Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Alexander Levine, Ph.D.
Stephen Turner, Ph.D.
Joanne Waugh, Ph.D.
Wei Zhang, Ph.D.
critical theory, feminist epistemology, feminist philosophy of science, Quine
This dissertation considers the “strategic naturalism” of Sandra Harding’s standpoint theory in the philosophy of science, and it should be applied to epistemology. Strategic naturalism stipulates that all elements of inquiry are historically and culturally situated, and thereby subject to critical reflection, analysis, and revision. Allegiance to naturalism is de rigueur, yet there is no clear agreement on the term’s meaning. Harding’s standpoint theory reads the lack of definition as indicative of its generative possibilities for epistemic progress. The driving question is why Harding’s approach has not been considered a viable candidate for determining progress in epistemology. Beyond the fact that epistemic labor, in its scientific and non-scientific forms, is a social activity, Harding’s approach recognizes that it is situated in and reinforced by a broader network of social institutions, beliefs, and practices. Harding’s strategic naturalism would invigorate epistemology by increasing the awareness, acceptance, and respect for epistemic difference and drive epistemic progress that not only acknowledges pluralistic ways of knowing but also gives a more accurate account of the knowing subject.
Chapter one is a discussion of non-naturalized epistemology and Quinean Naturalized Epistemology (QNE), framed by Harding’s historical account of the related projects of modern epistemology and science. This chapter highlights two important issues. The first issue is that epistemology is more complex than the story Quine offers. The second, and decisive issue is that the shared history of modern epistemology and science demonstrates the influence of social and cultural values on that history, and the long shadows they cast on naturalism debates in epistemology, science, and philosophy of science.
Chapter two is an exegetical account of the origins of and motivations for critical feminist responses to both the received epistemological theory and QNE discussed in chapter one. The justifications for the feminist critiques and the problematic issues that motivate these critiques provide the backdrop for the initial, positive response to QNE, as well as their disenchantment with Quine’s influential proposal. Ultimately, feminist epistemologists and philosophers of science assess QNE as not naturalized enough to address their concerns.
Chapter three considers several feminist standpoint theories to show that they are more naturalistic and better at providing a multi-faceted theory that is based on actual scientific practice, and re-introduces social values and interests as having a positive influence on epistemology and philosophies of science. This chapter shows that given the closely shared histories and assumptions of modern epistemology and science, FSE would be a viable resource for a more naturalistic epistemology.
The final chapter argues that the project of naturalizing epistemology could incorporate FSE insights and the positive role FSE’s controversiality would play in naturalizing epistemology and philosophies of science. If we are to take seriously the concept of situatedness and what that entails, then naturalism must also be situated, and revisited with a critical and reflective eye. The implications on both our epistemic theories and our accounts of what kinds of knowing subject we are would foster epistemic progress.
Scholar Commons Citation
Guzman, Dahlia, "The Strategic Naturalism of Sandra Harding's Feminist Standpoint Epistemology: A Path Toward Epistemic Progress" (2018). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.