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Feminists and pragmatists

influential in, and informed by the work of John Dewey, William James and W.E.B. Du Bois, and latetwentieth-century feminisms. Pragmatists and presentday feminists, she contends, have good reasons to unite around a history of commonalities that promise mutual philosophical enrichment.

Taking exception to Westʼs unquestioning adherence to a ʻvenerable tradition of tracing influence “through the fathers”ʼ, noting his failure to ʻbreak with the tradition of male intellectual genealogiesʼ, [2] Seigfried traces another strong lineage through the eminent women who worked with, thought with, wrote with, and taught with the male pragmatists whose names and works are constitutive of ʻAmerican pragmatismʼ. This lineage reveals continuities ʻthrough the mothers and sistersʼ with feminist debates of the 1990s, bringing to light a rich, yet hitherto obscured, record both of independent philosophical creativity and of extensive collaboration with the principal male pragmatists on the part of such women as Jane Addams, Elsie Ridley Clapp, Lucy Sprague Mitchell, and Ella Flague Young, among many others. This reclamation of an underacknowledged heritage is one of the bookʼs most impressive achievements. Seigfried traces interweavings of themes, methods, problems and theories central to feminist and to pragmatist philosophies, arguing thus for combining forces and resources around a consonance in purpose and practice.

This project demands many simultaneous chartings and cataloguings. To mention only the most salient: Seigfried has at once to chart the course of American pragmatism through the doctrines of its readily visible male protagonists and the works and deeds of its much less visible or audible female practitioners who figure mainly – in canonical histories of pragmatism In his provocatively titled 1989 book The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism Cornel West speculates that pragmatism has failed to attract significant numbers of women because of ʻits aggressive and self-confident stance toward the realities of the spheres of power [that] has been virtually the possession of males in patriarchal Americaʼ. He asks:

Does American pragmatism put too much of a premium on an aggressive will? Is it but another expression of patriarchal culture? Will the assertive agency of women from different classes and cultures shun this mode of intellectual expression in the future? These questions remain unanswered at present.

The issue, for West, ʻis how American women will reshape and revise pragmatismʼ; how womenʼs ʻappeal to their own experiences can enrich and promote an Emersonian culture of creative democracyʼ. [1]

Charlene Seigfried, in her impressively ambitious 1996 book Feminism and Pragmatism: Reweaving the Social Fabric, argues that far from ʻshun[ning] this mode of intellectual expressionʼ feminists can indeed ʻreshape and revise pragmatismʼ to generate revisionary, transformative philosophy. She suggests that feminist theorists of the ʻsecond waveʼ who eschew a priori, ʻgodʼs eye viewʼ analyses in favour of relocating inquiry within the concrete exigencies of human – and especially womenʼs – lives already occupy an epistemic, ethical and political territory contiguous with that mapped out by such pragmatists as John Dewey and William James, so that feminist ʻgatheringʼ expeditions could produce useful crossfertilizations. Seigfried traces a continuity between ʻfirst waveʼ feminist projects contemporaneous with,

Feminists and pragmatists A radical future?

Lorraine code

– as the underlabourers (in Marilyn Fryeʼs sense), the imperceptible yet sine qua non backdrop to the work and lives of men. [3] She has to extract from the writings of a by-no-means homogeneous group of philosophers a catalogue of theories, methodological assumptions and presuppositions through which to conjoin their theories and practices as pragmatist. She has to show how, despite Westʼs aligning pragmatism with the interests and idea(l)s of patriarchal America, it can be a resource for feminists who read past its androcentred, white-male-supremacist stance. She has also to work with a conception of feminism sufficiently nuanced to remain ʻtrue toʼ the multiplicity and diversity of feminisms at centuryʼs end, yet sufficiently aggregated to authorize a feminist label for a collective mining of the resources pragmatism offers. And remaining cognizant of that same multiplicity, she has to ensure that an emergent feminist-pragmatism amounts to more than a white affluent womenʼs version of a white affluent menʼs philosophical project.

My reading of these chartings is prompted by more than a detached scholarly disinterest. For many years, colleagues – Seigfried among them – have discerned affinities between my work and the spirit of pragmatism. Even in my first, not-yet-feminist book (Epistemic Responsibility), a colleague suggested that I forestall comments that I had unwittingly ʻrediscovered pragmatismʼ with a textual acknowledgement of commonalities. Somewhat disingenuously, then, I noted a consonance between the ʻnormative realismʼ I was advocating, and a concern common to such pragmatists as Dewey, Peirce and James ʻto know and understand the world wellʼ. I suggested that ʻpragmatism is really much more a theory about knowing, in the sense of ʻfinding oneʼs way about the worldʼ, than it is a ʻtheory of truthʼ. [4] Slender as my discussion of pragmatism then was, these proto-naturalistic claims withstand the scrutiny of Seigfriedʼs readings of pragmatism, to the point where they indeed signal a continuity between the naturalized/socialized aspects of ʻepistemic responsibilityʼ and issues of philosophical concern to the pragmatists I have mentioned. More recently, with reference to my interrogations of Quinean (scientistic) naturalism in developing an ecologically modelled naturalism, Seigfried has again found points of overlap between my work and the pragmatism she recommends to feminists. [5] Consequently, her book prompts me to ask general questions about what feminist epistemologists could gain from making common cause with pragmatists, and more particular ones about whether my work as I read it is as close to pragmatism as Seigfriedʼs readings of both have sometimes placed it.

