5 minute read

Continental Philosophy

Feminist Philosophy

Feminist philosophy examines gender issues and male-oriented "ideological" solutions in Western philosophy and science, while feminist epistemology, which is centered primarily in the analytic tradition, focuses on illegitimate authority and power relationships inherent in modern concepts of the knowing, scientific "subject." In general, feminist philosophers discuss human knowledge, truth, and objectivity in the broader context of gender, class, age, and race, while feminist moral philosophers demonstrate the importance of feminine "caring" in contrast to masculine "justice." Addressing the work of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, feminist philosophers emphasize the contextual, historical, and social aspects of language, while simultaneously critiquing male/female dichotomies, hierarchies, and "power-structures" in traditional "masculine" philosophy and science, which are assumed to be "universal" and "objective."

In her book The Man of Reason (1984), Genevieve Lloyd demonstrated that a metaphysical dualism of masculine "reason" and feminine "sense perception" and "emotion" dominates Western philosophy. According to Lloyd, the misogynistic notions of Schopenhauer and of Nietzsche are extreme forms of this antifeminist bias, which has permeated cultural, political, and economic development in the West.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, French and North American feminist philosophers have questioned traditional, masculine interpretations of gender issues. Michèle Le Doeuff (b. 1948) has even discussed the inherent tension between being a woman and being a philosopher in the West. The American philosophers Judith Butler, Jean Grimshaw, Sandra Harding, Nancy Hartsock, Helen Longino, Seyla Benhabib, and Susan Bordo have made significant contributions to feminist philosophy, while the French philosophers Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva have become the most notable in the field.

Luce Irigaray (b. 1932) critiqued "masculine"-oriented Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis and was subsequently expelled from the Paris Psychoanalytic Association and from the University of Paris, after which she became a private psychoanalyst and writer. Best known for "deconstructing" the work of Plato, Kant, Hegel, and Freud, Irigaray demonstrates woman's unique sexual differences; that is, her body and desire (jouissance), which contradict masculine-oriented theories of "identity" and "sameness." Women, who have been defined traditionally in terms of "lack," absence," and "default," have been allowed to gain "identity" only by "mimicking" male language and male behavior. Going beyond social "gender roles" in the liberal, feminist fight of legal "equality" with men, Irigaray insisted on the unique "sexual difference" of women, their unique rights, and on the regaining of their own "subjectivity." She often uses Sophocles's Antigone and Hagel's interpretation of the play as the example of the masculine bias in Western civilization where Antigone loses her life against the command of king Creon.

The Bulgarian-born French feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva (b. 1941) showed an early interest in the problems of psychoanalysis and linguistics. Influenced by the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975) and by Dostoyevsky, Kristeva distinguishes between "semiotic" language (as expressed in the unconscious maternal world of "drives," music, and poetry) and "symbolic" language (the logical world of the "father"). She maintains that "semiotic" language often "erupts" into "symbolic" language and subverts both male and female sexual identity. In contrast to Irigaray, who looks for a specific "female voice," Kristeva questions the very concept of identity, male or female. For Kristeva, the oppression of women is only a portion of contemporary society's more universal social, political, and economic oppression of "marginalized groups." Contrary to Freud and Lacan, Kristeva not only emphasizes the social role of the mother in the development of the human subject but also the important role of the child. Yet both are rooted in the mother's contact with the child prior to the "law of the father."



Adorno, Theodor, and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Translated by John Cumming. London: Verso, 1989.

Askay, Richard, and Jensen Farguhar. Apprehending the Inaccessible: Freudian Psychoanalysis and Existential Phenomenology. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 2004.

Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Translated by H. M. Parshley. New York: Vintage, 1974.

Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. London: Routledge, 1989.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. ed. Translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. New York: Continuum, 1989.

Habermas, Jürgen. Knowledge and Human Interests. Translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1987.

——. Theory of Communicative Action. 2 vols. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1991.

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. Rev. and expanded ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

——. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

——. Zollikon Seminars: Protocols, Conversations, Letters. Edited by Medard Boss. Translated from the German and with notes and afterwords by Franz Mayr and Richard Askay. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2001.

Irigaray, Luce. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Translated by Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Lévinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1979.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Colin Smith. New York: Humanities Press, 1962.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1958.


Critchley, Simon. Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Critchley, Simon, and William Schroeder, eds. A Companion to Continental Philosophy. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998.

Holland, Nancy J., and Patricia Huntington, eds. Feminist Interpretations of Martin Heidegger. University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 2001.

Kearney, Richard, ed. Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Kearney, Richard, and Mara Rainwater, eds. The Continental Philosophy Reader. London: Routledge, 1996.

McNeill, William, and Karen Feldman, eds. Continental Philosophy: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

Solomon, Robert. Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

West, David. An Introduction to Continental Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1996.

Franz Mayr

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshContinental Philosophy - Wittgenstein And Analytic Philosophy, Freud And The Unconscious, Phenomenology Of Consciousness, Heidegger And The Phenomenology Of Being