Paper On Gendered Reason Essay, Research Paper
email: Lewiss@Hartwick.edutitle: A Paper on Gendered ReasonPhilosophical thought has traditionally been the realm of the masculine; one in which men thought women were unable to comprehend. Canonical philosophers have perpetuated a theory that women are less than capable of pondering subjects of importance, those dealing with rationale and reasoning. These theories came from the great philosophical thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, Descartes and Rousseau, Kant and Hume, Locke and Hegel. Each of them had their own reasons for believing the reasoning capacity of women to be inferior to men, differing on some views, but agreeing on many. Nancy Tuana gives a feminist approach to philosophy and critically analyses the theories set forth in her book “Woman and the History of Philosophy”. She states that “One of the most basic gender assumptions found throughout the philosophical canon is the tenet that man is the true form of humanity; that is, masculinity is equated with humanness.” (Tuana, p. 9). She expounds this statement in her critique of each of the theories by the above-mentioned philosophers. In doing so, Tuana shows how we have been conditioned to a standard way of looking at issues and thus we view the world in a certain way. This view has been biased by the indoctrination of philosophical teachings, and therefore we must question everything to find the truth in its meaning. Some of the theories explored clearly show a gender bias toward women, while others are not as blatant in their discrimination and actually seem to provide a neutral gender analysis or one that may even be considered as upholding feminine qualities. By using Tuana’s method of hermeneutics; however, we are given a different interpretation, one which many feminists would say is a clearer interpretation of canonical philosophical theory. It seems that there is a general consensus of those traits and characteristics seen as innately masculine and feminine. These traits are used to define what humanness is and are also used to judge our rational and moral capabilities. Beginning with Plato, we can see that the traditional feminine traits such as passion and emotion are seen as weaknesses in the human character which must be overcome in order to lead a righteous life. Of Plato’s theory, Tuana explains, “The soul of the man who conquered his emotions and used his intellect to govern his sensations would, upon the death of his body….whereupon he would have a blessed existence. But the man who failed in this would be reborn as a woman”. Upon failing again, this cycle of reincarnation would continue, and each time the existence would be in some form of a lower creature. Because of the traits women possess, Plato feels they are incapable of reasoning and are only concerned with passions and bodily desires. He only gives credit to women in saying that those who behave like men may have some superiority over men in lower classes but never come close to being equal to men in their own class. Tuana points out that Plato’s theory is based on the inherent differences in the souls of men and women. Plato’s student, Aristotle takes a slightly different view, basing his theory on the biological differences between the sexes. Aristotelian theory is based on how much heat a creature produces, enabling him to concoct matter so that it is able to develop. Man’s superiority over the animals is due to the fact that he produces more heat making him more perfect, and along those lines he is also superior to women. He feels that the body and soul are inseparable and on this basis disagrees with his teacher. Tuana points out the fallacy in Aristotle’s theory because he equates the semen, male reproductive fluid, with female menses. She believes that this is not an oversight on his part because he was very educated on human reproductive biology. These gender biases point directly at the skewed thinking during the time of these philosophers in order for Aristotle to disregard the fact that menses and semen are not of the same nature. He further goes on to state that women are mutilated men since they are not able to fully develop into humankind due to their lack of heat; however, females are necessary for reproduction since male semen is too little in quantity due to its potency to provide nourishment for a developing embryo, unlike the menses which is more profuse. And thus he says that the lack of heat to the embryo is what forms a female, thus the mutilated male because they were deprived of heat during development. Tuana’s summary of Aristotelian theory is that “Woman’s generative deficiency in heat makes her unable to develop fully, resulting in a weakness of both body and character. Unable to control her passions, woman must be within the rule of man”. (Tuana, p. 30). The theories of Plato and Aristotle differ in the reasons why men and women are different, but a central theme still remains that men are the true form of humankind and that women are incapable of reason because of their lack of intellect. The images that these two philosophers is bleak and it seems that later philosophers are not as harsh on feminine qualities. But Tuana shows how this theme still runs deep in later theories by carefully examining the role of women. The ability to be rational is paired with masculine traits, and therefore irrationality with the feminine. Moving on to Cartesian theory, we again see a separation between reason, equated with masculinity and emotion, equated with femininity. Descartes equates rationality with reason and in order to lead a life based on reason, a man must be able to overcome emotion. Females are incapable of overcoming emotion since it is her very core to nurture and feel compassion. This is due simply to the fact that she is the caretaker of the children and must possess these qualities to care for them well. She is too weak to overcome her emotion and even if she tried would not hold on to any reasonable thought or decision for long. Descartes goes on to show that women also do not have the time of leisure necessary to arrive at rational thought because she is busy being a wife and mother. Thus her only goal is to be a good companion to her husband and use her femininity to as a way of comforting him and keeping him satisfied.
