Feminism and the Enlightenment

Authored by: Susanne Lettow

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:


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The Enlightenment and its legacies are highly controversial among contemporary feminist philosophers. Since the eighteenth century, the notions of reason, equality, and human rights have played an important role in denouncing and resisting domination and exploitation. To a great extent, feminists have articulated critiques of gender hierarchies in the language of the Enlightenment. At the same time, feminist philosophers have explored and criticized the structural limitations of Enlightenment discourse, and have argued that—far from being truly universal—the notions of equality, reason, progress, tolerance, and human rights foster prejudice, exclusion, and domination. In many respects, feminist critiques that explore the “dark” side of these “bright” concepts converge with other critical perspectives, in particular from postcolonial studies, poststructuralism, critical Marxism, and the early Frankfurt School, which have all—in one way or the other—exposed the dialectics of Enlightenment. Accordingly, the Enlightenment claim to scrutinize all forms of authority and power and to conceive of society based on the principle of equality is understood as being structurally intertwined with multiple forms of domination in terms of gender, race, class, and empire.

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