Paradox of Stubbornness: The Epistemology of Stereotypes Regarding Women

In Synne Myreböe, Valgerður Pálmadóttir & Johanna Sjöstedt (eds.), Feminist Philosophy: Time, History and the Transformation of Thought. Södertörn: Södertörn University. pp. 211-229 (2023)
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The discrepancy between individual women and the stereotypes attributed to the group as a ‎whole has become progressively greater and more explicit over the course of history. The stereotypes remain the same age-old ‎allegations whilst the ‎developments in the occupations of women and the traits they have opportunity to express have increased the distance between women and those ascribed traits. Stereotypes’ abstention from revision in light of contrary evidence constitutes an epistemic paradox for it entails conflict between the stereotypical knowledge and empirical evidence, as well as between the stereotypical knowledge and other empirical knowledges. This paradox of stubbornness also raises the question as to the epistemic source of stereotypes. For, people at young ages encounter evidence which should have formed a more complex knowledge regarding women rather than the pervasive stereotypical knowledge. It is this extremity of absurdness of stereotypes regarding women that is utile to understanding stereotypes as a whole. The epistemic paradox that is engrained in all stereotypes is exposed uncompromisingly by this group. The paradox cannot be dismissed with excuses of having a small basis of evidence, such as may be said regarding other social groups with which one may have had minimal or no contact. Thus, stereotypes of women provide a limit case to understanding the epistemology of this paradoxical form of knowledge. The traits and epistemic phenomena which render stereotypes epistemically puzzling and intriguing is the relationship between knowledges. Stereotypical knowledge regarding women as a group conflict with one’s experience-founded knowledges of particular women, deeming the corporate body of knowledge incoherent. Quine’s theory of knowledge, with its holistic empirical approach endorsing conceptual schemes, provides fertile ground for this analysis. The novelty in his account is his establishment of the criteria of coherency, which shifts the focal point of epistemic inquiry away from the adequacy of individual knowledges with empirical evidence to the intra-knowledge relationships themselves. In his empiricism, Quine rather examines the interactions between knowledges and the overarching coherence of the body of knowledge as a holistic unit. Quine creates place in his account for mechanism which provide for the epistemic incongruences of stubbornness and conflict found between stereotypical knowledges and empirical evidence. These very mechanisms are what this paper requests to examine. Quine, ultimately, formulates knowledge as a collectively held fabric consisting of relations and of posits – socially constructed mechanisms which are empirically-irreducible and implemented pragmatically for the organisation of empirical evidence. According to Quine, the fabric formation is a conceptual scheme sourced in social heritage. People are bestowed with an eclectic framework of ‎knowledge to pragmatically merge between an inherited, collective conceptual scheme and the personally experienced empirical evidence. This paper will delve into Quine’s fabric of knowledge, its relations, and inner-mechanisms. The finding of stereotypes to be an age-old posit entrenched pragmatically – thus stubbornly – in the collective conceptual scheme, will explain the epistemic paradoxes they entail and offer insight to their revision in light of empiric reality and its women.

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Sagy Watemberg Izraeli
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan


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