Necessary Error: Josiah Royce, Communal Inquiry, and Feminist Epistemology
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Feminist epistemologists have often argued that our relationships with structures of power shape the content, expression, and social force of what we know. While feminist standpoint theorists have often maintained that experiences on the margins of social power can lead to better understandings of the roles of systems of oppression in society, more recent writings on epistemologies of ignorance examine the reverse, how experiences from positions of social power limit our understandings. In this project, I draw on the concept of epistemic privilege as it has been formulated by feminist standpoint theorists, criticisms of objectivity and fixed, transcendent truths, and analyses of the relationships between structures of power and concepts of knowing. By considering the works of Sandra Harding, Lorraine Code, and Patricia Hill Collins, among others, I argue that knowledge is situational and contingent and that some individuals possess privileged understandings due to their positions on the margins of power structures. However, I also argue that, in order for feminist epistemology to utilize the concept of epistemic privilege successfully, it must incorporate a concept of error into its considerations of constructions of knowledge. Thus, throughout this dissertation, I examine how a concept of error could bolster efforts to subvert the dominant approaches to knowledge that have upheld male privilege and undermine the patriarchal power structures that rely on them. I propose a form of feminist inquiry that incorporates a method of error sensitivity, which will enable inquirers to recognize when institutions of power, individual limitations, and cultural myths are restricting knowing subjects' perspectives and leading them to commit errors. This concept of error, and the related approach to error-sensitive inquiry, relies upon a commitment to continuous and ever-expanding inquiry by a community, rather than an isolated individual. Thus, I derive much of my conceptual framework from the work of Josiah Royce and his concepts of the Beloved Community, loyalty to loyalty, and communities of interpretation.