". . we have to return to confrontation with 'the' canon, examining it as a source of ideas, themes, motifs, and myths . . . The point in so doing is not to label and hence dismiss even the most sexist [literary] classics, but to enable all of us to apprehend them, finally, in all their human dimensions." Treason Our Text, Lillian Robinson1
". . . The starting point of these reflections was usually a feeling of impatience at the sight of the 'naturainess' with which newspapers, art and common sense constantly dress up a reality . . . I wanted to track down, in the decorative display of what goes without saying the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there." Mythologies, Roland Barthes
Feminists who work on texts within the philosophical canon are caught in a bind: we want to draw on the insights contained in canonical works but must, at the same time, acknowledge that those insights were often bound up with views which defined as 'universal' things like interests, needs, capacities, or conditions for the flourishing of 'mankind', which clearly were not. And when a supposedly universal generalization in fact has been only partially true, it has too often been the case 2 that those not covered by the (supposedly universal) generalization have interests and needs-- both theoretical and practical--which are obscured, delegitimated, and ultimately denied.
One way of viewing the task of feminist philosophy in the face of this problem is that it ought to (a) locate the place(s) within a particular text where a limited set of interests or reactions is presented as a universal one and (b) assess the extent to which those false universal claims have affected the theory in which they are lodged. In this way it is possible to understand which insights in a theory can