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Woman as Body - Ancient and Contemporary Views

Woman as Body - Ancient and Contemporary Views

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Published by mmolaci
Woman as Body - Ancient and Contemporary Views by Elizabeth Spelman
Woman as Body - Ancient and Contemporary Views by Elizabeth Spelman

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Published by: mmolaci on Dec 06, 2012
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07/06/2013

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WOMANASBODY:ANCIENTAND CONTEMPORARYVIEWS
IFI7ABETH V.SPELMAN
and whatpurehappinessto knowall ourhigh-toned questionsbreedin alivelyanimal.AdrienneRich,from "TwoSongs"
Whatphilosophershave hadtosayabout womentypicallyhasbeennasty,brutish,and short.Apageor twoofquotationsfromthose consideredamongthegreatphilosophers(Aristotle,Hume,andNietzsche,forexample)constitutes averitablelitanyofcon-tempt.Becausephilosophershavenotsaidmuchaboutwomen,1and,whentheyhave,it hasusuallybeeninshortessaysorchattyaddendawhichhavenotbeen considered to bepartof thecentralbodyof theirwork,2it istemptingtoregardtheirexpressedviewsaboutwomen asasystemic:their remarksonwomen are unoffi-cial asides which are unrelatedto the heart of theirphilosophicaldoctrines. Afterall,itmightbethought,how could one's viewsaboutsomethingasunimportantas women haveanythingto dowithone's views aboutsomethingasimportantasthenature ofknowledge,truth,reality,freedom? Moreover-andthis isthephilosopher'smoveparexcellence-wouldn'titbe charitable toconsider thoseopinionsaboutwomen ascoming merelyfrom theheart,which all tooeasilyrespondsto thetenorofthetimes,whilephilosophy "proper"comesfrom themind,whichresonates notwith the times butwiththetruth?Partof the intellectuallegacyfromphilosophy"proper,"thatis,theissuesthatphilosophershaveaddressedwhich arethoughtto bethe seriousprovinceofphilosophy,isthesoul/bodyormind/bodydistinction(differencesamongthevariousformulationsare
FeministStudies8,no.l(Spring1982).©1982byFeministStudies,Inc.
 
110 ElizabethV.Spelman
notcrucialtothisessay).However,thispartofphilosophy mighthave notmerelyaccidentalconnectionstoattitudesaboutwom-en. For whenonerecalls that the Westernphilosophicaltraditionhasnotbeennoted for itscelebrationof thebody,andthat women'snatureand women's liveshavelongbeen associated with thebodyandbodilyfunctions,then aquestionissuggested.Whatconnec-tionmightthere be between attitudes towardthebodyand attitudestowardwomen?Ifonebeginsto rereadphilosopherswith aneyetoexploringindetailjusthowtheymade themind/bodydistinction,itsoonbe-comesapparentthatinmanycasesthedistinction reverberatesthroughoutthephilosopher'swork. How aphilosopherconceivesofthe distinctionandrelationbetweensoul(or mind)andbodyhas essentialties tohowthatphilosophertalksaboutthenatureofknowledge,theaccessibilityofreality,thepossibilityoffreedom.This isperhapswhatonewouldexpect-systematicconnectionsamongthe"proper"philosophicalissues addressedbyagivenphilosopher.But thereis also clear evidenceinthephilosophicaltextsof therelationshipbetweenthemind/bodydistinction,isdrawn,onthe onehand,and the scattered officialand unofficialutterances aboutthenatureofwomen,on the other.Inthisarticle,I shall refer to theconceptualconnections be-tweenaphilosopher'sviewsaboutwomenand hisexpressedmetaphysical,political,andethicalviews. Thatis,Ishall refer toconceptualrelations internal to the textsthemselves,andnot torelations betweenthe texts andtheirpoliticaland historical con-texts. Somytask isdifferentfromthatof a historianofideas or asocialhistorian whomightlookat the relation betweenthepo-litical, economic,andcultural conditionsunder whichaphilosopherwrites,onthe onehand,and the focusandforceof thatphiloso-pher's writings,on the other.3Myfocusbelow is on the works ofPlato,todiscoverwhat con-nectionsthere arebetweenhis viewsaboutwomenand hisviewsaboutthephilosophicalissuesforwhichhe isregardedwith suchrespect.Hisdescriptionsofwomen's natureandprescriptionsforwomen'spropersocietalnicherecentlyhavebeenunderscrutinybyfeminists.4WhatIhopeto showiswhyit isimportantto seetheconnectionsbetweenwhat Platosaysaboutwomen and otheraspectsof hisphilosophical positions.For asIshallexplaininthelatterpartofthisessay,feministtheoristsfrequentlyhave wantedtorejectthe kinds ofdescriptionsofwoman'snaturefoundinPlato and otherphilosophers,andyetatthesametime haveintheir
 
Elizabeth V.Spelman111
owntheorizingcontinuedtoacceptuncriticallyotheraspectsofthetraditionthat informsthoseideasabout"woman's nature."Inparticular, by lookingat theexampleofPlato,I wanttosuggestwhyitisimportantforfeministsnotonlytoquestionwhatthesephilosophershave said aboutwomen,but also whatphilosophershave had tosayabout themind/bodydistinction.PLATO'SLESSONS ABOUTTHESOUL AND THEBODYPlato'sdialoguesare filled withlessons aboutknowledge, reality,andgoodness,and mostofthelessonscarrywiththemstrongpraiseforthesoul andstrongindictmentsagainstthebody.Ac-cordingtoPlato,thebody,with itsdeceptivesenses,keepsusfromrealknowledge;itrivetsusinaworld ofmaterialthingswhich is farremoved fromtheworldofreality;andittemptsusawayfrom thevirtuous life. Itisinandthroughthesoul,if atall,thatwe shallhaveknowledge,beintouchwithreality,and lead alife ofvirtue.Onlythesoul cantrulyknow,foronlythesoulcanascend totherealworld,theworldoftheForms orIdeas.Thatworldis theperfectmodel towhichimperfect,particular things,we find inmattermerelyapproximate.Itisaworldwhich,likethesoul,isinvisible,unchanging,notsubjecttodecay,eternal.Tobegood,one's soul mustknowtheGood,thatis,the Form ofGood-ness,andthis isimpossiblewhile oneisdraggeddownbythede-mands andtemptationsofbodilylife.Hence,bodilydeathisnothingtobefeared:immortalityofthesoulnotonlyispossible,butgreatlytobedesired,becausewhenone isreleased from thebodyonefinallycangetdowntothe realbusinessoflife,forthisreal busi-nessoflife isthebusinessofthesoul.Indeed,Socratesdescribeshis owncommitment,whilestillonearth,toencouraginghis fel-lowAthenians topayattention tothe realbusiness oflife:
[Ihavespent]allmytimegoingabouttryingtopersuadeyou,youngandold,to makeyourfirstandchiefconcernnot foryourbodiesnorforyourposses-sions,but for thehighestwelfareofyoursouls.[Apology30a-b]
Platoalsotellsusabout thenatureofbeauty.Beautyhasnothingessentiallyto dowith thebodyorwith the world ofmaterialthings.Realbeautycannot"take theform of aface,orofhands,orofanythingthatisoftheflesh."(Symposium22a).Yes,therearebeautifulthings,buttheyonlyare entitled tobedescribedthatwaybecausethey"partakein"theformofBeauty,whichitself isnotfoundinthematerialworld. Realbeautyhascharacteristics

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