It would be difficult to endorse ʻEmersonianʼ democracy as the goal of the exercise because of its hyper-masculinist character; nor do I, a Canadian, unequivocally count among the ʻAmerican womenʼ West writes about. My distance from them, even as I speak and often find my philosophical place with them, may signal something about the scope of pragmatism, be it classical, feminist, modern, or postmodern. Is pragmatism, after all, so quintessentially American that its theoretical pertinence blurs at Americaʼs borders? Is this an effect of Deweyʼs claims about pragmatismʼs special salience to ʻourselves living not merely in the early twentieth century but in the United Statesʼ?, his insistence that philosophy in America must ʻsomehow bring to consciousness Americaʼs own needs and its own implicit principle of successful actionʼ? [6] Does pragmatismʼs being self-consciously ʻof this worldʼ then limit it to its particular, specific world? [7] I have as yet no answer to these questions, but I think a feminist-pragmatist conversation has to incorporate what Foucault calls ʻa critique of what we are saying, thinking and doing through a historical ontology of ourselvesʼ:8 a radical questioning of who ʻweʼ are who claim a place in relation to pragmatism. In what follows, my remarks divide into observations on the lineage and the legacy that shape such a conversation; I then try to think about its radical future. [9]

The lineage

In the good(?) old days when it raised no eyebrows to think of a philosopherʼs thought springing from a place in the middle of his forehead, bypassing the ʻmerely subjectiveʼ circumstances that made him and his philosophy possible, it was acceptable to turn criticalconstructive engagement with a theory into a resource for successor inquiries without asking whether its makerʼs misogyny or his madness (Nietzsche), or his Nazi alliances (Heidegger) infected the ideas on which revisionings sensitive to these very issues might draw. Prohibitions on ad hominem were very nearly absolute. Now, feminists in the second wave have become more skilled at moving in and out of philosophical systems, drawing on their promise, refusing their damaged and damaging associations. Paradoxically perhaps, in a postmodern era in which selves are multiple and fragmented, and should be able to keep separate their disparate and even contradictory projects, there is a stronger imperative for a coherence that makes appropriations more difficult, and requires them to be more responsible. It is no longer easy to ignore, say, Heideggerʼs Nazism: it is pertinent to consider whether Dasein is ontologically predisposed to the moves that issued in its creatorʼs complicity with National Socialism. And so too with pragmatism: its feminist would-be appropriators have to face Jamesʼs relegation even of the women he loved and admired to the underlabourer position, and of their pragmatist ʻcontributionsʼ to products of their womanly attributes; Deweyʼs failure to notice ʻthat he was privileging a masculine perspectiveʼ in what Seigfried calls his ʻgendered discourseʼ, [10] which remains androcentred despite his best social emancipatory intentions. None of these issues is new, all of them are difficult, and dangerous. [11] Thus gleanings have to be piecemeal, selective; to take into account the constitutive effects of situated subjectivities in making, claiming and circulating knowledge. Seigfriedʼs book exposes many of these problems: it takes them on critically and constructively, even in recommending pragmatism to feminists.

Yet a tension runs through the text, captured in Seigfriedʼs contrast between Simone de Beauvoirʼs well-known remark: ʻRepresentation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truthʼ, [12] and Deweyʼs comment: ʻit is natural to men to take that which is of chief value to them at the time as the realʼ. [13] Dewey, Seigfried notes, unselfconsciously assumes that ʻmenʼ is generic; de Beauvoir means, quite specifically, men and not women. The tension marked in this contrast is apparent throughout this lineage, recalling Westʼs remarks about ʻpatriarchal cultureʼ, urging feminist readers to examine the limits of the principle of charity they have to invoke in order to read past the pseudo-generics embedded in classical pragmatist texts. (Dewey, Seigfried notes, ʻspoke more accurately than he knew when he defined experiencing as what men do, feel, value, and imagineʼ. ʻFor all his sensitivity to different angles of vision [he] does not finally recognize how much his philosophic perspective derives its strength from the fact that it is a view from a privileged center.ʼ [14] ) How far can feminists ignore the practical personal-political effects of lives that kept their female collaborators and cohabitors in underlabourer positions, especially in a philosophy that locates itself down on the ground, where lives are lived and the consequences of inquiry are allowed to matter? The problem is not new for feminist philosophers: drawing on a long, unrelievedly masculine and androcentered Western philosophical tradition requires them always to work within such tensions in their salvage and reconstruction projects.

