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Statements of Fact: Whose? Where? When?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

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The phrase “statements of fact” has a clear, unequivocal ring. It speaks of a stable place untouchable by contests in epistemology and in more secular places, around questions of constructivism, subjectivism, and the politics of knowledge. It offers fixity, a locus of constancy in a shifting landscape where traditional certainties have ceased to hold, maintains a vantage point outside the fray, where knowledge-seekers can continue to believe in some degree of “correspondence” between items of knowledge and events in the world. Within the social institutions and practices where knowledge is an issue, it designates a secure starting place for deliberation, a way of ensuring that processes of decision-making remain cognizant of the “realities” they have to address.

In the institutions of knowledge production and knowledgeable practice that generate the examples I appeal to in this essay – medicine and law – “statements of fact” appear to comprise an incontestable core around which interpretive strategies may indeed have to be enlisted, but which itself functions as a kind of interpretation-exempt zone. There are good reasons for its retaining that status, for resisting the instabilities and sheer whimsicalities that would follow from dislodging it.

I. Moral Naturalism and Normativity
Copyright © The Authors 2000

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1 This point recalls Wittgenstein's claim: “It may be that all enquiry on our part is set so as to exempt certain propositions from doubt, if they are ever formulated. They lie apart from the route travelled by enquiry.” Wittgenstein, LudwigOn Certainty, ed. Anscombe, G.E.M. & Wright, G. H. von; trans. Paul, Denis & Anscombe, G.E.M. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1969)Google Scholar, #88 (italics in original).

2 The term is Collingwood's, R.G. who writes, “An absolute presupposition is one which stands, relatively to all questions to which it is related, as a presupposition, never as an answer.” An Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), 31 (italics in original)Google Scholar.

3 The image of the raft comes from Otto Neurath, who represents human knowledge as a raft that floats freely. Repairs(= revisions in a system of knowledge) have to be made while the raft is afloat. No part is immune from repair, but it is vital to be able to stand on some parts in order to replace or repair others: it would be impossible to dismantle the whole structure at once.

4 Stanley, Liz and Wise, SueBreaking Out: Feminist Consciousness and Feminist Research (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988)Google Scholar.

5 Hubbard, RuthScience, Facts, and Feminism,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 3, no. 1 (1988): 517CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Consider, for example, Scheppele, Kim LaneJust the Facts Ma'am: Sexualized Violence, Evidentiary Habits, and the Revision of Truth,” New York Law School Law Review (1992): 123–72Google Scholar.

7 Haraway, DonnaSituated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991)Google Scholar.

8 Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 187, 190.Google Scholar

9 Graycar, ReginaThe Gender of Judgments: An Introduction,” in Public and Private: Feminist Legal Debates, ed. Thornton, Margaret (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995)Google Scholar. The phrase “statements of fact” that supplies the title of this essay is pivotal to Graycar's discussion.

10 Malterud, KirstiWomen's undefined disorders- A challenge for clinical communication,” Family Practice 9 (1992): 299303CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; and “The Legitimacy of Clinical Knowledge: Towards a Medical Epistemology Embracing the Art of Medicine,” Theoretical Medicine 16 (1995): 183-98; Malterud, Kirsti and Hollnagel, HanneThe magic influence of classification systems in clinical practice,” Scandanavian Journal of Primary Health Care 15 (1997): 56CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

11 In Lovibond, SabinaFeminism and Postmodernism,” New Left Review 178 (1989): 528Google Scholar. Lovibond sees in naturalizing epistemology an effort “to represent the activity we call ‘enquiry’ as part of the natural history of human beings,” noting that “naturalist or materialist analyses of the institutions of knowledge production … have made it possible to expose the unequal part played by different social groups in determining standards of judgement” (12-3).

12 Haraway begins to engage with these questions in Modest_Witness@Second_ Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncomouseTM (New York: Routledge, 1997).

