio, has started to include also critics to scientific epistemology, in particular that positivist tradition that ascribes to scientific truths absolute neutrality and objectivity.

It’s well known that critical works carried by Thomas S. Kuhn, together with Paul Fayerabend and Russel Hanson, have had the main value to demonstrate that the evaluation, selection and choice process of a scientific paradigm by scientists’ communities that can drive to a "scientific revolution" and to a new world vision as well, is not determined by a simple and rigorous logic, internal to science, neither by empirical prove or by theoretical necessity, but it is oriented by external factors.

In the States, more then anywhere else, the social image of science, and its own presupposed neutrality and objective truth, has been particularly challenged: its participation in extra-scientific military, political and economical interests has been denounced most of all in the Vietnam’s war issue.

In this contest, the Women Movement, that in the American case had a peculiar anti militarist and ecologist connotation, has had a decisive importance and it has been the back ground of that intellectual and academic debate in which feminist theory proceeds and, at the same time, grows away from historical, sociological, philosophical malestream critics to science.

Stimulated by these critical developments, Anglo American feminist militants and thinkers have soon extended their critics to the structure of male western thought to every field of knowledge, and also to the so called "hard sciences" and epistemological malestream paradigms, starting from that aphorism which affirms the personal as political in all areas of human existence.

Gradually, from a study that has focalised on the concrete presence of women in the techno-scientific field, that postulated the Women Question in Science, following a progressive orientation from things to words, Carolyne Merchant, Ruth Bleier, Ruth Hubbard, Evelyn Fox Keller, Sandra Harding, Donna Haraway, Alison Jaggar, Lorraine Code, Jenevieve Lloyd, Susan Bordo, Kathryn Pyne Addelson, just to mention to some main referents in the intellectual feminist field, have passed to orient their critical attention to the structures of Knowledge itself, to the epistemological models that support western modern scientific thought, establishing the radical Science Question in Feminism.

So, during the Eighties, questions based on quantitative inquiries about female difficulty in doing science and about the rare presence of women in scientific disciplines, begun to leave space to a more complex systematic interrogation. This interrogation invests science itself as a symbolic structure, as a social system and, at the same time, as a rational instance on the Subject, the World and the Society. It constitutes a challenge to the dominant paradigm of knowledge, generally defined as malestream epistemology, that is identified with early modern empiricist epistemology, with Vienna Circle’s Logical Positivism during the first years of the XX century and, at last, with post-positivist theories formulated by Hempel and Negel who belongs to the analytic Anglo American tradition.

In order to conclude this brief general frame, we can observe that during the Eighties the Science Question in Feminism describes a complex successor science feminist project about knowledge and science articulated in two levels: the first level is critical or deconstructive and the second one is propositive and reconstructive.

Stimulated by some intuitions offered by Alessandra Tanesini in her Introduction to Feminist Epistemologies(2), and according to my interest in the analytic/continental malestream discussion, in my Thesis I liked to read this double level successor science project on knowledge and science as general move towards a double direction that I can summarise here in the following way.

On one hand, at a critical/deconstructive level, I observe feminist critics differently growing away from the historical-conceptual malestream analytic tradition, which is the dominant tradition in the English speaking countries. This has meant a systematic challenge to the traditional epistemological subject, that is identified with the epistemological subject of the modern rationalist tradition, where Descartes is generally considered the key-figure, and with the subject of the empiricist epistemological tradition, from Locke to Logical Positivism in our century.

Sharing the same assumption that cultural, political and personal values strongly influence theories on knowledge and science, theoreticians as for instance Merchant, Bordo, Keller, Hubbard, Bleier, Lloyd, Harding, Haraway, Code, Jaggar, Rose, Smith, Addelson connect together philosophical-scientific issues internal to epistemology with sociological, psychoanalytical or cultural issues, usually external to scientific discourse, so that they deconstruct the dichotomy, peculiar to traditional epistemology, between internal history and external history.

The attempt of destabilising binary categories which originated in positivist/empiricist streams, that appear again in the contemporary analytical contest (Logical and Post-Logical Positivism, as defined by Lynn Hankinson Nelson, or Pre-kuhnian and Post-kuhnian Epistemologies, as defined by Sandra Harding) in polarisations, among others, such as "contest of discovery - contest of justification", "science - values", "sythetical truths - analytical truths", "pure science - applied science" etc., which reinforce the internalist myth of science in their founding objectivity in the absence of bias or partialities, has meant a general critical action against analytic epistemology, presupposed as a unitary and monolithic tradition.

