Feminist philosophy of science

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Feminist philosophy of science is a branch of feminist philosophy that seeks to understand how the acquirement of knowledge through scientific means has been influenced by notions of gender and gender roles in society. Feminist philosophers of science question how scientific research and scientific knowledge itself may be influenced and possibly compromised by the social and professional framework within which that research and knowledge is established and exists. The intersection of gender and science allows feminist philosophers to reexamine fundamental questions and truths in the field of science to reveal any signs of gender biases.[1] It has been described as being located "at the intersections of the philosophy of science and feminist science scholarship",[2] and has attracted considerable attention since the 1970s.

Feminist epistemology often emphasizes "situated knowledge"[3] that hinges on one's individual perspectives on a subject. Feminist philosophers often highlight the under-representation of female scientists in academia and the possibility that science currently has androcentric biases. Scientific theory has been accused of being more compatible with male cognitive styles and reasoning. Feminist epistemology suggests that integrating feminine modes of thought and logic that are undervalued by current scientific theory will enable improvement and broadening of scientific perspectives. Advocates assert that it may be guide in creating a philosophy of science that is more accessible to public. Practitioners of feminist philosophy of science also seek to promote gender equality in scientific fields and greater recognition of the achievements of female scientists.

Critics have argued that the political commitments of advocates of feminist philosophy of science is incompatible with modern-day scientific objectivity,[4] emphasizing the success of the scientific method due to its lauded objectivity and "value-free"[5] methods of knowledge-making.

Women often weren't allowed to work officially as scientists, only as assistants for male scientists.


The feminist Philosophy of science was born out of feminist science studies in the 1960s. It would however be the 1980s before Feminist Philosophy of Science would develop its own unique identity. One of the first and most important publications released was from a women's academic journal called Signs with a piece titled: "Women, Science, and Society"[6] This piece was published in August 1978 by Catherine Stimpson and Joan Burstyn. "This first collection of what today would be recognizable as "feminist science studies" featured scholarship in three areas: critiques of gender bias in science, history of women in science, and social science data and public policy considerations on the status of women in the science".[1] These three topics have remained prominent issues in feminist science studies of modern day.

Feminist science studies had become more philosophical and more ambitious by the 1980s and even pursued to redefine the core epistemological concepts. The reason for this shift in feminist science studies was due to a corresponding shift in many fields of academic feminism. This shift led to a parting of ways between scholarship on "women in science" and "feminist critiques of science". This was documented by feminist scholars Helen Longino and Evelynn Hammonds in their 1990 book Conflicts and Tensions in the Feminist Study of Gender and Science.

By the late nineties, feminist science studies had become well-established and had many prominent scholars within its field of study. Philosopher John Searle characterized feminism in 1993 as a "cause to be advanced" more so than a "domain to be studied".[7]

Feminist philosophy of science[edit]

Objectivity and values[edit]

Some have questioned the objectivity of Feminist Philosophy of Science. Feminists however argue that rather than undermine objectivity, incorporating feminist values could help create more robust and sophisticated research methods which in turn may well produce better results.[5] By implementing feminist ideologies in science, this will eliminate the androcentric bias in the field of science, creating better research, better healthcare, and more opportunities for women in higher education and research fields.[8] Many feminist in this field try to challenge the idea that science is "value-free",[5] meaning that science is subjected to societal effects, and the research that is conducted is thought to have some bias attached. Science is not autonomous and research requires funding which policy decisions come into play. This is where political and societal affect science making it adherent to a set of ideas.

Standpoint and knowledge[edit]

Feminist Philosophy of Science has traditionally been highly critical of the lack of access and opportunities for women in science and believe science can, and has been "distorted by sexist values"[5] Sharon Crasnow highlights how the "exclusion of women as researchers and subjects"[5] in scientific research, studies and projects can lead to incomplete methods and methodologies and ultimately unreliable or inaccurate results. Some feminist philosophies of science question whether science can lay claim to "impartiality, neutrality, autonomy, and indifference to political positions and the values" when the "neutral" position is benchmarked against the values held by one culture, i.e. western patriarchy, among the multitude of cultures participating in modern science.

A complete Standpoint theory contains seven parts to fully understand the location of power one has, their "epistemic privilege". Anderson lays these out in her journal Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science.[9] The first point of the theory must state the social location of the authority. The second, how large is the grasp of this authority, what does it claim privilege over. Third, what aspect of the social location allows authority. Fourth, the grounds of the authority, what justifies their privilege. Fifth, the type of epistemic privilege it is claiming to have. Sixth, the other perspectives similar to its own. Lastly, access to this privilege, by occupying the social location is it sufficient to gain access to the perspective.

