Political Vs Philosophical Feminism

A few days ago the Philosophy Society I help run had a discussion over feminism: What is the difference between political and philosophical feminism?

First, I should clarify my own position: I am a feminist, politically and philosophically. However, because of that curse we call reality, it’s not as easy as that. For example, I do not believe there should be laws that state I should be paid the same as a man, that I deserve the same education or rights to vote as a man. I am a human being, a British citizen, an emotional, intellectual being; I pay taxes, I ride the tube, breathe the polluted London air and clap my short-sighted vision on the same beautiful, devastating and humours sights as my male counterparts. No law should pre-suppose that women are or have ever been the lesser gender.


Additionally, I do not deny there are physical differences between men and women that cannot be changed. Women bare children: men do not. This is not something we can change: but we can change the way we view women (and men) as a result. I feel very lucky that I had a stay-at-home dad, this is something I wouldn’t change – I owe my love of history to him (and possibly my overly relaxed attitude to money management,) women don’t have to stay at home; it’s a choice many make but it is just that: a choice.

These things said, even writing this makes me a philosophical feminist. I feel, I believe, without instigating any change within institutions or government, that men and women are equal. My beliefs sit permanently within me: ethically, politically, ontologically.  I may not be taking any action towards them, but they are still there permanently.

Is that the difference between philosophical and political feminism? Does Philosophical feminism lead political feminism? Or is all feminism political?


We, the British, are lucky to be able to stand up in a room, in the street, on a roof, in a protest, and say ‘I am a feminist.’ Or, even, ‘I believe in equal rights for all people.’ There are large numbers of people in the world who cannot say this, they cannot share their beliefs about equal rights. Some do not even have the belief because of their geographical location. This is wrong, but it is also reality.

A philosophy is (according to the dictionary): A system of values by which one lives, where as a political belief is: a body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture. 

The real question here is: Can I have something that I live by (a philosophy) that doesn’t reflect my social needs and aspirations? Is every philosophy influenced by our surroundings? Or are some innate?

I wont go into a rationalist/empiricist debate here but just consider this: Go to ANY Wikepedia page. Start with anything you like. (I once did this with Bradley Wiggins, it took about 20 minutes), and thenclick on the first link that isn’t in (brackets) or italics. Keep doing it.Eventually you get to philosophy. Every time.

It always comes back to philosophy.

– By Katy

(Also published on Katy’s blog)


4 thoughts on “Political Vs Philosophical Feminism

  1. In line with my earlier comments on Martin’s points on this same BBK blog, I do not think there is any value in making a distinction between ‘political feminism’ and ‘philosophical feminism’ : it seems another philosophically pointless (i.e. purely political) dichotomy that evaporates on closer scrutiny. Feminism is, by definition, a political phenomenon and, therefore, has nothing to do with philosophy properly conceived: it is a term that stands for a socio-political agenda of actions and thoughts that underlie the public (i.e. political) initiative to promote women’s interests in light of a perceived lack of respect and opportunity for female members of the polis. Philosophy admirably concerns itself with human nature in general, i.e. it tries (or should try) to understand what is common across that broad spectrum we call the human race, i.e. it should continue to try hard to abstract from human specifics that relate to how individual political segments of society aspire to politically differentiate themselves from the human race in general, and attempt to gain political favour through self-descriptive practices that paint a self-serving picture of political disadvantage, of a lack of entitlements (however legitimate that political agenda may, occasionally, be). (Modern) philosophy tries to to stay away from sectarianism, the politics of ‘self-perceived’ disadvantaged ‘minorities’ politicking for a bigger slice of the public pie, be those minorities female, coloured, religious, Belgian, obese, gay, one-legged or other. The nobility of the philosophical discipline lies in looking at commonality not difference, at aspiration, not self-pity. In short, feminism is a political movement – I believe it has no place in philosophy. In sociology, politics, cultural studies, etc… : yes. Philosophy? Let’s hope never.

  2. There are many great female philosophers, de Beauvoir is not (the only) one of them, and far from the most notable one for anything more than historical reasons, i.e. as Sartre’s concubine. It is not clear that if it were not for Sartre’s fame, anyone would have ever heard about de Beauvoir.

    Hardly any really great female philosopher ever made a point of shouting out their alleged ‘minority’ status in order to get noticed: Anscombe, Diamond, Murdoch, Warnock etc et al are memorable because they had something new and interesting to say that did not relate to self-absorbed petty little gender issues. I suggest all women take these female philosophers as an example. Anything else looks like cheap politicking, jumping on the minority bandwagon to hide a lack of genuine talent and achievement.

  3. Katy, I did that same thing with “Bradley Wiggins” and it ended with a wiki piece on sideburns?! Is your wiki different from mine? I feel someone will need to express a view on the metaphysics of wiki … on the feminist perspective on wiki, on the political feminist view on wiki versus the philosophical feminist view on wiki… versus the culinary perspective, the tourist perspective, the neo-marxist latvian perspective, the define-your-minority-of-the-day-because-society-owes-you-an-apology perspective …?

  4. One for Ken Gemes (“Sloterdijk doesn’t count…”): Wittgenstein: “what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence” – Sloterdijk: “what we cannot [seem to] keep quiet about we [seem to] need to witter about”.

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