But ironically, such tensions pull more urgently in relation to pragmatists than to philosophers who hold their inquiries apart from the mundane events and patterns of the everyday. The very move that generates their clearest appeal to feminists working with ʻdesublimatedʼ [15] conceptions of philosophy submits salient parts of pragmatismʼs ʻpolitics of the everydayʼ to searching critique. So the tale Seigfried tells is ambiguous in the recommendations it generates: even in its focus on Dewey, whose life and works come together in a position feminists could endorse with the least compromise. An alliance with James would entail more serious compromises in gender politics: in part, ironically, because of his notably ʻfeminineʼ style, which in the very act of claiming the label attests to an ambivalent relationship with a stereotyped feminine that cannot be mistaken for a proto-feminism. Seigfried elaborates no continuities between feminism and Peirce, whom she counts among ʻthe least feminist of all the classical American philosophersʼ;16 while her readings of W.E.B. Du Bois prompt her reader (= this reader) to want more: here, as West also suggests, [17] there is real promise for the multiply difference-sensitive projects of the late twentieth century.

Readings past androcentrism and occasional misogyny (James, Peirce) have also to determine – recalling Frye – how to read the stagehandsʼ stories positively, inspirationally, given the structures that held them behind the scenes, requiring their acquiescence within a patriarchal social-domestic order: the invisibility of Peirceʼs first wife in histories of pragmatism is a poignant example. [18] Yet Seigfried tells these womenʼs stories as heroic tales of voices that refused to be muted and feminist practice that refused to be thwarted even though they failed, in the main, to claim the enduring public acknowledgement on which knowledge, in the end, depends. Because they had usually to speak in private or in feminized schoolroom settings, theirs is a muted legacy.

My point is not that these tensions and ambiguities prohibit feminist-pragmatist collaboration, but that they demarcate the territory where it has to work. The lineage Seigfried traces suggests that critical feminist rereadings of Dewey or Gilman can contribute most straightforwardly to feminist revisionary projects – as Lisa Heldke and Ann Palmeri earlier proposed19 – while a larger feminist-pragmatist union will have to be deeply radicalized to deal with the negative pull of these tensions.

The legacy

Resisting the Social Darwinist conclusion that it is because it has been ʻtried and found wantingʼ that American pragmatism has failed to occupy a prominent place in canonical Western philosophy, Charlene Seigfried represents it as marginalized precisely for its commitment to principles and practices central also to late-twentieth-century feminism. Thus a successful union would be a means of establishing a place closer to the centre for both positions.

Pragmatists, Seigfried recounts, developed early and persistent critiques of scientistic positivism; they resisted splitting facts from values; reclaimed the epistemic and experiential import of aesthetics; linked dominant discourses to social domination; reconnected theory and practice; claimed the theoretical primacy of concrete experience; repudiated the spectator stance of philosophical indifference; and addressed the socialpolitical effects of the social sciences. [20] The package is in many respects attractive. Yet one omission that must give feminists pause is (male) pragmatistsʼ failure successfully to counter the public man/private woman dichotomy that still infects the societies in which pragmatists and feminists devise and enact their theories of knowledge, ontology, morality and politics;21 and this depite Deweyʼs having developed ʻa very specific theory of the self and communityʼ that departs from the individualism on which a public/ private split commonly relies. [22] The sedimentation of that dichotomy in the ʻabsolute presuppositions23 of classical pragmatism allowed even Dewey, despite his keenly experimentalist social commitments, to tolerate the calamities and injustices that returned his closest female collaborator – his wife – to a life in the ʻprivateʼ background. Indeed, Seigfred shows that also in his emancipatory educational writings, Dewey failed to notice ʻthe absurdity of imagining that childrenʼs social environment is constituted exclusively, even primarily, of menʼ. [24] So the public/private split works oddly in both directions. I do not mean to suggest that androcentric habits are easily eradicated, or that a philosopher is answerable for failing to think in a conceptual frame that is not of her/his time: my reference to absolute presuppositions makes just this point. But the time-boundedness of a social emancipatory project that overlooks the possibility of emancipating itself from these assumptions has also to be addressed, particularly when its articulator is on record for his openness to innovative, experimentalist thinking, and when provocations to such experiments are there in his life. It is for such reasons that ʻa historical ontology of ourselvesʼ belongs within inquiry that pushes at the boundaries of instituted social imaginaries.

Where Deweyʼs recommendations for ʻa recovery of philosophyʼ have the greatest feminist appeal is in his analyses of experience, which diverge radically in their detail and import from the thin, sanitized, experience of ʻabstract masculinityʼ on which the epistemologies of the Anglo-American mainstream rely. [25] Nor does experience function merely as one concept among many, for Dewey: the reconfigured concept he proposes would effect fundamental transformations throughout epistemology.

Critiques of the conception of experience that shapes Anglo-American epistemology have been central to feminist interrogations of orthodox epistemologyʼs self-certainty as a project of disinterested inquiry committed to establishing a priori, normative conditions for achieving and evaluating ʻknowledge in generalʼ. [26] Feminists have contested epistemologyʼs self-presentation as an inquiry apart, prescinding from the experiences and circumstances of generic, infinitely replicable knowers who pursue knowledge deemed good ʻfor its own sakeʼ, equally available to any knower equivalently placed. They have interrogated the assumption that any and every knower could, as a matter of course, be equivalently placed, with equivalent access to the experiences of which ʻknowledge properʼ is made. They have deplored the rift between the physical-science-derived model on which epistemically sanctioned knowledge must be based and the experiences of would-be knowers across a range of locations and circumstances where knowledge is indeed vital to their capacity to live well, showing that the scientific model plainly exceeds its reach when it is invoked to regulate or adjudicate everyday epistemic practice. Seigfried shows that many of these criticisms might lose their sting if feminists were to acknowledge pragmatismʼs contribution to epistemology.