On the other hand, at a propositive/reconstructive level, in a range of perspectives which go from History to Sociology of Science and Knowledge, from Feminist "Standpoint" to Post-Structuralist, De-Constructivist, Social-Constructivist, "Difference" and clearly Post-Modernist point of views, I observe feminist theoreticians variously approaching the historical-philosophical malestream continental tradition, which is considered more friendly to a feminist epistemological perspective then the malestream analytic tradition.

This synthetical frame doesn’t really have the value, but neither the ambition, to try to include or reduce to some labels the various pluralism of the critical and propositive feminist voices, as it has started to spread around since the early Eighties with the Science Question in Feminism within the Anglo American contest.

On the other hand, as I’ve said already with other words in the Introduction, I trust in the importance of a general look, of a "analytical syntheses" because I attribute fundamental value to the articulation of a reflection on fields of knowledge, methods and goals of theoretical disciplines in contemporary age, in order to affirm a political praxis to make visible feminist actions as well feminist thoughts.

The term epistemology doesn’t define only the reflection about the relationship between science and philosophy, but it can also be referred to the "discourse on knowledge" concerning theoretical fields and disciplines.

Thus, although the resistance to definitions and stable categories is an intrinsic aspect of feminist thought concerning any field of knowledge, I believe it’s possible and opportune to try to read and re-read feminist epistemological research and try to individuate communal aspects, questions, orientations, at least the ones relative to western contests.

From this premise, in my Thesis, according to some indications offered by Tanesini, I proposed to interpret the general orientation of feminist epistemological research in the last twenty years as a range of naturalising proposals on Epistemology and Philosophy of Science in a sociological sense (e.g. Harding, Rose, Smith, Addelson, Potter), in a psychoanalytical sense (e. g. Keller and Bordo), and/or in a more globally cultural sense (e.g. Haraway).

This way of characterising and describing feminist epistemological approaches to knowledge and science became meaningful when I’ve begun to consider some important developments of feminist epistemological issues around mid-Nineties, since a new conceptual and ideological challenge has been pursued, a challenge whose name is analytic feminism.

3. Analytic Feminism, Feminist Naturalised Epistemologies and New Feminist Empiricist Perspectives in the Nineties.

In summer 1995, the American philosophical magazine Hypatia published a special issue in order to explain what is analytic feminism in the Anglo American malestream analytical contest and in the range of feminist philosophical positions(3). In the articles, the major part of authors point out that analytic feminism is generally not so known and even not so welcomed both by academic feminist agenda and analytical philosophers.

The authors share the same intention of characterising analytic feminism as a legitimate philosophical and epistemological research area, that is defined by the intersection between feminist thought and analytic philosophy.

In the introduction, for instance, Ann E. Cudd maintains that analytic feminism is a sub-field of feminist theory and, at the same time, of analytic philosophy and that it deserves authority in being acknowledged by theoretical feminist thought and analytical philosophers as well.

It’s possible to individuate other previous attempts to affirm a feminist position both within feminist philosophy and analytical philosophy: in 1991 Virginia Klenk begun an inquiry in order to verify and clarify which kind of relationship there is between analytic philosophy and feminism. She wanted to identify which feminist philosophers were interested in this area of study, not necessarily defining them selves as analytic philosophers. The almost immediate consequence of this inquiry was the creation of the "Society for Analytical Feminism" in the States, that now a day is meeting at the "American Philosophical Association" (APA), where it organises discussion’s forums and publishes the APA Newsletters about feminist philosophy and its relationship, critical or friendly, with the analytical philosophical contest.

During the same years, Luise M. Antony and Charlotte Witt collected articles of different disciplinary areas in an anthology, A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Obectivity(4). These articles are different from each other but they share a various interest in some analytical feminism’s key issues.

Finally, we can mention that in 1994 analytical theoretician Susan Haack is the editor of a special issue in The Monist where authors focalise on the "real" possibility for feminist epistemology to be supported and, more specifically, on some central questions that come from elaborating of a feminist theory from a analytical point of view.

