5th Biennial Conference of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) Aarhus 2015

Parallel Session 7C
Friday, 26 June 2015, 14:00–15:30 in G2
Session chair: Justin Biddle (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Connecting Feminist Standpoint Empiricism to Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Vanessa Bentley (University of Cincinnati)


According to Subramaniam (2009), feminist critiques of science have had minimal impact on science, due in part, she claims, to the fact that feminist science studies remains moored in the mode of science criticism rather than moving forward to offer positive recommendations for solving the problems it uncovers. My interest is to further the practical project of feminist epistemology: to effect feminist change in the practice of science. My view is that in order for feminist philosophy of science to be effective in changing the practice of science, it must be closely tied to the specifics of a particular science, since different disciplines of science differ in terms of background assumptions, standards, techniques, instruments, analyses, models, theories, histories and language. My suggestion to address the gap between science and feminist theory is to tailor a feminist philosophy of science to the specifics of a discipline of science to make it more relevant and useful to practitioners of science. Given my focus on the practice of science, I endorse feminist standpoint empiricism (Intemann 2010) because it is applicable to practicing scientists rather than aimed at changing the scientific community.

I develop a feminist philosophy of cognitive neuroscience from the feminist standpoint by using the particulars of neuroimaging practice in two case studies of sex or gender differences. Through close consideration of the standards, procedures, measurements, analyses, assumptions, theories, and language of the neuroimaging articles, I propose an alternate framework based on the feminist standpoint that overcomes the reductionist, sexist, and androcentric problems of current neuroimaging practice. By thinking from women’s lives and experiences, I demonstrate problems with current practice. The problems emerge all along the research process – from the research question, to the background assumptions, to the methodology, to the reporting and analysis of data, to the interpretation of results, and to the language used. This new philosophy of cognitive neuroscience does not assume sex essentialism; takes social influences seriously; includes a more diverse, representative sample; and embraces multiple possible brain patterns rather than assuming a single, most efficient pattern. In addition to these general changes to practice, I find problems specific to the two case studies, such as not correcting for multiple comparisons; unexplored possible differences in behavioral and activation effect sizes; ignoring one’s own data to support a sexist assumption; and using sexist stereotypes to explain data.

Considering that problems arise all along the research process, effecting feminist change in science is not going to be as simple as “add women and stir.” It will require rethinking many aspects of standard practice. Connecting feminist standpoint empiricism to the specifics of practice has the potential to be more useful and relevant to practitioners of science than a feminist philosophy of science that is non-specific. The benefits of a philosophy of cognitive neuroscience from the feminist standpoint are that it allows for more epistemically sound science because it is not founded upon sex essentialism and that it contributes to science that is not oppressive to women.

The Epistemic Significance of Scientific/Intellectual Movements
  • Kristina Rolin (University of Helsinki)


Sociological studies of science have introduced a theory of scientific/intellectual movements (SIMs) in order to understand the dynamics of science (see e.g., Frickel and Gross 2005; Frickel and Moore 2006). While the so called new political sociology of science has made a convincing case for the role of SIMs in the actual practice of science, there is hardly any uptake of this research in philosophy of science (for an exception, see Leonelli 2014). My aim is to rectify this situation by arguing that feminist standpoint theory is a social epistemology of SIMs. While feminist standpoint theory aims to understand the epistemic significance of feminist movements in science and academia, it offers a model which can be applied in theorizing other SIMs.

My presentation has three sections. In Section 1 I introduce Frickel’s and Gross’s theory of SIMs. While Frickel and Gross acknowledge Kuhn’s (1962) groundbreaking work in philosophy of science, the epistemic aspects of SIMs are not their major concern. I conclude that it is up to philosophers of science to examine the epistemic significance of SIMs.

In Section 2 I introduce three theses associated with feminist standpoint theory: (1) the situated knowledge thesis, both generic and systemic (see e.g., Wylie 2012); (2) the thesis of epistemic advantage (see e.g., Wylie 2004); and (3) the achievement thesis (see e.g., Crasnow 2013). While I agree with Wylie that the thesis of epistemic advantage is best understood as an empirical hypothesis suggesting that “contingently, with respect to particular epistemic projects, some social locations and standpoints confer epistemic advantage” (2004, 346), I propose a novel interpretation of it. I argue that insofar as there is an epistemic advantage associated with some social positions, the advantage accrues to a SIM. SIMs can play an epistemically productive role in two ways. First, they enable social scientists and scholars to generate evidence under conditions where relations of power tend to suppress or distort evidence. Second, they provide social scientists and scholars with an epistemic community where they can receive fruitful criticism for research which may be ignored in the larger scientific community.

In Section 3 I situate feminist standpoint theory in the field known as the social epistemology of scientific knowledge. Much of the literature in the social epistemology of scientific knowledge focuses either on scientific communities or on research groups thereby ignoring SIMs. For example, some social epistemologists propose norms which characterize ideal scientific communities (see e.g., Longino 1990, 2002; Zollman 2007). Some others are concerned with an ideal distribution of research efforts in scientific communities (see e.g., De Langhe 2010, 2014; Kitcher 1990, 1993; Solomon 2001; Weisberg 2013; Weisberg and Muldoon 2009; Zollman 2010). Some social epistemologists suggest that scientific knowledge produced by research groups involves collective beliefs or acceptances (Andersen 2010; Bouvier 2004; Cheon 2013; Gilbert 2000; Rolin 2010; Staley 2007; Wray 2006, 2007). Some others suggest that the epistemic structure of scientific collaboration is based on relations of trust and interactions among scientists (Andersen and Wagenknecht 2013; Fagan 2011, 2012; Frost-Arnold 2013; Hardwig 1991; Kusch 2002; de Ridder 2013; Thagard 2010; Wagenknecht 2013, 2014). Clearly, the term “social” in the social epistemology of scientific knowledge means that philosophers are concerned either with scientific communities or with research groups. After explaining how SIMs differ from scientific communities and research groups, I conclude that there is a need for a more systematic inquiry into the epistemic significance of SIMs.