Epistemology for Toddlers

I mentioned that I’ve been reading Sandra Harding. I have. Therefore I need to vent. I also need to write in short simple clause-free declarative sentences, because that’s the way Harding writes, and it’s catching.

Reading Harding is a very strange experience. I keep wondering – huh? What happened? Why did this book get published? Why didn’t anyone shove it back at her and say (at the very least), ‘I’m sorry but you’ll have to re-write this for grown-ups. Children don’t read books about epistemology.’ Why does she write the way she does? Why do people let her? And then publish it? And then why do other people buy the books and read them? And why, godgivemestrength, why do people cite them and quote them and praise them? As they do? You can google her and find people calling her ‘distinguished.’ A distinguished philosopher. But – seriously – the things she says are beyond wrong, they’re just inane. I’ll give you some examples.

At least one person has pointed this out – this ‘yes but her work is not acceptable’ aspect: Gonzalo Munévar in the collection Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology edited by Cassandra Pinnick, Noretta Koertge and Robert Almeder. An excellent collection, I recommend it highly.

I argue not that Sandra Harding’s epistemology, so highly regarded by feminists [not all of them! ed], is wrong; rather, I intend to show that serious scholars should consider the quality of her work unacceptable…The reader’s embarrassment grows with each amazing example…

It does. I feel actual discomfort reading her – I kind of squirm as I read. I feel like letting out little yips of protest like a dog – not to mention the occasional howl.

So. Want an example or two? Sure you do.

Might our understanding of nature and social life be different if the people who discovered the laws of nature were the same ones who cleaned up after them?

No. Next question.

Furthermore, there are many feminisms, and these can be understood to have started their analyses from the lives of different historical groups of women: liberal feminism from the lives of women in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European and American educated classes…Third World feminism from late twentieth-century Third World women’s lives. Moreover, we all change our minds about all kinds of issues.

Ah! Do we! I hadn’t realized that. That’s good to know. But that’s how she writes, you see. Repetitively. Ploddingly. Pointing out the obviously. Everything she says is either tautologous or obvious or wrong. Oh Third World feminism has to do with Third World women – I see! Thank you for clearing that up.

Okay, that’s enough venting for the moment. I feel slightly cruel – as if I’ve been mocking the afflicted. But she writes these damn books, and some people take them seriously. That’s a symptom of something very odd.

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