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Knowers, Knowing, Known: Feminist Theory and Claims of Truth Author(s): Mary E. Hawkesworth Source: Signs, Vol.

14, No. 3 (Spring, 1989), pp. 533-557 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174401 . Accessed: 21/05/2013 16:17
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KNOWERS, KNOWING, KNOWN: FEMINIST THEORY AND CLAIMSOF TRUTH


MARY E. HAWKESWORTH

Despite a growingphilosophicalmovement preoccuaway from in general,and foundationalism in parpationswithepistemology feminist theorists continue to explore theories ofknowledge.' ticular, tendencieswithinthe dominant Recurrent disciplinesto marginalize feminist as a subjectofinterest to "womenonly" scholarship
I would like to thank Philip Alperson, Frank Cunningham, JudithGrant, and three anonymous reviewers fortheirhelpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. 1 For general argumentsagainst an excessive philosophical preoccupation with epistemology,see Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1981); John Gunnell, Between Philosophy and Politics (Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 1986); Mark Krupnick, ed., Displacement (Bloomington: Universityof Indiana Press, 1983); Paul Kress, "Against Epistemology,"Journal of Politics 41, no. 2 (May 1979): 526-42. For specific argumentsagainst foundationalism, see Richard Rorty,Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UniversityPress, 1979); Richard Bernstein,Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (Philadelphia: Universityof Pennsylvania Press, 1983); Don Herzog, Without Foundations: Justificationin Political Theory (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985). It is worthnotingthe ironythateven those most intenton repudiating epistemologyon the groundsthattraditional epistemologicalconcerns involve claims altogetherbeyond the possibilities forhuman knowledge are themselves advancing epistemological claims.
[Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1989, vol. 14, no. 3] ? 1989 by The Universityof Chicago. All rightsreserved. 0097-9740/89/1403-0022$01.00

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foundation thatcan rescue inspirea quest foran epistemological feminist claimsfrom trivialization their truth and by demonstrating in the The discoveryof a pervasiveandrocentrism importance.2 definition of intellectual problemsas well as in specifictheories, of researchfuelsefforts and interpretations to methods, concepts, The recognition between knowledgeand prejudice.3 distinguish thatepistemological have politicalimplications stimassumptions ulatesefforts toattain theoretical self-consciousness the concerning intellectualpresuppositions of feminist analysis.4Dissatisfaction withpaternalistic of politicspremisedon malestream conceptions "women'snature"sustainsfeminist challengesto epistemological men'sclaimsto "know"women'snature orwhatconstitutes "women's best interests."5 Objectionsraisedby ThirdWorldwomenand womenofcolortothepolitical ofwhite, Western feminists priorities about the abilityof any particular generateprofound skepticism of all women.6 groupof womento "know" whatis in the interest
Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka,eds., Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983); Dale Spender, ed., Men's Studies Modified: The Impact of Feminism on the Academic Disciplines (Oxford: Pergamon, 1981). 3 In addition to the works of Harding and Hintikka,eds., and Spender, ed. (Men's Studies Modified) mentioned above, see also Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell UniversityPress, 1986); Carol Pateman and Elizabeth Gross, eds., FeministChallenges (Boston: Northeastern Press, 1986); University Marion Lowe and Ruth Hubbard, eds., Women's Nature: Rationalizations of Inequality (New York: Pergamon, 1983); Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflectionson Gender and Science (New Haven, Conn.: Yale UniversityPress, 1984); and Jean Grimshaw, Philosophy and Feminist Thinking (Minneapolis: Universityof Minnesota Press, 1986). 4 Nancy Hartsock, "The Feminist Standpoint: Developing a Ground fora SpecificallyFeminist Historical Materialism," in Harding and Hintikka,eds., 283-310, and Money, Sex and Power: Towards a Feminist Historical Materialism (Boston: NortheasternUniversityPress, 1985); Alison Jaggar,Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1983); and Rita Mae Kelly, Bernard Ronan, and Margaret Cawley, "Liberal Positivistic Epistemology and Research on Women and Politics," Women and Politics 7, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 11-27. 5 Such challenges of men's claims to "know" women's nature have been a staple offeminist criticismsince its inception. For examples ofearlycritiques,see Christine de Pisan's fifteenth-century treatise,The Book of the City of the Ladies, trans.Earl Richards (New York: Persea, 1982); Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Jeffrey Rights of Women,ed. Charles Hagelman (New York: Norton,1967); and JohnStuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970). For more recent criticisms,see Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology:The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon, 1978); Dale Spender, ed., Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1983). 6 Angela Davis, Women,Race and Class (New York:Random House, 1981); Gloria Joseph and Jill Lewis, Common Differences: Conflictsin Black and White Feminist Perspectives (New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1981); Paula Giddens, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Bantam, 1984).
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The identification of conflicts experiencedby manywomen beand "femininity" tweenthecontradictory demandsof"rationality" a searchfor theoretical connections betweengenderand stimulate ways ofknowing.7 specific in theoThe variousissues thathave inspiredfeminist interest ries of knowledgehave also produceddivergent conarguments the of a "feminist Three models cerning premises epistemology." fora feminist of knowledgesurfacewithgreatregularity: theory feminist feminist theories,and feminist empiricism, standpoint
postmodernism.8

Feminist realism empiricism acceptsthetenetsofphilosophical ofthe human (whichpositthe existenceofthe worldindependent and empiricist abouttheprimacy ofthesenses knower) assumptions as thesourceofall knowledge abouttheworld.Feminist empiricists maintain thatsexismand androcentrism are identifiable biases of individualknowersthatcan be eliminatedby stricter application of existingmethodological normsof scientific and philosophical Fromthisview,the appropriate methodforapprehending inquiry. the truth about the worldinvolvesa process of systematic observationin which the subjectivity of the observeris controlled by adherence toneutral rigid procedures designedtoproduceidentical measurements ofthe real properties ofobjects.The eradication of is bias is a with,indeed, misogynist compatible necessary preconditionfor, theachievement for itpromotes ofobjectiveknowledge, the acquisitionof an unmediatedtruth about the world; it frees substantive about from the distorting lenses of knowledge reality
particularobservers.9
7 Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: Male and Female in WesternPhilosophy (London: Methuen, 1984); Carol McMillan, Women, Reason and Nature (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982); Helen Weinrich-Haste,"Redefining Rationality:Feminism and Science" (guest lecture presented at the Ontario Institute forStudies in Education, Toronto,Ontario, October 9, 1986). 8 This characterizationof the alternatives is developed most clearly by Sandra Harding in The Science Question in Feminism (n. 3 above). For alternative characterizations of the options available to feminism,see Jaggar;Eloise Buker, "Hermeneutics: Problems and Promises for Doing Feminist Theory" (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New Orleans, August 30, 1985); and Susan Hekman, "The Feminization of Epistemology: Gender and the Social Sciences," Women and Politics 7, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 65-83. 9 For examples of feministempiricistarguments,see Janet Richards, The Skeptical Feminist (London: Penguin, 1982); S. C. Bourque and J. Grossholtz, "Politics an Unnatural Practice: Political Science Looks at Female Participation," Politics and Society 4, no. 2 (Winter 1974): 225-66; M. Goot and E. Reid, "Women and Voting Studies: Mindless Matrons or Sexist Scientism," Sage Professional Papers in Comparative Political Sociology (Newbury Park,Calif.: Sage, 1975); JillMcCalla Vickers, "Memoirs of an Ontological Exile: The Methodological Rebellions of Feminist Research," in Feminism in Canada, ed. Geraldine Finn and Angela Miles (Montreal: Black Rose, 1982).

