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The Potential of Emotions in Feminist Epistemology

Developing Jaggar’s Account
Tina Strasbourg
University of Calgary
In this paper I analyze the potential of Allison Jaggar’s suggestion that emotions in general, an
outla! emotions in particular, be incorporate into feminist epistemology" Jaggar avocates a
stanpoint theory of emotions, an suggests that the emotions of the oppresse in particular are
helpful rather than inimical to ac#uiring $no!lege" I argue that although there are some
potential problems !ith Jaggar’s approach, these problems are common to stanpoint theories
an can be aresse by applying the solutions offere by other feminist theorists"
%ne common criticism mae by feminist epistemologists
is the criti#ue of traitional
epistemology’s notions of ob&ectivity an neutrality" As 'aomi Scheman puts it, in traitional
epistemology ()t*hose !ho are ta$en to be in the best position to $no! are those !ho are
believe to be ob&ective, istance, ispassionate, inepenent, an nonemotionally rational+ ,-.
Accoring to Allison Jaggar, the result of this conception of the $no!er in moern
epistemology is a sharp istinction bet!een reason an emotion !here reason is privilege
because emotions are vie!e as involuntary responses that istort our rational observations of
the !orl, !hich in turn istort the $no!lege !e can gain from these observations ,12230" She
further argues that this istinction contributes to the enial of !omen’s epistemic authority since
!omen are associate !ith emotions an men !ith reason, an so men became the stanar by
!hich epistemic authority is &uge"
This is &ust one of many concerns feminist epistemologists share" 4o!ever, there are
many issimilarities bet!een feminists as to ho! to eal !ith the problems in traitional
%ne approach that I !ill focus on in this paper is feminist stanpoint theory,
particularly the stanpoint theory offere by Jaggar in (5ove an 6no!lege7 8motions in
9eminist 8pistemology"+ :hat Jaggar aims to accomplish in her paper is to (begin briging the
gap )bet!een emotion an $no!lege* through the suggestion that emotions may be helpful an
even necessary rather than inimical to the construction of $no!lege+ ,1223, 1/;0" The brige
she !ants to buil inclues a methoology for ientifying biases of the ominant group that
leas to false appraisals of the !orl" This methoology relies on the notion that perspective can
be altere by the !ay one is situate in the !orl, particularly ho! one’s situateness can affect
one’s emotional perspective an response" I !ill e<plain the concept of emotional perspective
an response in a moment, but I !ant to first note that the type of emotions she thin$s are
important to feminist epistemologists are outla! emotions=!hich are emotional responses that
o not follo! or support the values an norms !e have been taught to accept" Because outla!
emotions are usually a negative response to norms an values, they can help us ientify !hich
biases are causing errors in our methos of see$ing $no!lege" The point that Jaggar !ants to
ma$e clear is that impartiality in our epistemic methos is impossible, therefore, !e shoul give
up on the notion of impartiality an !or$ to!ars ientifying biases that !ill better guie our
epistemic eneavors"
There is much ebate bet!een feminists over the potential of feminist stanpoint
epistemologies, yet, I thin$ that Jaggar’s methoology !arrants some consieration"
because she offers &ust a s$etch of ho! emotions might be incorporate into epistemology, there
are some aspects of her theory that are problematic" The first problem is that stanpoint theories
seem to neglect the iffering e<periences of particular iniviuals !ithin groups by trying to
spea$ about the e<periences of these groups in general" The secon problem is that Jaggar nees
to aress ho! to istinguish !hich outla! emotions coul potentially further feminist interests
from the other emotions, outla! or other!ise" The general aim of this paper, then, is to initiate an
investigation into !hether Jaggar’s proposal !ill be a fruitful eneavor for feminist