In my Thesis I described in details the positions of those theoreticians, such as Luoise M. Antony, Ann E. Cudd, Ann Garry, Sara Worley, Margaret Atherton, Helen Longino, Lynn Hankinson Nelson, who define them selves as analytic feminists. I can summarise here saying that analytic feminism is feminist because it recognises the historical necessity, the political and intellectual opportunity to reconsider concepts, problems and methods of analytic philosophy seeking to positively evaluate and defend notions such as truth, logical consistence, rationality, justice, good, human nature, despite the fact that they have been misused, dominated and perverted by androcentrism.

On the other hand, the relationship between analytic feminism and analytic philosophy is not a stable and linear one for two reasons. The first reason is quite a general argument that emerges in any case we want to inquiry on the relationship between a feminist theory or thought and a malestream theory or thought. What historian Jenevieve Fraisse has called the theoretical foundations’ question(5) I consider to be quite an useful tool to understand that this relationship is always problematic and not reductive, because it supposes always a re-elaboration of concepts, methods and categories starting from a different Subject of Language, that is the feminist-female one. At a very deep level, it would not be possible to talk about streams of thought and comprehensive labels relatively to feminist theory and thought. It would be more appropriate to think about them as a plural set of different voices with a shared departure point, that is the diversity of feminism intrinsically to its own intellectual and political instance.

But once recognised this "intrinsic diversity", I think that it is possible and politically effective to name those different voices, articulate them together in order to start to create a feminist genealogy of feminist voices and to give them visibility.

The second reason I believe is a specific feature of the relationship between analytic feminism and analytic philosophy, where the kind of link between each other is particularly complex because a deep lack of theoretical unity characterises analytic philosophy itself.

One of the main objections Ann E. Cudd, Ann Garry, Louise M. Antony, among others feminists in Hypatia, carry against the way the major part of feminist critics relate with their analytical background tradition, consist in this very central point: that the great part of feminist critics on science and epistemology, most of all during the Eighties, are explicitly (e. g. Jaggar, Code) or implicitly (e.g. Harding, Addelson) critics against analytical philosophy and epistemology considered as a whole monolithic tradition. On the contrary, this tradition is very difficult to recognise and define as a unity.

Garry, for instance, maintains that now a day analytical philosophy could be called "post-analytical" philosophy and that, for this reason, its feminist critics show a kind of unfounded paradox because they are oriented against a "dead method".

I think the very intention of Garry is to demonstrate that contemporary analytical frame is not homogeneous and it cannot constitute a whole target, most of all when we recognise some break’s point along this stream of malestream thought.

Analytic philosophy is first of all a historical topic then a methodological or disciplinary area. It’s the philosophy that has been dominant in English speaking countries during the most part of XX century, after the ideas of the Vienna and Berlin Circle were spreading over ocean, pushed by nazi persecutions during the Thirties and Forties.

Among many philosophers to be mentioned, we can quote Fredge, Russel, Wittgenstiein, Moore and we can also include logical positivists, ordinary language philosophers, post-positivists etc.

Among the most important tradition’s breaks, Quine’s Naturalised Epistemology and Philosophy of Science are generally evaluated as a fundamental turn in the way they break off with basic assumptions modern Empiricism, of Positivism, Logical Positivism.

Analytic feminists, and in particular Antony and Nelson, defend the intellectual possibility and also the political opportunity of a critical alliance between feminist thought and Quine’s Naturalised Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, which is thought to be a useful departure ‘s point not only to demonstrate that analytic philosophy is not a unique target, but most of all that it can give empirically founded consistence, thus a normative foundation, to a feminist perspective on science and knowledge, so that it can be both a feminist and an analytical answer to strong feminist objections to feminist empiricism, as they have been carried during the Eighties by Harding, Haraway, among other feminists theoreticians.

Not only Nelson and Antony’s naturalised empiricism, but also Longino’s contestual empiricism constitute new feminist empiricist approaches to science and knowledge, as later in the Nineties also Harding recognises. As I pointed above, these new approaches share the same conviction that philosophical feminist empiricism, when contestualised or naturalised, can guarantee normative consistence to a feminist knowledge and science’s theory, without having to confront with epistemological norms on scientific objectivity as they have been established by the orthodox empiricist paradigm and spread around now a day at a popular or common sense’s level.

The empiricist nucleus that these feminist perspectives share consists in the assertion that all evidence for any knowledge theory is essentially or solely an empirical evidence.

They all assume as a starting point Quine’s thesis against the Two Empiricist Dogmas and his argumentation about Undetermination of Scientific Theories and about the relationship between Observations and Theories.

