The introduction to the section of Alison Bailey’s and Chris Cuomo’s Feminist Philosophy Reader, “Feminist Epistemologies”, defines epistemology as “theories of knowledge, names the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature, scope, sources, structures, and limits of human knowledge”. The introduction explains how “traditional” philosophical thought can be problematic in feminism because it assumes that the gathering of knowledge has always been objective and unmotivated by biases. They explain how “feminist theorists challenge these assumptions by demonstrating how sexism and other harmful biases have shaped presuppositions about the nature of knowing”, and they give us context on how we can begin to conceptualize how to fix these inequities in knowledge. It was a great introduction to concepts and ideas that I was not previously familiar with before reading the assigned readings for the week.
Allison Jagger’s Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology, sets out to redefine emotion as an integral part of obtaining knowledge. The way that I have come to understand and process my emotions, especially the negative ones, is to understand that every emotion serves an important purpose. For example, I usually feel sad or lethargic when I am nervous or scared of failure, so my first reaction is to not even try at all. From a therapeutic perspective, this has been extremely helpful for me in my everyday life. While reading Jaggar’s article, this helped me greatly to understand how important emotions are in navigating the world. Jagger first explains how the dichotomy of woman and man have been equated with the dichotomy of emotion and reason within the western philosophical tradition, and then Jagger serves to deconstruct this relationship and explain its negative repercussions through defining emotions and unpacking different theories on how emotions affect the human faculties of reason and knowledge. Jagger concludes that “emotions are neither more basic than observation, reason, or action in building theory, nor secondary to them. Each of these human faculties reflects an aspect of human knowing inseparable from the other aspects”.
One of the most interesting ideas that Jagger expresses, in my opinion, is how “the perspective on reality that is available from the standpoint of the oppressed, which in part at least is the stand-point of women, is a perspective that offers a less partial and distorted and therefore more reliable view. Oppressed people have a kind of epistemological privilege insofar as they have easier access to this stand-point and therefore a better chance of ascertaining the possible beginnings of a society in which all could thrive”. When I read this, it made a lot of sense to me, especially in through the feminist lens. It helped prepare me to better understand how Alcoff’s article as well.
In Linda Martín Alcoff’s How is Epistemology Political, Alcoff begins by unpacking ideas on how socialization has created hierarchies in truths and perspectives. She discusses irrational ideas that occur because of how we are socialized as human beings. Alcoff notes how “bell hooks has argued that Black writers are too often read by whites as writing about “blackness,” whereas white writers are assumed to write about ‘life'” to further her point about how we have conditioned to believe that certain groups of people can only be experts in certain areas. Ideas such as these serve to maintain systems of privilege and oppression. The ideas of marginalized groups are considered lesser because they themselves are fundamentally lesser in some way. The recognition that these contradictions exist indicates an understanding that philosophical thought and “truths” are political because we only believe certain “truths”.
I really enjoyed Alcoff’s discussion on how epistemology is political, and as a someone studying Letters, I have come to realize how much we value the “white man’s philosophy” and the classic civilizations’ history as the standard for “literature, philosophy, and history”. This semester, I have been lucky to take a wide variety of courses that have expanded my exposure to these subjects past just ancient Greece and Rome, including this class. This article made me think a lot back to the first day of class when Dr. Alavi spoke on how someone had told her that she would not be taken seriously as a philosopher if she studied “feminist philosophy”. From then on, I have become more conscious of how the way we think about everything tends to be male-centered, and I have learned so much about how to unlearn those processes and ideas.