epistemologists" The more specific aim of this paper is to point out some of the potential
problems that arise from her theory, as a feminist theory, an to offer some potential solutions
for these problems, some of !hich are solutions that feminists have previously use to ans!er
similar problems in other feminist theories"
1. Jaggar’s Vie
Jaggar argues that theories that ma$e the istinction bet!een reason an emotion as it
pertains to $no!lege are mista$en in that they falsely assume emotions are involuntary
responses that can be separate from reason" Jaggar contens that most emotions are socially
constructe, intentional, an can influence our perceptions of the !orl" 9or e<ample, !hen
someone feels anger at a slight from a frien, this anger arises not as an involuntary response, but
rather there is a &ugment being mae about the !ay friens ought to behave an the response of
anger is the appropriate emotion that correspons !ith one’s e<pectations being isappointe"
:e form beliefs about !hat constitutes a slight by a frien at the same time as !e learn !hat our
society values as appropriate frienship behavior an appropriate responses to ifferent
e<periences=say affection as a response to respect from one’s friens an anger to isrespect"
The iea that emotions are constructe suggests that socialization influences our
appraisals of the !orl an the &ugments !e ma$e are often emotional responses to
observations that reflect the norms an values of our society" 9or e<ample, !hen someone tells a
&o$e the e<pecte response is for a person to be amuse" 4o!ever, my being amuse by a &o$e
presupposes a number of social conitions" 9or instance, !hen !e hear something li$e >a priest,
a rabbi, an a uc$ !al$ into a bar’ !e immeiately feel an anticipatory amusement, since !e
recognize this as a &o$e formula"
If I o not recognize this formula then my lac$ of
unerstaning coul cause me to not share the same social e<perience as the other people !ho
are hearing the same &o$e" Secon, in orer to fin the &o$e amusing I must not only unerstan
the language in !hich the &o$e is tol, but also the content of the &o$e" I must share the same
appraisal of the !orl in orer to actually be amuse by the punch line" Thir, emotional
responses are neither automatic nor passive in the sense that !e have no control over them" I may
be amuse an laugh at a &o$e of this type" 4o!ever, I may not laugh if I fin the &o$e to be in
ba taste even though not laughing !hen amusement is anticipate often creates moments of
social tension an iscomfort" The important thing to note here is that in both cases !hether or
not I am amuse can be a eliberate conscious ecision"
9rom this e<ample, !e can see !hy Jaggar suggests that, (every emotion presupposes an
evaluation of some aspect of the environment !hile, an conversely, every evaluation or
appraisal of the situation implies that those !ho share the evaluation !ill share, ceteris pari!us, a
preictable emotional response to the situation+ ,1223, 1?-0" Just as I !oul have to share a
similar appraisal of the !orl in orer to unerstan the punch line of a &o$e, I am also
influence by those preconceive notions to thin$ the &o$e is funny" At the very least, I am
conitione to some e<tent to recognize a &o$e !hen I hear one an laugh !hen I thin$ laughter
is the e<pecte response"
Jaggar thin$s it is important to recognize that emotions play a role in ho! !e see$
$no!lege, given that if !e maintain the istinction bet!een emotion an reason in
epistemology, then this istinction !ill influence !hom !e thin$ are goo epistemic agents7
namely, ispassionate investigators !ho can $eep their emotions from interfering !ith their
observations" Ironically, because the notion of a ispassionate investigator is consiere the
ieal, !e are biase in our assessment of !ho is a goo investigator an !ho is not" 'ote that
Jaggar is not saying !e are not being impartial enough in our assessment of investigators@ rather
she is saying our bias in favour of the ispassionate is inhibiting because emotion is an essential
