The Vertigo of Scepticism


Johanna Sjöstedt interviews Nancy Bauer in Eurozine:

At the heart of the thought of American philosopher Nancy Bauer is the troubled relationship between philosophy and feminism. Put differently, Bauer is interested in exploring the possibilities for a genuinely philosophical feminism, while at the same time aiming at paving the way for a feminist critique of the philosophical tradition that is transformative, rather than dismissive, of the intellectual discipline as such. Instead of simply arguing in favour of feminist philosophy, where the issue of the value of feminism for philosophy and vice versa is settled in advance, Bauer works on the borders of feminism and philosophy, where difficulties in bringing the two enterprises together abound, but great intellectual rewards await in the case of success. In Bauer's work, this ambition manifests itself in a way of doing philosophy that ties the abstractions of philosophy to concerns of everyday life, where French writer, philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir serves as a great source of inspiration. Writing about the philosophy of Beauvoir and its connections to the thought of Descartes, Hegel, and Sartre, Bauer received her PhD in philosophy from Harvard University in 1997.

The work of Beauvoir is also the main topic of our conversation, ranging from questions about what philosophy is, also touching upon the relationship between philosophy and politics, to subjects of critique and the importance of scepticism for feminism. A central concern which nonetheless to some degree remains implicit is the sceptical legacy of seventeenth century French rationalist René Descartes. What is the image of philosophy proposed by scepticism and what are its implications for the prospect of a feminist philosophy? Descartes is generally acknowledged to be the founder of modern philosophy. In his work, the authority of reason is relocated from the great schools of scholasticism to the individual mind. Human subjectivity thus becomes the foundation of modern thought. The emphasis of the cogito as the touchstone of philosophical authority is also fundamental in the radical doubt that characterizes the thought of Descartes. Through his intervention, philosophy turns into an enterprise marked by scepticism, where the notion of the origin of thought becomes entwined with the image of a philosopher starting out from a position of metaphysical loneliness and isolation. Yet, the sceptical doubt of Descartes remains purely theoretical, in effect separating the realm where the doubting takes place from everyday life. For the latter dimension of human existence, Descartes adopts an entirely different guiding principle, rather asserting that he will “follow even the most doubtful of opinions […] with no less constancy than if they had been quite certain.”