In my Thesis I maintained that this substantial adherence to Empiricism in science, knowledge and their epistemological paradigms represents an important difference between Antony, Nelson and Longino and those feminists, as for instance Harding, Rose, Code, Jaggar, Keller, Bordo, Haraway among others, who, while getting away from analytic tradition and philosophical empiricist approaches to science and knowledge, most of all during the Eighties, are oriented towards a sociological, psychoanalytical and/or cultural approach to science and knowledge. In other words, as I’ve said elsewhere in this paper, these last ones seam to be more open to that so called continental tradition, where I included a range of point of views from History to Sociology of Science and Knowledge, from Feminist "Standpoint" to Post-Structuralist, De-Constructivist, Social-Constructivist, "Difference" and clearly Post-Modernist point of views.

From an analytic point of view, it would be possible to say, as I’ve already affirmed, that feminist epistemological approaches continental oriented, agree on naturalising Epistemology and Philosophy of Science in a sociological way, in a psychoanalytical way and/or a more globally cultural way.

I consider this way of describing feminist approaches first a useful tool in order to comprehend various feminist perspectives and articulate them in the same conceptual frame and second a good departure’s point to relate feminist epistemology with analytic/continental debate.

4. Towards the Naturalism Question in feminist epistemologies.

On one hand, analytic feminism and, in particular, new feminist philosophical empiricist perspectives share a common trust in truth empirically pursued, defendable and most of all verifiable, together with the same ambition to confer normative consistence to a feminist theory.

On the other hand, continental oriented feminist epistemological point of views appear to focalise on sociological, symbolic, cultural reasons in order to assert science as a system of Language relative to a (partial) Subject of knowledge, within a social/cultural contest of which science and knowledge are them selves a sign.

These two ways of viewing science and knowledge may be thought as binary or dichotomous most of all when they’re related to the larger malestream debate that organises as binary analytic and continental terms.

This dichotomical reading, that I consider a risk to avoid, appears to be quite consistent when we observe how different meanings analytic feminism and new feminist empiricism on one hand, and continental oriented feminism, on the other hand, attribute to the same notion of naturalism. In my Thesis I gave particular attention to this range of meanings of what I consider to be a very key notion, that is naturalism, in malestream analytical view on science and knowledge, and consequently in malestream debate about analytic/continental philosophy.

It’s well known that notions such as naturalism and naturalisation are theoretically very consistent within contemporary malestream philosophical contest, most of all within the Anglo American contest. I’ve already pointed out that the original and most important impact on contemporary naturalism, that now a day is a common feature of many ontological and epistemological malestream positions, is Quine’s argumentation on Naturalised Epistemology and Philosophy of Science.

Analytic feminism and feminist naturalised epistemologies share with contemporary malestream naturalist theories some important features that mainly consist in a shift of epistemological ideals and goals from an idealised abstraction to a progressive focalisation on epistemological praxis of every day life, giving priority to the real - natural world.

I believe that this way of meaning naturalism can be viewed as a common feature in all feminist epistemological perspectives, because it breaks off with traditional malestream epistemological reasons (e.g. formal and a-priory reasons of knowledge in modern rationalist and empiricist models) while seeking for concrete, real knowing-how in daily and sexuated life.

On the other hand, analytic feminists, new feminist empiricists and malestream naturalist theoreticians emphatise also on a different connotation of naturalism and natural, that is naturalism and natural as "natural causes" and empirical reasons. They assume that there is "natural" continuity between science, knowledge, their epistemological paradigms and their inquiry’s subject (nature and real world). This continuity finds its unity in primary natural causes that are supposed to be comprehended within a empirical verifiability’s frame. This second connotation of naturalism, that implies to draw a sharp separation line between "what is natural" and "what is not natural", cannot, of course, find consensus within the larger part of feminist critics, who orients (or naturalises) epistemology and philosophy of science towards sociological, psychoanalytical, and/or more globally cultural perspectives in order to avoid any sharp separation between "what is natural" and "what is not natural", "internal factors", "external factors" and most of all between "nature and culture".

5. How to re-think the analytic/continental dichotomy? Some few questions.

Is there a way to articulate together analytic feminism, philosophical naturalised empiricism and continental oriented feminism without putting them as a binary discourse on science, knowledge and their epistemological paradigms, in order to challenge the way malestream debate organises analytic/continental terms?

Is there a way to avoid any risk of a dichotomical reading of the feminist debate on naturalism and naturalisation, as it appear to be in my last paragraph?

