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Hypatia 16.4 (2001) vii-xii

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Eva Kittay, Alexa Schriempf, Anita Silvers, and Susan Wendell

Looking back over the course of philosophical thinking during the twentieth century, we can see how feminist philosophy transformed the philosophical climate. Initially, philosophers who adopted a feminist stance pursued critical analyses of the prevailing philosophical standards, methodologies, and views. Their aim was to query if and why women had been excluded from the philosophical tradition. They questioned whether the universality to which philosophy aspired extended to women or applied to women's lives. And they wished to remedy the philosophical inadequacies resulting from philosophy's tradition of silence about the way the world looks to women.

In doing so, they made interventions that changed the course of philosophy. Recognizing the importance of experiences of limitations is one prominent contribution. Feminist philosophers examined the limitations that pervaded their lives, and the lives of women generally, asking whether these resulted from alterable social arrangement or immutable biological destiny. Everywhere in the practice of the discipline they found traces of a bias that disregarded their interests and occluded their views. Subsequent feminist philosophical work has aimed at remedying the imbalances in traditional philosophical positions, paradigms, and methodologies, as well as identifying a narrowness in the issues with which philosophers customarily grapple.

To induce change, feminist philosophers have crafted approaches that derive from the limitations they encounter when attempting to pursue women's interests within philosophy. Women have been alienated, unsatisfied, and unconvinced by traditional epistemology's paradigm of the isolated knower and by its detached, universalizing, and controlling approach to knowledge. Dissatisfaction with this kind of view prompts epistemological insights about the advantages of collaborative practices in acquiring knowledge, the possibilities for achieving objectivity without insisting that everyone see things the same way, and the importance of situating, contextualizing, and nuancing truths. Women also have been dismayed by traditional meta-ethical analyses and moral theories that appear to inflate typical male behaviors into paradigmatic moral actions. Although these theories have claimed to embrace everyone alike, feminist critiques show that their principles often exclude devalued kinds of people from important ethical roles and agency. Consequently, feminist philosophers have pioneered in exploring more inclusive alternative theories centering on the ethics of trust and care, the virtues of dependency, and the establishment of moral interconnectedness among people who do not occupy similar positions in life (see Mahowald 1998, 209-10). [End Page vii]

All of this work offers stimulating ideas to philosophers seeking to import the singular insights and different perspectives of other subordinated groups to influence the field. Disabled people's philosophical interests find ready-made conveyances in several of feminist philosophy's signature themes. First among these is the grounding of identity in distinctive kinds of embodiment and distinctive ways of interpersonal relating. The interplay of disabled people's biological and social identities--whether these be innate, imposed, or embraced--is a subject of first-order importance in disability studies.

The inclusiveness of the various identity theories promoted both in feminist philosophy and in disability studies is of preeminent and continuing concern to women with disabilities. Discussing whether women with disabilities can comfortably be feminists, Anita Silvers asks whether feminism privileges the functional capabilities and social roles characteristic of "normal" women. She finds some feminist theories guilty of "magnifying these until they become standards of womanhood against which disabled women shrink into invisibility" (Silvers 1998a, 331). Considering whether disability studies comfortably reflects the experiences of women, Susan Wendell points to masculinist influences on the field's standard model of disability (Wendell 1996). The social model of disability, which until very recently has been the unquestionable paradigm for disability studies, tends to obscure how disability is tied to illness. This model also promotes self-reliance over dependence and replaces trust with strategies for taking control. As Wendell reminds us, it is a mistake to suppose that affirming our bodies by getting our political positions right will make us feel right about our bodies or make our bodies feel right.

Experiences of exclusion loom large in many disabled people's lives...


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