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Drawing on historicalmaterialism'sinsightthatsocial being determinesconsciousness, feministstandpointtheories reject the notion of an "unmediated truth,"arguing that knowledge is always mediated by a host of factorsrelated to an individual's particular at a specificpoint position in a determinatesociopolitical formation in history.Class, race, and gender necessarily structurethe individual's understanding of realityand hence informall knowledge claims. Although they repudiate the possibility of an unmediated truth,feministstandpoint epistemologies do not reject the notion of truthaltogether.On the contrary, they argue that while certain social positions (the oppressor's)produce distorted ideological views of reality,other social positions (the oppressed's) can pierce ideological obfuscations and attain a correct and comprehensive understanding of the world. Thus, feministanalysis grounded on the women's oppression conprivileged perspective thatemerges from stitutesthe core of a "successor science" thatcan replace the truncated projects of masculinist science with a more systematicand sophisticated conception of social and political life.?1 Taking the perspectivism intimated by standpoint epistemologies to its logical conclusion, "feministpostmodernism"rejects the very possibility of a truthabout reality.Feminist postmodernists use the "situatedness" of each finiteobserver in a particularsociopolitical, historical context to challenge the plausibility of claims that any perspective on the world could escape partiality. Extrapolating fromthe disparate conditions that shape individual identities, they raise grave suspicions about the very notion of a putative unitaryconsciousness ofthe species. In addition, the argumentthat knowledge is the result of invention,the imposition of formon the world rather than the result of discovery, undermines any belief that the Order of Being could be known even if it exists. As an alternative to the futile quest foran authoritativetruthto ground feministtheory, feministpostmodernistsadvocate a profoundskepticism regardinguniversal (or universalizing) claims about the existence, nature,and powers of reason.1lRatherthan succumb to the authoritarianimpulses of the will to truth,they urge instead the
10For examples of feministstandpoint arguments,see Hartsock, "The Feminist Standpoint," and Money, Sex and Power; Jaggar; Mary O'Brien, The Politics of Reproduction (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981); Hilary Rose, "Hand, Brain and Heart: A Feminist Epistemology for the Natural Sciences," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 9, no. 1 (Autumn 1983): 73-90; Dorothy Smith, "Women's Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology," Sociological Inquiry 44, no. 1 (1974): 7-13. " Jane Flax, "Gender as a Social Problem: In and For Feminist Theory,"American Studies/AmerikaStudien 31, no. 2 (1986): 193-213.
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to pluralityand the play of development of a commitment Even so brief a summary ofthealternative curepistemologies allegiance indicatesthatno single conrently vyingforfeminist tendercan addressall of the concernsthathave fueledfeminists' offeminist turn The elements and femtoepistemology. empiricism thatsustainfeminist claims coninist standpoint epistemologies a privileged on theworldare at odds withthe cerning perspective of women of color within insightgeneratedby the long struggle thefeminist that thereis no uniform "women'sreality" movement, to be known,no coherentperspectiveto be privileged.Yet the feminist tolerance ofmultiple postmodernists' plea for perspectives is altogether at odds withfeminists' desireto develop a successor science thatcan refute once and forall the distortions of androis the pull of these competing centrism. So intractable demands ithas led one ofthemost feminist that astute scholars torecommend thatfeminists simplyrecognizeand embracethe tensionscreated As SandraHardingputsit: "Feminist by thesealternative insights. in history. shouldbe unstableat thismoment analytical categories We need to learnhow to see our goal for the present moment as a kind of illuminating between and over the beats of the 'riffing' theoriesand our own transformations variouspatriarchal of them, thanas a revision oftherhythms ofanyparticular rather one (Marx...) ism,psychoanalysis, hermeneutics, empiricism, postmodemism whatwe think at the moment we wantto say.The problem is to fit thatwe do notknowand we should notknowjust whatwe want to say about a numberof conceptualchoices withwhich we are presented-exceptthatthe choices themselvescreate no-windilemmas forour feminisms."13
12 difference.

12 For additional examples of feministpostmodernism,see Jane Flax, "Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory,"Signs 12, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 621-43; Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto forCyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," Socialist Review 80 (March/April1985): 65-107; Claudine Hermann, "The Virile System," in New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Schocken, 1981); Hekman, "The Feminization of Epistemology,"and Susan Hekman, "Derrida, Feminism and Epistemology" (paper presented at the Annual Meeting ofthe American Political Science Association, Washington,D.C., September 2, 1988); Luce Irigaray,Speculum of the Other Woman, trans.Gillian Gill (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell UniversityPress, 1985), and This Sex Which Is Not One, trans.Catherine Porter(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985). 13 Harding (n. 3 above), 244; see also 194-96. This ambivalence is also apparent in Jane Flax's article, "Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory," which categorizes feministtheory as a "a type of postmodern philosophy" (624) while simultaneously illuminating some of the deficiencies of postmodernism for

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Has feminismarrived at such an impasse thatits best hope with respect to epistemological issues is to embrace incompatible positions and embed a contradictionat the heartofits theoryofknowledge? There is an alternativeapproach to epistemological questions that can avoid this unhappy resolution. The purpose of this paper in feminist is to explore certaintroublesome shifts argumentsabout knowledge that lead to the no-win dilemmas outlined by Harding. By changing the focus of feministepistemological investigations from questions about knowersto claims about the known,feminism can both preserve importantinsights of postmodernismand serve as a correctiveto a varietyof inadequate conceptions of the world. By adopting a conception ofcognitionas a human practice,a critical feministepistemology can identify, explain, and refutepersistent androcentricbias withinthe dominantdiscourses withoutprivileging a putative "woman's" perspective and without appealing to problematic conceptions of "the given."

Knowers Both in academic institutionsand in interpersonal interactions, feministsoften become acquainted with the claims of established knowledge fromthe underside. The classic texts of Western history, religion,and science, riddled with misphilosophy,literature, When about women, are handed down as sacred truths. information individual women attemptto challenge the adequacy of such misogynist accounts, they are frequentlyinformedthat their innate inabilities preclude their comprehension of these classic insights. Hence it is not surprisingthat brilliantfeministshave agreed that reason has served as a weapon forthe oppression of women, that it has functioned as "a kind of gang rape of women's minds,"14 that "in masculine hands, logic is often a formof violence, a sly kind of tyranny."'5 In response to such widespread abusive intellectual practices, feministanalysis oftenshiftsvery subtlyfroma recognitionof misabout women to a suspicion concerning the dissemiinformation

feminists committedto human emancipation. Thus Flax concludes that"the relation of feministtheorizing to the postmodern project of deconstruction is necessarily ambivalent" (625). 14 Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon, 1973), 9. 15 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans.and ed. H. M. Parshley (New York: Bantam, 1960), 201.

