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lrperry's picture

No more universals

Isaiah Berlin in his essay “The Sense of Reality” claims that novelists are better able than scientists to delve beneath the surface of human consciousness and private feelings. Because novelists seek understanding rather than knowledge, they are able to deal with particulars instead of searching for universals and larger systems. I think Grobstein’s lecture walked this line carefully, between avoiding generalizations and attempting to share facts with our class. Rather than stating a definition of sex and gender (as many former professors and high school teachers have done to us – “sex is the bits. Gender is everything else”),he problematized the two terms, by having us discuss our own assumptions while simultaneously imparting specific knowledge about hormones and chromosomes.What makes science and biology a dangerous weapon is that it can be used to supposedlyd iscover “the answer”, or “the facts of life”. No one looks to fictional literature to provide “the facts” – it is understood that these are stories to make us think, not to tell us the right answer. Literature has come to be used in our culture in such a way that allows for a multiplicity of interpretations. Science, on the other hand, often functions as “the objective”, as a genre of “facts”and “right answers”. What we are discovering, however, is that science can provide for a multiplicity of interpretation as well. As for the implications for feminist politics, I think any science that allows for shades of grey, and does not attempt to answer the particulars with a universal (“someone who is born with an XX is a girl”), is a feminist science. I remember that someone in class defined feminism as respecting others choices, i.e. allowing for a multiplicity of right answers. A feminist science is a science that helps us do that. 

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