These main questions cannot receive here a definitive answer, that I hope to be able to elaborate in future.

I believe the Naturalism Question in feminist epistemologies may be a good starting point to organise this discussion, in order not only to avoid dichotomical interpretations in feminist theories, but also to maintain, or only open, a critical connection (or dis-connection) with malestream contemporary views, before any feminist perspective is cancelled without having expressed its own plural critical voice.

I think the Naturalism Question can be a perspective lens trough which it’s possible to develop a systematic reflection on the ways to challenge analytic/continental dichotomy, that I consider to be a "umbrella term" which includes other related disciplines, fields, thinkers and instances traditionally put as binary in the following way: science – humanities; Post-positivism – Post-structuralism; New Empiricism – Post-modernism; cognitive values – non-cognitive values; Epistemology and Philosophy of Science – Sociology and History of Science; Quine – Foucault.

As I’ve already pointed out, I believe it’s necessary to empower that central capacity of feminist epistemological discourse that consists in being a "bridge term" between analytical/continental institutions/traditions, because of its indomitable and intrinsic diversity of which it is a sign.

In this relational contest, notions such as naturalism, naturalisation and natural, that in malestream analytic field mean "natural – physical causes", can be re-though and re-formulated in a way that can avoid not only the analytic/continental dichotomy ("umbrella term"), but also nature/culture binary, connecting together different feminist connotations of these very key-concepts as, for instance, Haraway’s sense of "natur-cultural" praxis, Code’s "naturalism" as "natural human history" and finally these last feminist analytical attempts to empirically found objectivity, truth and nature.

A positive consequence of this interpretation is the possibility to not fall back in the risk of a dichotomical reading of that historical alternation between equality’s feminism and difference’s feminism. I consider this polarisation to be one of the main ontological implications that derive from a comparison between analytic feminism and continental oriented feminism.

I share with analytic feminists and new naturalised empiricists the same ambition towards an empirically verifiable, real and natural truth. On an ontological level, this ambition reflects a desire for universal equality, as a prior reason against situated differences’ fragmentation relatively to the multitude of subjects and scientific knowledge’s.

On the other hand, I believe this ambition has always to recognise that women’s call for equality, since its origin till the "second wave", can easily bring to that historical homogenisation of differences of subjects and knowledge, that has been the first reason of women’s and minorities’ historical subordination to western dominant groups.

Focalising on a human subject as individual, putting accent on one human nature and natural causes of its knowledge can eclipse human subjects’ differences and knowledges’, including them in a unique human kind and one human knowledge.

This is the major risk coming from the fact that science, scientific research and scientific theorisation are human praxis contestualised in power’s social hierarchies.

I believe that epistemological feminist discourse cannot elude different levels of analysis: inquiring about socio-cultural contests in which western science and epistemology are situated, and of which they are signs, is as important as searching for a universally and empirically supportable truth and objectivity.

The constriction to chose among different levels, put as binary, creates false forms of theoretical polarisation to which international contemporary feminist discourse opposes.

Not only equality/difference term is a false dichotomy, but also analytic/continental is a false polarisation.

The feminist ability to construct bridge-links between these two traditions has to be valorised starting from what I consider one of the main enunciation formulated in feminist theory: there is never a direct or reductive relationship between feminist thought and malestream thought.

Starting from this fundamental difference, the complex set of epistemological feminist approaches is one of the most radical critical point of view on the world and can contribute to a tangible and not utopic democratic pluralism in knowledge.

Bibliographical Note.

All bibliographical references, that for space’s reasons I couldn’t report in this paper, are included in my thesis, Il Soggetto e la conoscenza. Epistemologia, filosofia analitica e femminismo, hand in Bologna’s University and Women Documentation Centre’s Library.



2 - Alessandra Tanesini, An Introduction to Feminist Epistemologies, Oxford, Blackwell, 1999
top
3 - Hypatia, special issue "Analytic Feminism", 10, 3, 1995
top
4 - L. M. Antony & C. Witt ed., A Mind of One's Own. Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, Boudler, Westview, 1993
top
5 - G. Fraisse, "Droit naturel et question de l'origine dans le pensee feministe au XIX siecle", in AAVV Strategies des femmes, Livre collectif, Paris, Tierce, 1984
top


Presented at the 4th European Feminist Research Conference - Bologna (IT) 2000
workshops 4 - The search for new paradigms and epistemological models: Gender and Science