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about women. The fact that the Western nation of disinformation intellectual traditionhas been conceived and produced by men is taken as evidence that this traditionexists to serve the misogynist is taken as interests of men. The existence of the misinformation evidence of "sexual ideology, a set of false beliefs deployed against women by a conscious, well-organized male conspiracy."16 The slide to disinformation has a number of dire confrommisinformation sequences forfeministapproaches to epistemology.In focusingattention on the source of knowledge, thatis, on men, ratherthan on the validityof specific claims advanced by men, the termsofdebate are shiftedtowardpsychologicaland functionalist analyses and away fromissues of justification.This in turn allows a number of contested epistemological assumptions about the natureof knowledge, the process of knowing, standards of evidence, and criteria of assessment to be incorporatedunreflectively into feminist arguments. In feministtreatments of knowledge one frequentlyencounters the curious claim thatreason is gendered.17 The claim takes a variety of different forms.It is said that rationality, a tough, rigorous,impersonal, competitive, unemotional, objectifyingstance, "is inextricably intertwinedwith issues of men's gender identities" such as obsession with separation and individuation.18 It is said that"distinctively (Western) masculine desires are satisfied by the preoccupation with method, rule and law-governed behavior and It is said thatthe connections between masculinization, activity."19 and objectificationare such thatshould women attempt reification, to enter the male realm of objectivity, they have only one option: to deny their female nature and adopt the male mode of being.20It is said that all dichotomies-objective/subjective, rational/irrational, reason/emotion,culture/nature-are a product of the basic male/
16 Toril Moi traces this subtle shiftin the work of a number of contemporary French feministsand offersan insightfulcritique of this slide (see Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory [New York: Methuen, 1985], 28). 17 For a detailed and illuminating discussion of the argumentsthat sustain this claim, see JudithGrant,"I Feel Therefore I Am: A Critique of Female Experience as a Basis forFeminist Epistemology,"Women and Politics 7, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 99114. 18 Harding, 63. For similar claims, see Susan Bordo, "The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought," Signs 11, no. 3 (Spring 1986): 439-56; Kathy Ferguson, "Male Ordered Politics: Feminism and Political Science" (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New Orleans, August 30, 1985). 19Harding (n. 3 above), 229. See also Isaac Balbus, Marxism and Domination (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UniversityPress, 1982); Keller (n. 3 above). 20 For a sustained consideration of the possibility thatthe "ideals of reason have incorporatedan exclusion ofthe feminine,"see Genevieve Lloyd, The Man ofReason (London: Methuen, 1982), 8.

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female hierarchythatis centralto patriarchalthoughtand society.21 It is said thatreason is morphologicallyand functionally analogous to the male sex organ, linear, hard, penetratingbut impenetrable.22 And it is said that representationalconceptions of knowledge that privilege evidence based on sight/observation/"the gaze" are derived frommen's need to valorize theirown visible genitals against the threatof castrationposed by women's genitalia, which exist as "nothing to be seen."23 Underlying all these claims are speculative psychological notions about a fragile,defensive male ego thatimpels men constantly their to "prove" their masculinity by masteringwomen, to affirm own value by denigrating thatwhich is "other."4Whetherone wishes to defend these psychological claims or to attackthem,it is importantto note thatat issue are certainpsychological theories,particular conceptions of psychosexual development, specific notions about of individual the role of the body and of sexuality in the formation and speculations about the relationshipbetween personal identity, identityand sociability.While all of these questions are important and worthy ofsystematicinvestigation, theyare not epistemological questions per se. The slide from consideration of claims about ofcertainpropositionsabout women knowledge and about the truth contained in classical texts to concerns about the "will to power" embodied in the claims of "male reason" moves feministinquiry to a set of highly complex psychological issues that in principle could be completely irrelevantto the resolution of the initial epistemological questions.
21 Elizabeth Fee, "WhitherFeminist Epistemology?" (paper presented at Beyond the Second Sex Conference, Philadelphia, Universityof Pennsylvania, 1984). Hekman discusses a number of feministworks thatlink dichotomous thinkingto gender hierarchyin "The Feminization of Epistemology" (n. 8 above). 22 Irigaray,Speculum of the Other Woman (n. 12 above), and This Sex Which Is Not One (n. 12 above); H6elne Cixous, "Le rirede la Meduse," LArc 61 (1975): 3954, trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, "The Laugh of the Medusa," Signs 1, no. 4 (Summer 1976): 875-93, and "Le sexe ou la tete,"Les Cahiers du GRIF 13 (1976): 5-15, trans. Annette Kuhn, "Castration or Decapitation?" Signs 7, no. 1 (Autumn 1981): 41-55; and Ferguson. 23 Irigaray,Speculum of the Other Woman, 48. 24 Whetherthese contentiousclaims are drawndirectly the theoriesof Freud from and Chodorow, or by means or indirectlyfromFreud by means of Klein, Winnicott, is attributed ofmale identity the ultimateblame forthe fragility ofLacan and Irigaray, to women qua mothers. Despite their theoretical complexities, the various interpretationsof the "oedipal conflict"manage to insinuate thatit is women-onlychildcare practices that are the cause of psychic needs to oppress women. That a good deal of feministtheorizing should be premised on such "blame the victim" assumptions is itselfvery puzzling.

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often devolveintomodes discussionsofepistemology Feminist Unlikepsychological thatatoffunctionalist arguments argument. claimsin terms ofthepsychicneeds to explainphallocentric tempt functionalist focusattention on the of male knowers, arguments servedby particular beliefs,whether theybe putative"interests" the interests of discreteindividuals, groups,classes, institutions, Thus itis said that "male reason"promotes or systems.25 structures, women'scollusion the interests of men as a sex-classby securing in theirown oppression, each womanfrom a forced transforming slave into a willingone.26It is said thatsexistbeliefs serve the each manreapspsychological, ecointerests ofindividualmen,for in a society and politicaladvantages to nomic, organized according It is said thatsexistideologyservesthe imperatives.27 patriarchal it reproduces interests ofcapitalism, for ofdominance therelations it facilitates and subordination requiredby capitalist production; thereproduction oflaborpoweron a dailyas well as a generational femalelabor forcewillingto workfor basis; it createsa marginal less than subsistencewages; and it createsdivisionswithinthe class on the basis of genderthatthwart the development working class consciousness and revolutionary ofunified action.28 And it is in accordance with said that "malerationality," the"logic functioning of social control. In the inof identity," operatesas a mechanism terestsof unrelenting seeks to have everydomination, "thought to eliminateall uncertainty, thingundercontrol, unpredictability,
to eliminate otherness."29 Authoritarian reason imposes conformity
25For the purposes of developing a logical taxonomy,it mightbe preferable to a formthat emphaidentifypsychological argumentsas one formof functionalism, sizes the psychological needs and interestsserved by particularideas. Because of the frequencywith which psychological claims surfacein feministepistemology,in the foregoinganalysis I have treated psychological claims independently,but they are also vulnerable to the kinds of problems associated with functionalism. 26 Mill (n. 5 above); Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (London: St. Albans, 1971). 27 Sara Ann Ketchum and Christine Pierce, "Separatism and Sexual Relationships" in Philosophy and Women,ed. Sharon Bishop and Marjorie Weinsweig (Belmont,Calif.: WadsworthPress, 1979), 163-71. 28 Wally Seccombe, "The Housewife and Her Labour under Capitalism," New Left Review 83 January-February1973): 3-24; John Berger and Jean Mohr, A Seventh Man (London: Harmondsworth,1975); Victoria Beechey, "Some Notes on Female Wage Labour in the Capitalist Mode of Production," Capital and Class 3 (Fall 1977): 45-64, and "Women and Production," in Feminism and Materialism, ed. Annette Kuhn and Ann Marie Wolpe (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978). 29 Iris Young, "Impartialityand the Civic Public: Some Implications forFeminist Critiques of Moral and Political Theory,"Praxis International 5, no. 4 (1986): 381401, esp. 384.

