Feminist philosophy
A feminist approach to philosophy can help address gender inequality and other issues.

U of G is known for having expertise in a number of areas, and a group of faculty is working towards adding feminist philosophy to the list.

Prof. Maya Goldenberg, along with seven colleagues in the Department of Philosophy, have established a Feminist Philosophy Research Group.

“We thought we should highlight the fact that we have a strong presence of feminist philosophers in our department,” says Goldenberg. “It’s something that we are proud of because it’s rarer than you would think.”

Unlike the other humanities, philosophy remains a male-dominated field, with women making up only 20 per cent of philosophy professors at a majority of universities, says Goldenberg.

Guelph is unique in that 35 per cent of the professors in the philosophy department are women, she adds.

In addition to Goldenberg, the group also includes Profs. Monique Deveaux, Karyn Freedman, Jean Harvey, Karen Houle, Patricia Sheridan, Karen Wendling and one male, Prof. John Hacker-Wright.

The eight faculty members formed the research group in 2008. They share resources and occasionally bring feminist philosophy speakers to campus. They also hosted the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference in 2009 and plan to host more conferences in the future.

“By promoting feminist philosophy on campus, we hope to encourage more people to go into this area of study,” says Goldenberg. “We also hope that by promoting the current expertise at U of G, we will attract graduate students to come here.”

Feminism is a necessary component of philosophy, says Goldenberg.

A large part of philosophy is about building on the principles developed by philosophers in the past. However, most of these historical figures were male, such as Plato, Aristotle and Descartes, so incorporating a feminist perspective into the field of study is integral, she adds.

“When you go back and analyze the text, you can see how gender bias was able to creep into philosophical thought, but these types of bias would go unnoticed unless you had a diversity of people looking at the issue,” says Goldenberg. “We have to bring in women’s points of view and look at how gender bias has influenced these universal precepts. We were lacking feminist perspectives for a long time, so there’s a lot of work to do.”

Feminist philosophy is also important in today’s world because gender inequality still exists across the globe, says Freedman.

“We have problems throughout the world related to gender and justice,” says the philosophy professor. “It’s important not only as moral agents, but also as philosophers that we examine these problems from a theoretical perspective to understand them better, so that we can see what can be done to address them.”

The areas of research studied among faculty members in the group includes epistemology, environmental philosophy, ethics, history of Western philosophy, social and political philosophy, and philosophy of science. All these areas are approached through a feminist lens.

The group has a website where upcoming events and research papers related to feminist philosophy are posted.

Freedman says there is definitely an interest in the subject among the current student population.

“If I teach a course in epistemology, students will complain if there’s not enough feminist content,” she says.

For most students, university is the first time they have encountered feminist philosophy, she adds.

As a result, Freedman always devotes at least a week to feminist philosophy when teaching an introduction to philosophy course.

“The typical student coming in doesn’t quite understand what feminism means. By introducing them to it in a philosophy course, it helps make them less worried or self-conscious about identifying themselves as feminists.”