Academic journal article Text Matters

Lost Confidence and Human Capability: A Hermeneutic Phenomenology of the Gendered, Yet Capable Subject

Academic journal article Text Matters

Lost Confidence and Human Capability: A Hermeneutic Phenomenology of the Gendered, Yet Capable Subject

Article excerpt

"You are divided, torn-I would say cleft-between the logic of the political and that of your own blood, but only if it is the blood of an instigator of transgressions" (Kristeva 216)

INTRODUCTION

This essay will focus on a subject's loss of confidence in her own ability to understand herself. The aim is to make, phenomenologically speaking, visible the gendering of subjects in at least one strand of post-Kantian philosophy, that is, in Ricoeur's hermeneutic phenomenology of the capable subject. In one sense, my focus here derives from Alan Montefiore's "Introduction" to Philosophy in France Today, where Montefiore reflects on a philosophical culture in transition. That was philosophical culture thirty years ago. Yet today we still face that philosophical issue "bound up with the subject's loss of self-confidence in its own ability to understand itself, and indeed, in its own intrinsic significance" (xi). In another sense, my focus derives from Ricoeur's own chapter from thirty-one years ago, "On Interpretation," also in Philosophy in France Today. At that time, Ricoeur interprets his self-identity as a philosopher by elucidating the path of his published texts to "hermeneutic phenomenology" (187). In 2014 we can see in retrospect, how in 1983 Ricoeur himself anticipated his later philosophical account of "the capable subject."1

To the above philosophical thinking, I would like to introduce the generally hidden dimensions of gender in the loss of (philosophical) selfconfidence presented by Montefiore and in the discovery of human capability made by Ricoeur. Inserting gender specific pronouns helps to indicate my present concern with "gendering."2 So, my focus includes gendering the "subject's loss of confidence in her own ability to understand herself " (cf. Introduction xi). I will elucidate feminist understandings of the subject: those that emerge in the decades of transition, 1983-2014, in French and Anglo-American philosophy. My contention is that during these three decades women in philosophy have actively sought to restore a woman's confidence in her own ability to understand herself, philo - sophically, personally and socially. The stress here is on "restore." This restoration assumes that a woman is similar to a man insofar as she is, in strongly phenomenological terms, originally a capable subject. Human capability is, then, originally given to each lived body, what Ricoeur calls le corps propre (one's own body). To this phenomenological assumption is added a Ricoeurian hermeneutics that attempts to interpret what has happened, gone wrong, or has been concealed, in the loss of confidence in one's own capability.

Ricoeur himself gives an account of l'homme capable (the capable [hu]man): but this raises questions concerning the gender-inclusivity and/or gender-neutrality of the body of that capable subject for the contemporary feminist reader. Is human capability gender neutral? If so, how does one's own sexed/gendered body affect one's capability? Has the gender/sex of the phenomenological conception of one's own body been exclusively masculine and/or male? Here I will maintain that even if l'homme in the sense of the generic "man" is meant to be gender inclusive, the impact of this conception on Ricoeur's legacy is struggling to locate the role of gender in hermeneutic phenomenology. Admittedly, only an implicit and pernicious gender bias would ignore woman as a capable subject who, similar to any capable man, can have confidence in her own ability to understand herself philosophically. Nevertheless, it remains necessary to stress that the capable subject's self-understanding must consider its lived body as socially and materially located: and this includes its gendered locatedness (Anderson, Re-visioning Gender 205). I will contend that this is necessary, even if we would like to assume, perhaps with Ricoeur, that our bodies are equivalent to each other in the fundamental sense of each being originally capable. …

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