part of $no!lege" Aoreover, the istinction bet!een emotion an reason is problematic, as
Jaggar points out, because (reason has been associate !ith members of ominant political,
social, an cultural groups an emotion !ith members of suborinate groups+, li$e (people of
colorBan !omen+ ,1223, 1?C0" The result of the false istinction bet!een emotion an reason
is that it prouces a myth about investigators that functions in a circular pattern !here the myth
reinforces the oppression of those !ho are perceive as emotional, !hile the oppression
reinforces the myth that it is ba to be emotional" In orer to give a full account of !hat it means
to be a goo investigator, then, !e shoul ac$no!lege ho! emotions function to prouce
passionate investigators !ho are reliable observers"
The first point Jaggar thin$s a full account shoul inclue is that in many !ays emotions
are socially constructe in a !ay that reflects the norms an values of our society, an that this
emotional construction influences our evaluations an observations of the !orl" The secon
aspect of the social construction of our emotional constitution she !ants to point out is that our
emotional construction is not complete in the sense that there are people !ho o not al!ays
respon to or evaluate particular situations in a manner that reflects social norms an values"
Jaggar calls these unconventional emotional responses an evaluations (outla!+ emotions, an
states that they are usually e<perience by (suborinate iniviuals !ho pay a
isproportionately high price for maintaining the status #uo+ ,1223, 1;D0" 4o!ever, !hen the
istinction bet!een emotion an reason is maintaine biases against emotional responses in
general an unconventional emotional responses in particular, are isregare" 9or e<ample, a
!oman may feel anger or fear !hen a se<ist &o$e is mae, but !hen she tries to voice her opinion
she is tol either that she i not unerstan the &o$e or that she has no sense of humour" Thus,
!hen the istinction is maintaine it ma$es it ifficult, if not impossible, to realize that the &o$e
is not funny because it is base on a negative stereotype" That is to say, it is not ac$no!lege
that the stereotype an the e<pecte emotional response is ictate by the current norms an
values" 9urthermore, because a !oman, !ho may alreay be ientifie as a ba observer, is
pointing out that there may be a mista$e in our !ay of thin$ing, her response is isregare as
emotional an unreliable, an the oppressive norms an values go un#uestione"
". Jaggar’s #etho$ology an$ Potential Pro!lems
The benefit of riing ourselves of epistemologies that o not ac$no!lege the role of
emotions, both conventional an unconventional, is that !e can begin to recognize !hich norms
an values are causing harmful biases an negative stereotypes" 9urthermore, Jaggar claims that
feminist outla! emotions=!hich are outla! emotions that (incorporate feminist perceptions
an values+=are particularly useful in feminist epistemology because they (can help in
eveloping alternatives to prevailing reality by motivating ne! investigationsB9eminist
emotions provie a political motivation for investigation an so help etermine the selection of
problems as !ell as the metho by !hich they are investigate+

,1223, 1;10"
Although Jaggar meant to offer a rough s$etch of some of the changes that nee to be
mae to our epistemic theories an practices, I thin$ there are some potential problems that nee
to be aresse" 9or one, I thin$ she nees to say more about ho! !e shoul etermine !hich
emotions !ill lea to fruitful norms an values, an !hich emotions !e shoul re&ect" To her
creit, it seems that Jaggar recognizes this is a #uestion that nees to be aresse given that she
tries to give reasons for !hy (certain alternative perceptions of the !orl, perceptions informe
by outla! emotions, are to be preferre to perceptions informe by conventional norms+ ,1223,
1;10" She claims the reason !omen’s outla! emotions shoul be given consieration is because
!omen are not members of the group that conventional beliefs about emotions privilege" Eiven
that !omen e<perience the conse#uences of not being privilege, they are not as li$ely to ahere
