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SAAP Annual Meeting

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William James, Donna Haraway, and Vision: Finitude and the Optics of Knowledge

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Matthew Jacobs
University of Oregon
United States

The language of blindness and sightedness abounds in Western philosophy, providing a starting point for numerous canonical depictions of knowledge and becoming a focal point of criticism for much subsequent scholarship. While James differs from the canonical optics of knowledge in many respects, his essays “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” and “What Makes a Life Significant” return to the metaphor of vision to flag our blindness to others’ personal experience and to warn us against brash appraisals of their worth. Here, the feminist epistemology of Donna Haraway makes for a fruitful counterpoint. Over and against epistemologies that model objectivity on a view from nowhere, Haraway strives to retain the powerful metaphor of vision while insisting on the finite location of all seers. This comparative essay elaborates on the commonalities between these two thinkers of finitude and concludes that, despite the sexism uncovered in James’ work by feminist scholars like Charlene Haddock Seigfried, James has valuable resources to contribute to discussions of feminist epistemology and intersubjectivity.


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