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Feminism: Pro and Con. I. Evolution of Feminism: Wollstonecraft, Woolf, de Beauvoir II. Fleming’s Biological Analysis of Sex III. de Beauvoir’s version of Ethical Creativity IV. Problem for de Beauvoir: Location of Justice. I. Evolution of Feminism.

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Feminism: Pro and Con

  • I. Evolution of Feminism: Wollstonecraft, Woolf, de Beauvoir

  • II. Fleming’s Biological Analysis of Sex

  • III. de Beauvoir’s version of Ethical Creativity

  • IV. Problem for de Beauvoir: Location of Justice

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I. Evolution of Feminism

  • Mary Wollstonecraft: a semi-classical feminist (1759-1797).

  • She agreed with Plato that virtue, not pleasure, was the supreme goal of life.

  • She saw women held back from developing virtue by perverse incentives: that rewarded charm & beauty over inner strength and virtue.

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Wollstonecraft vs. Aristotle

  • Wollstonecraft identified virtue with the reign of reason over sensuality, and left no room for right sentiments (Lewis’s “chest”).

  • Although she admitted that men & women played different roles, she insisted that the standard of virtue is the same, grounded in a supernatural, eternal goal.

  • For Aristotle, different roles necessitated diffferent forms of virtue.

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Virginia Woolf’s Feminism

  • Unlike Wollstonecraft, Woolf did not limit the sex differences to the body: she argued that, since the mind is rooted in the body, women and men differ mentally.

  • Woolf rejects the classical ideal that limits the sphere of women to the “private house”.

  • Woolf is deeply disaffected by society as it actually exists: she sees it as consistently oppressive, hypocritical and warlike.

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The Three Guineas

  • First Letter: from a Women’s College

  • Second Letter: from a Society to Aid Professional Women

  • Third Letter: from an appeal to join a Manifesto on behalf of Culture and Intellectual Freedom.

  • Overarching Letter: how to prevent war?

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Woolf’s Two Targets

  • Confinement to the “private house”: cruelty, poverty, servility, immorality.

  • Assimilation into the masculine professions: possessive, jealous, greedy, combative.

  • Both extreme poverty and extreme wealth are undesirable.

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The Four Teachers

  • Poverty: earn just enough to live on.

  • Chastity: refuse to sell your brain.

  • Derision: reject fame and honor.

  • Freedom from unreal loyalties: to nation, religion, school, family, sex.

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Woolf’s View of Value

  • See footnote 42 (p. 184).

  • There are “unwritten laws”, but these are not laid down by God (a patriarchal myth) or by nature (which varies and is under human control).

  • These laws are “private” and must be discovered “afresh” by each generation. Relativism? Historicism?

  • Two sources for the laws:

    • Private psychometer: moral intuition.

    • Public psychometer: art

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Woolf’s Dualism

  • Woolf was part of the “Bloomsbury circle”, that included philosopher G. E. Moore.

  • Moore believed that there were objective moral facts, but that these were totally separate from “nature” (including God).

  • We have access to these facts by a mysterious faculty of “moral intuition”.

  • Moore opposed traditional values; he held that only friendship & beauty matter.

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Differences between Woolf and Moore

  • Woolf addresses the question Moore evades: how do we, as natural beings, gain access to the world of value?

  • She seems to embrace a kind of reductive materialism: that our minds are products of the brain.

  • Given biological differences between the sexes, she embraces a kind of sexual relativism: each sex has its own set of “private” or unwritten laws.

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II. Fleming: Men

  • Men can have many children, and the minimum investment in each child can be extremely low (one sperm, a few minutes).

  • 2 models of biological equilibria:

    • Monogamy

    • “Free agency”

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Monogamy as an Equilibrium

  • Each man is limited to one marriage throughout his lifetime.

  • Men's reproductive possibilities become similar to women's, and to each other's.

  • Equalization of opportunities for reproduction.

  • Consequently, each household has two parents, who are equally committed to the household's children.

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Males as “free agents”

  • Each man seeks to have sex with as many fertile women as possible.

  • Households consist of mother and children.Minimal involvement of father(s).

  • Reproductive inequality: some men have many children, many have few or none.

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  • Monogamy feminizes men -- makes the father/mother roles similar -- and equalizes the sexes.

  • Yet, monogamy and patriarchy are connected:

    • Patriarchal privilege is one of the glues used to bind men to marriage as an institution.

    • If men are absent from the home, they lose the opportunity of being dominant there.

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  • Is monogamy natural?

  • Is patriarchy natural (adaptive)?

  • What does it matter if they are?

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Classical vs. Modern

  • According to the classical tradition, objective value is rooted in human nature, prior to our choices and actions.

  • We exist within a framework of values and norms that are prior to and independent of our wills.

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The Modern View

  • According to the modern tradition: we enjoy the power or freedom of ethical creativity.

  • There are no objective norms or values to constrain us, with authority over us.

  • Case in point: consider Wilson's discussion of sex roles. pp. 132-133.

  • Wilson admits that the differentiation of humans into distinct male and female roles is adaptive (product of natural selection).

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III. Simone de Beauvoir and Ethical Creativity authority over our choices.

  • Is more consistent than Wilson, Pinker, et al.

  • She clearly affirms the freedom of ethical creativity, but she does so by embracing a radical sort of nature/culture dualism.

  • Ethical choice transcends the biological and the physical.

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Metaphysical Discontinuity authority over our choices.

  • Based on a metaphysical theory, in which human consciousness represents something radically new, a complete discontinuity.

  • Jean-Paul Sartre: dualism of physicality and consciousness, Being and Nothingness.

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Consequences authority over our choices.

  • We can divide the world into two domains: that of immanence (nature), and that of transcendence (freedom).

  • For example: feminity and masculinity in human life are a social construction (transcendent), having only a contingent relationship to biological categories of sex (immanent).

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Transcendence of Nature authority over our choices.

  • de Beauvoir's goal: an androgynous society.

  • She freely admits that this has no basis in biology.

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Is the freedom of ethical creativity a coherent idea? authority over our choices.

  • In classical tradition, not even God has this freedom.

  • 14th. C. philosopher Duns Scotus is first to attribute it to God. Followed by William Occam.

  • Rousseau -- transfers it to human beings.

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An Aristotelian objection: authority over our choices.

1. All decisions depend on a pre-existing scale of values. We always decide for the better.

2. FEC means that all values are created by a prior human decision.

This leads to an infinite regress.

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Criterionless Choice authority over our choices.

  • Defender of FEC must believe in the possibility of an absolute, criterionless choice.

  • A choice of what I shall be, what I shall seek, that depends on no prior conception of value. (e.g., "I choose androgyny, not because it is good, but as a fundamental, ungrounded value")

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Aristotelian Response authority over our choices.

  • Aristotle: this is impossible. The human will is not built this way.

  • Some kind of self-deception must be involved in any attempt to do so.

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IV. de Beauvoir and the Problem of Justice authority over our choices.

  • de Beauvoir clearly affirms that sexual inequality is unjust.

  • Where do we locate justice: in the realm of the immanent or the transcendent?

  • de Beauvoir seems to face an insoluble dilemma.

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The Dilemma of Justice authority over our choices.

  • If de B. locates justice in the realm of the immanent, then it is something which we humans can freely transcend -- if we do not do so, we are guilty of bad faith.

  • If de B. locates justice in the realm of the transcendent, then it must be the product of an individual, criterionless choice. No room for universal judgments.

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