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Second Read, Lloyd

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago
Lloyd, Round Two 

Hillary A. Jones

Provocation Paper, Lloyd Book: On the Philosophical Sublime and Binarism

 

We have seen the move between the universal and the particular in a number of our books.  Ranging from advocating for a focus on one case or for seeing the big picture to debates about mobilizing definitional bases in identity, practices, or transformations, the tension in acting for all or for one recurs. 

 

Lloyd argues that the history of the “idealized figure of the philosopher” is the “epitome of the supremacy of reason” (6).  After all, if “this lover has been brought up on myths of Venus, a Venus is what he must see” (120).  The individual becomes sublime when enacting the most valued term in a binary.  The binaries supporting the supremacy of reason include mind/body (161, throughout discussions of desire and emotion), rational/emotional (89-90, 131, 241, 249, 311), independent/dependent (85, 161, 176, 230), and universal/particular (20, 217, 231).  For instance, Plato becomes the master of Socrates’ story and Socrates the “unequaled” master of rationality, a fiction without equal, suggesting both for sublimity (48, 56, 63).

 

The feminist philosophers in Lloyd’s collection tackle various aspects of these binaries.  Most advocate for a particularity and focus on context to rework the philosophic tradition (pp. 13, 31, 80, 123, 204, 234-235).  Agacinski advocates “being able to love the finite, and being capable of finitude,” and observes that the sublime condemns finitude as it aspires to the infinite or absolute (318, 299).  These new contexts, as with McWhorter’s consideration of levels of context in her Foucaultian genealogy, go beyond a weak construction of context (as that which is not-text or is simply background information) to a robust construction that places epistemology and metaphysics at the center of inquiry.  Others revalue the emotional or the body and their role in generating knowledge.

 

If the mind, rationality, and universality are necessary to construct the sublime philosopher in more traditional understandings of philosophy, the most obvious reworking is to embrace the body, emotion, and the particular.  These philosophers go beyond a simple reversal of forms.  We have not simply flipped the binaries, although a certain amount of recuperation of the negative half of the binaries occurs throughout the essays.  Instead, these help us to envision a sublime philosophy that does not rely entirely upon acceptance or rejection.  Emotion functions as an intermediary to the sublime for Irigaray and Nussbaum, with love and desire connecting the individual to the divine, with absolute beauty serving to foster love (72, 77, 118).Throughout this volume, the authors resist idolatry (“any focus on a single object”) that brings with it the “miseries of pathology” (209).  After all, as Rorty observes, “there is no better cure for idolatry than the analysis of its causes and objects” (211).

 

By refusing to throw the old boys out with the bathwater, the authors work to transform the tradition from within.  This transformation begins to contextualize the knowledge we have produced thus far more completely.  In the process, what would constitute the sublime in philosophy comes into question.  The universal, disembodied, unemotional ideal no longer leads to the ideal philosopher.  Neither does the particular, embodied, emotional ideal.  These binaries are not even stretched to become ends of a continuum; rather, the binaries themselves are challenged by these reworkings.  The question we are left with, however, is what constitutes the sublime for the philosopher in the absence of these traditional values and de-values?  Some of the later books suggest connection, identity politics, practices, transformation, and inquiry as some likely paths to pursue.

 


 

Nathalie Nya:The value of friendship and its relationship to self-assertion

 

The correspondence between Princess Elisabeth and Descartes displays the value of friendship and its relationship to self-assertion. 

 

To begin, “Elisabeth is not simply a reader of Descartes.  She is a friend, and a good friend, as he is to her (2000).”  The correspondence between the two is a correspondence that is based on friendship.  The correspondence is initiated by the writing of Descartes on the autonomy of reason and its dependency on our bodily condition.  Descartes holds the strong position that there is no connection between our ability to reason and our bodily condition.  Despite this dualist position, Descartes holds that there is a union between the body and the soul.  The course of the correspondence is based on Elisabeth’s various attempts where she demands Descartes to further clarify the ambiguous features of his position. 

