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Course: Philosophy
Group of courses: Languages and Cultural Studies, Art and Design


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Course objectives:

Students should be enabled to recognise and apply gender as a central category and critical instrument of analysis in all areas of philosophy. This involves teaching them about philosophical gender theories from ancient times up to the present day, as well as developing their ability to analyse critically from the point of view of gender texts and concepts that do not deal with gender explicitly, but in which gender influences the structure indirectly e.g. via metaphors, comparisons and omissions. Methodological reflection and acquiring methodological skills is thus a central learning objective. In addition, students should be taught about the development of the field and key approaches in current debates in feminist philosophy and interdisciplinary gender studies in order to enable them to contribute to and intervene in these debates.

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Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Women's and gender studies in the area of philosophy analyses symbolisations of gender and gender relationships. It also deals with the development of modes of thought and concepts that enable dominance relationships to be named and altered. A central issue is analysing and overcoming of a "false universalism", i.e. rejecting general concepts that appear to be neutral but in fact reflect a gender bias. Philosophical women's and gender studies assume the existence of a complex interplay of social structures, philosophy and other knowledge discourses. Work on philosophical terminology is thus considered to be "situated" and the research time and again reflects on the boundaries of the discipline of the subject "philosophy".
Women's and gender studies takes on the task of reconstructing, criticising and innovating concepts and theories in all the different sub-areas of theoretical and practical philosophy.

In the field of theoretical philosophy, the following contributions are particularly noteworthy:
Metaphysics and ontology

  • Research on gender articulation and the hierarchical ordering of basic pairs of opposite concepts such as being/non-being, nature/culture, body/mind. It aims to discover and name the social and cultural context that is "inscribed into" metaphysical and/or ontological principles. Moreover it strives to understand how abstract symbolisations of gender structure our thinking and thereby stabilise social gender systems or contribute to changing them.
  • Philosophical conceptions which examine the alliances between feminist philosophy and other forms of modern metaphysical criticism (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Post-structuralism, discourse ethics) in the context of metaphysical thought. These conceptions attempt to find starting points for developing new theory despite the gender bias and simplistic terminology for gender and gender relations that exists in practically all mainstream philosophical conceptions.

Philosophy of science, epistemology

  • Research on androcentrism in conceptions of rationality and science. Conceptions of science and rationality are examined to determine how far they are based on androcentric assumptions regarding the subject and the knowledge-constitutive interests. Research analyses the gendering of the human cognitive faculty, e.g. by the reason/feeling opposition. To bring the assumption of neutral objectivity into question, the relationship between knowledge and power is analysed following various methodological avenues (including psychoanalysis, critical theory and post-structuralism).
  • On a conceptual level, a whole series of new paradigms are suggested. These leave behind both positivistic and cultural-relativistic approaches in the philosophy of science. Key among them are Standpoint Theory, the conception of "situated knowledge" and approaches with reference to Historical Epistemology or Social Studies of Science (STS). The concept of objectivity is reformulated so as to allow different perspectives and approaches by women and other "others" to knowledge and knowledge-production to be integrated, without losing the possibility of formulating claims to truth.

In the field of practical philosophy, the following contributions are particularly noteworthy:
Political philosophy/social philosophy

  • Research dealing with gender conceptions and androcentric underlying assumptions in philosophical theories about the state and society, marriage, family, reproduction and education in all periods of the history of philosophy from Antiquity to the present. It investigates historical changes in gender hierarchies and symbolisations, as well as analysing continuities. Analyses of the relationship between the public and the private, of the state, democracy and the political are of central importance here.
  • In contemporary social philosophy, feminist philosophy is of particular relevance for debates on equality and justice, identity, difference and recognition. It investigates how social, economic and cultural factors interact ideally, at least to further a plural, gender-balanced society. Topics such a multiculturalism, social justice and globalisation are included in this discussion. In addition Queer Studies and theories of intersectionality that conceptualize the interrelatedness of different forms of power and social principles of hierarchization play a central role.