Why, then, might Deweyʼs eccentric (= ex-centric) conception of experience function as an entry point through which feminist epistemologists could make common cause with pragmatism? Most simply, because he rejects many of the features of experience in orthodox empiricism and positivism that have drawn feminist critique, and because his reconfigured conception of experience is often consonant with feminist reconstructions.

For Dewey, ʻExperience is no slipping along in a path fixed by inner consciousnessʼ: it is no mere spectator, but a matter of ʻsimultaneous doings and sufferingsʼ, ʻthe intercourse of a living being with its physical and social environmentʼ. [27] Far from being primarily psychical, subjective, experience attests to ʻa genuinely objective world which enters into the actions and sufferings of men [sic]ʼ. It is neither punctiform, static, nor passively receptive, but an active involvement; it is ʻexperimental, an effort to change the givenʼ; it is ʻpregnant with connectionsʼ, ʻfull of inferenceʼ. [28] It is ʻundergone in connexion with activities whose import lies in their objective consequences – their bearing upon future experiencesʼ. And those consequences are visible in the ʻsuccessful activities of the organismʼ working within and in connection with the environment to effect changes that enable life to endure, that turn ʻhindrances … into meansʼ. [29]

Experience as Dewey configures it generates a secularized – indeed, a naturalized and socialized – picture of scientific knowledge that neither aspires to the purity of abstract universalism nor represents itself as a master narrative, hegemonically paradigmatic of knowledge ʻin generalʼ. Scientific inquiry is, for him, a located practice stimulated by how something – he takes water as an example – enters into experience, acquires meaning, needs to be known ʻin connection with a forecast of the consequences it will effect when responded toʼ in a natural event of knowing. Pragmatism, he maintains, takes ʻits stand with science … [and] also with daily lifeʼ. Thus for Dewey, ʻthe directive presence of future possibilities in dealing with existent conditions is what is meant by knowingʼ: man the seer gives way to man the foreseer, equipped with an inherently forward-looking and creative intelligence. Intelligence thus conceived can ʻliberate and liberalize actionʼ. The epistemic agent whose intelligence is thus invoked is in and of this world, socially evolving as ʻan intellectually free and responsible individualʼ whose knowing is ʻaboutʼ and conjoined with his community and environment. [30]

Knowledge, then, as Dewey represents it, is neither a priori nor disinterested; he is sceptical of the very idea of ʻknowledge in generalʼ abstracted from the particularities of active, engaged experience. Traditional accounts, he maintains, ʻhave not been empirical, but have been deductions, from unnamed premises, of what experience must beʼ. [31] In Deweyʼs view, people seek knowledge not for ʻits own sakeʼ, but for the sake of solving problems that originate in concrete experience and demand responses in particular circumstances and for a variety of reasons, among which disinterestedness scarcely figures.

Even this brief summary reveals why feminists could find a resource in this resituating of epistemology within the real world, where knowing makes a difference to peopleʼs lives. This is no small shift, for it relocates the whole epistemological project. Brought down to earth, relocated in a lived, organic environment, reason and knowledge are ʻdesublimatedʼ, as they also are in a naturalized-socialized feminist epistemology that avoids scientism, contests a hegemonic social imaginary of dominance and instrumentality, centres its attention on knowing as responsible, ʻthoughtful practiceʼ [32] and works toward realizing the communal-ecological possibilities that a successor epistemology, as I conceive it, has to offer. For feminists, pragmatistsʼ engagement with these very questions about ʻthe epistemological turnʼ reveals that malestream philosophy has not, after all, been seamlessly impervious to critical-constructive voices making arguments prescient of and consonant with their own. At the same time, gauging the extent of the commonality, assessing the inclusions and omissions that persist in the work of many pragmatists, works to sharpen feminist critiques of an androcentrism that runs even through projects so close to theirs.

This last point returns me to the tensions within which feminists drawn to (Deweyian) pragmatism have to work. Some of them are apparent in Deweyʼs essay, others in Seigfriedʼs text. Like my earlier points, many of them are about generics: in this instance about how experience and experiencers, for all the radicality of their relocations, still function as generic. Dewey indeed brings the ʻbearer of experiencesʼ down to earth, [33] but the definite article that names ʻthe bearerʼ, ʻthe experiencerʼ, generically indicates that, even in this secularized analysis, experience often still functions as a singular, homogeneous concept, so that there is no room to ask whose specifically it is. Problems about how to take subjectivity adequately into account maintain the tensions I address. [34] Seigfried is aware of the tensions that subjectivity issues generate for pragmatism. She notes that historically women in pragmatism, even in their validations of personal experience and their solidarity with other women, had no access to ʻexplicit and sustained criticism of sexismʼ. [35] They had at their disposal no theoretical apparatus within which to develop socialstructural analyses that could reveal how their experiences were mediated and shaped by, and enacted within, a patriarchal social order. In consequence, there was no way around the earnest self-blaming, self-improvement cycle that so easily holds women ensnared. They could invoke only ʻpersonal differencesʼ, insufficient individual effort, to explain their ongoing underlabourer status. Politically, appeals to, affirmations of, experience are still blunt instruments when they have to be uttered into rhetorical spaces insufficiently attuned to acknowledge them. Without social-political uptake, womenʼs ʻassertive agencyʼ alone (recalling West) is not enough.

