Philosophy Faculty Publications


Folk Feminist Theory: An Experimental Approach

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I must admit that I was slow on the uptake, but I am now a complete convert. With experimental philosophy gaining so much attention, I have finally jumped wholeheartedly on the intuition-pumping wagon. Prior to my conversion, I had mistakenly assumed that my years of training in and teaching of philosophy, including feminist philosophy, had helped prepare me to theorize and even publish on the topic. But it turns out that this assumption was completely unscientific. I now know that the best philosophy involves conducting one’s own experiments.

These experiments, when successful, tap into and carefully quantify the pre-philosophic intuitions of “folks.” And by “folks” I mean, of course, my first-year pre-feminist theory college students. I started with the pre-experimental hypothesis that first-year pre-feminist theory college students hold such folk feminist theories as “In today’s society, there’s no need for feminism, since women are treated just fine.” Or “All feminists hate men.”

But what do I know about folk views from my comfortable armchair position? Are these actually the intuitions of the folk? These claims need rigorous scientific testing. Of course, even experimental philosophers (myself newly included in these ranks) acknowledge that empirical understand- ing of folk intuitions cannot tell us if these intuitions have theoretical merit. But as one experimental philosopher put it, this increased understanding of pre-theoretic views can help “explain away the intuitive appeal of certain arguments, situate the burden of proof, determine whether revision of our ordinary concepts or folk theories is called for, and explain psychological sources of our conflicting intuitions and hence the philosophical debates themselves” (Nahmias 2006).

So, my plan was to scientifically explain the appeal of pre-feminist theoretic intuitions, place the burden of proof on feminists to refute uninformed intuitions, and place feminist theory on notice if it conflicted in significant ways with the intuitions of the folk.

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John Wiley & Sons





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