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by policing thoughts,purging fromthe realm of the thinkable all that differsfromits own narrowpresuppositions. Functionalist argumentsare frequentlyofferedas causal explanations forthe existence of particularideas on the assumption that the functionserved constitutesthe raison d'etre forthe belief; for example, misogynistnotions were/areinvented precisely to serve as mechanisms of social control. Yet this teleological assumption, which equates function with firstand final cause, overlooks the possibility that the origin of an idea may be totally unrelated to specific uses made of the idea.30 Functionalist explanations also tend to gloss over complex sociological, political, and historical issues thatarise when one attemptsto demonstratethata particular idea or belief actually serves the latent or manifestfunctionsattributedto it in a contemporary settingand thatit served this funchistoricalepochs. As feministspursue tion in a varietyof different the intractableproblems associated with functionalist explanations, they are once again carried away fromquestions concerning the validity of particular claims about women. In the search for the putative purposes served by androcentricnotions, argumentsconcerning the meritsof these claims are abandoned. Feminist analyses thatfocus on men as the source of knowledge and on the psychological needs and social purposes served by anas the centralepistemological issues are premdrocentricrationality ised on a numberofhighlyproblematicassumptionsabout the nature of reason and the process of knowing. Rather than acknowledging and knowledge are themselves essentially that reason, rationality, contested concepts that have been the subject of centuries of philosophical debate, there is a tendency to conflateall reasoning with with instrumental reason.31 one particularconception of rationality, Associated with Enlightenment optimism about the possibility of using reason to gain technical masteryover nature, with rigorous methodological stricturesfor controlled observation and experimentation,with impartialapplication of rules to ensure replicability,with the rigidityof the fact/valuedichotomyand means-ends analysis thatleave crucial normativequestions unconsidered, with
30 For critiques of functionalistarguments within feminism,see Richards (n. 9 Women's Oppression Today: Problems in Marxist Femabove); and Michele Barrett, inist Analysis (London: Verso, 1980). 31 Feminist approaches to epistemology are not alone in reducing a variety of theoretical conceptions of reason to a monolithic notion of instrumental rationality. Richard Bernstein has argued that this is a problem in a number of postmodern theories (see "The Rage against Reason," Philosophy and Literature 10, no. 2 [October 1986]: 186-210). For an insightful critique of this tendency within feminism, see Grimshaw (n. 3 above).

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to imprison thatthreaten humanlifein processesofrationalization and withthe deployment of dehumanizedsystems, increasingly the annihilation thatthreatens ofall lifeon the planet, technology Whenthisvillainis in reasonmakesa readyvillain.32 instrumental turnassociatedwithuniquelymale psychological it propensities, is all too easy to assume thatone comprehends notonlythatmen butalso whythey itwrong. havegotten havegotten theworldwrong is theresult ofwillful dovetails The supposition that error deception aboutunrelenting maledrivesfor withuncritical notions dompatly inance and mastery. instrumental reasonis essentially male also susthat The notion thatthe deployment of a uniquely tainsthe appealing suggestion enfemaleknowledge-a knowledgethatis intuitive, emotional, save from the of unand humanity caring-could dangers gaged, To developan account constrained ofthisalternative masculinism.33 feminists have to to sexed emturned some the body, knowledge, in analogywithwomen'ssexuality, to eros, bodiedness,to thinking Some have focused and to women'spsychosexual development.34 on therichresources drawon insights Others ofwomen'sintuition.5 from and from theoriesof marginalization, historical materialism, in an effort from thesociology ofknowledge to generate an account of experiencescommonto all women thatcould providea foun32 For reason, see Max Weber,The ProtestantEthic and critiques of instrumental the Spirit of Capitalism, trans.Talcott Parsons (New York:Charles Scribner's Sons, of Reason," in Rationality 1958); Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Historical Transformations Today, ed. Theodore Geraets (Ottawa: Universityof Ottawa Press, 1979); Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment(New York: Herder & Herder, 1972); and Jurgen Habermas, "Dialectics of Rationalization," Telos 49 (Fall 1981): 5-31. 33 See, e.g., Daly, Gyn/Ecology(n. 5 above); Marilyn French, Beyond Power: On Women,Men and Morals (New York:Summit,1985); Sara Ruddick, "Maternal Thinking," Feminist Studies 6, no. 2 (1980): 342-67, and "Pacifyingthe Forces: Drafting Women in the Interests of Peace," Signs 8, no. 3 (Spring 1983): 471-89. Several feministscholars have recentlynoted the ironythatthis oppositional conception of male and female reason reproduces the caricatures of masculine and feminine that have markedpatriarchalsocial relations (see Grant[n. 17 above]; and Hekman, "The Feminization of Epistemology" [n. 8 above]). 34Consider Lorraine Code, "Is the Sex of the Knower Epistemologically Significant?" Metaphilosophy 12, nos. 3/4 (July/October 1981): 267-76; Cixous, "Le rire de la Meduse" (n. 22 above), and "Le sexe ou la tete" (n. 22 above); Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (n. 12 above); H. K. Trask, Eros and Power: The Promise of Feminist Theory (Philadelphia: Universityof Pennsylvania Press, 1986); and Jane Flax, "Political Philosophy and the PatriarchalUnconscious: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Epistemology and Metaphysics,"in Harding and Hintikka,eds. (n. 2 above). 35 Compare Daly's Gyn/Ecology,French's Beyond Power, and Susan Griffin's Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (New York: Harper Colophon, 1980).

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dationfora women's standpoint or perspective.36 The unification ofmanual,mental, and emotional capacitiesin women'straditional the sensuous,concrete, and relational character ofwomactivities, en's laborin theproduction ofuse-valuesand in reproduction, and themultiple coloppressions experienced by womenthatgenerate lective struggles social orderhave all been againstthe prevailing advanced as the groundsforwomen'sprivilegedepistemological In appealingto certain emotional, perspective.37 physical, psychological,and social experiencesof women,all ofthese approaches to solve the problemof the sourceofknowledgeand the attempt ofknowledgeclaimssimultaneously the disvalidity by conflating parate issues of knowerand known.They suggestthatwomen's unique experienceof realityenables themto pierce ideological and graspthe truth distortions about the world.Wheremen have it wrong, womenwill get things right. gotten When statedso baldly,the claim thatwomenwill producean eitherbecause theyare women or accuratedepictionof reality, because they are oppressed, Given appearstobe highly implausible. and fallibility ofall humanknowers, thereis no good the diversity womenare anyless pronetoerror, reasontobelieve that deception, thanmen.Appealstotheauthority ofthefemale ordistortion "body" such claimssuffer from the same defects to substantiate as the apof the senses so centralto the instrumental peals to the authority ofreasonthat thesefeminists set outto repudiate. Both conception fail to graspthe manifold ways in whichall humanexperiences, whether oftheexternal worldoroftheinternal are mediated world, embeddedinlanguageand culture.38 bytheoretical presuppositions
36It is importantto note that in contrastto claims concerning the immediate apprehension of realitycharacteristicof discussions of women's embodiedness and intuition,standpointtheories emphasize thata "privileged" standpointis "achieved rather than obvious, a mediated rather than an immediate understanding ... an achievement both of science (analysis) and of political struggle" (Hartsock, "The Feminist Standpoint" [n. 4 above], 288). Thus standpoint theories are far more and feminist sophisticated in theiranalysis of knowledge than feministintuitionists fromoverly simplistic conceptions empiricists. But standpoint theories still suffer of the self and of science, which sustain problematic claims concerning the "universal" experiences ofwomen thatafford a foundationfora "privileged" standpoint. 37 On the unification of capacities, see Rose (n. 10 above); the characterof women's labor is examined in Hartsock "The Feminist Standpoint,"and Money,Sex and in Power (n. 4 above); and the multiple oppressions of women come under scrutiny Jaggar(n. 4 above). to illuminate the extent to which conceptions of the "body" are 38In an effort socially mediated, Monique Wittighas noted that "in our [women's] case ideology goes farsince our bodies as well as our minds are the product of this manipulation. We have been compelled in our bodies and our minds to correspond, feature by feature,with the idea of nature that has been established forus. Distorted to such
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and a "natural"self who Both adhere to notionsof transparency freeofall ambiguity. Bothadheretothegreat illusion speaksa truth thatthereis one positionin the worldor one orientation toward that theworld caneradicate all confusion, andcontradiction. conflict, These problems are noteliminated from embodiedby moving The distrust oftheconceptual ness to intuition. aspectsofthought, whichsustains claimsthat genuineknowledge requiresimmediate an unmediated presumesnotonlythat apprehension, graspofrealMoreover, ityis possible butalso thatit is authoritative. appeals to raise the specterofan authoritarian thatprecludes intuition trump ofrational debate.Claimsbased on intuition thepossibility manifest an unquestioning When one asacceptanceof theirown veracity. sertioninformed by the immediateapprehensionof realityconanotherdiametrically fronts opposed claim also informed by the thereis no rational immediate ofreality, apprehension way to adappeal to a notionof judicate such a dispute.Of course,one might on "intuitive" but thisis the beginning ofa adjudication grounds, vicious regress.Thus, intuition forclaims providesa foundation is at once authoritarian, abouttheworldthat ofno further admitting since no individualcan refute another's discussion,and relativist, "immediate" ofreality. at a level ofasserapprehension Operating tionthatadmitsofno further elaboration or explication, thosewho abandonthemselves to intuition conceiveand givebirth to dreams, notto truth.39 The theoretical monismthatinforms claims of truth rootedin the "body" and in intuition also hauntsthe arguments offeminist offeminist standstandpoint Although epistemologies. proponents are careful tonotethat ofknowledge are pointtheories conceptions variableand contestable, certain historically aspectsoftheirargumentstend to undercut the forceof thatacknowledgment. For to claimthat is a distinctive there women's"perspective" is "privthat because itpossesses heightened intothe ileged" precisely insights natureofreality, a superior is to suggestthatthere access to truth, is some uniform experiencecommonto all womenthatgenerates thisunivocalvision.Yetifsocial,cultural, and historical differences
an extent that our deformed body is what they call 'natural,'is what is supposed to exist as such beforeoppression. Distorted to such an extentthatat the end oppression seems to be a consequence of this 'nature' in ourselves (a nature which is only an idea)" (Feminist Frameworks, ed. Alison Jaggarand Paula Rothenberg [New York: McGraw Hill, 1984], 148-52, esp. 148). 39 G. W. F. Hegel advances a detailed critique of intuitionismin his preface to the Phenomenologyof Spirit (trans.J. B. Baillie [New York:Harper Colophon, 1967], 73-75).

