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Feminist philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-DD3598-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Feminist philosophy is philosophy that is aimed at understanding and challenging the oppression of women. Feminist philosophy examines issues that are traditionally found in practical ethics and political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of language. In fact, feminist concerns can appear in almost all areas of traditional philosophy. Feminist philosophy is thus not a kind of philosophy; rather, it is unified by its focus on issues of concern to feminists.

Feminist philosophers question the structures and institutions that regulate our lives. When Mary Wollstonecraft was writing in 1792, the institutions excluded and subordinated women explicitly. Wollstonecraft, as the title of her book (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) makes clear, was extending the enlightenment idea that men have basic human rights, to women. Wollstonecraft argued that women should not be seen as importantly different from men: there may be differences due to different upbringing, but, Wollstonecraft argues, there is no reason to think men and women differ in important ways, and women should be given the same education and opportunities as men.

What seemed radical in 1792 may not seem radical now. Yet gender inequality persists. Thus philosophers must look beyond the formal rules and laws to the underlying structures that cause and perpetuate oppression. The feminist philosopher is always asking, ‘is there some element of this practice that depends on gender in some way?’ Feminist philosophers examine and critique the way we structure our families and reproduction, the cultural practices we engage in, such as prostitution and pornography, the way we think, and speak and value each other as knowers and thinkers.

In order to examine these issues the feminist philosopher may need an improved conceptual toolbox: we need to understand such complex concepts as intersectionality, false consciousness, and of course, gender itself. Is gender biologically determined – is it something natural and immutable, or is it socially constructed? As Simone de Beauvoir puts it, ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’. Feminist philosophers tend to argue that gender is all (or mostly) socially constructed, that it is something we invent rather than discover. Gender is nonetheless an important part of our world, and feminist philosophy aims to understand how it works.

Citing this article:
Mason, Elinor. Feminist philosophy, 2018, doi:10.4324/0123456789-DD3598-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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