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Hypatia 17.1 (2002) 226-230

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Book Review

Illusions of Paradox:
A Feminist Epistemology Naturalized

Illusions of Paradox: A Feminist Epistemology Naturalized. By RICHMOND CAMPBELL. Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

"Paradox Tossed"

Critics of feminist epistemology continue to focus their attention on early texts which, while path-breaking in the 1980s, have been refined and largely superceded by an abundance of new feminist work. These critics, committed to an outdated model of objectivity for science, object strenuously to the keystone of the feminist project: the combination of feminist values and objectivity, they claim, is not just inappropriate, but dangerous. Impartial inquiry requires that we work hard to free ourselves of all bias in knowledge-seeking, and feminist values can only hinder our search for truth, as Nazi values hindered German scientists and Lamarckian values hindered Soviet research.

This paradox of feminist epistemology is defeated easily by most philosophers and historians of science, who recognize that value commitments, (political and scientific), have always played a large role in research and are not distilled out of the results of science when the magical filter to the context of justification [End Page 226] is crossed. Even the logical positivists, who are unfairly criticized for their obsession with purification rituals, acknowledged this. 1 In many ways, however, this easily dissolved paradox is the least interesting that a politically progressive epistemology must face. Richmond Campbell's Illusions of Paradox marks a watershed in feminist epistemology in that it digs deeply into the problems that confront naturalized empiricism, and shows the paradoxes of feminist epistemology to be continuous with those problems. Feminist epistemology is clearly shown to be not different in kind from traditional epistemology, but to differ only in the context from which it arose, the "rebellious child" of mainstream epistemology (Tanesini 1999, 5).

Campbell's strategy is to move beyond superficial objections to feminist epistemology and to show that many serious paradoxes confront the project. Patiently doing the work of both critic and proponent, he lays out these challenges in a clear, systematic, and orthodox fashion, and shows that each can be met through the rigorous development of a feminist epistemology that is empiricist, naturalized, social, and realist. Although his emphasis on continuity with traditional epistemology is a strong feature of the book, Campbell also devotes substantial attention to an equally pressing continuity--namely, between epistemology and traditional moral philosophy. One is thus reminded that, for the majority of western philosophy's history, truth and goodness have proceeded together. The loss of this connection is part of what has made excessive attention to the "easy" paradox possible, and it is progress indeed to see such a link re-established.

How can an effective feminist naturalized empiricism work to overcome both the paradoxes and the problems of social justice? Campbell treats this question in stages, patiently amplifying and strengthening his position as he goes. The "seven deadly paradoxes" are:

-how to meet the need for a robustly normative, as opposed to merely descriptive, epistemology for both naturalized and specifically feminist approaches,

-circularity, or in essence the problem of the criterion, for both naturalized and specifically feminist approaches,

-how to naturalize value, given the fact/value distinction,

-the "bias paradox"; that is, the claim that impartiality in science has led to bias, so partiality would be better, but that partiality is a form of bias; therefore, bias both is and is not desirable; and

-the problem of male feminism.

The arguments Campbell presents to resolve these problems are subtle and densely written, and cannot be explored in detail here. He builds especially on W.V. Quine's naturalism, but extends Quine's holism to encompass facts, values, and meaning. Much of this discussion will be helpful in reconciling feminist and mainstream epistemologists as to their shared ideals and concerns, although it may not be so successful in resolving their political disputes. How [End Page 227] seriously Campbell's book is taken by critics of feminism will be a measure of their ideological flexibility.

Campbell neatly develops his own "internal" feminist empiricism in order to dismiss an objection made influential...


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