The Man of Reason: Part Three

In the eighteenth century there took place a revaluation of the emotions which, in the previous century, as ‘the passions’, had been considered a disturbance to reason, because of the ‘mind’s’ union with the body. The emotions then were regarded as threats to the purity of reason, and they were to be transcended or ‘transformed by reason into higher modes of thought.’17 In the eighteenth century there was a defence of ‘the passions’ ‘as the well springs of action’.18 By the nineteenth century, in Romanticism, ‘passion’, ‘a motivating force in its own right’,19 represented a challenge to the domination of reason. This Romantic ‘exaltation’ of imagination and feeling resulted in the ‘pedestalising’ of women through Romantic love as the desired – again, leaving the Man of Reason intact. The dichotomy between reason and feeling was strengthened.

Although ‘the Man of Reason was created in, and largely in response to, savage times’, there is now a ‘decline in optimism about the eventual victory of reason…the eventual triumph of reason.’20 Lloyd notes that  the Man of Reason ‘himself’ poses a threat to humanity and that the reaction against reason in the nineteenth century has made it difficult to critically address current notions of rationality – for example, the value of intuition. Regarding this, she wrote favourably on the philosophy of Bergson and on Pirsig’s attempt in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ‘to get at the unity underlying “Classical” and “Romantic” thought styles’, which attempt ‘points to the possibility of an expansion of reason, rather than an abandoning of it.’21

Lloyd argues that a critique of the Man of Reason from a specifically feminist standpoint runs the risk of becoming ‘a catalogue of the atrocities he has perpetrated on women.’22 He is an ideal for both genders and has been maintained by both. The impoverishment of women with this sexual stereotype is accompanied by a less obvious impoverishment of men. Thus the critique of him as an ideal should be done with this in ‘mind’. ‘What is needed for the Man of Reason is realisation of his limitations as a human ideal, in the hope that men and women alike might come to enjoy a more human life, free of the sexual stereotypes that have evolved in his shadow.’23

Yet a spectre is haunting Lloyd’s essay…not the harbinger of a new understanding of reason and of a new ethics but the representative of stasis, of patriarchal control, of anti-life – what Plumwood considers the philosophy of death. Plato’s presence is everywhere in Lloyd’s essay – in the concepts she deals with and through the influence he and those who developed on his philosophy had on the work of those she analyses.

It is astonishing that she made no mention of him let alone include him in her analysis. Lloyd corrects this crucial omission in her book of the same title as her essay, published in 1984 (the essay was first published in 1979). The Man of Reason cannot be understood without reference to Platonism and Neoplatonism and this ‘male character ideal’ did not arise from the soil of seventeenth century philosophy – particularly (as Lloyd claimed) that of Descartes – but was a construct of Plato’s. Lloyd points to this in her book – ‘The maleness of the Man of Reason, I will try to show, is no superficial linguistic bias. It lies deep in our philosophical tradition’.24

Part three of nine/to be continued…

Notes

17. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 125

18.  Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid. 126

21. Ibid. 127

22. Ibid. 127

23. Ibid. 127

24. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy. London: Methuen, 1984, ix. The form and content of Plumwood’s analysis, though broader than Lloyd’s (in that she treats the mind/body dualism as one of a web of dualisms maintaining oppression, focusing on that of culture/nature), is very similar. On Plato she wrote: ‘It is difficult to overestimate the enduring influence of Plato’s thought…Elaborations of Platonic thought in the work of Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and others formed the intellectual foundations of Christian doctrine, and of the dominant western intellectual and philosophical traditions of rationalism until the Enlightenment…(his philosophy) reaches its fullest development and distinctively modern form in the thought of Descartes and his successors…Plato thus foreshadows Descartes’ later denial of dependency on the senses and his treatment of the senses as sources of error’. V. Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. op. cit. 88-91

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