Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C.-A.D. 1250

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C.-A.D. 1250

Article excerpt

ALLEN, Sr. Prudence, R.S.M. The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C.-A.D. 1250. Second edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997. xxiv + 583 pp. Paper, 35.00--This book is the fruit of an enormous amount of impassioned and careful historical research into the way in which Western philosophers have thought about the concept of woman and her relationship to man. To me the most refreshing thing about it is the absence of the sort of rancor and partisanship that one frequently finds in works on this subject. Allen tries to present a fair and balanced account of all the people she treats (and she covers over sixty philosophers from the Pre-Socratics to St. Thomas Aquinas), and includes numerous quotations from primary sources. This makes the book a very valuable resource for those doing research in this area.

In Allen's view, contemporary academic philosophers have gotten caught in a false dichotomy between sex unity theories (which affirm that men and women are equal and not significantly different from one another) and sex polarity theories (which see men and women as significantly different but not equal). Traditional sex polarity theories such as that of Aristotle saw men as superior to women, while many contemporary feminist philosophers subscribe to reverse sex polarity and see women as superior. The alternative which has been lost sight of is sex complementarity, the view favored by Allen. This view was first fully articulated, she argues, by Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century. However the sex polarity theory became dominant in the Western tradition as a result of the resurgence of Aristotelian philosophy, which was adopted at the University of Paris in 1250 and which continued to dominate Western thought for many centuries.

What makes Allen's book of interest philosophically is the way in which she connects the views she discusses with metaphysics (the relation between the materiality of human beings and our identity), epistemology (whether men and women relate to wisdom in the same or different ways), and ethics (the virtues appropriate to women and men). Sex complementarity, she argues, is the view that is best able to provide a properly integrated picture of the human person. …

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