Philosophical Interventions: Book Reviews, 1986-2011

By Martha C. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Undemocratic Vistas
ALLAN BLOOM (1987), The Closing of the American Mind: HowHigher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students
I
Asked whether women as well as men should study philosophy, the distinguished Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, teacher of Epictetus, replied as follows:

Women have received from the god the same rational faculty as men, the
faculty that we use in communicating with one another and in reasoning
about each matter, as to whether it is a good thing or a bad. Similarly, the
female has the same faculties of sense perception as the male: seeing,
hearing, smelling, and the rest. Similarly, they both have the same number
of bodily parts, and neither has any more parts than the other. Furthermore,
desire and natural orientation towards excellence belong not only to men,
but also to women; for not less than men they are naturally pleased by
fine and just deeds and repelled by the contrary. Since things are this
way, why on earth should it be fitting for men to examine and inquire into
how one should live well—which is what it is to do philosophy—and for
women not?1

This passage states a conception of “higher education,” and the place of philosophy in that education, that can be found not only in Stoic texts but also in the writings of many of the greatest philosophers of the Greek and Roman world. This conception of philosophy has three elements, closely connected, and all traced by Stoics to Socrates, their model and hero:
1. Philosophical education is practical. It is the rational search for the best human life. Its subject is, above all, the study of moral and social conceptions, and its purpose (as Musonius later makes plain)

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