One thing I gathered from the responses to my survey on the climate for women in philosophy of mind is that many people lack a clear answer to the question asked by the title of this post. This is significant, because four of Rebecca Kukla’s seven criteria for woman-friendliness
had to do with the view of philosophical feminism in the
subdisciplines, though she qualified each criterion by noting that it
applied only on the condition that “feminist approaches to the field are
helpful”. For our purposes, this raises two questions:
- Are feminist approaches helpful in the philosophy of mind?
- If they are helpful, then are they given the attention and respect they deserve?
Given the way that the second of these questions hinges on the first one, there is no point in discussing it before the question asked by my title has been addressed. Here, I just want to make three introductory points.
My first point is probably the least uncontroversial: at least in the
anglophone world, there is not a lot of work done on feminism in the
philosophy of mind. Data point #1: the associated category in PhilPapers contains exactly two articles.
Data point #2: among survey respondents,* a full 96% (100% of men, 93%
of women) agreed that those who work in empirically-informed philosophy
of mind do not “presume that all its female members do feminist
philosophy”. Given the first data point, I wonder why this might be?
Next, I’ll observe that
based on the survey data* there appears to be considerable uncertainty,
among men and women alike, concerning the helpfulness of feminist
approaches to thinking about the mind. Strikingly, this provided one of
the few survey questions in which the pattern of responses was
essentially the same for men and women: 26% of respondents (27% of men,
25% of women) answered “Yes” when asked whether feminist approaches are
helpful in the subdiscipline; 26% (27% of men, 31% of women) answered
“No”; and 49% (47% of men, 44% of women) said that they didn’t know.
Clearly, this is a question that warrants further discussion!
Finally, let me add one more point, which is that at least in principle, it is a question that should also have some good answers. For example, consider the following from Elizabeth Anderson’s entry on “Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science”, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The central concept of feminist epistemology is that of a situated
knower, and hence of situated knowledge: knowledge that reflects the
particular perspectives of the subject. Feminist philosophers are
interested in how gender situates knowing subjects.
the increasing emphasis on embodiment and situatedness within the
philosophy of mind, this suggests to me that the default position in the
subdiscipline should be to take feminism seriously. However, I am in
the boat with many others in not really knowing how to do that, largely because of the paucity of relevant work that’s been done (and that I know of). But in
some upcoming posts, some of our contributors are going to try to
address this difficulty, showing what a feminist approach to the mind
would look like, and what it has to offer.
* Insert obligatory mention of the small and possibly unrepresentative group of respondents.