Philosophical Interventions: Book Reviews, 1986-2011

By Martha C. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
Man Overboard

HARVEY C. MANSFIELD (2006), Manliness


I

Suppose a philosophical scholar—let us call this scholar S—with high standards, trained in and fond of the works of Plato and Aristotle, wished to investigate, for a contemporary American audience, the concept of “manliness,” a concept closely related to the one that Plato and Aristotle called andreia, for which the usual English rendering is “courage.” (Harvey Mansfield himself tells us that andreia is his subject.) How would this scholar go about it? Well, following the lead of Aristotle, S would probably begin by laying out the various widespread beliefs about the topic, especially those held by reputable people. S would also consider the opinions of well-known philosophers. In setting down all these opinions, S would be careful to get people’s views right and to read their writings carefully, looking not just for assertions but also for the arguments that support them.

Inevitably this welter of opinions would contain contradictions—not just between one thinker and another, but also within the utterances of a single thinker. People are amazingly able to live with contradictions, since most people do not stop to sort these matters out in the way that Socrates recommended. People also use terms imprecisely and ambiguously, so S’s inquiry would uncover much fuzziness and equivocation. Nor do most people most of the time, when they make statements of the form “Manliness is X,” pause to tell us whether they mean to say that X is a necessary condition of manliness, or a sufficient condition, or both, or neither. So S would have to sort all this out, too. (“Don’t use your feminine logic on me,” I can already hear my partner saying teasingly in the background, as he typically does when words such as “necessary condition” are wheeled onto the stage.)

Carefully, S would set out the puzzles, untangling opinions like tangled strands of yarn. (Women do so well at logic, says Aristophanes’ Lysistrata,

-319-

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