Art is the proper task of life

{January 24, 2007}   Objectivity, but which One? [An Intro to Feminist Critiques]

The prevalent Zeitgeist in the world these days is what can be termed as Scientism and its twin Objectivity. This world view seems to have penetrated culture to such an extent that a large number of religious people want to prove that their religion is “scientific” or “rational.” This worldview has been challenged by Feminist Epistemologists, the idea being that the rational vs. Irrational, nature vs. culture and masculine vs. feminine dualities that form part and parcel of the modernist programme are informed by constructs of rationality and objectivity that are rooted in notions of masculinity. Although there are a number of critiques of Objectivity from a feminist perspective, the one that I shall on here is Aperspectivity i.e., the notion that one can achieve knowledge of the way things are independent of one’s relation to the things. According to Feminists there is no such thing as “the view from nowhere” and biases are necessary to get the observation off the ground. Thus consider the case of an objective (whatever that means) male observer of women, although the male can be said to objective to a certain extent, one cannot ignore that the male is likely to project his assumptions or notions of how a female is supposed to behave, onto the person that he is observing. Thus the impossibility of a truly “objective” science.


mitchell porter says:

Hi. I followed you here from You may wish to examine Celia Green’s critique of 20th-century philosophy in “The Human Evasion”. As she notes in the first chapter, people have a tendency to water down the meaning of “reality”, from “that which exists” to “that which people believe exists”, “that which people are capable of knowing about”, etc. Now it might seem that feminist epistemology, as you describe it, could be part of a critique of such falsifying notions. However, if your own exposition is indicative, it seems to jump straight from a critique of the epistemic imperfections of its targets, to a wholesale rejection of their ideals. Thus you go straight from “the male is likely to project his assumptions” to the impossibility of an objective science. The consequence of thinking like this is simply to replace one dogma with another, and in this case even the ideal of objectivity is to be removed.

In your autobiographical note, you say that continental philosophy is one of your objects of study, so you may have run across Husserl’s critique of naturalism in science. That is the major critique of the contemporary notion of objectivity to which I would assent: the equation of reality with mathematized materialism. This is a definite intellectual error, whose principal philosophical symptom can be seen in the problematic status of everything to do with consciousness in analytic philosophy, and reaching the truth is going to require both a new phenomenology in which the materialist a-priori is abandoned, and bold metaphysical speculation of a sort which is very unfashionable in academic philosophy.

You also say you view philosophy as a tool for the liberation of humanity. Well, that sets off warning bells for me. Again, I would recommend Celia Green to you. She makes the point very clearly that the primordial oppression of human beings is by impersonal reality – by their finitude and ignorance, so to speak – but that this is such a daunting fact that they prefer to focus only on the secondary oppressions that human beings visit upon each other. Beware, in your haste to liberate humanity from socially distorted philosophical themata, that you do not thereby completely discredit the only means we have of dealing with the more fundamental issues.

Maliha says:

In traditional Islamic philosophical sciences, lack of objectivity was taken as a given and the emphasis instead was laid on the “ethics of scholarship.” I think there’s something to it…Osman Bakar writes beautifully about this.

Aliana says:

Mitchell: Thanks for the pointers. Regarding eliminative materialism being the reigning academic philosophy in the Anglo-American world, I have always thought that there should be and can be a more fruitful interaction between the Continental and the Analytical tradition. There are people who are working towards a reconciliation. However I think the major impedent is the dazzling success of Science and Technology to transform the world and making life easier for a lot of people. Anyway thanks for your comments, see you around.

Maliha: wa salam Interesting point. Its very difficult to seperate out values from ‘facts’. I will check out Osman Bakar.

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