Philosophical Interventions: Book Reviews, 1986-2011

By Martha C. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Feminists and Philosophy

LOUISE B. ANTONY and CHARLOTTE WITT (1993), A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity

And mustn’t there be a type of woman that loves philosophy,1and another
type that hates it?

Yes, both of these.

Plato, Republic, 456A

We’ll encounter opposition, won’t we, if we give women the same education that we give to men, Socrates says to Glaucon. For then we’d have to let women strip and exercise in the company of men. And we know how ridiculous that would seem.

Absolutely, says Glaucon—at least in the light of present practice.

Note, however, that it was not such a long time ago, Socrates says, when the public calisthenics for men that now seem so natural and admirable seemed themselves absurdly foreign—for we weren’t used to the idea of men stripping in public. But when we reflected about the reasons for the change, and decided they were good, then “the appearance of absurdity ebbed away under the influence of reason’s judgment about the best.”2

Convention and habit are women’s enemies here, and reason their ally. Habit decrees that what seems strange is impossible and “unnatural”; reason looks head on at the strange, refusing to assume that the current status quo is either immutable or in any normative sense “natural.” The appeal to reason and objectivity amounts to a request that the observer refuse to be intimidated by habit, and look for cogent arguments based on evidence that has been carefully sifted for bias.

In our own society the arguments of feminists make such appeals to reason and objectivity all the time, and in a manner that closely resembles Platonic arguments. We now demand, with Plato, that reproductive differences between men and women not be taken to be relevant to hiring

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