May 24, 2019

Defining "Woman"

“Although academic philosophy divides itself into continental and analytic strands, it is not entirely clear how this division is meant to work. For one thing, it pits a continent against a method, which, as the late English philosopher Bernard Williams once pointed out, is like comparing a car made in Japan with a car that’s got four-wheel drive. Moreover, there are many analytic philosophers who are European, and many continental philosophers who are not, and there are many analytic philosophers who read certain continental philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida, and many continental philosophers who steer clear of both of them.

In fact, the designation of certain kinds of philosophy as continental is often just an insult: what is really meant is that the philosophy in question is obscure and rococo, and that whatever virtues it has to offer pale in comparison with the logical rigour and precision of the analytic approach. In turn, the retort from many continental philosophers is that logic and precision often mean simply omitting from one’s purview the messier swaths of human experience, those that cannot be reduced to the sort of formulas that analytic philosophers prize, such as x is y if, and only if, z.

This divide seems to reproduce itself within feminist philosophy. One volume pointedly calls itself the Bloomsbury Companion to Analytic Feminism (2018). The famed online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers separate articles on analytic and continental feminism (although with a separate article on intersections between the two). The article on analytic feminism notes its commitment to careful argumentation and to ‘the literal, precise, and clear use of language’, while that on continental feminism notes its interest in unveiling precisely those ‘non-discursive deep-seated biases and blind spots … not easily detected by an exclusive focus on the examination of arguments’. The article on analytic feminism emphasises the importance of the philosophy of language, epistemology and logic; that on continental feminism the importance of postmodernism, psychoanalysis and phenomenology.”

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