The point connects with issues about individualism and community. Throughout the book, Seigfried claims that experience in pragmatist philosophy is not just individual but communal, community-based. [36] That basis enables pragmatists to distance themselves from working with the model of the isolated individual who is the epistemic agent in Anglo-American philosophy, embodying abstract masculinity, and claiming single occupancy of the epistemic terrain. Seigfried offers evidence, throughout the text, to support her contention that pragmatism undercuts individualism. Thus for Dewey, the ʻsocial development of the selfʼ as Seigfried presents it is not confined to childhood but extends throughout human lives and environmentally responsive practices to subvert ʻthe essentialism of Enlightenment models of human natureʼ. [37]

I wonder, however, how far that subversion goes.

For Seigfried appears at the same time to commend Deweyʼs appeal to a ʻcommon humanityʼ; and she worries that ʻthe more women are differentiated as women, the less they embody the characteristics of humanityʼ. [38] In these instances, as elsewhere in the text, she makes more claims on a definable, specifiable ʻhumanityʼ homogenized beneath its differences than I think post-individualistic feminism can bear. The politics of ʻwe-sayingʼ are pertinent here. Dewey refers to how ʻweʼ live (as in ʻwe live forwardʼ; in the ʻobstacles that confront usʼ; he refers also to ʻthe progress of the raceʼ [39] ). In so doing he is, as elsewhere, writing within the idiom of his time, for which, as I have suggested, it is difficult to fault him. Seigfried is indeed aware of the problems that attend efforts to include women ʻin the seemingly inclusive weʼ of Deweyʼs prose. Yet her references to ʻweʼ also prompt questions about who we are, with the same urgency, as for example in her allusion to ʻthe goals we take to be most desirableʼ in a passage that reinvokes the dislocated transparent self integral to a too-easily-assumed ʻcommon humanityʼ that is indeed American and affluent, after all. [40] The idea of experience as something ʻweʼ – whoever we are – readily understand and to which we have direct access as a privileged source of knowledge, indeed the very possibility of uttering that uncontested ʻweʼ, cannot be taken for granted. Thus on matters of the relations among experience, knowledge and subjectivity I am left with the worry that the pragmatism Seigfried serves up is conceptually too narrow to offer what I, at least, would want from it. Here an elaborated ontology of the subject is conspicuous in its absence.

Seigfriedʼs endorsement of Deweyian reconstructions of ʻexperienceʼ also raises questions for me about the pull between a tyranny of ʻexperientialismʼ immune to discussion and the persistent tyrannies of incredulity, denigration and distrust that too often discount womenʼs testimonial accounts of their ʻownʼ experiences. [41] Seigfried rightly applauds Deweyʼs rejection of ʻthe subjectification of primary experienceʼ; but in reading this rejection as an argument for ʻacknowledging the reality of the material conditions, the objectivity, of womenʼs experienceʼ I think she grants Dewey too much. [42] The tension here is not just of Seigfriedʼs making, for it runs through feminist debates of the 1990s, about how to take womenʼs experiences seriously – very seriously – yet how respectfully, responsibly, to affirm their contestability by engaging interrogatively with them. It is about how not to be drawn into assuming that, because of age-old patterns of incredulity, womenʼs experiences have to be taken at face value, as sacrosanct, objective, answerable to interpretation only at the expense of doing violence. Arguing that womenʼs experiences are objective, or that they are at once subjective and knowledgeable, could indeed count as a step toward breaking this tension; but a full acknowledgement of the mediation, all the way down, of social-cultural-economic-racial-material structures requires a more nuanced and indeed radical conceptual move than a substitution of ʻsubjectivityʼ for ʻobjectivityʼ can allow. Both terms are so heavily laden with theoretical baggage that even the move of locating experience (still singular) within historical process does not go far enough in showing how experiences, experiencing organic selves, are materially, socially constituted – and yet not deterministically. Thus I am also more wary than Seigfried is about the unequivocal value of ʻConstructing our self-identity by putting ourselves in the place of the Other and then reacting to the perceptions Others would have of usʼ. [43] Professed empathy – Seigfried sometimes prefers Deweyʼs term ʻsympathetic understandingʼ (p. 93) – is as often presumptuous, imperialistic, self-serving as it is legitimately altruistic, other-regarding. Indeed, a model of experience that ʻincorporates empathic understandingʼ should generate equal measures of caution and commendation. [44] These issues loop back to the matter of generics: neither experience, subjectivity, objectivity, nor empathy lend themselves well, I think, to generic, homogeneous readings. I am not sure whether this is a place at which Seigfried and I disagree, or whether she indeed grants Dewey too much in the way of sensitivity to differences and to the material production of subjectivity; but I think it is a place where feminists sensitive to differences will want a more radical future if they are to ʻgo part of the wayʼ with pragmatism. [45]

Who needs who?