As Tuana continues to explore theories of later philosophers, she continues to run into the same portrayal of women as emotional creatures unable to have rational thought and useful only to please her man by raising his children and keeping his emotions in check so that he can continue to expand his mind through reasoning. As we look at Rousseau’s theories, we find some balance between reason and emotion, in that he sees them as working together so that reason is guided by emotion. At this point, Tuana sees some chance for a gender-neutral assessment by Rousseau, but with further probing she finds that he also associates emotions with the feminine and reason with the masculine. However, he sees these roles as necessary for the social welfare of the state and that men and women are perfect in their own way. But again we see that they cannot truly be equal because if a woman is concerned with emotion, emotion only guides reason which is paramount, then Tuana finds that women are again inferior to men. I see here, that men are guided by the insight of women, meaning that even though they are so reasonable, they cannot make any rational decision before consulting with the woman. So in fact women may have more power over men than Tuana recognizes. Its analogous to the head of state or President consulting with his cabinet before making any really important decision and even being checked by the different houses of government to make sure that his decision is correct. Although the President seems to be running the show, he can be seen as a figure-head holding no real power since he cannot make any absolute decisions by himself. I see Rousseau’s model as being closest to the way our society works today. Tuana sees this model as showing the subordination of women, “emotion guides reason, but reason controls emotion”. (Tuana, p. 47). Finally we get to the issue of morality. Kant says that women are not moral but base their virtuous actions on what is morally beautiful. This is separate and apart from feeling obligated to do the right thing or possessing a sense of duty toward her fellow humans. Men on the other hand have a noble understanding of what is moral through reasoning. Throughout history women have been portrayed as less than moral, to the point of being deceitful and thus needing the supervision of a rational man who is guided by moral reasoning to rule over her. Women are also seen as the proprietors of the private realm of family life while men obligations to the public, or state. This comes back to the inferiority of women, and in the cases of philosophers Locke and Hegel, it is based on biological differences stemming from the Plato and Aristotle’s time. Although Hegel sees women as keeping the law of the family, this is still not as important as the males role and capacity to reason for the state. Tuana interprets that “male is the true [human] form”, and that “woman is less capable of developing the higher faculties…attributing to her inferior rational capacities, Locke concluding from this that it must be the husband who retains authority over property within the family, Hegel insisting that woman is incapable of self-conscious knowledge of what is ethical”. (Tuana, p. 108). Tuana seems very long winded and redundant in her analyses of these philosophical theories, although she points out that a second look or interpretation may be necessary to reveal the gender biases that guide these theories. These men were considered great thinkers and in their time women were very dependent on men in order to exist. Without a man, woman was viewed as nothing. Possibly their philosophical models were shaped around this subordinate view of females, in order to explain her position in society through rational thought. I do agree that women have far too many responsibilities to ponder many of those subjects these philosophers found so interesting. Maybe if they took up some of the slack and helped out more around the house, philosophy wouldn’t be so slanted in its view that women are inferior to men, therefore incapable of rational thought and moral behavior.