 

Elisabeth wants to know how it is that the mind and the body dualism is conceived such that it will allow for a union between the body and the soul.  Thus Elisabeth wants to know more about the nature of the connection between the body and the soul.  She writes:  “tell me please how the soul of a human being (it being only a thinking substance) can determine the bodily spirits and so bring about voluntary actions.  For it seems that all determination of movement is made either by the impulsion of the thing moved, or it is pushed either by that which moves it or else by the particular qualities and shape of the surface of the later (184).  In this passage Elisabeth is asking how can the immaterial (soul) have an effect on the material (body).  As the correspondence moves further along Descartes begins to see her point.  He shows this by the way he begins to re-articulate his views regarding the union of the soul and of the body.  In other words, Descartes begins to use Elisabeth’s language in order to clarify himself.  There after, by trying to explain myself to Elisabeth, Descartes presents his views with greater strength and the same goes for Elisabeth. 

 

I argue then that it is the opposing viewpoints in between the correspondence that enables Elisabeth and Descartes to enjoy each other’s friendship.   Descartes wants to understand Elisabeth’s objection regarding his philosophy.  And Elisabeth wants to know why she does not understand Descartes’ view.  While Descartes’ philosophical style is that of presenting distinct propositional claims, Elisabeth’s philosophical style is based on her ability to show the impossibility of clarifying propositional claims.

 


 

Lisa Beane

Discussion paper, Feminism and History of Philosophy

 

            In her essay “Feminism and Aristotle’s Rational Ideal,” Marcia Homiak argues that Aristotelian rationality need not be seen as masculinist or exclusive of passions and emotions.  But I wonder whether we should be so quick to embrace rationality as a feminist ideal, even on Homiak’s more generous reading.  It seems to me that, though I think she is right to point out the extent to which men also depend on mutual care and compassion, Homiak might overstate the potential for rationality to cultivate democratic values through friendship.

 

On one hand, Homiak’s account of how rationality cultivates care and compassion among male citizens through friendship in Aristotle is compelling.  Certainly, care and dependence on others are not and have never been the sole province of women.  I wonder whether the civic friendship Aristotle is referring to is the same as the kinds of kinship bonds some feminists have tended to talk about, but I appreciate her point that none of us is wholly independent.  And even if such independence were possible, the rational ideal Homiak wants to reconstruct sees value in certain kinds of dependence and passionate attachments.

 

On the other hand, even though Homiak argues that the rational life is valuable because it promotes human flourishing, it remains unclear to me from this essay whether this is a value worth embracing.  That is, I am left wondering if Aristotle’s notion of human flourishing might not also demand a more feminist reconstruction.  I am suspicious about this in part because of how this essay ends.  Having showed that Aristotle is attentive to feminist concerns over dependence and care, Homiak writes: “So Aristotle’s virtuous citizen recognizes that showing concern for another’s good for the other’s own sake may take all sorts of forms, only some of which will look like mere behavioral niceness. … If compassion and concern are directed toward another’s good for that person’s sake, then for them to be proper objects of an ideal, they must operate against the background of some sound recognition of what another’s good consists in” (98).  This sounds to me like a substantial opening for paternalism and imperialism to creep back into Homiak’s account of the rational ideal.

 

This passage seems especially suspect having just read about some of McWhorter’s experiences growing up as a lesbian in the South.  Her family thought they knew what her good consisted in, so they ‘helped’ her get therapy in an attempt to realize that good.  Ex-gay therapies are frequently rationalized in this way – “it’s for your own good” – and certainly we can think of other ‘corrective measures’ employed under the same auspices.

 

To the extent that Homiak thinks we should govern ourselves according to her reading of Aristotelian rationality as an ideal, perhaps we should interrogate that ideal further.  What is this conception of the good we are supposed to help each other achieve?  Whose ideals gave rise to this conception of the good in the first place?  And if we decide we don’t like the answers to these questions, then what?  My sense is that few of us truly want to close the book on rationality.  And if we do want to preserve rationality, at least Aristotle seems to do better than some with regard to emotions.  Is there still something here we can use, and if so, how?

 

 


 

Herman’s Defense of Kantian Ethics                                                          Kristin Rawls

 

            In Chapter 11, Barbara Herman considers common critiques of Kantian morality and attempts to defend the value of Kantian ethics against detractors.  She frames the essay around a “cluster of criticisms” often leveled by feminist critics that “arise from a concern for the moral standing of relationships of attachment between persons and extend to claims for the nonrational nature of the moral agent and the moral relevance of difference” (251).  Although Herman suggests that she does “not intend [the] essay in the spirit of endless defense of a favorite system” (252), she is nevertheless trying to diminish the concerns of those who have argued that Kantian morality is unhelpful for historically situated subjects.  This discussion will provide a brief critical engagement with each of Herman’s main arguments and thereby assess the overall helpfulness of this essay in advancing a morality that is sensitive to feminist concerns.