The larger questions that my engagement with Seigfriedʼs book occasion are about how to read masculinist/androcentred philosophy toward a radical feminist future: about why one would do it, what the benefits are, how important it is for feminist projects to locate themselves in relation to canonical philosophy. It is intuitively obvious that the relationship cannot merely be one of entering on its own terms a lineage which is still, largely, ʻof the fathersʼ. Yet it is a commonplace that philosophy is made and remade by its history, hence that in entering these debates ʻas philosophersʼ feminists claim a place within a mode of inquiry that is, in a significant sense, its history. Debates are generated and framed in relation to older debates; innovative proposals establish their credentials by rehearsing their relation to earlier questions, or questions from elsewhere; critique takes issue with inquiries that have gone awry, by the standards of the new, in the parts of the old that create the spaces that make critical-constructive debate possible. Thus feminist philosophy of the second wave began in interrogations of a tradition whose hitherto invisible androcentricity, and inhospitability to women, feminists have continued to expose as they peel away layer after layer of the philosophical onion. At stake in the inventive parts of successor projects is developing a conceptual apparatus with sufficient explanatory power to enable understanding, revision, transformation. Working with and through kindred modes of inquiry opens out new conceptual spaces, shows where already-tried innovations and positional shifts have led, enables discussion across and not just within established commitments, showing how insights that do not stretch to account for matters salient in successor projects can sometimes be taken in different directions, discarded, rethought. Practitioners thus avoid reinventing a wheel that is well turned and able to bear the weight it has to carry forward. Such conversations across theoretical commitments can reveal by analogy and disanalogy what – in this case – a feminist philosopher as ʻwoman the gathererʼ can take should she decide to go further into the conceptual-theoretical spaces that pragmatism opens out. (Here ʻwoman the gathererʼ contrasts with ʻman the hunterʼ, ironically cast as the principal actor in adversarial practices of engaging with philosophical positions principally to attack and discredit them. [46] ) As always, there are dangers: this time of claiming a place in a male intellectual genealogy when the female builders of that same legacy are so thoroughly occluded in those of its forms that have survived the test of time. Such cautionary recognitions perpetuate the tensions I mention earlier, suggesting that it could be better for women to remain on the borders, as gatherers adding their gleanings to a growing feminist store out of which they are already well advanced in concocting innovative, transformative theory and practice. They urge an ongoing healthy scepticism within and in relation to feminist-pragmatist projects.

What position, then, could feminists – I as a feminist – occupy in relation to pragmatism? These are large questions to which I can offer only tentative responses here. To ʻpragmatism as suchʼ for ʻfeminists as suchʼ there is no ready answer. It is from aspects of Deweyʼs philosophy, and from Gilman and Du Bois, that feminist affinities worth gathering emerge for me from Seigfriedʼs book, as feminists such as Lynn Nelson, Nellie MacKay, Phyllis Rooney, Lisa Heldke and Margaret Radin also have claimed. [47] Dewey locates knowing within human lives, takes for granted connections between knowledge and ethics, art as experience, epistemic communities, education; Gilman insists on the political force of the economic and public/private implications of feminist inquiry and activism; Du Bois opens a point of entry to questions of racial difference pertinent still, and more urgently, at the end of this century.

Yet there are some less desirable leftovers. Prominent among them is instrumentality: a contestable issue both for pragmatists and for would-be pragmatist sympathizers who are looking for renewed conceptual tools for thinking about reason and rationality, knowledge and informed practice. (Seigfried notes that ʻPragmatists explain … pluralism in points of view as evidence that all theories are instrumental. They are cognitive means of handling experiences satisfactorily for our purposes.ʼ [48] ) Such appeals to instrumental outcomes have to be reinterpreted with a large measure of feminist scepticism in view of the alignments of ʻinstrumental reasonʼ with specific readings of affluent masculinity, amply documented by Nancy Hartsock and Genevieve Lloyd. [49] Evelyn Fox Keller details the effects of an instrumentality in physical science that yields a mechanistic, power-infused working picture of the natural and social world that is reductive and oppressive in its allegiance to a scientism to which pragmatists ought, ex hypothesi, to take exception. [50]

The issues of power invoked here are not just about power as West refers to it, where it is someoneʼs/some groupʼs ʻpossessionʼ (= ʻmales in patriarchal Americaʼ) but a more ubiquitous, Foucauldian power, dispersed throughout the social order, reinforcing patterns of acknowledging and silencing the very experience to which Dewey appeals: of public credibility and private invisibility that cannot be erased by democratic resolve alone. Uneven distributions of epistemic authority even in the alleged democracy of the process remain insufficiently addressed in these readings of pragmatism. For my work I need a sense that the social emancipatory message is more than, and markedly different from, an argument for equal, democratically distributed places and possibilities for everyone in a march toward homogeneous self-realization within a social order where the pieces may indeed be moved around to make space for the hitherto ʻexcludedʼ: I need evidence that those spaces and the ʻgoodsʼ available within them are radically reconceived. The specificities of radically different subjectivities have to be addressed, and too-hasty applause for pragmatist commitments to communal inquiry withheld until it becomes clear that this community is indeed significantly more than the sum of its individual, self-actualizing parts.

