Feminist philosophy is philosophy from a feminist perspective. Traditional feminists use feminist philosophy to advance the causes of the feminist movement on which the philosophy is built. Feminist philosophy attempts to re-evaluate and alter traditional philosophy from inside the feminist framework, criticizing traditional philosophy from the perspective of feminist beliefs and philosophies.
Feminist philosophers are a diverse group as there is not just one school of feminist philosophy. As in other branches of philosophy, which may be classified as traditional and analytical, so too do feminist philosophers adhere to many different variations of feminism.
Feminism has proved to be a new way of looking at many traditional problems of philosophy. Feminist epistemologists have questioned traditional ideas concerning rationality and knowledge. They argue that traditional philosophical theories reflect male assumptions and viewpoints while completely ignoring the voices and ideas of women. Some feminists have attacked the male patriarchal focus of traditional philosophy, which they claim results in an aggressive and argumentative style.
There are, however, feminists who defend traditional philosophical methods. They maintain that the aggressiveness of traditional philosophy can be used to further the feminist cause. On the other hand, feminist criticism of traditional male-oriented philosophy for being aggressive has aroused the ire of other feminists who say that aggression can be a valid and useful trait of women. In this view, feminists should not look to replicate the traditional roles of each sex and thereby prevent women from being aggressive.
There are differences in feminist philosophical scholarship, both in methods and in conclusions. There has been a great deal of debate within the field of feminist philosophy regarding how effective certain techniques and approaches have been in attaining the goals of feminism. Analytical philosophical methodology has been favored by some feminist philosophers as a way of clearly defining form and argument, something that was not available in the doctrines of Continental philosophy.
However, there are counter-arguments that claim that clarity could be obtained by jettisoning rhetorical styles and methodological approaches that illuminate components embodied in the human psyche and experience. There are also feminists for whom the methodology found in American effectiveness is more intelligible in both argument and form than Continental approaches and their relationship to the preoccupations of the real world.
Feminist philosophers attempted to struggle with the problems that were brought to light by the women's movement: the characterization of sexism and the delineation of the reasons and motivations for the oppression of women. They tried to understand and explain equal rights within the confines of the hegemonic political system and structure of society, set against the continuing metamorphosis of that structure, the issues of "women's nature" and the philosophical analysis of the moral arguments surrounding abortion.
Feminist philosophers also investigated what kind of attention more established philosophers paid to issues concerning women, and sought insight into modern questions from their conclusions and theses. The philosophers approaching these topics from a feminist angle were keen to see whether the sexism embedded in their theses still pervaded contemporary philosophical, political and social activity.
There are many reasons for the fast growth of feminist philosophical works in the United States. One is the involvement of many feminist philosophers in the movements for social justice in the 1960s. Many philosophers who were instrumental in the development of feminist philosophy in the 1970s were activists in the feminist movement or felt its impact. As a result, these philosophers became aware of abuses caused by the discriminatory practices of sexism.
As professional philosophers, they were able to utilize their skills on behalf of the feminist cause. By the mid-1970s, many working women who were in professions traditionally dominated by men often came across what feminist philosophers call a "fault-line," in which traditional women's role came into conflict with their own professional lives. As growing numbers of American women moved into the realm of philosophy, they often encountered sexism within that field.
Sexual harassment and other unethical practices created an unwelcoming atmosphere for women working in philosophy. As they had had their consciousness raised by their connections to the women's movement, these women were unlikely to feel that, as women, they were incapable of working in the area of philosophy or to surrender to efforts to keep them out of the profession.