            In the first section of the essay, Herman addresses the criticism that Kantian ethics privilege impartiality over all elements of the affective life.   She allows that critics might point out that “impartial ethics does not allow room (or the right sort of room) for the relationship and structures of attachment that constitute good or normal human lives” (253).  Moreover, she suggests that some critics complain about the priority given to morality when it comes into conflict with feelings; that is, “if morality (impartial morality) trumps connection, the value of connection is diminished” (254).  Herman’s treatment of this criticism turns on her assessment that it “takes a positive moral attitude toward feelings to be the basis of impartiality as a moral norm for relationships” (253).   Specifically, she is unconvinced that morality has positive moral value, and she likewise does not accept that the “regulative priority [of morality] translates into a value priority” of morality above feeling (255). 

            In this discussion, it is unclear that one who critiques Kant’s devaluation of the affective life must necessarily place positive moral worth on feelings.  Indeed, it is impossible to construct a morality that abstracts persons from their situatedness—which make affective life possible.  That is, it is not possible for a subject to abstract herself from material life and from those things that comprise her various “connections,” and it is fruitless to pretend that she knows what she would do if she could.  Because the moral subject cannot separate herself from these affective connections, it is ludicrous to suspect that she can solve a moral dilemma through the simple calculation made possible by the Categorical Imperative.  One need not adopt an essentialist, naturalistic view of human emotion in order to recognize this point.  Although she allows that “it is reasonable to expect a moral theory to give noninstrumental expression to the role that sociality and the partiality of human life play in human life” (256), Herman does not sufficiently explain the possibilities of these roles in Kantian ethics.

            In the second section of the essay, Herman considers the role of human agency in Kantian ethics—and attempts to defend Kantian morality against claims that it amounts to a formal calculus with no space for individual agency.  In order to make this claim, Herman critiques what she calls the “plural-interest” model of morality which entails “sorting and weighing things of incommensurable or conflicting value” (266).  That is, in order to avoid a system in which the weight of morality always trumps all other interests, she adopts what she views as a more appropriately Kantian “deliberative field model” in which the subject retains her agency and makes decisions through the “resetting of ends” (261).  This resetting, for Herman, entails actual deliberation and thus seems less “arbitrary” than decision-making according to the plural-interest model (263).  Although she claims that the deliberative field makes room for specific agency, it is not entirely clear how deliberation about ends decreases the level of formal, formulaic weighing the goes into decision-making; now, rather than weighing interests, the subject is, for all intents and purposes, weighing the desirability of ends.  That it is possible to attach duties—and not simply desires—to specific ends in Kantian ethics clarifies this point.  Moreover, her advocacy of an active role “with respect to our desires” (262) is not necessarily supported by Kant, who repeatedly argues, at least, that humans cannot choose whom they love—that they are, in other words, passive when it comes to love.

            In the final section of the essay, Herman contends with the criticism that Kantian morality does not recognize or allow for the diversity of differently situated moral subjects.  That is, the criticism tends to suggest that “[since] ‘Kantian’ persons have moral value insofar as they are moral agents, the moral value of persons does not reflect their situation or attachments” (269).  This criticism, she concedes, becomes particularly potent in situations of oppression (272).  Even so, Herman’s answer to this difficulty lies in her assertion that the imperative to treat people as ends in themselves—rather than as mere means—allows for sufficient attention to difference and oppression and renders them “central to its ‘derivation of duties’” (272).  Here, Herman is suggesting that the respect for equal human dignity that informs Kantian ethics is sufficient for attending to injustice and inequality in the material world.  Although this is a controversial and widely disputed question, it has to be pointed out here that it is also possible to argue that formal equality leads to a denial of real, situated, historically contingent inequality—and to paralysis when it comes to overcoming oppression.  Herman’s laudatory assessment of the imperative to treat others as ends fails to take this concern into account.  Ultimately, Herman fails to deliver a sound assessment of attachment, agency, and difference—rendering her defense of Kantian ethics unconvincing and unhelpful for feminist politics. 

