First Advisor

Craig L. Carr

Term of Graduation

Fall 1995

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Political Science


Political Science




Feminist theory, Theory of knowledge, Communication -- Philosophy, Social action



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, iii, 141 pages)


This thesis proposes that feminist social and political theory adopt the epistemology inherent in Jurgen Habermas's communicative ethics in order to more coherently work toward the goal of freeing individuals from social oppression. This thesis first examines the fundamental differences that exist between the particular claims for knowledge made by the three major schools of feminist theory; the empirical feminists, the standpoint feminists, and those allied with postmodernism. After illuminating the specifics of these feminist claims, the conception of knowledge central to Habermas's thought is explored and shown to be split into three distinct realms; the objective, the social, and the subjective.

It is shown that the three realms of Habermas's knowledge account for the underlying claims of the differing groups of feminist theory, and provide a basis for reconciling the differences between them. Habermas's objective realm of knowledge corresponds to the concerns of empirically oriented feminists. A need for an accurate description of the events and conditions of the actual world is shared by both, as is a trust in the human potential for grasping these objects and events accurately. Standpoint feminism's concern for interpersonal relations, accounting for the context of an individual's or group's existence, is reflected in the type of knowledge that Habermas considers social in nature. Habermas's conception of our capacity for social knowledge, which guides our actions with other human beings, is shown to be dependent upon both social existence and communication. Finally, Habermas acknowledges the human potential for critical knowledge to explain the individual's ability to differentiate herself from the group, a task which a postmodern feminism demands to avoid essentializing any aspect of women.

If feminist theory is able to move beyond the entrenched differences that it now finds itself locked within, perhaps then it will be able to continue with the project shared with Habermas, that of providing a meaningful emancipation for human beings.


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