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Feminism: Pro and Con  I. Evolution of Feminism: Wollstonecraft, Woolf, de Beauvoir  II. Fleming’s Biological Analysis of Sex  III. de Beauvoir’s version.

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Presentation on theme: "Feminism: Pro and Con  I. Evolution of Feminism: Wollstonecraft, Woolf, de Beauvoir  II. Fleming’s Biological Analysis of Sex  III. de Beauvoir’s version."— Presentation transcript:

1 Feminism: Pro and Con  I. Evolution of Feminism: Wollstonecraft, Woolf, de Beauvoir  II. Fleming’s Biological Analysis of Sex  III. de Beauvoir’s version of Ethical Creativity  IV. Problem for de Beauvoir: Location of Justice

2 I. Evolution of Feminism  Mary Wollstonecraft: a semi-classical feminist (1759-1797).  She agreed with Plato that virtue, not pleasure, was the supreme goal of life.  She saw women held back from developing virtue by perverse incentives: that rewarded charm & beauty over inner strength and virtue.

3 Wollstonecraft vs. Aristotle  Wollstonecraft identified virtue with the reign of reason over sensuality, and left no room for right sentiments (Lewis’s “chest”).  Although she admitted that men & women played different roles, she insisted that the standard of virtue is the same, grounded in a supernatural, eternal goal.  For Aristotle, different roles necessitated diffferent forms of virtue.

4 Virginia Woolf’s Feminism  Unlike Wollstonecraft, Woolf did not limit the sex differences to the body: she argued that, since the mind is rooted in the body, women and men differ mentally.  Woolf rejects the classical ideal that limits the sphere of women to the “private house”.  Woolf is deeply disaffected by society as it actually exists: she sees it as consistently oppressive, hypocritical and warlike.

5 The Three Guineas _ First Letter: from a Women’s College _ Second Letter: from a Society to Aid Professional Women _ Third Letter: from an appeal to join a Manifesto on behalf of Culture and Intellectual Freedom. _ Overarching Letter: how to prevent war?

6 Woolf’s Two Targets _ Confinement to the “private house”: cruelty, poverty, servility, immorality. _ Assimilation into the masculine professions: possessive, jealous, greedy, combative. _ Both extreme poverty and extreme wealth are undesirable.

7 The Four Teachers _ Poverty: earn just enough to live on. _ Chastity: refuse to sell your brain. _ Derision: reject fame and honor. _ Freedom from unreal loyalties: to nation, religion, school, family, sex.

8 Woolf’s View of Value  There are “unwritten laws”, but these are not laid down by God (a patriarchal myth) or by nature (which varies and is under human control).  These laws are “private” and must be discovered “afresh” by each generation. Relativism? Historicism?  Two sources for the laws: – Private psychometer: moral intuition. – Public psychometer: art

9 Woolf’s Dualism  Woolf was part of the “Bloomsbury circle”, that included philosopher G. E. Moore.  Moore believed that there were objective moral facts, but that these were totally separate from “nature” (including God).  We have access to these facts by a mysterious faculty of “moral intuition”.  Moore opposed traditional values; he held that only friendship & beauty matter.

10 Differences between Woolf and Moore _ Woolf addresses the question Moore evades: how do we, as natural beings, gain access to the world of value? _ She seems to embrace a kind of reductive materialism: that our minds are products of the brain. _ Given biological differences between the sexes, she embraces a kind of sexual relativism: each sex has its own set of “private” or unwritten laws.

11 II. Fleming: Men  Men can have many children, and the minimum investment in each child can be extremely low (one sperm, a few minutes).  2 models of biological equilibria: – Monogamy – “Free agency”

12 Monogamy as an Equilibrium  Each man is limited to one marriage throughout his lifetime.  Men's reproductive possibilities become similar to women's, and to each other's.  Equalization of opportunities for reproduction.  Consequently, each household has two parents, who are equally committed to the household's children.

13 Males as “free agents”  Each man seeks to have sex with as many fertile women as possible.  Households consist of mother and children.Minimal involvement of father(s).  Reproductive inequality: some men have many children, many have few or none.

14 Paradox  Monogamy feminizes men -- makes the father/mother roles similar -- and equalizes the sexes.  Yet, monogamy and patriarchy are connected: – Patriarchal privilege is one of the glues used to bind men to marriage as an institution. – If men are absent from the home, they lose the opportunity of being dominant there.

15 Questions  Is monogamy natural?  Is patriarchy natural (adaptive)?  What does it matter if they are?

16 Classical vs. Modern  According to the classical tradition, objective value is rooted in human nature, prior to our choices and actions.  We exist within a framework of values and norms that are prior to and independent of our wills.

17 The Modern View  According to the modern tradition: we enjoy the power or freedom of ethical creativity.  There are no objective norms or values to constrain us, with authority over us.  Case in point: consider Wilson's discussion of sex roles. pp. 132-133.  Wilson admits that the differentiation of humans into distinct male and female roles is adaptive (product of natural selection).

18  However, he gives this fact no normative weight -- no authority over our choices.  We are still free as a society to decide whether to alter, exaggerate or eliminate these differences.

19 III. Simone de Beauvoir and Ethical Creativity  Is more consistent than Wilson, Pinker, et al.  She clearly affirms the freedom of ethical creativity, but she does so by embracing a radical sort of nature/culture dualism.  Ethical choice transcends the biological and the physical.

20 Metaphysical Discontinuity  Based on a metaphysical theory, in which human consciousness represents something radically new, a complete discontinuity.  Jean-Paul Sartre: dualism of physicality and consciousness, Being and Nothingness.

21 Consequences  We can divide the world into two domains: that of immanence (nature), and that of transcendence (freedom).  For example: feminity and masculinity in human life are a social construction (transcendent), having only a contingent relationship to biological categories of sex (immanent).

22 Transcendence of Nature  de Beauvoir's goal: an androgynous society.  She freely admits that this has no basis in biology.

23 Is the freedom of ethical creativity a coherent idea?  In classical tradition, not even God has this freedom.  14th. C. philosopher Duns Scotus is first to attribute it to God. Followed by William Occam.  Rousseau -- transfers it to human beings.

24 An Aristotelian objection: 1. All decisions depend on a pre-existing scale of values. We always decide for the better. 2. FEC means that all values are created by a prior human decision. This leads to an infinite regress.

25 Criterionless Choice  Defender of FEC must believe in the possibility of an absolute, criterionless choice.  A choice of what I shall be, what I shall seek, that depends on no prior conception of value. (e.g., "I choose androgyny, not because it is good, but as a fundamental, ungrounded value")

26 Aristotelian Response  Aristotle: this is impossible. The human will is not built this way.  Some kind of self-deception must be involved in any attempt to do so.

27 IV. de Beauvoir and the Problem of Justice  de Beauvoir clearly affirms that sexual inequality is unjust.  Where do we locate justice: in the realm of the immanent or the transcendent?  de Beauvoir seems to face an insoluble dilemma.

28 The Dilemma of Justice  If de B. locates justice in the realm of the immanent, then it is something which we humans can freely transcend -- if we do not do so, we are guilty of bad faith.  If de B. locates justice in the realm of the transcendent, then it must be the product of an individual, criterionless choice. No room for universal judgments.

29  If justice is transcendent, then de B. cannot consistently condemn the standards of patriarchal society as inherently unjust.  At most, she can claim that she chooses (without reason) to regard it as unjust.  If others choose to regard patriarchy as just, then for them, it is just.

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