to these norms !ithout #uestion" 4ence, they are better able to articulate the negative aspects of
their e<periences because they o not fear that this #uestioning of norms !ill threaten their
privilege status" The problem !ith this response is that it oes not seem to fully ans!er the
#uestion, because some outla! emotions !ill not provie reliable guies to ientifying biases,
an so the ifficulty !ill be istinguishing !hich emotions are reliable from those that are not"
In orer to give a more robust argument for !hy !e shoul give special consieration to
the emotions of oppresse people she nees to first aress the fact that the (oppresse+ o not
share one perspective" As pointe out by Aarilyn 9rye, one problem !ith ma$ing claims about
the stanpoint of !omen’s emotional perspectives is that such claims seem to presuppose there
are universal types of emotions=outla! or other!ise=that are consistent throughout the
emotions e<perience by !omen" 9rye notes that this is a mista$e often mae by feminists given
that it is common for epistemological theories to espouse that (all $no!ers are essentially ali$e,
that is, are essentially li$e oneself7 one thin$s that one spea$s not &ust as oneself, but as a human
being+ ,-?0" :hat happens in feminist theorizing as a response to this attitue is feminists
become convince they nee to spea$ as (:omen+ in orer to be ta$en seriously" As 9rye points
out, feminists often face the ifficult tas$ of trying to articulate (the circumstances, e<perience
an perception of those !ho are historically, materially, culturally constructe by or through the
concept omen" But the ifferences among !omen across cultures, locales an generations ma$e
it clear that although all female humans may live lives shape by the concepts of :oman, they
are not all shape by the same concept of :oman+ ,-;0"
The point I !ant to stress from this
passage is that not all !omen !ill e<perience the same emotions in the same conte<ts because
!e are forme by ifferent concepts of (:oman+ even though !omen in general face oppression
in one form or another"
In response to the problem of !omen’s iffering e<periences, 9rye suggests feminists
approach epistemology !ith a ifferent methoology" That is, a methoology that !ill allo!
!omen to give meaning to their o!n e<periences even though they are not e<periences that are
share by all !omen" Fart of this pro&ect entails that feminists give up the notion of a universal
!omen’s e<perience" Another part is that they listen to many ifferent !omen’s e<periences an
loo$ for patterns of similarity" 9rye suggests this methoology !ill result in the follo!ing7
The e<periences of each !oman an of the !omen collectively generate a ne! !eb of
meaning" %ur process has been one of iscovering, recognizing, an creating patterns=
patterns !ithin !hich e<perience mae a ne! $in of sense, or in instances, for the first
time mae any sense at all" Instea of bringing a phase of en#uiry to closure by summing
up !hat is $no!n, as other !ays of generalizing o, pattern recognitionGconstructions
opens fiels of meaning an generates ne! interpretive possibilities" Instea of ra!ing
conclusions from observations, it generates observations",-20
I thin$ this methoology !ill be helpful in pointing out the outla! emotions that can offer
guiance as to !hich of our norms an values are #uestionable, an opens a ialogue over
potential !ays to change them"
The methoology 9rye avocates can be further evelope if !e consier potential !ays
in !hich !omen can e<press their e<periences such that patterns can be recognize" %ne
approach that I fin particularly convincing is offere by Aor!enna Eriffiths" Eriffiths suggests
that feminist epistemologists can employ autobiographical accounts of !omen’s e<periences as a
means of articulating the ifferences bet!een !omen’s e<periences" 5i$e 9rye, Eriffiths also
notes that there is no one e<perience common to all !omen" 4o!ever, Eriffiths further claims
that, ()i*niviuals are not entirely of one group or another" %n the contrary, iniviuals are
