or indeed ahistoric, one could be a Marcusian. Neither is it clear that to be an externalist about biology means that one insists on essential or universal properties; one could think individuals through a series of resemblances. By conflating, perhaps unintentionally, biology with biologism, nature with naturalism, the argument tends to collapse the real into its representation.
She claims that the dilemma facing feminists involves a conflict between goals of intellectual rigour (avoidance of essentialism and universalism) and feminist political struggles (directed towards liberation of women as women). Feminist theory, she believes, is necessarily implicated in a series of complex negotiations and, if it cannot maintain its political freedom from patriarchal frameworks, methods and presumptions, its implication in them needs to be acknowledged. Marxism, with its theory of alienation perhaps dependent on a naturalist account of species being seems to fall by this sword, as does its scientific pretension and its approach to historical investigation which prioritises labour activity – and so exploitation - as an analytic category.
The relationship between universalism and essentialism is also a target for Elizabeth Spelman, who, recounting an emblematic passage from Iris Murdoch’s The Nice and The Good, suggests that the drive to reduce many particulars to instances of a single universal is a psychological response to the chaos, or at least unmanageability, of the world of experience. In order to subsume particulars to universals, similarities need to be prioritised over differences, heterogeneity reduced to homogeneity and an essence – common to all instances – presupposed. The claim, then, is that to bring individuals under a universal concept we must suppose each thing to have properties necessarily and that these properties are common to all instances. Spelman maintains that this is a metaphysical error that has fairly extreme political consequences. First she believes that individuals are not a sum of universally applicable properties (race, ethnicity, class, sex). Since there are no consistent properties that the individuals share, the term ‘woman’ is considered not to designate a natural group. Following this, because the assertion of universal or common property is false, the ways in which universals function becomes suspect: interested classification