13 See Kruks, SoniaIdentity Politics and Dialectical Reason: Beyond an Epistemology of Provenance,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 10, no. 2 (1995): 122CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I am indebted to Kruks's analysis in my thinking about Haraway's paper. See also my “Incredulity, Experientialism and the Politics of Knowledge,” in Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on (Gendered) Locations (New York: Routledge, 1995).

14 See Code, LorraineWhat Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), chapter 7Google Scholar; “What Is Natural About Epistemology Naturalized?” American Philosophical Quarterly 33, no. 1 (January 1996): 1-22; and The Perversion of Autonomy and the Subjection of Women: Discourses of Social Advocacy at Century's End,” in Relational Autonomy, ed. Mackenzie, Catriona and Stoljar, Natalie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

15 Here I am drawing on my argument in “What Is Natural About Epistemology Naturalized?“

16 According to Hilary Kornblith, naturalism's principal questions are “What is the world that we may know it? And what are we that we may know the world?” Answers will be sought at the places where the best current theories of the nature of the world and the best current psychological theories dovetail. Kornblith, HilaryInductive Inference and Its Natural Ground: An Essay in Naturalistic Epistemology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993)Google Scholar.

17 Richmond Campbell argues persuasively that naturalism's reflexive turn is one of the principal sources of its value for feminist epistemology. The fact-value holism, and the meaning-value holism that Campbell elaborates from a naturalist position go a long way toward showing how a committed, value-infused political stance can promote objective know ledge of a real world. See Campbell, RichmondIllusions of Paradox: A Feminist Epistemology Naturalized (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998)Google Scholar, especially chapters 7 and 8, and p. 219.

18 Jerome Bruner contends that the term “folk psychology” was” coined in derision by the new cognitive scientists for its hospitality toward such intentional states as beliefs, desires, and meanings.” Bruner, JeromeActs of Meaning (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 36Google Scholar (my emphasis). Cited also in my “What Is Natural About Epistemology Naturalized?“

19 For an interesting analysis of these relative valuations, see Fuchs, StephanThe new wars of truth: conflicts over science studies as differential modes of observation,” Social Science Information 35, no. 2 (1996): 307–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 See in this connection my Naming, Naturalizing, Normalizing: ‘The Child’ as Fact and Artefact,” in Toward a Feminist Developmental Psychology, ed. Miller, Patricia and Scholnik, Elin (New York: Routledge, 2000)Google Scholar.

21 For a useful discussion of the excesses of scientism, see Sorell, TomScientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science (London: Routledge, 1991).Google Scholar

22 The doctrine of judicial notice is “a construct whereby the law absolves the parties from proving by evidence everything necessary to make out a case and allows the courts to take judicial notice of certain things considered not to be contentious.” Graycar notes that “Courts may use this doctrine to incorporate into their judgements common sense ideas about the world, common assumptions or, indeed, widely held misconceptions.” Graycar, “Gender of Judgements,” 274-5.

23 I say “man” and “he” in this part of my discussion, because female judges find it difficult not to “do it like a man.” Graycar makes a similar point, although some of the judgements she cites are spoken by female judges. (In the Soon Ja Du case I discuss below, the judge is a white woman.)

24 For comparable stories, see Williams, PatriciaThe Alchemy of Race and Rights: The Diary of a Law Professor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991)Google Scholar, and The Rooster's Egg: On the Persistence of Prejudice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995). See also Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, ed. Morrison, Toni (New York: Pantheon, 1992)Google Scholar; and my “Incredulity, Experientialism, and the Politics of Knowledge.“

25 See also Smart, CarolFeminism and the Power of Law (London: Routledge, 1989)Google Scholar and Cornell, DrucillaBeyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction and the Law (New York: Routledge, 1991)Google Scholar.

