In her first talk, Asti Hustvedt, author of Medical Muses:
Critique Modern philosophy in the West championed the individual. Extending into contemporary moral and political thought is this idea that the self is a free, rational chooser and actor—an autonomous agent. Two Feminine subjectivity from possibility to reality of the self dominate this individualistic milieu—a Kantian ethical subject and a utilitarian 'homo economicus.
The Kantian ethical subject uses reason to transcend cultural norms and to discover absolute moral truth, whereas homo economicus uses reason to rank desires in a coherent order and to figure out how to maximize desire satisfaction within the instrumental rationality of the marketplace.
Both of these conceptions of the self isolate the individual from personal and social relationships and from biological and social forces. For the Kantian ethical subject, emotional and social bonds imperil objectivity and undermine rational commitment to duty.
For homo economicus, it makes no difference what forces shape one's desires provided they do not result from coercion or fraud, and one's ties to other people are to be factored into one's calculations and planning along with the rest of one's desires.
Some feminist philosophers modify and defend these conceptions of the self, taking issue only with women's historical exclusion from them and claiming they should be extended to include women. However, the decontextualized individualism and the abstraction of reason from other capacities inherent in these two dominant views trouble many feminist philosophers who have sought alternative perspectives on the self as a result.
Modern Western philosophy's regnant conceptions of the self minimize the personal and ethical import of unchosen circumstances and interpersonal relationships.
They eclipse family, friendship, passionate love, and community, and they reinforce a modern binary that divides the social sphere into autonomous agents and their dependents.
While women are no longer classified as defective selves, the caregiving responsibilities that once defined their status as dependents on male heads of households continue to place a special burden on women for labor that is devalued in society.
Prevailing conceptions of the self ignore the multiple, sometimes fractious sources of social identity constituted at the intersections of one's gender, sexual orientation, race, class, age, ethnicity, and so forth.
Likewise, these conceptions deny the complexity of the dynamic, intrapsychic world of unconscious fantasies, fears, and desires, and they overlook the ways in which such materials intrude upon conscious life. The modern philosophical construct of the rational subject projects a self that is not prey to ambivalence, anxiety, obsession, prejudice, hatred, or violence.
A disembodied mind, the body is peripheral—a source of desires for homo economicus to weigh and a distracting temptation for the Kantian ethical subject. Age, looks, sexuality, biological composition, and physical competencies are considered extraneous to the self.
Yet, as valuable as rational analysis and free choice undoubtedly are, feminists argue that these capacities do not operate apart from affective, biosocial, socio-economic and other heterogeneous forces that orchestrate the multilayered phenomenon that we call the self. For many feminists, to acknowledge the self's dependency is not to devalue the self but rather to revalue dependency, as well as to call into question the supposed free agency of a self that implicitly corresponds to a masculine ideal.
Feminist philosophers have charged that these modernist views are both incomplete and fundamentally misleading.
A political critique begins by questioning who provides the paradigm for these conceptions as their point of departure. Who models this free, rational self? Although represented as genderless, sexless, raceless, ageless, and classless, feminists argue that the Kantian ethical subject and homo economicus mask a white, healthy, youthfully middle-aged, middle- or upper-class, heterosexual, male citizen.
On the Kantian view, he is an impartial judge or legislator reflecting on principles and deliberating about policies, while on the utilitarian view, he is a self-interested bargainer and contractor wheeling and dealing in the marketplace.
It is no accident that politics and commerce are both domains from which women have historically been excluded. It is no accident, either, that the philosophers who originated these views of the self typically endorsed this exclusion.
Deeming women emotional and unprincipled, these thinkers advocated confining women to the domestic sphere where their vices could be neutralized, even transformed into virtues, in the role of empathetic, supportive wife, vulnerable sexual partner, and nurturant mother.
Feminist critics point out, furthermore, that this misogynist heritage cannot be remedied simply by condemning these traditional constraints and advocating equal rights for women. Rather, these very conceptions of the self are gendered.
In western culture, the mind and reason are coded masculine, whereas the body and emotion are coded feminine Irigaray b; Lloyd To identify the self with the rational mind is, then, to masculinize the self.
If selfhood is not impossible for women, it is only because they resemble men in certain essential respects—they are not altogether devoid of rational will.Dana Knight.
Formerly staff writer for The Independent Film Magazine, Dana is a freelance journalist who covers film, tech & startup culture. Between , she traveled to film festivals all over the world interviewing filmmakers for a book project on contemporary cinema. Courtly Love.
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The topic of the self has long been salient in feminist philosophy, for it is pivotal to questions about personal identity, the body, sociality, and agency that feminism must address.
The problem of neglecting the possibility of feminine subjectivity is dif- ferent in these three post-Heideggerian discussions: Merleau-Ponty does not discuss sexual difference, but as he argues that subjectivity comes in different. Nonduality definitions, highlights, pages on Ramana, Nisargadatta, gurus, teachers, sages.
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