Home > feminist philosophy, gender, mcgill, mcgill philosophy workshop, metaphysics > Natalie Stoljar – Five Arguments for Gender Nominalism

Natalie Stoljar – Five Arguments for Gender Nominalism

February 3, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

McGill Philosophy Workshop

Monday, February 9 at 12:00 PM in Leacock 927.

Natalie Stoljar

Five Arguments for Gender Nominalism


In her 1990 book, Inessential Woman, Elizabeth Spelman claimed that ‘much of Western feminist theory’ is committed to gender realism, a Platonic conception of universal womanness, i.e. the position that particular women are ‘instantiations of a single, non-physical, and unchanging Form’ (pp. 1-2). Spelman’s book critiques this implausible position. Since 1990, the pendulum has perhaps swung the other way: Mari Mikkola claims that ‘gender realism is considered to be something that feminist philosophers should not endorse or even consider as a viable option ‘ (‘Elizabeth Spelman, Gender Realism, and Women’ Hypatia 21 (Fall 2006): 77-96, p. 78). She has elaborated a detailed response to Spelman’s critique of realism, which acknowledges the diversity and variations among individuals who are women, yet claims that Spelman’s case for nominalism is unsuccessful. Mikkola proposes that Spelman’s arguments leave open the possibility of gender realism, albeit a more nuanced gender realism than one relying on Platonic Forms.

In this paper I explain and defend a version of gender nominalism called resemblance nominalism. The main goal of the paper is to identify and explicate five arguments for gender nominalism. Not all of the arguments are successful, as I explain. However, the combined effect of the ones that are successful is to make a strong case for gender nominalism and against its contrary, gender realism. A second goal of the paper is to briefly address the question ‘Why does this debate matter?’ The question is an instance of a broader question, namely: why does metaphysics – or the positions one takes in metaphysics – matter for feminist politics? If the debate between gender realists and gender nominalists is no more than metaphysical or theoretical bookkeeping, why should feminists care about adopting one side or the other?

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