restricted access Mary Mahowald: Removing Blinders and Crossing Boundaries
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Mary Mahowald:
Removing Blinders and Crossing Boundaries

Mary Mahowald, In The tradition of James, Royce, Dewey, and Peirce, is a boundary crosser. She has made original contributions in American philosophy, feminist philosophy, and bioethics. She challenged us all to move across disciplines and to engage other philosophical traditions. I am happy to say that others have taken up her task, working in both American philosophy and feminist philosophy, or working in both American philosophy and bioethics. Others have worked the boundaries of psychology and philosophy and even more recently, those of philosophy and neuroscience. Others are seeing new connections between phenomenology and American philosophy while there are those working to engage Eastern European, Latin American, Northern European, and Eastern (Chinese) philosophy. Thank you, Mary for being a pioneer in this regard.

She has also worked, as did James, Royce, and Dewey, Addams, DuBois, and others, to remove "blinders" that prohibit human beings from seeing and understanding the interests and ideas of other human beings. She has worked especially to remove the blinders of our own American philosophical tradition. And she has done this in at least two ways. First, in 1972 her book, An Idealist Pragmatism: The Development of the Pragmatic Element in the Philosophy of Josiah Royce, Mahowald challenged us to expand our view of Josiah Royce and his philosophy as well as our understanding of pragmatism. Others have taken up this task, but I, for one, believe this dual project of refinement is an ongoing one that all in the American and pragmatism tradition should continue to embrace.

Secondly, Mahowald shot off blinders in her wonderful 1997 article "What Classical American Philosophers Missed: Jane Addams, Critical Pragmatism, and Cultural Feminism." In this essay, Mahowald chided the classic American philosophers for virtually ignoring two topics: gender relations and the experience [End Page 114] of women. She classifies this as "myopia," a form of "nearsightedness."1 She then develops two themes that she believes were found in the work of Jane Addams. The first is what she calls "critical pragmatism," which focuses on a critique of gender injustice. The second theme she identifies as "cultural feminism," which centers on women's experience as a source of knowledge about selves and the world. The final point of the article is still salient today, namely the need to overcome the neglect of non-dominant views in classical American philosophy. The strategy she suggests is one that has been effectively employed by feminists, namely "standpoint theory."

In what follows I will briefly address (1) Mahowald's work on Josiah Royce, (2) her advocacy for "cultural feminism" and its implications for American philosophy and work still to be done, (3) her promotion of a critical pragmatism and the need to provide a pragmatist critique not only of gender injustice but all forms of injustice, and (4) Mahowald's argument for the strategy of "standpoint theory," a strategy that offers great promise for future work in American philosophy.

Royce and Pragmatic Themes

As many of us recall, Royce was labeled an absolute idealist and dismissed for an extended period of time as alien to classic American pragmatism. His thought remained unexplored until interest was stimulated by John E. Smith's 1950 publication of Royce's Social Infinite: The Community of Interpretation. A resurgence of interest in Royce's work occurred through work by Frank Oppenheim, S.J, John McDermott, and others, and now work has begun on a Critical Edition of his opus. Mahowald may well be pleased about these developments, for she argued in her 1972 book An Idealist Pragmatism that the resurgence of interest in Royce was more than justified, and she urged the need for editing of his published work and publication of his unpublished manuscripts.

In spelling out Royce's pragmatism, Mahowald argues that pragmatism and idealism can be seen as contradictory, but only if one is pluralistic and the other is closed and monistic. She proceeds to demonstrate that Royce's idealism is the pluralistic kind and not a closed, absolute system. She gives us Royce's own words: "The idealist need not maintain that the world has an absolute constitution in the light of which...