 

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Nussbaum's defense of universal citizenship 

Kate Derickson

 

In “Therapeutic Arguments and Structures of Desire,” Nussbaum wants to argue against relativism through a return to Hellenistic philosopher’s insights on the nature of emotion, appetite and desire.  Apparently inspired by the particular moment in feminist theory in which she was writing (mid-1990s),  she begins by arguing that social constructionism, to a certain degree, is non-controversial – it has long been accepted, she argues, that rational argumentation has long shown that emotions are constructed in and through our social context.  But she wants to challenge the idea that things that are socially constructed are necessarily mutable, and things that are understood to be biological are not changeable.  Instead, she argues, we should insist on the ability of rational philosophical argument and therapy as the basis for universal citizenship in a rational society (125).

I want to take up this notion of “universal citizenship,” which, though not mentioned until the very last sentence, seems to be the driving message of Nussbaum’s piece.  (In)famously troubled by what she sees as relativism and nihilism in the work of Judith Butler, Nussbaum rails against Foucauldian inspired relativism, both in “Therapeutic Arguments” and elsewhere.  Nussbaum takes her lead from the ancient writers who argue that while therapeutic arguments are often culturally specific, they are justified in “claiming that some such problem is the problem of every human” (123).  I read this as the crux of Nussbaum’s argument for a universal citizenship, which can serve as the foundation for feminism, and for critiques of patriarchy as it is manifested in other societies. 

But I wonder if she has really made the case in this piece through a revisiting of the Hellenistic philosophers.  She refers to their insights regarding the universality, and immutability of emotions, including fear, anger and pity (123) as ground for commonality across culture.  But what kind of work can this fact (if we are to take it as such) really do?  Is it the emotions or the trigger for emotions that is really at stake in a universal citizenship that resists complete cultural relativism?  As a liberal feminist, does Nussbaum simply want to be able to critique fear, pity, or anger or does she want to find a grounds upon which to critique the triggers of those emotions?  The difficult cases for liberal feminism and conceptions of universal citizenship are rarely ones in which the emotions themselves are in contention.  Rather, the difficult cases are ones in which practices elicit different emotions that are thought to be constructed through culture.  Using footbinding or FGM as classic examples, how could liberal feminism deal with women’s fear of not having their feet bound or not being circumcised?  What ought the liberal feminist do when the cultural conditions have created different triggers for (possibly) universal emotions?  Has Nussbaum successfully created the foundation for universal citizenship that she set out to create?

 


 

 

Evan Seehausen

Rorty's Spinoza and Politics after Foucault 

 

               Last week, we explored the possibilities of genealogy as a tool for social and personal change. In Amélie Oksenberg Rorty’s “Spinoza on the Pathos of Idolatrous Love”, we find further evidence of the positive benefits of historical understanding. Rorty tells the story of Ariadne and her love for Echo. Rorty traces Ariadne’s path from an idolatrous love for Echo to a fuller understanding of their interconnectedness, a path that ultimately leads to a fuller, active love. That growing understanding begins with an eye toward the history that has shaped their (and all) existence. Though she does so through the lens of scientific understanding (which can and should be subject to further examination, as we have seen throughout the seminar), Rorty points toward the benefits of a historical understanding. That understanding must take root in lived experience. When it does, it opens the door for effective political action, even in a “postmodern” world.

                Though Rorty talks exclusively about what we would usually call love, she leaves the door open for other expressions of this understanding. Toward the end of the chapter, she claims that the desires which spring from an active love “generate civic as well as sexual unity and harmony” (223). Our understanding, which includes the destruction of a Cartesian subject, does not lead to the radical fragmentation or inactivity that might seem to result from such a move (212). On the contrary, they let us better see that we are essentially bound up in and connected to our history, not just as passive bodies controlled from some ahistorical point, but as active participants (220). By expanding our understanding, we come to see the ways in which we must be active, for our very essence leads us to self-preservation (conatus is a richer term, but that’s a sufficient gloss, I think) (212).

                 However, that drive for self-preservation does not call us to fiercely defend what we think is ourselves, to close off areas of inquiry. Rather, when we become oriented as active beings, we seek to expand our knowledge and love; in doing so, we preserve our active natures. To do so, we must foster the development of others around us. The “civic… unity and harmony” referenced earlier is not some dream of all-encompassing Sameness, for such an attempt is surely as idolatrous as any other harmful love (223). To turn toward such a vision, one that constrains and forcibly distorts the conatus any other is to ultimately harm and constrain oneself. Therefore, situations in which one group has total dominance over another, like the one described by McWhorter must be avoided (144-5). Though this has only been a sketch of possibilities, hopefully, I have shown some of the ways in which a political philosophy informed by Spinoza’s theories might serve as an important transformative tool in our struggles against oppression.

