Who Knows

Who Knows: From Quine to a Feminist Empiricism

Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Who Knows
    Book Description:

    In the past fifteen years, feminist science critics have, for the most part, rejected empiricism because of its identification with positivism. Various assumptions of both empiricists and feminists, including the "tenet" that individualism is an essential element of empiricism, have led to the belief that feminist science criticism is not a part of science. This view continues the myth that science is an autonomous and apolitical activity. Building on the work of W.V.0. Quine, Lynn Nelson clears away these obstacles and establishes a framework for a much-needed dialogue between feminist science critics and other scientists and scholars about the nature of science. She makes a case for a feminist empiricism that retains a crucial role for experience, but separates empiricism from individualism.

    Following Quine, Nelson argues that empiricism is a theory of evidence and is distinct from empiricist accounts of science that have been built on it. She urges feminists and empiricists to work together to develop a feminist empiricism, a view of science that can account for its obvious success in explaining and predicting experience and can encompass feminist insights into relationships among gender, politics, and science.

    Basing her arguments on Quine's non-foundationalist view that theories are bridges of our own construction, the author insists, as does Quine, that the construction of these bridges is constrained by experience. She determines that individualism is inconsistent with key Quinean positions and that empiricism can survive the demise of individualism. Clearly diverging from Quine, Nelson proposes the view that the evolving network of our theories does and should incorporate political views, including those shaped by, and shaping in turn, our experiences of gender.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0640-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION Reopening a Discussion
    (pp. 3-19)

    This book is an attempt to clear obstacles to several discussions. It attempts to reopen or redirect, among feminists, a discussion of empiricism, and to facilitate, among scientists and philosophers of science, a serious discussion of feminist criticisms of science. Its main objective is to encourage further dialogue between these two communities about the nature of science. The obstacles to these discussions are several, but the largest is surely that most scientists and philosophers of science are empiricists and the issues raised in and by feminist science criticism seem, to many feminists and empiricists, to presuppose the abandonment of empiricism....

  5. CHAPTER ONE Empiricism and Feminist Science Criticism
    (pp. 20-42)

    In an important sense, just about everyone is an empiricist. We believe that our theories confront the world, and a re developed and modified in accordance with our experiences of it. Most of the time, for most of us, this thesis of empiricism, though perhaps a “milk toast” version of empiricism, is uncontroversial. The practice of justifying and judging claims to know by reference to experience, however loose, enables us to distinguish claims that warrant serious consideration from those that do not. Most of us—at least in our less philosophical moments—engage in the practice.

    Indeed, unless we are...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Autonomy, Objectivity, and Incommensurability
    (pp. 43-81)

    This chapter is devoted to exploring the context and background within which Quine developed his philosophy of science and epistemology. The field of philosophy of science was, and in important respects still is, sharply divided into two schools of thinking about science, schools shaped by the “Hempel/Nagel tradition”¹ and a tradition (or cluster of traditions) represented by the work of Kuhn, Hanson, and Lakatos.

    Here I will outline some of the specific issues each tradition addressed—in particular, those over which they disagreed—and use the discussion to explore a polarization in thinking about science to which their disagreements contributed....

  7. CHAPTER THREE Quine: Science (Almost) without Boundaries
    (pp. 82-136)

    The hardest part of talking about Quine is beginning to talk about Quine. Quine’s views, to use one of his favorite metaphors, are best thought of as forming a network and, as Richard Schuldenfrei notes, they incorporate “a world view”.¹ This makes it difficult to isolate particular aspects of Quine’s work without reference to the larger picture.

    In addition, although there are relationships between Quine’s specific positions, these do not include or build from a foundation. Even the most pervasive aspect of his work, a commitment to empiricism, is closely connected to twentieth-century developments in science and philosophy of science,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Addelson: The Politics of Knowledge
    (pp. 137-185)

    The thesis of this chapter is one that underlies all feminist science criticism. It is the thesis that, for now at least, the autonomy of science is a myth and a pernicious one. The autonomy at issue has been discussed in the preceding two chapters: it is the alleged detachment of science (in the narrow sense) from common-sense experience and theory, including social and political arrangements, views, issues, and values.

    From a view of science shaped by Quine’s positions, I am tempted to think that an “autonomous” science would be impossible at any time. But this might be due to...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Bridges of Our Own Making
    (pp. 186-254)

    Divisions in cognitive authority and labor in science communities and our larger society involve epistemology only if the identities of scientists make a difference to the content of scientific knowledge—only if who is theorizing has a bearing on the research undertaken, the methodologies adopted, and, ultimately, the content of scientific theories. Unless such connections exist, the divisions are social and political issues, and for some of us they are moral issues. As any or all of these, the divisions rightly claim a place in our accounts of science. But they would not figure in our accounts of theepistemology...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Who Knows
    (pp. 255-299)

    Acceptable answers to the question “Who knows?” include “Everyone”, “All of us”, “Lots of people”, “Many of us”, but only very problematically "Only me". What I know depends inextricably on whatweknow, for some we. My claims to know are subject to community criteria, public notions of what constitutes evidence, so that, in an important sense, Icanknow only whatweknow, for some we.

    In those rare cases when I claim exclusive knowledge, my claim is usually either uninteresting (others could know if they looked) or false. I In those even rarer cases when I claim to...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Science Communities
    (pp. 300-318)

    It is not uncommon in feminist science criticism to discuss how science might be different in a society that did not include the divisions in power and experience by sex/gender, race, and class that western societies currently incorporate, and if the values emerging in feminism were generally accepted and reflected in practices. I The ability to consider how science might be different, and to relate such differences to social and political arrangements and values, suggests that feminists are working with a fundamentally different view of science than traditionally and, to a large extent, currently held. Many of us have been...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 319-362)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 363-388)
  14. Index
    (pp. 389-401)