The Man of Reason: Part Four

Plato’s Philosopher Ruler was the original Man of Reason and model for those which were put forward later:

‘His eyes are turned to contemplate fixed and immutable realities, a realm where there is no injustice done or suffered, but all is reason and order, and which is the model which he imitates and to which he assimilates himself as far as he can.’25

Although Plotinus made no mention of a philosopher ruler in his Enneads, it is clear that he wrote for such an ideal character:

‘All men from the beginning, as soon as they are born, employ sense-perception before intellect and sense-objects are necessarily the first which they encounter. Some of them stay here and live through their lives considering these to be primary and ultimate…And those of them who claim rationality make this their philosophy…Others have risen a little from the things below because the better part of their soul has urged them on from the pleasant to a greater beauty; but since they were unable to see what is above, as they have no other ground to stand on they are brought down, with the name of virtue, to practical actions and choices of the things below from which they tried to raise themselves at first. But there is a third kind of godlike men who by their greater power and the sharpness of their eyes as if by a special keen-sightedness see the glory above and are raised to it as if above the clouds and the mist of this lower world and remain there, overlooking all things here below and delighting in the true region which is their own, like a man who has come home after long wandering to his own well-ordered country.’26

Lloyd built her argument substantially on the point of Descartes’ method: ‘One of the most striking things that happens to reason in the seventeenth century is the attempt to encapsulate it in a systematic method for attaining certainty. The paradigm for this approach to reason is Descartes’s Regulae, the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, written in 1628…This (method) is the basis for Descartes’s later influential doctrine of clear and distinct ideas.’27

In so doing, she is losing sight of the forest (or the chasm) for the trees. Fundamentally, the issue is the division between ‘mind’ and matter,28 with the body as the point of focus,29 and this division is justified in a range of ways. Key elements, traceable to Plato, recur through western culture – a denigration of this world and life and an extolling of the ‘other’ with its focus on the Good, the One, or a male God; two forms of reason – one for the ‘lower’ world of change, the senses and the emotions, the other relevant to the ‘higher’ unchanging world of ‘Reason’, with Reason being a male potential and everything ‘less’ banished to the female and to be mastered, resulting in the exclusion of women from power; less reality in this world in which the ‘mind’ is somehow trapped in the body, longing for its source, and ‘true’ reality in the ‘other’.

Part four of nine/to be continued…


25. Plato, The Republic, Trans. D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, 297

26. Plotinus, Enneads. Trans. A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, Volume V, 287, (V,9,1). Cf. Spinoza ‘the ignorant man is not only distracted in various ways by external causes without ever gaining the true acquiescence of his spirit, but moreover lives, as it were, unwitting of himself, and of God, and of things, and as soon as he ceases to suffer ceases also to be…Whereas the wise man, in so far as he is regarded as such, is scarcely at all disturbed in spirit, but, being conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be, but always possesses true acquiescence of his spirit.’ Spinoza. The Ethics. Trans. R.Elwes. Mineola: Dover,1955, 2 Part V, Prop. XLII, 270.  In G. Lloyd. ‘The Man of Reason’. op. cit. 118

27. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’. op. cit.114. Plumwood wrote that in Descartes’ philosophy, ‘A  new role is envisaged for reason, the role of exercising power over the natural world rather than escaping from it or rising above it…the role of becoming the “masters and possessors of nature”. To the alienated human identity of earlier rationalist dualism, in which what is distinctively and virtuously human is above nature, is added the fantasy of complete mastery…It is no coincidence that this view of nature took hold most strongly with the rise of capitalism, which needed to turn nature into a market commodity and resource without significant moral or social constraint on availability.’ V. Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. op. cit.110, 111

28. ‘Platonic philosophy is organised around the hierarchical dualism of the sphere of reason over the sphere of nature, creating a fault-line which runs through virtually every topic discussed: love, beauty, knowledge, art, education, ontology…In each of these cases the lower side is that associated with nature, the body, and the realm of becoming, as well as of the feminine, and the higher with the realm of reason. The timeless, abstract realm of the Forms is separate and maximally distanced from the inferior “world of changes”, of coming into being and passing away…’. V. Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature.  op. cit. 81

29. Plumwood noted the anthropocentrism and, descriptively and appropriately, the phallocentrism, of this web of dualisms.  Ibid. 11

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