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New Left Review I/207, September-October 1994

Sabina Lovibond

Feminism and the ‘Crisis of Rationality’

There is a measure of consensus within feminist theory that rationalist values are in crisis—that the very arrival of women on the scene of intellectual activity necessitates a reappraisal of those values. [1] Earlier versions of this paper were presented to a class on ‘Topics in Feminism’ which Jennifer Hornsby and I gave at Oxford in 1992 and 1993, and to an audience at the University of Warwick in 1992. I am grateful to all who have taken part in discussion of it, and especially to Christine Battersby and Yuli Goulimari for their written comments. Sometimes the claim is that conventional scientific research procedure reflects an objectifying, control-seeking attitude to its subject-matter which can be regarded on psychological grounds as characteristically masculine; the large-scale entry of women into natural science could then be expected to lead to the development of a different, more empathetic and conservationist style of enquiry. [2] Cf. Toril Moi’s discussion of Evelyn Fox Keller (‘Patriarchal Thought and the Drive for Knowledge’), in Teresa Brennan, ed., Between Feminism and Psychoanalysis, London 1989. Sometimes there is an attempt to introduce new moral categories informed by feminist reflection on the shortcomings of ‘normal science’, such as Lorraine Code’s ‘epistemic responsibility’. [3] See Lorraine Code, ‘Experience, Knowledge and Responsibility’, in Morwenna Griffiths and Margaret Whitford, eds, Feminist Perspectives in Philosophy, Basingstoke 1988; and in the same vein, Naomi Scheman, Engenderings: Constructions of Knowledge, Authority and Privilege, London 1993, ch. 18, esp. pp. 224–5. Sometimes however, and more iconoclastically, it is argued that reason is an inherently gendered concept—an element in a discursive system organized by the assumption of male superiority.

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