Feminist critiques of logic


  • Chapter 7 (from section 7.4) "Critiques of Logic" in Laurence Goldstein, Andrew Brennan, Max Deutsch, Joe Lau (2005) Logic: Key Concepts in Philosophy Continuum International Publishing Group. google books preview intranet:feminist-logic.pdf
  • Plumwood, Valerie. 1993. The politics of reason: towards a feminist logic. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (4): 436-62. [Also in Rachel Joffe Falmagne, Marjorie Hass (eds.) (2002) Representing Reason: Feminist Theory and Formal Logic Rowman & Littlefield?]

Feminist critiques

Misogyny in the history of logic and philosophy

Plumwood (1993) Feminism and the Mastery of Nature Routledge.

@from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and beyond, the philosophical tradition of the west has delineated a concept of reason which is exclusive of women and other oppressed groups and is most fully represented by privileged social groups.@

Criticism: Within philosophy and logic, men are idealized as the embodiment of reason, and women are portrayed as emotional and lacking in rationality.

Aristotle's Prior Analytics (350BCE)

@If no B is A, neither can any A be B. For if some A (say C) were B, it would not be true that no B is A; for C is a B. But if every B is A then some A is B. For if no A were B, then no B could be A. But we assumed that every B is A. Similarly too, if the premiss is particular. For if some B is A, then some of the As must be B. For if none were, then no B would be A. But if some B is not A, there is no necessity that some of the As should not be B; e.g. let B stand for animal and A for man. Not every animal is a man; but every man is an animal.@

  • Aristotle believed that the female is ‘a mutilated male’ (Generation of Animals, §737a 25-28), and that ‘the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled’ (Politics, book I, §5.)
  • Kant: women are supposed to possess a ‘beautiful understanding’ in contrast to men’s ‘deep understanding’, and because of this, a woman ‘will learn no geometry … Her philosophy is not to reason, but to sense.’

Exercises and examples from logic texts (see http://www.indiana.edu/~koertge/rfemlog.html):

  • A good husband is always giving his wife new dresses.
  • If any husband is unsuccessful then if some wives are ambitious he will be unhappy.
  • All successful executives are intelligent men.
  • Single women are decorous only if they are chaperoned.
  • Women without husbands are unhappy unless they have paramours.
  • Mary dates only boys who own cars.

Reply: distinguish between logic proper (the laws of logic and its methodology) and non essential associated opinions.

Logic is abstract and formal and opposed to concrete content

Formal logic: http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/pl/validity-SPL.php

Cope-Kasten : fascination with formalism can sometimes ‘prevent a check on aggressive impulses by isolating the agent from experiencing the victim as a real flesh-and-blood person.’

Pam Oliver: logic leads to over-simplification by ignoring the complexities and pragmatic considerations of human activities. Whereas ‘logical deduction is orderly, tidy, clean’, it results in ‘simplistic decisions which can be disastrous in their consequences’

Nye: @Desperate, lonely, cut off from the human community which in many cases has ceased to exist, under the sentence of violent death, wracked by desires for intimacy that they do not know how to fulfill, at the same time tormented by the presence of women, men turn to logic.@


  1. Formal logic is not supposed to solve all social and political problems.
  2. Formal logic as yet cannot deal with the full complexities of natural language. But it is not the fault of logic when people over-simplify things or misuse logic.
  3. The possibility of character defects arising from obsession with logic does not imply that the laws of logic should be rejected.
  4. Logic is important in dealing with complex decisions and real problems, e.g. helping us identify hidden assumptions and fallacies.

The laws of logic are wrong or misrepresent femininity

  • A critique of logic proper - identify problems associated with specific principles or laws of logic.
  • Internal critique of logic is not uncommon. Logicians and philosophers criticize the laws of classical logic, e.g. law of bivalence. P v ~P.
  • Law of identity: For every X, X = X.

Irigaray: woman is ‘the sex which is not one,’ for ‘she is neither open nor closed. She is indefinite … She is neither one nor two.’

Majorie Hass page 82 of Rachel Joffe Falmagne, Marjorie Hass (eds.) Representing Reason: Feminist Theory and Formal Logic.

@although sexed identity frees us from the self-substituting model of identity characterized by the logical law of identity, it is also what makes individual identity possible: ‘becoming one’s gender also constitutes the means for returning to the self. I am born a woman, but I still must become this woman that I am by nature.’ Irigaray has identified a sense, then, in which the law of identity does not ‘apply’ to women.@

  • Reply: confuses gender / sexual identity with numerical identity

Olson, Hope A. (2007) "How we construct subjects: a feminist analysis" Library Trends.

@The implication of traditional/Aristotelian logic, then, is that women are Not-men. They (we) are outside of the category. Whereas, if instead of the dichotomy of contradiction (A/Not-A) we accept that while women and men are different, they are not opposites (A/B), women need not be defined as having characteristics that are opposite to those of men (e.g., reason/emotion).@

Logic oppresses "the other"

Example: Plumwood's critique of classical negation

  • Negation of P = ~P ( ~ It is raining = It is not raining)
  • ~~P = P

Homogenization = "differences among the inferiorized group are disregarded"

@It takes p as primary and treats its negation as having a secondary role, as delineating what is left over after the primary term ‘p’ has finished taking its slice of the universe. Classical not-p cannot be independently identified and homogenizes the Other as an oppositional remainder (Plumwood, 2002b, p.62.)@

Plumwood's example "wogs" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wog

Homogenization involves two features:

  1. targeting a group as inferior
  2. ignoring the value of diversity within the group

Does classical logic suffer from these two problems?

Logic leaves out important feminist values

Falmagne and Hass:

@Symbolic logic fails to represent the form of difference exhibited by genuine sexual difference, the form of identity proper to feminine identity, and the form of generality required to express a feminine generic. Each of these relationships remains outside logic, remains ‘illogical'.@

Irigaray: science must always be expressed in the language of formal logic, but formal logic is biased because it fails to include concepts close to feminist concerns, such as ‘reciprocity’, ‘exchange’, ‘permeability’ and ‘fluidity’.


  1. "Theory X leaves out Y" does not entail "Theory X is opposed to Y" or "Theory X assumes that Y is not important", or "Theory X is biased against Y".
  2. A key feature of logic is that it is topic-neutral. Logic would not be general enough if it is essentially tied to concepts of a particular discipline.
  3. Logical systems allow topic-specific terms to be explicitly introduced into the language of a formal system.

Can complete rejection of logic be justified?

  • Distinguish between local vs global critiques of logic
    • Local : object to particular laws of logic
    • Global : wholesale rejection of logic

Andrea Nye

  • links logic with Hitler - ‘logic in its final perfection is insane.’
  • Wants to replace logic with 'reading'.


@If logic teaches us to ignore the circumstances in which something is said, reading asks us to consider it carefully, if logic teaches us to forget who says something and why, this is precisely what we need to know if we are to read correctly.@


  1. The validity of an argument is independent of context, but logic does not exclude arguments about context.
  2. If logic is given up, how can we justify that reading is better?
  3. If logic is given up, how do we evaluate the different interpretations of a text?

Concluding remarks

  • It is important to specify the objection to logic clearly and precisely.
  • It is important to distinguish between different objections against logic. In particular,
    • Local vs global criticisms
    • Internal vs. external criticisms
      • Internal = relating to the content of logical theories such as the laws of logic
      • External = relating to other aspects of logic, e.g. the social aspects of research of logic, the historic development of logic, opinions of logicians and philosophers not relating to the contents of logic.
  • More generally, what is the extent of the impact of logic upon women's oppression? (as opposed to culture, pornography, religion, etc.)