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/ CLAIMS OF TRUTH

are taken seriously,the notion of such a common experience becomes suspect. In the absence of such a homogeneous women's experience, standpoint epistemologies must either develop comwhile others plicated explanations ofwhy some women see the truth do not, a strategy thatthreatensto undermine the very notion of a "women's standpoint,"or collapse into a trivialand potentiallycontradictory pluralism thatconceives of truthas simply the sum of all women's partial and incompatible views.40 It might be suggested that this problem could be avoided by substitutingthe notion of a "feministperspective" forthatof a "women's perspective." Such a move could then account forthe fact that some women grasp the truthwhile others do not by appealing to the specific experiences that make one a feminist.This move would also create the possibility that some men-those who are feminists-could also grasp the truth, therebyfreeingthis claim fromthe specter of biologism. But this strategy encounters otherproblems by assuming thatthere is some unique set of experiences that create a feminist.The rich nationsand the rivalry and diverse historiesoffeminismin different American among competing feministvisions within contemporary society (e.g., liberal feminismvs. radical feminismvs. marxistfeminism vs. socialist feminismvs. psychoanalyticfeminism)raise serious challenges to the plausibility of claims concerning a uniform mode of feminismor an invariantpath to feministconsciousness. Startingfroma subjectivist approach to epistemology that focuses on issues pertainingto the faculties and sentimentsof knowers as the source ofknowledge,feminist inquiryarrivesat an impasse. Presuppositions concerning a "natural" subject/self capable of of being, and a homogeneous womthe totality graspingintuitively en's experience that generates a privileged view of reality,fail to do justice to the fallibilityof human knowers, to the multiplicity and diversityof women's experiences, and to the powerfulways in which race, class, ethnicity, culture, and language structureindividuals' understandings of the world. Claims concerning diverse and incompatible intuitionsabout the essential natureof social reality premised on immediate apprehensions of that realityoverlook the theoreticalunderpinningsof all perception and experience and consequently devolve into either authoritarianassertion or uncritical relativism. Moreover, the pervasive tolerance for and indulgence in "gender symbolism" within feminist discussions of ofmen and womenstereotypes epistemologyreproducepatriarchal
40 This problem has been noted by Alan Soble, "Feminist Epistemology and Women Scientists,"Metaphilosophy 14, nos. 3/4(July/October 1983): 291-307; Grant (n. 17 above); and Harding (n. 3 above).

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withessentialism, the diversedimensions ofhudistorting flirting thehistorical ofwomen'smanmanknowing, and falsifying record ifolduses ofreasonin daily life.41

Knowing If the complex epistemological problems thatconfront feminist theory cannot be resolved by appeals to the authorityof the body, intuition,or a universal Woman's experience, neither can they be solved by referenceto a neutral scientificor philosophical method. Feminist empiricism, in its reliance on scientifictechniques designed to controlforsubjectivityin the process of observation,and feministstandpoint theories that rely on historical/dialecticalmaterialism as a method for achieving an objective grasp of reality depend on problematic conceptions of perception, experience, knowledge, and the self. An alternativeaccount ofhuman cognition can illuminate the defects of these conceptions. Critiques of foundationalism have emphasized that the belief in a permanent,ahistorical, Archimedean point that can provide a certain ground for knowledge claims is incompatible with an understanding of cognition as a human practice.42They have suggested that the belief that particular techniques of rational analysis can escape finitude and fallibilityand grasp the totalityof being misconstruesboth the nature of subjective intellection and the nature of the objective world. Attacks on foundationalism thereforeraise questions concerning specific formsof knowing, particular conceptions of subjectivity,and various theories of the externalworld. Insights drawn fromthese works can delineate the contours of a critical feminist epistemology,which avoids the limitationsof feministempiricism and feministstandpointtheories. Standard critiques of foundationalism impugn deductive and inductive logic as the ground of objective knowledge. To challenge rationalists' confidencein the power of logical deduction as a method for securing the truthabout the empirical world, critics typically point out thatthe truthof syllogisticreasoning is altogetherdependent on the established truthof the syllogism's major and minor
41 In The Science Question in Feminism, Harding defines gender symbolism in termsof the attribution of dualistic gender metaphorsto distinctionsthatrarelyhave anythingto do with sex differences,e.g., "male" reason vs. "female" intuition(17). 42 See, e.g., Hans Albert, Treatise on Critical Reason, trans. Mary VarneyRorty (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UniversityPress, 1985); Bernstein,Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (n. 1 above); Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason (New York:Oxford UniversityPress, 1979); Rorty(n. 1 above).

