Alison M. Jaggar Biography


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: One of the founders of feminist philosophy, Jaggar is noted for bringing rigorous analysis to bear on the claims of various theories about women’s subordination.

Early Life

Alison Mary Jaggar was born Alison Mary Hayes in Sheffield, England. Her early academic work was in British institutions; she received a B.A. from Bedford College of the University of London in 1964 and an M.Litt. from the University of Edinburgh in 1967. In 1970, she earned a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The title of her dissertation was “On Communication in Philosophy: A Study of the Problems Involved in the Re-Expression of Theoretical Philosophical Statements.” Her initial question when embarking on the project was whether different “schools” or traditions could be compared and evaluated against each other. However, the project’s eventual focus became the possibility of translation between different philosophical traditions and especially translation into “ordinary language.” She concluded that “ordinary language” may carry implicit beliefs about the world that contradict the claims of some philosophical theories, and hence an accurate translation or paraphrase may be impossible. However, Jaggar also determined that because of its flexibility, ordinary language can be the best medium for explaining theories outside their original terms of discourse and suggested some methods that could be used to make these concepts clearer.

This dissertation contains many themes that surface in Jaggar’s later work, including an interest in links between different philosophic theories. The feminist writers whose work she later analyzed and evaluated offer many examples of the overlap (and occasionally the lack of connection) between philosophic and ordinary terms.

Life’s Work

Although she pursued a nontraditional specialty, Jaggar followed a conventional academic career path. Upon receiving her doctorate, she served as an assistant professor of philosophy at Miami University from 1970 through 1972 and as associate professor at the University of Cincinnati from 1972 through the rest of the decade. In 1975, she also taught at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, as a visiting professor. During this period, Jaggar published several articles. The first, in 1973, was a continuation of her dissertation topic. Others, on ethics and on sexual equality, followed. These were forays into questions that would become central in her work.

In the 1970’s, equal opportunity for women in employment became national policy backed by law in the United States. Before these changes, many inequitable practices were commonplace. For example, in many workplaces, a woman employee was routinely asked to resign when her pregnancy became obvious, regardless of her ability to perform her job. The passage of equal employment measures and the implementation of affirmative action ended many accepted business practices. In the mid-1970’s, Jaggar, bringing her philosophical background and beliefs to a real-life situation, dealt with some of the dilemmas in “Affirmative Action with Respect to Women in Academia: The Law and Its Implementation” and “Relaxing the Limits on Preferential Treatment.” These were articles directed at an audience outside, as well as within, the field of philosophy.

In 1977, she designed and taught the first course to be offered at any academic institute in the United States in feminist philosophy. During the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, academics were beginning to regard the feminist critique of society less as radical “street” rhetoric and more as a subject for academic scholarship. Feminism gained recognition both as a new approach...

(The entire section is 1555 words.)