fragments of an uncertain number of groups+ ,;30" The conclusion she ra!s from this point is
that it is an oversimplification to limit the types of $no!lege humans can ac#uire into
categories li$e !omen’s $no!lege" %ne person can e<perience oppression from the perspective
of more than one position" To name a fe!, one may e<perience oppressions from the
perspectives of a particular race, class, gener, or se<ual orientation, an intersections of these"
9or e<ample, the oppression e<perience by a native !oman is not the same as that e<perience
by a native man or that e<perience by a !hite !oman" 4ence, Eriffiths suggests that one’s
positions in the !orl at ifferent times can contribute to her unerstaning of the !orl, !hich
in turn !ill influence the $no!lege she can ac#uire a!out the !orl" 'oting the ifferent
positions from !hich an iniviual can have e<periences an ac#uire $no!lege is important
because it suggests that there can be similarities bet!een the positions !e occupy an the
iniviual e<periences !e have" This potential to have similar e<periences of the !orl further
suggests that similarities in e<perience ma$e it the case that !e are not completely enie access
to other people’s unerstaning of the !orl"
The reason Eriffiths thin$s autobiographical accounts are a crucial feature of feminist
epistemology is because the !ay in !hich iniviuals come to fin similarities in e<periences is
through language" To further clarify her point, she argues that,
language has a consierable po!er to etermine !hat !e see an o, but this po!er is not
absolute" :e also create ne! language, by !or$ing on the languages in !hich !e live"
Iniviual e<perience can be use in creation $no!lege in combinations !ith the
e<periences of others" Eroups can evelop languages of their o!n if they share particular
psychosocial, social an linguistic e<periences" Thus !omen in society, for instance, !ho
share particular positions !ithin it can evelop a !ay of tal$ing about this" ,;;0
In short, Eriffiths suggests that language is $ey to feminist epistemology because it points out
ho! !omen !ith ifferent e<periences can nonetheless come to some consensuses on the
oppressions they e<perience an the $no!lege evelope from these e<periences"
%. &onclusion
I thin$ that if !e incorporate Eriffiths’ an 9rye’s approach on Jaggar’s theory !hat !e
!ill fin is a more tenable response to #uestions about !hich outla! emotions can be regare as
being particular to !omen7 namely, patterns of outla! emotions that feminists have recognize
through the e<pression of ifferent !omen’s autobiographical accounts" An once !e can start
pointing out the commonalities bet!een the ifferent perspectives that arise from the stanpoint
of ifferent !omen, !e can begin sho! that there is something about !omen’s reality that ma$es
it the case that they are e<periencing the !orl ifferently than men"
I have not even scratche the surface !ith respect to giving a etaile e<planation of
e<actly ho! Jaggar thin$s a fully functional theory of outla! emotions might loo$" 4o!ever, I
am assuming that once theorists start amitting that emotion is an integral part of epistemology
the intricate etails of ho! to ientify fruitful outla! emotions !ill be !or$e out" 9or instance,
!e might be able to start ientifying patterns of emotions that coul be consiere outla!
emotions an !hich norms an values that they are a response to" An this recognition !ill
further our abilities to start #uestioning the norms an values that guie our epistemic practices" I
thin$ this is the sort of thing Jaggar ha in min !hen she states that the benefit of briging the
gap bet!een emotion an $no!lege is that our emotions, !hen properly accesse, (may
contribute to the evelopment of $no!lege, so the gro!th of $no!lege may contribute to the
evelopment of appropriate emotions+ ,1223,1;-0" The evelopment of this pro&ect may be slo!
an aruous, but given the problems that e<ist in traitional epistemology I thin$ Jaggar’s pro&ect
seems !orthy of consieration as a potential contributor to a solution"
9or the purposes of this paper I !ill e#uate feminist epistemologists !ith feminists philosophers of