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Yetwhenone movesfrom relations ofideas governed premises. by to a worldofcontingency, the"establishedtruth" logicalnecessity of majorand minorpremisesis preciselywhat is at issue. Thus, an impeccablefoundation thanproviding fortruth rather claims, confronts theintractable ofinfinite deduction the problems regress, viciouscircle,or the arbitrary ofsuffisuspensionofthe principle or self-evidence.43 cientreasonthrough appeals to intuition Attacks on empiricist exuberance have been equally shattering. It has been repeatedly pointedout thatinductive generalizations, and systematic, founder on a hostofproblems: howeverscrupulous that cannot conobservation correlations provecausation; generates clusions derived fromincompleteevidence sustain probability truth.44 claimsbut do notproduceincontestable where Moreover, the power of theoretical tendsto overestimate rationalism specuerrsin theoppositeextreme lation, byunderestimating empiricism in shapingperception and structuring the role of theory compreturns on oftheempiricist hension.45 Thus,the"objectivity" project between "facts"and the deployment of an untenabledichotomy misconstrues thenature ofperception, that "values"-a dichotomy constitution of facticity, and the theoretical fails to comprehend disseminates the "myth ofthe given."46 uncritically is dependent ofknowledge that As an alternative toa conception thatcan be graspeddion the existenceof an unmediated reality a or intellection, antifoundationalists rectly suggest by observation In thisview,"knowas a humanpractice.47 ofcognition conception in a socialprocessrepletewith rules involvement ing"presupposes and standards of excellence of compliance,normsof assessment, humansaspireto unmediated thatare humanly created.Although precludessuch knowledgeof the world,the natureofperception condirect access. The onlypossibleaccess is through theory-laden
43 These arguments were developed forcefully by David Hume in his Enquiry concerningHuman Understanding(Oxford:Clarendon, 1975). For more recenttreatment of the issues, see Albert. 44 For a review of these arguments,see Albert; and Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (New York: Basic, 1962). 45 Albert. 46 The "myth of the given" is discussed in Wilfred Sellars, Science, Perception and Reality (New York: Humanities Press, 1963), 64. For helpful introductionsto Sellars's work,see Gibson Winter,Elementsfor a Social Ethic: Scientificand Ethical Perspectives on Social Process (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 61-166; Richard Bernstein, The Restructuringof Social and Political Theory (Philadelphia: Universityof Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 121-35; and Gunnell (n. 1 above), 68-90. 47 For a detailed discussion of the conception of practice invoked here, see Alasdair MacIntyre,After Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: Universityof Notre Dame Press, 1981), 174-89.

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ventions that organize and structure observationby according toobservedevents, relevanceand significance meanings bestowing on phenomena, for and idenproblem solving, indicating strategies ofproposedsolutions. methods by whichto testthevalidity tifying rootedin thepractical then,is a convention Knowledge, judgments offallibleinquirers who struggle to resolvetheoryofa community historical conditions. dependentproblemsunderspecific ofknowledgeoccursin the context of socialization Acquisition thatprovidethe conand enculturation to determinate traditions whichthe worldis viewed. As sedithrough ceptual frameworks of conventionalattempts to comprehendthe world mentations afford the individual notonlya set of correctly, cognitive practices thetruth butalso a accredited ofexistence techniquesforgrasping an attitude of "suspended doubt" withrespect "naturalattitude," to a wide rangeof issues based on the conviction thatone understandshow the worldworks.In establishing whatwill be takenas normal, natural, real, reasonable,expected,and sane, theoretical their to cognition contributions and their presuppositions camouflage Because the theoretical operationon the understanding. presuppositionsthatstructure cognitionoperateat the tacitlevel, it is difficult the fullrangeofpresuppositions to isolateand illuminate to elucidate informing practices.Moreover, cognitive any attempt mustoperatewithina "hermeneutic circle."Any presuppositions to examineor to challengecertainassumptions or expecattempt tationsmustoccur withinthe frameof reference establishedby Thatcertain mutually reinforcing presuppositions. presuppositions ifothers must remain fixed aretobe subjected tosystematic critique does notimplythatindividuals are "prisoners" within the trapped socialization.48 Criticalrecognitiveframework acquired through flection on and abandonment ofcertain theoretical presuppositions is possible within the hermeneutic circle;but thegoal oftransparas theyare, is not,forno ency,of the unmediatedgraspof things no matter how can critical, investigation, escape the fundamental conditions ofhumancognition. as a human ofcognition Thus,theconception practice challenges the possibility of unmediated knowledgeofthe world,as well as suchas "brute notions the"immediately facts," given," "theory-free "neutral observation and "self-evident truths," research," language," which suggestthatpossibility. is always theoBecause cognition mediated,the worldcapturedin humanknowledgeand retically is itself constituted. designated "empirical" theoretically Divergent
48 In Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, Bernsteincharacterizesthis erroneous conclusion as the "mythof the framework"(84).

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cognitive practices rooted in conventions such as common sense, religion, science, philosophy, and the arts construe the empirical and emphasizing various dimensions, realm differently, identifying formsof evidence, different criteriaof meanaccrediting different standards of explanation, different tokens of truthfuling, different ness. Such an understanding of the theoretical constitutionof the empirical realm in the context of specific cognitive practices reof the notion of "facts." A factis a theoretiquires a reformulation cally constitutedproposition,supported by theoreticallymediated evidence and put forwardas part of a theoretical formulationof reality.A fact is a contestable component of a theoreticallyconstituted order of things.49 The recognitionthat all cognition is theory-ladenhas also generated a critique of many traditionalassumptions about the subject/ self that undergird rationalist,empiricist,and materialistconceptions ofknowing.Conceptions ofthe "innocent eye," of the "passive observer,"of the mind as a "tabula rasa" have been severely chalthe belief thatthe individual lenged.50The notion of transparency, knower can identify all his/her prejudices and purge them in order to greet an unobstructedrealityhas been rendered suspect.51Conceptions of an atomistic self who experiences the world independent of all social influences, of the unalienated self who exists as potentiality awaiting expression, and ofa unifiedself who can grasp the totalityof being have been thoroughlycontested.52The very idea of the "subject" has been castigated forincorporating assumptions about the "logic of identity" that posit knowers as undifferentiated,anonymous,and general, possessing a vision independent of all identifiable perspectives.53 Indeed, the conception of the knowing "subject" has been faulted forfailure to grasp that rather thanbeing the source oftruth, the subject is the productofparticular
49 For an intriguingdiscussion of some of the most fundamentalpresuppositions that have shaped Western cognitive practices since the seventeenth century,see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1973). 50See Popper; Harold Brown, Perception, Theory and Commitment: The New Philosophy of Science (Chicago: Precedent, 1977); and Norman Stockman, AntiPositivist Theories of Science: Critical Rationalism, Critical Theory and Scientific Realism (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983). 51 Albert (n. 42 above); Popper (n. 44 above); Brown; and Stockman. 52 Seyla Benhabib, Critique, Norm and Utopia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); Charles Taylor, "Foucault on Freedom and Truth," Political Theory 12, no. 2 (1984): 152-83; William E. Connolly, "Taylor, Foucault and Otherness," Political Theory 13, no. 3 (1985): 365-76. 53 See, e.g., Alan Megill, Prophets of Extremity:Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Universityof California Press, 1985); Young (n. 29 above), 381-401. 550

