Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview

Hegel's Theoretical Violence

Amy Newman

Hegel is often credited with being the first major philosopher in the Western tradition to recognize that human social relationships are interdependent and to incorporate this aspect of social existence into his overall theoretical system. For this reason, some feminists have seen Hegel's theoretical model as having a certain affinity with a feminist understanding of the nature of social relationships. However, this requires that one overlook the fact that in Hegel's system, human relations are conceived as fundamentally and necessarily inequitable. In this chapter, I shall maintain that Hegel's theoretical model cannot be properly understood in abstraction from his use of it to legitimate relationships of dominance and subordination.


I

Jean Grimshaw criticizes feminist thinking that claims to identify a characteristically male point of view in philosophy. Grimshaw asserts that "whatever theme or opposition is identified as male, it is always possible to find male philosophers who have profoundly disagreed:" 1 She thinks that Hegel, for instance, may be seen as a counterexample to the claim of some feminists that male philosophers tend to deny the social character of human relationships. Grimshaw cites Hegel's emphasis on "the interdependence of human consciousness and social relationships" and portrays him as a philosopher who championed the idea that "human beings cannot either recognize or meet their needs in isolation from other people." 2

However, Grimshaw's use of Hegel to exemplify an approach that is non-characteristically male is misleading. This implies that Hegel--at least in regard to his theories concerning social relationships--somewhow managed to transcend his gender. The problem here is that although Hegel's theoretical perspective cannot be

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