Can twentieth-century feminists, then, count themselves among the progeny of classical pragmatism even if they refuse to behave as dutiful daughters, refuse to ignore pragmatist silences on issues of racial, gendered and class subordination? If they can enter a pragmatist frame only as rebellious inheritors of an ambivalently hospitable legacy against which they have frequently to rebel, then what have they to gain from the label? If pragmatism does not have these resources, many versions of feminism already have them in abundance: so perhaps the most significant conclusion that emerges from Feminism and Pragmatism is that pragmatism needs feminism even more than feminism needs pragmatism. Seigfriedʼs urgings that feminists profit from and build upon pragmatist-feminist continuities and commonalities go principally in one direction: from pragmatism to feminism. Although the thrust of her argument is indeed that twentieth-century feminists can (recalling Westʼs phrase) ʻreshape and revise pragmatismʼ, [51] she devotes less space to showing how self-identified present-day male pragmatists such as Quine, Goodman, Putnam and Rorty could benefit from a constructive-critical engagement within the social emancipatory projects of feminist and other post-colonial philosophy. [52] As I see it, the possibility of a radical future depends as much on two-way conversations, negotiations and constructive critiques as on intelligent, ecologically sensitive gathering expeditions. [53]


1. ^ Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1989, pp. 180–81.

2. ^ Charlene Haddock Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996, p. 73.

3. ^ In Marilyn Frye, ʻTo See and be Seenʼ, in The Politics of Reality, Crossing Press, Trumansburg NY, 1983.

4. ^ Lorraine Code, Epistemic Responsibility, University Press of New England, Hanover NH, 1987, pp. 130–31.

Thanks to Alan Montefiore for the suggestions about pragmatism.

5. ^ I refer to my ʻWhat Is Natural About Epistemology Naturalized?ʼ, American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 1, January 1996; and ʻStatements of Fact: Whose?

Where? When?ʼ American Philosophical Association conference paper, Atlanta, December 1996.

6. ^ John Dewey, ʻThe Need for a Recovery of Philosophyʼ, in The Middle Works of John Dewey, 1899–1924, vol. 10, edited by Jo Ann Boydston, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1976–83, p. 47.

7. ^ Of course there are influences beyond Americanʼs shores: pragmatists have travelled, and Bertrand Russellʼs engagement with William Jamesʼs Neutral Monism is well known. But I find these less noteworthy than pragmatismʼs decidedly American flavour.

8. ^ Michel Foucault, ʻWhat Is Enlightenment?ʼ, trans. Catherine Porter, in Paul Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader, Pantheon Books, New York, 1984, p. 45.

9. ^ The phrase comes from the title of Zillah Eisensteinʼs classic feminist text, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, Longman, New York, 1981.

10. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 151.

11. ^ I allude to Michel Foucaultʼs comment: ʻMy point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to doʼ (in the interview ʻOn the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progressʼ, in Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd edn, University of Chicago Press,

Chicago, 1983, p. 231).

12. ^ Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H.M. Parshley, Vintage Books, New York, 1974, p. 161, quoted in Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 170.

13. ^ John Dewey, Experience and Nature 1:25, cited in Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 170.

14. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, pp. 151, 169.

15. ^ The term is Sabina Lovibondʼs in ʻThe End of Morality?ʼ, in Kathleen Lennon and Margaret Whitford, eds, Knowing the Difference: Feminist Perspectives in Epistemology, Routledge, London, 1994. Lovibond claims that twentieth-century epistemology ʻworks with a conception of reason that has been “irrevocably desublimated” … revealed … in all its historical and cultural particularityʼ (p. 72).

16. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 114.

17. ^ West, The American Evasion, pp. 138–50.

18. ^ See in this regard Jane S. Upin, ʻCharlotte Perkins Gilman: Instrumentalism beyond Deweyʼ, Hypatia, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 1993, p. 59 n. 13, where she comments: ʻThe history of philosophy would require some significant revision if someone could trace C.S. Peirceʼs pragmatism, not just to his reading of Kant, but also to M.F.

Peirceʼs material feminism.ʼ

19. ^ Ann Palmeri, ʻCharlotte Perkins Gilman: Forerunner of a Feminist Social Scienceʼ, in Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka, eds, Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, Reidel, Dordrecht, 1983; and Lisa Heldke, ʻJohn Dewey and Evelyn Fox Keller: A Shared Epistemological Traditionʼ, in Nancy Tuana, ed., Feminism and Science, Indiana University Press,

Bloomington, 1989, and ʻFoodmaking as a Thoughtful Practiceʼ, in Deane W. Curtin and Lisa M. Heldke, eds, Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1992.

20. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 21.