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ereignsubjectwho possesses unparalleledpowersofclairvoyance directapprehension of internal and external has affording reality been supplantedby a conceptionof the self as an unstableconstellationof unconsciousdesires, fears,phobias, and conflicting social,and politicalforces. linguistic, In additionto challenging notions ofan unmediated and reality a transparent the of as a human subject/self, conception cognition practicealso takesissue withaccountsofreasonthatprivilegeone whiledenigrating modeofrationality all others. particular Attempts to reducethepractice ofknowing tomonadicconceptions ofreason failto graspthe complexity ofthe interaction betweentraditional social norms,theoretical assumptions, conceptions,disciplinary emotional and creastrictures, linguistic possibilities, dispositions, in everyact ofcognition. tive impositions to Approaches cognition as a humanpractice ofrationality and emphasizetheexpansiveness its the irreducible of manifestations within diverse tradiplurality tions.Perception, intuition, conceptualization, inference, represenrationaltation, reflection, remembrance, imagination, conjecture, ization,argumentation, justification, ratiocination, contemplation, validation,deliberation-even a partial speculation,meditation, ofthemany dimensions ofknowing that itis a grave listing suggests error to attempt to reducethismultiplicity to a unitary model.The resources ofintellection aremore considered intheir comprofitably for is in what is involved on plexity, knowing heavily dependent what kind are what of is and theconquestions asked, knowledge sought, is undertaken.55 textin whichcognition The conception ofcognition as a humanpractice has a great deal to offer feminist it for an of androanalysis, provides explanation centric bias withindominant discoursesthatis freeofthe defects ofpsychological and functionalist Rather thanimputing arguments. contentious to drives all males or psychological positing speculative structural interests forall social formations, feminists can examine the specificprocesses by which knowledgehas been constituted withindeterminate traditions and explorethe effects ofthe exclusion ofwomenfrom in those traditions. Feminists can participation the of the standards of criteria of investigate adequacy evidence, modes ofanalysis, and strategies ofargumentation relevance, privtraditions. on the theoretical ileged by the dominant By focusing constitution of the empiricalrealm,feminists can illuminate the that circumscribe what is believed to exist and presuppositions
54 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (New York: Vintage, 1977), and The History of Sexuality (New York: Vintage, 1980), vol. 1. 55Cavell (n. 42 above).

In postmodernistdiscourses, the notion of a sovregimes of truth.54

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is accredited the mechanisms and renidentify by whichfacticity In raisingdifferent dered unproblematic. questions,challenging researchagendas, and searchingfor received views, refocusing methodsof investigation adequate to the problemsof feminist can contribute ofa more feminists to thedevelopment scholarship, ofhumancognition. understanding sophisticated of cognition that The conception as a humanpracticesuggests of cogfeminist critiqueis situatedwithinestablishedtraditions intoquestion.Thus feminists even as itcalls thosetraditions nition thatserve both as targets mustdeal deftly withthe traditions of and as sourcesof normsand techniquesessentialto the criticism ofcognition the conception as a human critical project.Moreover, can be understood thatfeminist as analysisitself practicesuggests To build feminist on an a richand variedtradition. epistemology ofcognition as a human carethen, practice, requires understanding ful consideration of the diverse cognitivepracticesthatalready feminist Ratherthan privileging one model of structure inquiry. feminists mustfirst considerthe level ofanalysis, rational inquiry, the standards of the typeofexplanation, the degree ofabstraction, thetropes ofdiscourse, ofevaluation, and the evidence,thecriteria of argumentation thatwould be appropriate to feminist strategies Awarenessofthe structuring of concreteproblems. investigations requiresdetailedinvespresuppositions poweroftacittheoretical of determinate modes of inof the implications political tigation must remain a concern The of principle politics knowledge quiry. malestream notonlyin thecourseofexamining offeminist analysis, the mostfruitful avenues forfembut also in determining thought For the analytic inistresearch. techniquesdeveloped in particular when traditions political implications mayhaveunfortunate cognitive for in different contexts. practices appropriate Cognitive applied and sonot be for appropriate political analysismay psychological techniquesessentialforan adeciological analysis;hermeneutic of human action maybe whollyinadequateto quate interpretation the the taskofstructural techniquescrucialfor analysis;statistical illumination of discrimination maybe powerlessto addressprobto ideologicaloppression;semioticanalysescentral lems relating criticism offeminist tothedevelopment maybe insufficient literary and enhormonal historical to the taskof feminist investigations; health offeminist thecreation studiesnecessary for docrinological or care may be altogether inapplicableas accountsof motivation hermeneuofaction.Causal, dialectical, genealogical, explanations and teleological structural, semiotic, statistical, tic,psychological, to specificaspects of feminist may all be important explanations in speButknowing whichmodeofanalysisis appropriate inquiry.
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cificproblemsituations is an issue thatfeminist has epistemology notyetadequatelyaddressed. mustbe sufficiently Feminist to acepistemology sophisticated thepoliticaldimensions countfor thecomplexity and for ofdiverse To equate feminist withanyparcognitive practices. epistemology ticular is toimposeunwarranted constraints techniqueofrationality itsability on feminist to develop and deployan inquiry, impairing arsenal of analytictechniquesto combatthe distortions thatpermeate the dominant malestream discourses.Neitherfeminist emnor feminist an theories afford piricism standpoint adequate framework foraddressingthese difficult issues. Feministempiricism is committed to untenablebeliefsaboutthe natureofknowlof thatrenderit unable to explainthe and edge process knowing within of sexist bias established persistence disciplinesand unable to graspthepoliticsofknowledge. Feminist theories are standpoint farmoreattunedto the ideologicaldimensions of knowledge, yet committed to an overly modelofknowledge theyremain simplistic thattendsto assume a "collectivesingular to posita false subject," to the of universality, neglect multiplicity structuring processesthat and to underestimate the beshape cognitive practices, disjuncture tween problemsof oppressionand questionsof truth.56 The conas a humanpractice for the ceptionofcognition providesa context of a critical feminist that can transcend development epistemology
these limitations.57

Known as a humanpracticedoes not,in itself, Understanding cognition resolvethe questionofwhat,ifanything, can be known.Skeptics, and relativists, deconstructivists, structuralists, hermeneuticists,
56 For a detailed discussion of the problem of assuming a collective singular subject, see Benhabib. 57 In suggestingthatan understandingof cognitionas a human practice can help feministanalysis avoid the problems of feminist empiricismand feministstandpoint theories while simultaneously illuminating fruitful strategies of inquiry, I do not mean to suggest that the notion of cognition as a human practice itself could or should supplant feministinvestigationsof knowledge claims. Feminist inquiry remains as important in the field of epistemology as in any othertraditionalacademic area of investigation,precisely because most contemporarypractitionersin these froma peculiar form fields, like their predecessors in the Westerntradition,suffer of gender blindness. Even those most sensitive to the politics of knowledge in contexts involving race and class remain remarkablyunaware of the unique issues raised by the problem of gender. Feminist analysis serves as a crucial correctivefor this acute and pervasive formof masculinist myopia.

