Ford Professor of Philosophy & Women’s and Gender Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
AOS: Child, Family, Parenting, and Reproduction Ethics, Critical Theory, Epistemology, Feminist Philosophy, GRIDS+, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Disability, Philosophy of Intersectionality, Philosophy of Gender, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Race, Philosophy of Social Science, Pragmatism, Social and Political Philosophy
My philosophical interests are broad. I began my philosophical life specializing in analytic metaphysics and epistemology, and in ancient philosophy (especially Aristotle’s metaphysics). Over time I shifted to work more in social and political philosophy, feminist theory and critical race theory. I have published on the problem of persistence through change, pragmatic paradox, and Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of substance. In feminist theory I have written on the objectivity and objectification, and Catharine MacKinnon’s theory of gender. For many years I was devoted to making metaphysical sense of the notion of social construction. My book Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (Oxford 2012), collects papers published over the course of twenty years that link work in contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language with social and political issues concerning gender, race, and the family.
More recently I have been working on social practices, social structure, structural explanation, and ideology. Mainstream philosophy has, to my mind, systematically ignored the social domain, focusing its normative attention on individuals and states. This is a problem because the social domain structures our day to day lives and is a site of substantial and durable injustice. Attention to the social domain is hampered by misunderstandings about social ontology and commitments to methodological individualism. So there is much work to be done, not only on normative issues, but also issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. For example, what is a social structure and how can reference to social structures be explanatory? How and why do agents enact social structures, and to what extent, under what conditions, and by what methods are we justified in destabilizing them? What is the epistemology of consciousness raising, of ignorance? What is social meaning, and how is it learned, reproduced, modified? How is social meaning related to social justice? To answer these questions I believe philosophers can benefit from a broad background social science (not just cognitive science!) and the other humanities.
Although I am trained in the analytic tradition, I draw on resources, authors, and methods that cross traditional divides. I am very interested in Frankfurt School Critical Theory, Foucault, Bourdieu, the materialist feminism of Christine Delphy, and many others. Another theme in my work is how to preserve a kind of (Marxian) materialism in thinking about the social world, without endorsing a crude economic determinism. In this I am most influenced by Iris Young (esp. “Socialist Feminism and the Limits of Dual Systems Theory.”) The basic idea, put nicely by Jennifer Einspahr, is:
…if inequality is ‘structural’, that is, linked to the distribution of goods and resources and embedded in everyday rules and interactions, but is also continually reactivated through agency, then neither ‘structural’ changes nor changes in ‘consciousness’ will on their own disrupt the mutually reinforcing facets of domination: We can neither ‘think ourselves’ out of oppression nor will freedom result automatically from a redistribution of goods and resources, although both are important contributors to freedom. (Einspahr 2010,17)