26 Lacey, NicolaUnspeakable Subjects: Feminist Essays in Legal and Social Theory (Oxford: Hart, 1998), 10.Google Scholar

27 Lacey, Unspeakable Subjects, 117 (italics in original)Google Scholar.

28 Gotanda, NeilTales of Two Judges,” in The House That Race Built, ed. Lubiano, Wahneema (New York: Vintage, 1997), 66Google Scholar.

29 My argument here thus resists the philosophical “myth of the given,” if” given” means presented to the innocent and untutored eye. For a classic discussion, see Sellars, WilfridDoes Empirical Knowledge Have a Foundation?” in Empirical Knowledge, ed. Chisholm, R.M. & Schwarz, R.J. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973)Google Scholar.

30 For an important discussion of debates in legal theory over critique versus closure, see Nicola Lacey, “Closure and Critique in Feminist Jurisprudence: Transcending the Dichotomy or a Foot in Both Camps?” in Unspeakable Subjects.

31 Malterud, KirstiStrategies for Empowering Women's Voices in the Medical Culture,” Health Care for Women International 14 (1993): 366.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

32 Malterud, KirstiThe Legitimacy of Clinical Knowledge: Towards a Medical Epistemology Embracing the Art of Medicine,” Theoretical Medicine 16 (1995): 184CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Malterud, KirstiWomen's Undefined Disorders- A Challenge for Clinical Communication,” Family Practice 9, no. 3 (1992): 299303CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; and “The (Gendered) Construction of Diagnosis,” Theoretical Medicine, forthcoming.

33 Wendell, SusanThe Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (New York: Routledge, 1996), 122Google Scholar.

34 Malterud, “Women's Undefined Disorders,” 301Google Scholar.

35 Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 189.Google Scholar

36 Kruks, “Identity Politics and Dialectical Reason, 7Google Scholar.

37 Haraway begins to do just this in Modest_Witness. Her position there is adumbrated both in “Situated Know ledges” and in “Manifesto for Cyborgs” in the bleak metaphor of an anonymous technological making and control that is everywhere and impersonally nowhere, silently making us and our vision in the most sophisticated of molds; making “identities” ever more elusive.

38 Kruks cites individual decisions of U.S. women to enter the traditionally” caring” professions as contributors to an unanticipated “consolidation of a segmented labor market“; and “third world” women's decisions to bear large numbers of children to secure support in their old age as inadvertent contributors to overextending the economic resources on which they might otherwise have been able to draw (13-4).

39 See, for example, Castoriadis, CorneliusPhilosopl1y, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosoply, ed. Curtis, David Ames (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)Google Scholar; and The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Blarney, Kathleen (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987)Google Scholar.

40 Castoriadis, CorneliusRadical imagination and the social instituting imaginary,” in Rethinking Imagination: Culture and Creativity, ed. Robinson, Gillian and Rundell, John (London: Routledge, 1994)Google Scholar.

41 Castoriadis, “Individual, Society, Rationality, History,” in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, 62.Google Scholar

42 Castoriadis, CorneliusFrom Ecology to Autonomy,” Thesis Eleven 3 (1981): 14CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 Castoriadis, “From Ecology to Autonomy,” 12.Google Scholar

44 See in this connection my Rational Imaginings, Responsible Knowings: How Far Can You See From Here?” in EnGendering Rationalities, ed. Tuana, Nancy and Morgen, Sandi (Albany: SUNY Press, forthcoming).Google Scholar

45 I appeal here to the idea of bioregional narratives, elaborated by Cheney, Jim in his “Postmodern Environmental Ethics: Ethics as Bioregional Narrative,” Environmental Ethics 11 (1989): 126CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also in this connection my “How to Think Globally: Stretching the Limits of Imagination,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 13, no. 2 (1998): 73-85.

46 Conley, VerenaEcopolitics: The Environment in Poststructuralist Thought (London: Routledge, 1997), 42.Google Scholar

47 Castoriadis, 20. Solar energy is a good example.

48 For Conley ecological subjectivity involves relating “consciousness of the self to that of being attached to and separated from the world,” Ecopolitics, 10.

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