LAWRENCE A. SCAFF
Reflections on Feminism in
A deep and powerful alto voice of the kind one sometimes hears in the theater can suddenly raise the curtain upon possibilities in which we usually do not believe.
In its dialogue with feminism the form of inquiry generally known in the Western philosophical tradition as "political theory" starts with two counts against it. With rare exceptions its subject matter—"politics"—and the preferred abstract categories and theoretical language it has traditionally used to order that subject matter have systematically excluded women. For feminism exclusion is especially marked in political theory conceived as a reconstructed "tradition" of discourse, a conversation for the initiated across time and space, an idea, despite recent pummelings, that still maintains a tenacious grip on the theoretical vocation. But male-centered discourse is also characteristic of much of contemporary "analytic" political theory, where, for instance, models of "rational man" seem to display precisely those familiar qualities of egoistic "rationality" that have dominated the phallocentric tradition and none of the alternatives that feminists have advanced as part of a revisionist androgynous conception of rational human choice. Even the exceptions among political theorists—say, Plato and Mill, to stay with figures from the traditional canon—only serve to demonstrate the rule: students of the subject have heard endless favorable commentary by Plato's epigones on his promise in the Republic to create a world safe for philosophy, but scarcely a whisper about his more daring projection of a world safe for women, much less comment on