Women and Logical Positivism

 by on December 2, 2013
Dec 022013

Brian Leiter doesn’t get the connection made by Mary Midgley between logical positivism and the representation of women in philosophy. Midgley’s point isn’t that logical positivism is objectively bad but that there is a tendency to turn philosophy into a boys club of arguments. This critique has been expressed again and again by, mostly female, philosophers. Perhaps the most famous example is Arendt, who makes the tension between genders in philosophy explicit in some of her interviews, connecting that tension with a broader theme of her work: the relationship between thinking and acting.

In pointing out the tendency of logical positivism to retreat into argumentation and competition, Midgley signals the more general tension between philosophy and practical concerns. The reason why this tension is often more obvious to women is because they more than men have been faced with the challenge of representation in a traditionally male-dominated profession. To someone like Midgley or Arendt, what it means to to be a woman doing philosophy is both a theoretical and practical question from the start. But philosophy tends to lose touch with practical concerns, even when they are a supposed focus, like in logical positivism. The effort to turn philosophy into an empirical science has not been able to avoid the pitfalls associated with a project whose goal is knowledge rather than practice and education.

What we should take away from Midgley and Arendt is that philosophy has failed to be sufficiently self-critical. There has been something missing from its identity. Just as the practical aspect is often undervalued, so is the feminine, and there is a connection between the two. If that simple idea threatens to break up the boys club, if it challenges men to now have to make their gender a question for themselves in their doing of philosophy, then so be it. Taking such a challenge could only lead to positive results in the end.

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