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critical theoristsmight all concur about the social constructionof conclusions about the nature of cognition, yet come to different truthclaims. Within the context of feministapproaches to epistemology,many of the critiques of traditionalconceptions of reason have been voiced by feministpostmodernists.Thus it is important to consider whether feministpostmodernism constitutes an adequate epistemology for feminist theory. Such an assessment requires an examination of the theoretical and political implications of postmodernism,as well as a discussion of the light that postmodernism sheds on the question of what can be known. Discussions of the "situatedness" of knowers suggest that the claims of every knower reflecta particularperspective shaped by social, cultural, political, and personal factors and that the perspective of each knower contains blind spots, tacitpresuppositions, and prejudgments of which the individual is unaware.58The partialityof individual perspectives in turn suggests that every claim about the world, every account, "can be shown to have left somethingout of the description of its object and to have put something in which others regard as nonessential."59Recognition of the selectivityof cognitive accounts, in terms of conscious and unconscious omission and supplementation, has led some postmodern thinkersto characterize the world in literaryterms,to emphasize the fictive elements of "fact," the narrative elements of all dishistorical,social, political-and the nebcourse-literary, scientific, ulousness of the distinctionbetween textand reality.The move to intertextuality suggests that the world be treated as text,as a play of signifierswith no determinate meaning, as a system of signs whose meaning is hidden and diffuse,as a discourse that resists decoding because of the infinitepower of language to conceal and Postmodernistdiscourses celebrate the human capacity obfuscate.60 to misunderstand, to universalize the particular and the idiosynwith those and to conflatetruth cratic,to privilege the ethnocentric, the Postmodernist that knower. insightscounadvantage prejudices sel thatTruth be abandoned because it is a hegemonic and, hence, destructive illusion. Postmodernism has much to commend it. Its sensitivityto the hubris of scientific reason has illuminated the manifold ways in which scientism sustains authoritarian tendencies. Its mergerofthe horizons of philosophical and literarydiscourses has loosened the
8 See, e.g., Buker (n. 8 above); and Moi (n. 16 above). 59Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 3. 60For a helpful introductionto and critique of the postmodern shiftfromworld to text,see Megill (n. 53 above).
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strictures ofbothtraditions and producedcreative dedisciplinary thatsustaina variety of unofthe tacitassumptions constructions beliefs.Its attentiveness to discoursehas heightened our reflective relations betweenpowerand knowlofthe integral understanding conpower/knowledge edge, and ofthemeansby whichparticular us as subjectsin a determinate order ofthings. constitute stellations has generated a new to validateunivocalinterpretations Its refusal has stimulated creative and about of thinking plurality appreciation waysto value difference. But postmodernism also has a numberof defectsthatmilitate the uncritical ofall ofitstenetsintofeminist adoption episagainst crucial social and politicalinsights of a critical Indeed, temology. to someoftheexcesses shouldserveas a corrective feminist theory ofpostmodernism. The undesirableconsequences ofthe slide intorelativism that ofworldand textis particularly resultsfrom too facilea conflation concernsare taken as the starting evident when feminist point. domestic and sexualharassment violence, (to mention Rape, just a that circumscribe women'slives) are notfictions fewoftherealities that ofthefree orfigurations admit The victim's playofsignification. accountofthese experiencesis notsimply an arbitrary imposition ofa purelyfictive A meaningon an otherwise meaningless reality. victim's of the event not be the exhaustive; indeed, knowledge may victim maybe obliviousto thefactofpremeditation, maynotcomof prehendthe motiveforthe assault,maynot knowthe identity the assailant.But it would be premature to conclude from the incompletenessof the victim'saccountthatall otheraccounts(the character witnesses'forthe defenassailant's,defenseattorney's, are valid or that there no objectivegroundson are dant) equally whichto distinguish between truth and falsity in divergent interThe is here it is not that to pretations. important point easy make thesedeterminations orthattheycan alwaysbe made in particular cases but thatstandards relatedto the rangeof humancognitive allow us to betweenpartialviews (the inespractices distinguish condition of human and falsebeliefs,supersticapable cognition) irrebuttable willful distortions. it is tions, presumptions, Although difficult often to the standards of extraordinarily explicate evidence, the criteria of relevance,paradigms of explanation, and normsof truth that inform suchdistinctions, thefact that informed judgments can be made providessufficient to avoid ground premature plunges intorelativism, to insistinsteadthatthereare some things thatcan be known. The worldis morethana text. Theoretical ofthe interpretations worldmustoperatewithindifferent thanthose of litparameters
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Hawkesworth / CLAIMSOF TRUTH

erary criticism.Although both theories of life and theories of literature are necessarily dependent on conceptual schemes that are themselves structured by language and, hence, contestable and contingent,theories of life must deal with more than the free play of signifiers.There is a modicum of permanence within the fluidity of the life-world: traditions,practices, relationships, institutions, and structurespersist and can have profoundconsequences forindividual life prospects, constrainingopportunitiesforgrowthand efforts toward difrustrating development, resistingreconstitution, rection and control. It is a serious mistake to neglect the more enduring features of existing institutionalstructuresand practices while indulging the fantasiesoffreedomafforded by intertextuality. Contentment with relativistperspectivism does not do justice to in analyses of the structural dimensions the need forsystematicity of social and political life. Although much can be gained fromthe and manyvoices recognitionthatthereare manysides to every story to provide alternative accounts, the escape fromthe monotonyof monologue should not be at the expense of the verynotion of truth. The need to debunk scientisticassumptions about the unproblematic nature of the objective world does not require the total repudiation ofeitherexternalrealityor the capacity forcriticalreflection and rationaljudgment.61 A critical feministepistemology must avoid both the foundationalist tendency to reduce the multiplicityof reasons to a monolithic"Reason" and the postmodernist tendencyto rejectall reasons tout court. Keenly aware ofthe complexityofall knowledge claims, it must defend the adoption of a minimaliststandard of rationality that requires that belief be apportioned to evidence and that no assertion be immune fromcriticalassessment. Deploying this minimalist standard, feministanalysis can demonstratethe inadequacies of accounts of human nature derived froman evidentiarybase of only halfthe species; it can refuteunfounded claims about women's "nature" that are premised on an atheoretical naturalism; it can identifyandrocentricbias in theories, methods, and concepts and show how this bias undermines explanatoryforce; it can demonstratethat the numerous obstacles to women's full participation in social, political, and economic lifeare humanlycreated and hence
61 The conception of cognition as a human practice requires a coherence theory of truth.Due to the limitationsof space, it is not possible to explore the dimensions of this conception in detail here; nor is it possible to provide a systematicdefense of this conception of truthagainst the charge of relativism. For works that do undertake both those tasks, see Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (n. 1 above); Cavell (n. 42 above); Herzog (n. 1 above); and William E. Connolly, Appearance and Reality in Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 1981).

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1989 / SIGNS Spring

In providing and detailed sophisticated susceptibleto alteration. feminists can dispel distortions and situations, analysesofconcrete thatabound in malestream thought. mystifications belief in and acceptanceof fallibility Based on a consistent as inescapable and consonantwithlife in a worldof contingencies, need notclaimuniversal, feminists ahistorical for their analvalidity is the onlyor the finalword yses. They need notassertthattheirs on complexquestions.In theabsence ofclaimsofuniversal validity, feminist accountsderivetheir force from their justificatory capacity to illuminate social relations, to demonstrate the deficienexisting cies ofalternative to debunkopposingviews. Preinterpretations, movebeyondtextsto confront the world, ciselybecause feminists forthe sutheycan provideconcretereasonsin specificcontexts of theiraccounts.Such claimsto superiority are derived periority not fromsome privilegedstandpoint of the feminist knowernor theputative merits ofparticular from butfrom intuitions thestrength ofrational from the to demonstrate argument, ability pointbypoint the deficiencies ofalternative Attheirbest,feminist explanations. intellect and the world;theysuranalysesengage boththe critical androcentric accounts in because their moreis pass systematicity examinedand less is assumed. Postmodernism's retreat tothetext has a politicaldimension not with consonant its radicalism. is There altogether self-proclaimed an unmistakable in the shift to in escapisttendency intertextuality, the move from factto fiction. The abandonment ofreason(s)is acsense ofresignation, a nihilist companied bya profound recognition thatthereis nothing to do because nothing can be done. Ata momentwhenthepreponderance ofrational and moralargument sustains prescriptions forwomen's equality,it is a bit too cruel a conclusionand too reactionary a politicalagenda to accept that reason is impotent, thatequalityis impossible.Should postmodernism'sseductivetextgain ascendancy, it will notbe an accident thatpowerremains in the handsofthe whitemales who currently relativist possess it. In a world of radical inequality, resignation reinforces the statusquo. For thoseaffronted of by the arrogance there are well as as intellectual reasons to a power, political prefer critical feminist to a In one. confronepistemology postmodernist tationswithpower,knowledgeand rationalargumentation alone will not securevictory, but feminists can use themstrategically to subvertmale dominanceand to transform institutions oppressive and practices. Department of PoliticalScience University of Louisville
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