science given that there are many overlapping interests bet!een the t!o"
9or similar arguments, particularly !ith respect to ho! positivism ha contribute to the notion of the
ieal ob&ective $no!er, see Jaggar ,12230 an ,12H-0, especially pp"-??.-?H@ Coe ,122-0"
As note by 5ouise Antony, (9or iscussions of epistemological frame!or$s available to feminists,
see Sanra 4aring, The 'cience (uestion in Feminism, ,Ithaca, '"I"7 Cornell University Fress, 12H;0,
especially pp" 3/.32@ Aary 4a!$es!orth, (9eminist 8pistemology7 A Survey of the 9iel,+ )omen
an$ Politics C ,12HC07 113.13/@ an 4ilary Jose, (4an, Brain, an 4eart7 A feminist 8pistemology
for the 'atural Sciences,+ 'igns 2, 11 ,12H-07 C-.2D"+ ,Antony 3DD3, 'ote -0"
9or iscussion of 9eminist Stanpoint Theory, see Bar %n ,122-0@ 4aring ,122-0@ 5ongino ,122-0"
9or a more general analysis of essentialism in feminist theorizing, see Spelman ,12HH0"
Than$s to 8lizabeth Bra$e for clarifying the istinction bet!een the emotion of amusement an the
behavior of laughter, as !ell as supplying me !ith an e<ample of amusement anticipation"
Jaggar oes mention that she is spea$ing (very generally of people an their emotions, as though
everyone e<perience similar emotions an ealt !ith them in similar !ays+ ,Jaggar 1223, 1?C0" An
she further notes that (it is an a<iom of feminist theoryBthat all generalizations about >people’ are
suspect+ ,Jaggar 1223, 1?C0" So she oes, at the very least, seem to recognize that she may fall prey to
9rye’s criticism" 4o!ever, she goes on to argue that ma$ing generalizations about the emotionality of
!omen is part of ho! the epistemic authority of men is perpetuate, an she oes not aress the issue
of ho! she shoul eal !ith the problem as it applies to stanpoint theory" I fin this particularly o
given that in another !or$ she claims that part of the pro&ect of feminist ethics entails that feminists be
sensitive to the fact that all !omen are not similarly situate in such a !ay that universal claims can be
mae about them even though there are commonalities bet!een !omen’s situateness at times" ,Jaggar
12210" So, although I am uncertain as to !hy she oes not eal !ith problems that might arise from this
issue as it applies to stanpoint theory, I gather that she !oul !elcome rather than re&ect feminist
theories that coul ai her in avoiing this problem as it !oul apply to feminist epistemology"
Alcoff, 5ina, an 8lizabeth Fotter" 122-" Feminist epistemologies" 'e! Ior$7 Joutlege"
Antony, 5ouise" 3DD3" Kuine as a feminist7 the raical import of naturalize epistemology" In A
min$ of one’s on 3
eition, e" 5ouise A" Antony an Charlotte 8" :itt" Colorao7
:estvie! Fress"
Bar %n, Bat.Ami" 122-" Aarginality an epistemic privilege" In Feminist epistemologies" See
Alcoff an Fotter 122-"
Coe, 5orraine" 122-" Ta$ing sub&ectivity into account" In Feminist epistemologies" See Alcoff
an Fotter 122-"
9rye, Aarilyn" 122;" The possibility of feminist theory" In )omen* +nole$ge an$ reality 3
eition" e" Ann Earry an Aarilyn Fearsall" 'e! Ior$7 Joutlege"
Eriffiths, Aor!enna" 122?" Feminisms an$ the self" 'e! Ior$7 Joutlege"
4aring, Sanra" 122-" Jethin$ing stanpoint epistemology7 (!hat is strong ob&ectivity+L" In
Feminist epistemologies" See Alcoff an Fotter 122-"
Jaggar, Alison A" 1223" 5ove an $no!lege7 emotions in feminist epistemology" In
,en$er-!o$y-+nole$ge" e" Alison A" Jaggar an Susan J" Boro" 'e! Bruns!ic$7
Jutgers University Fress"
......" 1221" 9eminist ethics7 pro&ects, problems, prospects" In Feminist ethics" e" Clauia Car"
6ansas7 University Fress of 6ansas"
......" 12H-" Feminist politics an$ human nature" 'e! Jersey7 Jo!man M Allanhel Fublishers"
5ongino, 4elen 8" 122-" Sub&ects, po!er an $no!lege7 escription an prescription in
feminist philosophies of science" In Feminist epistemologies" See Alcoff an Fotter 122-"
Scheman, 'aomi" 122-" Engen$erings: constructions of +nole$ge* authority* an$ privilege"
'e! Ior$7 Joutlege"
Spelman, 8lizabeth N" 12HH" .nessential omen: pro!lems of e/clusion in feminist thought
Boston7 Beacon Fress"