21. ^ See Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 102. Margaret Jane Radin, in ʻThe Pragmatist and the Feministʼ, Southern California Law Review, vol. 63, no. 6, 1990, p. 1708, makes a similar point. It is worth remarking that female pragmatists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Jane Addams vociferously and actively contest the dichotomy.

22. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 92.

23. ^ The phrase is R.G. Collingwoodʼs, who writes: ʻAn absolute presupposition is one which stands, relatively to all questions to which it is related, as a presupposition, never as an answerʼ (An Essay on Metaphysics (1939), Gateway Edition, Chicago, 1972, p. 31; italics in original). Absolute presuppositions, which bear a distant resemblance to Foucauldian epistemes, are so deeply embedded as to be virtually inaccessible to those whose thought they shape. Collingwood argues that it is one of the tasks of philosophy to uncover them.

24. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 102.

25. ^ The phrase entered feminist discourse in Nancy Hartsockʼs Money, Sex, and Power, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1983.

26. ^ See especially, in this connection, Joan W. Scott, ʻ“Experience”ʼ, in Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, eds, Feminists Theorize the Political, Routledge, New York, 1992.

27. ^ ʻThe Need for a Recovery of Philosophyʼ, pp. 8–9, 6.

28. ^ Ibid., p. 6.

29. ^ Ibid., pp. 15, 7, 8.

30. ^ Ibid., pp. 34, 39, 42, 45, 22.

31. ^ Ibid., pp. 23, 11.

32. ^ Lisa Heldke develops an impressive analysis of ʻthoughtful practiceʼ in her ʻFoodmaking as Thoughtful Practiceʼ cited in n. 19, above.

33. ^ ʻThe Need for a Recovery of Philosophyʼ, p. 22.

34. ^ The allusion is to my essay ʻTaking Subjectivity Into Accountʼ, in Lorraine Code, Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on (Gendered) Locations, Routledge, New York, 1995.

35. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 62.

36. ^ Ibid., e.g. p. 57.

37. ^ Ibid., p. 91.

38. ^ Ibid., pp. 91, 143.

39. ^ ʻThe Need for a Recovery of Philosophyʼ, p. 9.

40. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, pp. 150, 211.

41. ^ I discuss examples of such tyrannies in ʻIncredulity,

Experientialism, and the Politics of Knowledgeʼ, in Rhetorical Spaces.

42. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 154, my emphasis.

43. ^ Ibid., p. 155.

44. ^ Ibid., pp. 93,

98. ^ See in this regard my essay ʻI Know Just How You Feel: Empathy and the Problem of Epistemic Authorityʼ, in Rhetorical Spaces.

45. ^ The phrase is a variation on ʻGoing a Piece of the Way with Themʼ, cited from an unpublished piece by Angelita Reyes in Naomi Scheman, ʻThough This Be Method,

Yet Thereʼs Madness In Itʼ, in Naomi Scheman, Engenderings: Constructions of Knowledge, Authority, and Privilege, Routledge, New York, 1995, p. 91 n. 35.

46. ^ The reference is to Janice Moultonʼs classic essay ʻA Paradigm of Philosophy: The Adversary Methodʼ, in Harding and Hintikka, eds, Discovering Reality.

47. ^ In addition to the articles mentioned earlier by Heldke,

Palmeri, Radin and Upin, I refer here to Nellie Y.

MacKay, ʻThe Narrative Self: Race, Politics, and Culture in Black American Womenʼs Autobiographyʼ, in Domna C. Stanton and Abigail J. Stewart, eds, Feminisms in the Academy, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1995; Phyllis Rooney, ʻFeminist-Pragmatist Revisionings of Reason, Knowledge, and Philosophyʼ, and Lynn Hankinson Nelson (whose pragmatist of reference is, in fact, Quine), ʻA Question of Evidenceʼ, both in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 1993.

48. ^ Pragmatism and Feminism, p. 273.

49. ^ See Hartsock, Money, Sex, and Power, especially ch. 2; and Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: ʻMaleʼ and ʻFemaleʼ in Western Philosophy, 2nd edn, Routledge,

London 1993.

50. ^ Evelyn Fox Keller, ʻFractured Images of Science, Language and Power: A Post-Modern Optic, or Just Bad Eyesight?ʼ, in Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser, eds, Biopolitics: A Feminist and Ecological Reader on Biotechnology, Zed Books, London, 1995.

51. ^ See p. 22, above.

52. ^ My reference to Rorty, Putnam Goodman, and Quine is indebted to Linda Alcoff, who attributes pragmatist sympathies to all four in her Real Knowing: New Versions of the Coherence Theory, Cornell University Press,

Ithaca, 1996, especially pp. 166, 176, 186. See also Lynn Hankinson Nelson, ʻA Question of Evidenceʼ, cited in n. 47, above.

53. ^ I presented an earlier version of this paper in an ʻAuthor Meets Criticsʼ session on Feminism and Pragmatism at the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division conference in 1997. My thanks to Charlene Seigfried for her response on that occasion (in which she disagreed on several points with my reading of her position). I am grateful to Phyllis Rooney for valuable comments on a subsequent version of this essay, and to Lisa Heldke for a helpful communication.

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