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The Declaration of Interdependence! Feminism, Grounding and Enactivism

  • Daly, Anya1
  • 1 University of Melbourne,
Published Article
Human Studies
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Jan 13, 2021
DOI: 10.1007/s10746-020-09570-3
PMID: 33462518
PMCID: PMC7805255
PubMed Central


This paper explores the issue whether feminism needs a metaphysical grounding, and if so, what form that might take to effectively take account of and support the socio-political demands of feminism; addressing these demands I further propose will also contribute to the resolution of other social concerns. Social constructionism is regularly invoked by feminists and other political activists who argue that social injustices are justified and sustained through hidden structures which oppress some while privileging others. Some feminists (Haslanger and Sveinsdóttir, Feminist metaphysics. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University, 2011) argue that the constructs appealed to in social constructivism are real but not metaphysically fundamental because they are contingent. And this is exactly the crux of the problem—is it possible to sustain an engaged feminist socio-political critique for which contingency is central (i.e., that things could be otherwise) and at the same time retain some kind of metaphysical grounding. Without metaphysical grounding it has been argued, the feminist project may be rendered nonsubstantive (Sider, Substantivity in feminist metaphysics. Philosophical Studies, 174(2017), 2467–2478, 2017). There has been much debate around this issue and Sider (as an exemplar of the points under contention) nuances the claims expressed in his earlier writings (Sider, Writing the book of the world. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2011) and later presents a more qualified account (Sider, Substantivity in feminist metaphysics. Philosophical Studies, 174(2017), 2467–2478, 2017). Nonetheless, I propose the critiques and defences offered by the various parties continue to depend on certain erroneous assumptions and frameworks that are challengeable. I argue that fundamentality as presented in many of these current accounts, which are underpinned by the explicit or implicit ontologies of monism and dualism and argued for in purely rationalist terms which conceive of subjects as primarily reason-responding agents, reveal basic irresolvable problems. I propose that addressing these concerns will be possible through an enactivist account which, following phenomenology, advances an ontology of interdependence and reconceives the subject as first and foremost an organism immersed in a meaningful world as opposed to a primarily reason-responding agent. Enactivism is thus, I will argue, able to legitimize feminist socio-political critiques by offering a non-reductive grounding in which not only are contingency and fundamentality reconciled, but in which fundamentality is in fact defined by radical contingency. My paper proceeds in dialogue with feminists generally addressing this ‘metaphysical turn’ in feminism and specifically with Sally Haslanger and Mari Mikkola.

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