Partial Reason: Critical and Constructive Transformations of Ethics and Epistemology

By Sally E. Talbot | Go to book overview

theoretical preconceptions but knowers who are purged of such idiosyncrasies. As I have shown with reference to Kohlberg, there is a sense in which it is no part of foundationalism to distinguish facts from biases. 94 What counts as fact, what counts as bias, is not established in particular contexts but in the mien of the rational, autonomous knower. In other words, we cannot superimpose questions about the effects of particular preferences and preconceptions on an approach that admits to neither. 95 Where knowers are presumed to be without personal preferences and theoretical preconceptions, questions about what constitutes fact and bias, the rational and the irrational, cannot be answered without tautology: "facts" are what reason shows to be true; "biases" are what reason guards against.

Of course, for many critics of foundationalism the proposition that knowers are without biases is as problematic (and as puzzling) as the proposition that philosophers are without bodies. Feminist philosophers taking the critical- interrogative approach claim that the solution to the "disembodied philosophers" problem is not simply to "embody" philosophy. Such a move would be effective only if what disembodiment sanctioned was the removal of the body from philosophy. This is not the case. Disembodiment does not remove the body from philosophy but conceals an ideal body, which, in the history of Western philosophy, is male. The focus, then, has to be on disentangling or unpacking the concept of disembodiment to reveal the way philosophy itself is embodied as male. 96

It transpires that the disembodied philosopher may be the philosopher with a certain kind of body. Similarly, once we start looking more closely at the concepts of bias and irrationality, it seems that the unbiased knower may be the knower with certain kinds of biases. The way to understand the philosophical significance of these biases, however, is not (or not only) to reveal them and demand that they be accounted for but (also) to reveal the way epistemology itself has been made to accommodate the partiality of the impartial knower.

I have drawn attention to three highly questionable and problematic assumptions made by foundationalism and not specifically addressed in the restriction of partiality to bias. In the next chapter, I show that problematising the assumption that knowledge can be checked against reality as well as the premise of unpremisedness and the pejorative use of partiality opens up the possibility of arguing for the set of alternatives that I set out at the beginning of my discussion of partiality as bias. The alternatives for which I argue involve redescribing knowledge and truth in terms of an elaboration of the context rather than the content of truth claims, redescribing knowers as selves-in-relation rather than separate, autonomous knowing individuals and redescribing the cultivation of a sense of commonality rather than a common language.


NOTES
1.
In "'Caring as a Feminist Practice of Moral Reason,'"181, Jaggar says: "Care and justice thinking have sometimes been portrayed by contrasting allegedly dispassionate justice with supposedly nonrational care, but in fact such portrayals caricature both care

-149-

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Partial Reason: Critical and Constructive Transformations of Ethics and Epistemology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Philosophy ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents VII
  • Preface IX
  • Acknowledgements XI
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 6
  • Chapter 1 People Standing Alone: A Critique of Liberal Moral Theory 9
  • Notes 29
  • Chapter 2 a Necessary Corrective? Responses That Fill the Gaps 37
  • Notes 57
  • Chapter 3 Theorising Connection as Primary: Understandings of Selves-In-Relation 63
  • Notes 85
  • Chapter 4 Seeing Together: Care as Disposition 91
  • Notes 113
  • Chapter 5 Understanding Partiality: Problematising Conceptions of Knowledge and Knowing 121
  • Notes 149
  • Chapter 6 Partial Reason: the Epistemological Imperatives of Partiality 157
  • Notes 183
  • Chapter 7 Care: the Ethical Imperatives of Partiality 187
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 231
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