Sandra Harding

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Sandra Harding bigraphy, stories - Philosophers

Sandra Harding : biography

1935 –

This article is about the American philosopher not the Australian sociologist and university administrator of the same name.

Sandra G. Harding (born 1935) is an American philosopher of feminist and postcolonial theory, epistemology, research methodology and philosophy of science.

She has contributed to standpoint theory and to the multicultural study of science. She is the author or editor of many books on these topics, and was one of the founders of the fields of feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. Her ways of developing standpoint theory and stronger standards for objectivity ("strong objectivity") have been influential in the social sciences as well as in philosophy, and have created discussions in the natural sciences.

She currently is a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Sandra Harding earned her PhD from New York University (NYU) in 1973.

Former Director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women (1996–2000), and co-editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (2000–2005), she previously taught at the University of Delaware for many years, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam, the University of Costa Rica, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich. She was an invited lecturer for Phi Beta Kappa in 2007-2008.

She has consulted to a number of international agencies on feminist and postcolonial science issues, including the Pan-American Health Organization, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development. She was invited to co-author a chapter on "Science and Technology: The Gender Dimension" for the UNESCO World Science Report 1996.

Newton’s Principia as a Rape manual

During what is known now as the "Science Wars", she was part of a debate regarding the value-neutrality of the sciences. This aspect of her work has been criticized by some scientists.Sullivan, M.C. (1996) A Mathematician Reads Social Text, AMS Notices 43(10), 1127-1131. Harding referred to Newton’s Principia Mathematica as a "rape manual" in her 1986 book The Science Question in Feminism p. 113, a characterization that she later said she regretted.Nemecek, S. (1997) The Furor Over Feminist Science, Scientific American 276(1), 99-100. The full quotation however is rarely given, but it is given in Alan Sokal’s Beyond the Hoax on page 120-121:

Traditional historians and philosophers have said that these [rape and tor­ture] metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings and referents of scientific concepts … But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have a quite different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor pro­vides the interpretations of Newton’s mathematical laws: it directs inquir­ers to fruitful ways to apply his theory … But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explana­tions the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcom­ing rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’s laws as “Newton’s rape manual” as it is to call them “Newton’s mechanics”?

Sokal’s comment to the quote is:

Many commentators have mocked Harding’s inflammatory description of the notoriously unreadable Philosophies Naturalis Principia Mathematica as a “rape manual”, and I do not propose to heap on one more reproach. Instead, I would like to draw attention to the astounding (for a self-proclaimed feminist!) assertion contained in her two penultimate sentences. According to Harding, rape and torture metaphors had fruitful pragmatic, methodolog­ ical, and metaphysical consequences for science. Does Harding realize what she is saying? If her claim were true, it would be disastrous news for femi­ nism. After all, Harding does not reject the scientific revolution that began with Galileo and Newton: she, like most feminists, fully acknowledges that “Newton’s physics permitted a far more useful understanding of many kinds of phenomena than did the Aristotelian physics it replaced”19, and she (once again like most feminists) composes her articles on a computer designed in accordance with the laws of electromagnetism that were elucidated by Newton’s successors. Does Harding really contend that rape and torture metaphors helped to bring about this cognitive and material progress? God help us if she were right.