Feminism & the Biological Sciences (Phil 458/673)

Feminism and the Biological Sciences

PHIL 458 / PHIL 673 Syllabus

Are there significant differences between male and female brains? If there are, should they be ethically, politically, or scientifically important? This course will focus on feminist critiques of, and interventions in, neurobiology.   We will consider themes arising from philosophy of science and ethics, including discussions of values in science, sex differences, embodiment, and intersectionality.

Required Readings

  1. Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science, Eds Robyn Bluhm, Anne Jaap Jacobson, and Heidi Lene Maibom, Palgrave Macmillan, (Available online as an ebook, as well as hardcover. Shop around for a good price.)
  2. “Feminist Philosophy of Biology,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online)
  3. Readings on Learn

Grade Distribution

Phil 458 Phil 673  
Participation Participation 20
Reading papers Reading papers 30
Paper abstract and short bibliography Paper abstract and longer bibliography 10
Paper (10 pages) Paper (15-20 pages) 20
Revised Paper (10 pages) Revised Paper (15-20 pages) 20


Your participation grade will be based on attendance, and thoughtful and respectful engagement with the course materials, other students, and the professor. I expect you to arrive in class with your reading notes for the material we will be covering that day and ready to discuss the topic at hand. I expect you to treat other members of the class with professional courtesy. We will talk about what this means during the first day of class. If you miss more than one class session it will have a negative impact on your final grade.

Reading papers

You will submit eight, one-page reading papers over the course of the semester. These papers will be on the readings that we will cover in class that week. In them you should describe a specific point that interests or confuses you and that you would like to talk about in class that day.   These reading papers are NOT summaries of the readings (after all you will already have your reading notes). The reading papers will be the basis for our class discussions. You will submit your reading papers on D2L by noon on the Monday before class. You should also bring a hard copy of this paper to class.

A late reading paper will receive a failing grade. You are allowed to skip one reading paper over the course of the semester. This is to allow for life events that are out of your control—for example if you are sick or need to attend a funeral.


There are four parts of your paper assignment for this class. I strongly encourage you to meet with me to talk about your paper well before you write your abstract.

  1. Paper abstract and bibliography

You will choose a paper topic that relates to the material that we cover in class. You will submit a two-page abstract, one-page outline and one- or two-page bibliography of your paper on D2L on February 22. You will also bring a hardcopy of this assignment to class on February 24, which you will present to your classmates. The goal of these presentations is for students to gain an understanding of each other’s interests, and to gather advice from your colleagues that will help you with your paper.

  1. Paper

You will write an argument paper for this class. This paper is due on March 20, 2015. You will hand it in on D2L. During the second week of class you will receive a handout with more information about this assignment. Other students will read your paper during the following week, and so it is imperative that you hand it in on time.

  1. Paper Workshop

Students will break into groups and will read, edit and discuss each other’s papers in class on March 31. If you miss this class your participation grade will drop by 5 of the possible 20 points that you can get for this part of your class grade. For example, if you earned 15 out of 20 points for participation, and missed the workshop you would end up with a 10 out of 20 for your participation grade for this class.

  1. Revised paper

You will revise your paper in response to the Paper Workshop. The revised version of your paper is due on D2L on April 6, 2015. Your grade on this assignment will drop by 5% for every day that it is late.

Calendar of readings and due dates (readings are subject to change)

Date Reading Due
Jan 6 Introduction to the course
13 Neurofeminism Intro, 1 Reading paper
20 Neurofeminism 2,3 Reading paper
27 Neurofeminism 4,5 Reading paper
Feb 3 Neurofeminism 6,7 Reading paper
10 Neurofeminism 8,9 Reading paper
24 Read each others’ abstracts Paper Abstract Workshop in class. Paper abstracts due midnight February 22
March 3 Neurofeminism 10,11 Reading paper
10 DesAutels papers and Bluhm (2015) Reading paper
17 Jacobson and Langley (2015) ond two more papers TBD Reading paper
24 Catch up day/ class suggested reading Paper due at midnight on March 20
31 Read other group members’ papers Paper Workshop in class on March 31
April 6 Revised Paper due April 6