Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview

Hegel, Antigone, and the Possibility
of a Woman's Dialectic

Cynthia Willett

Feminists reproach the Western tradition for neglecting the constituitive role of feeling in philosophical cognition. The traditional philosopher disengages himself from any particular social context and pursues truths that are abstract. Feminists propose that truth originates not in abstract entities but in particular realities and that these realities are informed not only by categories of reason but also by emotion. In general feminists attack dualism, or that mode of thinking that introduces distinctions in order to subordinate or exclude from consideration some parts of experience, and especially those parts that are interpreted as feminine.

Hegel could be an ally of feminists because of this attempt to develop a dialectic that would weave together opposed realms of experience. For example, Hegel denies the truth of abstraction and demonstrates that experience is unintelligible except as an interweaving of universals and particulars. Nonetheless many feminists have been wary of turning to dialectic in order to generate a countertradition to dualism because of the tendency of dialectic, despite its claims, to reinvoke the same abstract and unerotic logic that mars much of traditional reflection.

In this chapter, the role that eros plays in Hegel's dialectic of ethical spirit will be examined. Hegel locates the origin of ethics in classical drama. My interest is in what a dramatic work performs when it appears in what Hegel calls the "phenomenology of spirit," or the education of humanity. As it turns out the structure of classical drama traces a paradigm and an historical origin for Hegel's dialectic. The ironic reversals and discoveries that emplot tragic drama also constitute dialectic. An immediate consequence of this parallel is that, in accordance with Aristotle's definition of tragic drama, dialectic demands the catharsis, or purging, of emotion from educated spirit.

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