 

 

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Hagit - on Irigaray's Sorcorer's love

 

In sorcerer’s love, Irigaray argues that Diotima’s position is not homogeneous. She begins with an establishment of love as a divine creation, which vanishes towards the end.

The divine status of love is based on its intermediary. Daimons are mediators between men and gods (70), and love is established by Diotima as a mediator between binary oppositions.

Instead of a dialectic that rejects two terms in order to create a third that is completely new, Diotima offers a dialectic that insists that there is already a third in-between that is a path from one to the other (68).

For Diotima this path is a one-way road, from bad to good, and therefore there is no distinction between the in-between space and the path. This raises the question of what happens when the hierarchy is deserted, or if the road in the opposite direction is opened. What term governs the path from knowledge to ignorance for example?

Irigaray’s analysis of Diotima’s speech looks like a story of the failure of love. At the starting point, the union between a man and a woman is divine, an alchemical quality between the couple of opposite. But love loses its divinity when procreation is brought in (73). Once a child has been created, the child occupies the place in-between the couple. But since the child is not a lover but a beloved, love, which is identified with the active search and therefore with the lover, is lost. The beloved replaces the lover.

To Irigaray, from here there is a fast deterioration to a hierarchical system: When men seek fecundity of the body they turn to woman and when they seek fecundity of the soul they turn to men. Love becomes a teleological quest, and the ‘most beautiful wisdom’ has to do with regulating states and households which means a system of temperance and justice. What Irigaray sees as ‘what’s left’ is goals, competitions and loving duties (75).

For Irigaray, this undesirable course of events is tied to the change in Diotima’s position, that can perhaps mark the disappearance of Diotima and the appearance of Plato, because from here on Diotima speaks of a very platonic ascent, aiming to sublime beauty, from beautiful bodies to beautiful occupation, to beautiful science, to sublime science, which is beauty in itself as the highest abstraction of beauty.

Going back, to a few minutes before the big fall, I want to look at ‘when men seek the fecundity of the soul they turn to men’ (Symposium 137), and imagine that Diotima was allowed to talk a little further before Plato took over her speech and “interpreted” the fecundity of the soul as an abandonment of the bodies. In a way this is holding Irigaray’s Diotima accountable to her laughter at Socrates’ dialectical method for neglecting to be informed by the amorous state, which is the elementary truth that he forgets. 73).

First then, what if the fecundity of the soul here is taken to denote not the mind but “true love”, or rather, ‘soul-mate’ (joining with the story in the symposium 190), and second, what if the turn of men to men is taken not to mark the fecundity of the soul but as an example, therefore taking the fecundity of the soul to be a turn of ‘same to same’, as more generally, the turn to the other-as-same. What I am playing with here is a move from looking through the analytical category of man-woman, as Irigaray does, to looking through a category that is based on type of relationships, when same and other replace man and woman.

From Irigaray’s position of defending love as an irreducible, Diotima’s choice of making the love between man and woman divine is dangerous, because it emphasizes the offspring as a result and even goal of the love, therefore creating an opening through which the reduction of love to intention can start operating. For Irigaray, if love is meant to be an irreducible mediator, then the idea of love as fecundity can be problematic, because when love has a too attractive result, be it a child, a theory or a function, the result replaces the love and love is forgotten. Taking the offspring out of the equation might give value to the love with no dependence on its result.

It is also interesting to take a look at the idea of Philo-Sophia from the standpoint of the criticism against the offspring. Unlike the sophist, the philosopher’s promise to Sophia is of ‘unconditional’ love, that is, a love for wisdom that is not for the purpose of supporting any opinion attitude or theory. Erotically, this is a promise to love Sophia no matter what s/he says or what s/he looks like. But the idea that wisdom is productive, and the repetitive presentations of ‘complete theoretical products’, betrays Sophia and breaks the promise of love (think of the thrown ladder, ‘the end of philosophy’), which tragically-or-not, continues only because of a constant failure to produce that one grand theory. Coming out of the metaphoric cloud, I think that the question is what are the kinds of wisdoms and the kinds of love for wisdom, and perhaps a grand theory will be dealing with the relationships and connections between those loves and not with attempts to produce the divine child that will ‘beat all the other kids’.

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