Insightful explorations of moral limits to human interactions
Essays on Philosophy, Feminism, and Ethics
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Kathryn Pyne Addelson
This collection of essays places a distinguished academic career within the context of a personal and political reality that is grounded in a working-class background and a commitment to feminist activism. Kathryn Pyne Addelson reflects on her development as a philosopher and a feminist by reexamining the genesis of her own writings. Throughout these interdisciplinary pieces, she draws examples from the feminist, civil rights, and antiwar movements to offer a different way of approaching philosophical ethics.
Impure Thoughts is divided into two parts: "Writing Philosophy" and "Writing Feminism." In the first section, she addresses such questions as how professional authority contributes to creating and maintaining hierarchies of class, gender, age, and race. With reference to various reproductive debates, Addelson takes issue with philosophers who "preempt our moral meanings and our solutions to our social problems" under the assumption that cognitive authority is neutral. Throughout these essays, she tries to demonstrate how philosophy might become more empirical.
In the second section, the author describes the tension between upward mobility and class identity. She encounters the contradiction of her life"I had left the love and anger of my own working-class neighborhood not by changing the world by moving up in it"and works toward a resolution of her professional status with her working-class roots, her radical politics with her white professional-class privilege. Defining feminism as "a commitment to take women seriously," Addelson addresses class and gender bias, anarchist alternatives to several ethics, and the contradictions in writing feminism using the elite means and methods of the academy.
The essays, written between 1972 and 1989, offer criticism of philosophical and feminist ethics and social theory. In them Addelson offers the beginnings of a new ethics based on "symbolic interactionism," an anthropological, qualitative sociology with its roots in the work of John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. As part of her explicitly empirical method, she uses case studies in abortion, teen pregnancy, and other current moral problems.
"A brilliant and perceptive series of essays that reflect upon key issues of our time. They
provide a model for how philosophy may be informed and transformed in the future to meet the expectations of feminist critics."
"[Addelson] articulates and uses a general approach that is rather like the currently fashionable 'postmodern' critical approaches to knowledge, but is mercifully without the jargon, righteous nihilism, or spacy abstractness that are common in 'postmodern' feminisms."
"Feminist philosophy at its best. It is accessibly written
a book that a lot of people will want to read."
Part I: Writing Philosophy
Part II: Writing Feminism
A Postscript of Thanks