Relating to Objectivity, epistemology can give a fuller understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge. Feminist epistemology is one of a group of approaches in science studies that urges us to recognize the role of the social in the production of knowledge. Feminist epistemology directs people to consider features of themselves and culture as beings of knowledge that had been outside what was considered appropriate. The goals of researchers and the values that shape the choice of goals are relevant to the knowledge we arrive at. This has implications both for how we train scientists and for how we educate everyone about science. If science is seen as more connected to application, more related to human needs and desires, traditionally underrepresented groups will have greater motivation to succeed and persist in their science courses or pursue scientific careers. Motivation will be greater as members of underrepresented groups see how science can produce knowledge that has value to their concerns in ways that are consistent with good scientific methodology. Feminist epistemology urges a continued exploration of science in this way and so has much to offer science education.

Challenges and contributions[edit]

One of the major challenges facing feminist philosophers of science lies in convincing some skeptics in the fields of philosophy and science that Feminist Philosophy of Science is in fact a legitimate and objective field of academic research and study rather than an agenda driven ideology. Dr. Richardson points out that those who level this accusation at Feminist Philosophy of Science completely misunderstand its motivations and ambitions.[1] Richardson describes how many feminist philosophers of science are involved in "ambitious constructive projects to build a better science".[1] Case studies have played a major role in furthering and advancing feminist philosophy of science. For example, a study conducted by Lloyd in 2005 on the function female orgasm. She explores how evolutionary biologists made false assumptions as to the function of the female orgasm.[10] They believed that it must have reproductive purpose in females simply because it does in males. They went as far as to ignore clear evidence as it went against their initial beliefs. This critique caused extensive debate as it attacked the core beliefs held by evolutionary biologists. Work like this has and is currently being conducted by feminist philosophers of science as they challenge traditional philosophical questions such as pluralism, objectivity and background assumptions.

One of the greatest challenges faced by female philosophers is marginalization within the academic field of philosophy according to Dr. Richardson.[1] They face exclusion in scientific fields and are marginalized and vastly unrepresented similarly to minorities in the field of philosophy. Their critiques of many topics such as gender bias are often changed, distorted and ineffectively translated by scientists and therefore by the general public.

Elaine Howes has stated that the feminist philosophy of science can be applied to K-12 schooling. Per her examination of the gender separation in STEM subjects, she believes that the feminist philosophy of science should also be applied to public schools. By using feminist theories to examine gender biases in public schools, Howes suggests that possible reforms that could be implemented to close the gap in science, technology, engineering, and math. Her belief is by starting from the bottom, many girls would enter a STEM field and stick with it because of the reforms she suggested and then create a change in the field of science from within.[11]

Socially responsible science (SRS)[edit]

Socially responsible science is a combination of epistemic roles and social values. This conjuncture of research/evidence and ethics is used by Feminist of Philosophy for the creation of "good science".[12] In Matthew Brown's article "The Source and Status of Values for Socially Responsible Science", he discusses this lens of being socially engaged in science, to "craft better ethics codes for their professional societies", he believes this is done by emphasizing "ethics and social and political philosophy as least as much as epistemology and metaphysics". By valuing the study of ethics, politics, and social studies and applying this socially responsible science, Browne believes this will create a new agenda for science.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Richardson, Sarah S. (2010). "Feminist philosophy of science: history, contributions, and challenges". Synthese. 177 (3): 337–362. doi:10.1007/s11229-010-9791-6. ISSN 0039-7857.
  2. ^ The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of science. Machamer, Peter K., Silberstein, Michael. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell. 2002. ISBN 978-0631221074. OCLC 50661258.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Kurki, Milja (2015). "Stretching Situated Knowledge: From Standpoint Epistemology to Cosmology and Back Again". Millennium: Journal of International Studies. 43 (3): 779–797. doi:10.1177/0305829815583322. hdl:2160/41924.
  4. ^ Crasnow, Sharon (2008). "Feminist philosophy of science: 'standpoint' and knowledge". Science & Education. 17 (10): 1089–1110. Bibcode:2008Sc&Ed..17.1089C. doi:10.1007/s11191-006-9069-z. ISSN 0926-7220.
  5. ^ a b c d e Crasnow, Sharon (2013). "Feminist Philosophy of Science: Values and Objectivity". Philosophy Compass. 8 (4): 413–423. doi:10.1111/phc3.12023. ISSN 1747-9991.
  6. ^ Stimpson, Catharine R.; Burstyn, Joan N. (1978). "Editorial". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 4 (1): 1–3. doi:10.1086/493565. ISSN 0097-9740.
  7. ^ Searle, John R. (1993). "Rationality and Realism, What Is at Stake?". Daedalus. 122 (4): 55–83. JSTOR 20027199.
  8. ^ Keller, Evelyn Fox (1982). "Feminism and science". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 7 (3): 589–602. doi:10.1086/493901.
  9. ^ Anderson, Elizabeth (2000-08-09). "Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Lloyd, Elisabeth A. (2006). The case of the female orgasm : bias in the science of evolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674022461.
  11. ^ Howes, Elaine V. (2002). "Connecting girls and science: Constructivism, feminism, and science education reform". Teachers College Press.
  12. ^ a b Brown, Matthew J. (2013-03-01). "The source and status of values for socially responsible science". Philosophical Studies. 163 (1): 67–76. doi:10.1007/s11098-012-0070-x. ISSN 1573-0883.