Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Book review of Potter's Feminism and Philosophy of Science

Alexandra Bradner has written a thoughtful, sympathetic review of Libby Potter's Feminism and Philosophy of Science: An Introduction, Routledge, 2006.

How we'd love to have time on this blog to discuss many of the points the review raises! Alexandra's review is worth reading itself, but here let me pick a few highlights:

1. It's nice to see someone call out the PSA for their lack of attention to feminist philosophy of science at the latest (2006) conference. I would add that in recent years the pages of the journal have also overlooked work in this area and appear to underrepresent women, especially when writing explicitly from a feminist perspective.

2. There is much attention paid to the status of women in science by the NSF, the AAAS, and other organizations interested in science and science education. Such attention is not so often paid to the humanities, whether because gender disparity is not apparent in the humanities generally or because our national interest is not pinned to the humanities as it is to the sciences. But figures (nicely summarized here and more links here) show that, as a discipline, philosophy lags behind most life and physical sciences in terms of the representation of women. Thus, Alexandra is correct to draw attention to how
...although Potter's own philosophers take time to discuss the gender construct in which science is produced, there is no attention to the gender context in which philosophy is produced -- the number of female philosophers, their ranks, salaries, editorial roles in journals and major anthologies, differences in training, extra-career obligations, etc.

3. Bradner praises Potter for how
this introduction makes it clear that philosophers interested in the fact/value distinction (that is, all philosophers) ignore feminist philosophy of science at their peril.

4. Finally, Alexandra writes that she wonders
what exactly is feminist about Potter's conception of feminist philosophy of science, for although feminists are certainly interested in value intrusion and naturalized epistemology, there is nothing especially feminist about these interests.
This is a delicate point. Feminist philosophy is of interest to all philosophers precisely because the issues and oversights that it raises highlight ways of thinking that have the effect of marginalizing women. And usually, insofar as these ways of thinking affect some people differently from other people, they signal a more general and not specifically gender-relevant problem. However, as our attention is shifted to the more general problem, the relevance to feminism drops out of sight.

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