Moral philosophy/ethics

  • Feminist ethical conceptions were initially formulated as an alternative to universalistic approaches to law and justice based on the autonomous subject of social contractual theory. More than anything else, the proposed "ethics of care" orientated towards women's life experience and skills such as social binding skills, context-sensitive thinking and emotionality has led to a rich philosophical debate on the possibility of a "female morality" and the relationship between universalism and relativism. Beyond such a “separatist” understanding of ethics, numerous debates concerning a re-conceptualization of the concepts of autonomy, moral feelings, emotion and affect has developed during the last years.
  • Feminist bioethics critically examines the gender blindness of mainstream bioethics and formulates suggestions for an intersectional approach to the problems of applied ethics. In addition studies at the crossroads of ethics and philosophy of technology are noteworthy that refer to various philosophical traditions as post-structuralism, phenomenology, or philosophical anthropology.

Philosophical anthropology

  • Research critically reconstructing the "false universalism" i.e. the implicit androcentrism of general concepts with an appearance of neutrality, e.g. "man", "subject", "reason" of philosophical conceptions of all periods. Many different methods of textual analysis have been developed here, allowing one to analyse the implicit structures of meaning of texts and discourses by means of explicit gender constructions.
  • The question "what is man?" is translated into the question "what is gender?" in feminist philosophy. Conceptions of body, sexuality and identity are discussed, especially from existentialist, psychoanalytical, phenomenological and post-structural perspectives. Without using "essentialistic" terminology that assumes a common "nature" for all women, analysts try to formulate generalisable statements about the conditions and dimensions of the ability to act. Queer Theory and Postcolonial Studies have added important new impetus to these debates.

History of Philosophy

  • The history of philosophy has been enriched by the rediscovery of women philosophers from throughout the history of European/Western philosophy who had been "forgotten" or made invisible. This has led to new reference books as well as a series of new editions. In addition, research in this field attempts to reconstruct vestiges of gender conflict in also in texts which do not explicitly address gender subjects. Both strategies include reflections on the constructedness of “history” and “philosophy” and aim at a re-evaluation of marginalised forms of thinking.

The scientific field of women's and gender studies within philosophy is extremely dynamic. In the past 30 years we have developed comprehensive knowledge in the different areas of philosophy and a number of women authors have achieved the status of "classics" (particularly Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler). However, the field is subject to constant change and development. This is partially due to the energy of international debates in women's and gender studies. Mainly, however, they are the result of the lively critical examination of new social and scientific/technological challenges. Thus technological and biological sciences, and questions of cultural difference, justice, social equality, and globalisation have become central issues in recent years.

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Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

The following content should be integrated into in all subjects. This is because women's and gender studies in philosophy deals with basic problems in the central concepts and theories of the mainstream. Thus it is not simply "extra knowledge" that can be taught separately. Wherever the basic orientation of the various branches of philosophy and the interpretation of "classic" philosophical writers is questioned, women's and gender studies in the area of philosophy should be taught within the context of what is being critiqued.

If this cannot currently be integrated into the courses, we recommend creating special gender modules or module elements. There should be at least one module (or module element) from the area of theoretical and practical philosophy, and an advanced module "Philosophical Gender Studies". The modules could be constructed as follows:

  1. Knowledge, power, gender

    • This module should cover the history of philosophy as well as present-day philosophy. It should include a) principles of feminist scientific and rationality critique, and b) feminist paradigms in philosophy of science and epistemology. It would also be advisable to c) make these critiques and re-conceptualisations concrete using current examples and debates, and relating them to current developments in the field of philosophy of science.

  2. Difference, equality, society

    • This module should cover the history of philosophy as well as present-day philosophy. It should cover a) analyses of the androcentrism of traditional and contemporary conceptions of the individual and society, and politics, and b) principles and problems in the current feminist philosophical debate on this topic area.

  3. Philosophical Gender Studies

    • This module should focus on a) the origins of the field of "feminist philosophy" and current debates and developments. This includes discussions of inter- and transdisciplinarity in philosophical gender studies and b) methodological reflection. This should include teaching various methods of textual criticism and strategies for concept- and theory-building in order to enable students to independent research in the field of philosophical gender studies.

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Degree Stage:

The above content should be integrated into in all degree stages. Modules 1 and 2 can be taught in BA courses from the second semester onwards. The third module is designed to be an advanced module and should thus only be taught in later semesters. It is vital that there is also the opportunity for more detailed study in MA courses.