Society for Analytical Feminism conference

Forgive my very late reporting, but even though it was almost a month ago already, I still think that it is worth saying something about the wonderful Society for Analytical Feminism conference in Kentucky at the beginning of April. You can see the program on this blog or at the SAF website. I came away with the strong impression that feminist philosophy is indeed very healthy, thriving, in fact. Now, I am bound to be somewhat biased on this topic, since I was one of the organizers of the conference (as well as being a presenter), but I do not think that my bias has compromised my judgment too badly. Time will tell.

Kentucky was lovely and green, if wet. Sorry that the picture doesn’t do Kentucky more justice, but it did rain rather viciously on the first day and most of that night. In my defense, however, the picture does have very green grass and horses. Still this has nothing to do with philosophy, so let me get to the interesting stuff.

The theme of the conference was Analytical Feminism’s Contributions to Traditional Philosophy. The papers that were presented over the greater part of three days clearly were representative of this idea, though it was not the explicit theme of most (with the exception of Ann Cudd’s closing plenary presentation). There were papers in epistemology (including philosophy of science), metaphysics (questions of gender and identity primarily), and values (ethics and social an political philosophy), all traditional areas of philosophy, but with feminist concerns at the forefront in two ways. First, the papers were embedded not just in the analytic tradition but in the feminist variant of that tradition that is now maturing. The papers reflect a conversation within the philosophical tradition as a whole but especially with feminists working in that tradition. Second, the papers point towards the contributions (as the conference title suggests) that feminist discourse can provide in the growth of the analytical tradition as a whole.

Here is an example. When Libby Potter discusses “Hybrid Values”, she begins with but refines a notion of social practices that she finds in Alisdair McIntyre’s work. A discussion of propositions and propositional attitudes provides a bridge to the epistemic and the work of Elizabeth Anderson and other feminists thinkers offers the idea that there are hybrid values (hybrids between epistemic and social or moral values) that we can see in practices such as feminist consciousness raising. So she engages with the tradition but at the same time offers a resource for addressing a current concern in epistemology and philosophy of science. Though using her notion of hybrid values specifically in relation to feminist work, the idea that there are practices of knowledge production that incorporate values that are at the same time epistemic and social/moral provides another way of thinking about the vexing questions that have troubled not only feminist but most epistemologists who take seriously the idea that knowledge is social.

Another example is Kristina Rolin’s “Defending Critical Contextual Empiricism” in which she responds to objections raised to Longino’s contextual empiricism. What is striking about this paper is that it is a conversation within feminist epistemology itself, but again about issues that are not just feminist issues. The concerns about relativism that are raised run throughout the literature in philosophy of science at least since Kuhn. The idea that contextualist epistemology might be compatible with Longino’s contextualism is worth exploring. In each of these cases, the papers are embedded in the analytic tradition both methodologically and in terms of content.

I mention these papers in epistemology because it is sometimes harder to acknowledge feminist contributions in epistemology than it is to see that there are such contributions in ethics, social and political philosophy, and metaphysics (though the recognized contributions in metaphysics might be thought of as more circumscribed than in the other areas and mostly confined to issues of gender and identity). As Ann Cudd pointed out in her talk “Resistance is Not Futile: Analytical Feminism’s Contributions to Political Philosophy”, the role and contribution of feminist thought is more readily acknowledged in political philosophy and ethics than in other areas.

The philosophical problems that feminists are dealing with are not problems solely for feminism but they are often problems that surface in feminism because they are philosophical problems and grappling with them in relation to feminism can produce insights that are applicable elsewhere. If one is a feminist, this may well be where you want to do your grappling.

Look for more from this conference. Some of these papers are already committed for publication in a variety of venues, but Anita Superson and I hope we will soon have an anthology that will display the breadth and depth of the current work in analytical feminism. My apologies to all the authors of the papers that I have not specifically mentioned. The papers were uniformly of high quality and there were so many good ideas!

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