The Man of Reason: Part Seven

Lloyd’s exposure of what has been done through history, and still is done to women, by men and women in the name of the Man of Reason, is excellent. Her perspective, as that of Plumwood, offers a great deal of insight. Lloyd wrote that a previously existing contrast between men as rational and women as impulsive, emotional etc., between man in God’s image and woman as his companion was deepened by Descartes and Spinoza and carried into a separation of functions – ‘We now have a separation of functions backed by a theory of mind…reason – the godlike, the spark of the divine in man – is assigned to the male. The emotions, the imagination, the sensuous are assigned to women.’50 But this Man was not born in the seventeenth century.

Plato made repeated associations between maleness (as form) dominating femaleness (as matter).51 Lloyd wrote ‘During life, Plato concluded, the god-like rational soul should rule over the slave-like mortal body.’52 Plumwood argued that Plato’s ‘contempt for’ and debasement of’ women and ‘the feminine’ is a major element of his philosophy, in which reason is oppositional to and exclusive of the lower order with which women are associated.53 She noted that  he classed most women with slaves, children and ‘other animals’ – distant from the logos.54 In Plato’s society, women and slaves were excluded from voting.55 Even when he argued in the Laws that women must join the communal meals, Plato wrote:

‘half the human race – the female sex, the half which in any case is inclined to be secretive and crafty, because of its weakness – has been left to its own devices because of the misguided indulgence of the legislator…women have got used to a life of obscurity and retirement, and any attempt to force them into the open will provoke tremendous resistance from them’ 56

The thought of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Aquinas have not only had a great impact on western thought but therefore, the impact has been on western life. Not only does Lloyd observe in her own area the dominance through history by males with a definite effect on philosophy,57 she stated ‘The content of femininity, as we have it, no less than its subordinate status, has been formed within an intellectual tradition.’58

Lloyd cautions against a critique of the Man of Reason from a specifically feminist standpoint since such might amount to ‘a catalogue of the atrocities he has perpetrated on women.’ She argued ‘What is needed is (a) critique of his standing as an ideal, whether as an object of male self-esteem or of female envy…What is needed for the Man of Reason is realisation of his limitations as a human ideal’59

Lloyd’s writing has gone some way to expose the Man of Reason (what state of dress is the Emperor really in?!) and the exclusion and domination done in his name. Surely Lloyd’s essay and book evidence that what is needed is the rejection of (the ideal of) the Man of Reason. Lloyd seems unable to decide. In her book she referred to the ideal as both a ‘self-deceiving failure’ and ‘as embodying a hope for the future’.60

Plumwood argued that reason in the western tradition has been constructed from the perspective of master, to justify not only the oppression and exploitation of women, but also of class and of nature. In this, Plumwood’s analysis is deeper than Lloyd’s. The fundamental point about the Man of Reason is not his maleness but his ideality, his inhumanity.61

Short of engaging in a discussion on the difference in brain structures and functions between male and female, those qualities recognised in the name of the Man of Reason as female and banished to ‘woman’ are also qualities the men who have constructed and those who have argued for him have denied in themselves. ‘The Man of Reason’, to borrow  from Plato, is half a man. Plumwood addresses this in her excellent writing on virtue ethics.

She ties particularity, empathic generalisation (as opposed to universalisation), and an inclusion of the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics. Virtues include openness to others, generosity, friendship, responsibility, loyalty to place, interconnection, continuity and respect for difference and independence – the latter three in particular she applies to our relationship with nature.62

‘(These ethics) are moral “feelings” but they involve both cognitive elements, ethical elements and emotion in ways that do not seem separable…The feminist suspicion is that no abstract morality can be well founded that is not grounded in sound particularistic relations to others in personal life, the area which brings together in concrete form the intellectual with the emotional, the sensuous and the bodily. Such an approach treats ethical relations as an expression of identity’.63

Part seven of nine/to be continued…

Notes

50. 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, 117

51. In the Timaeus, the major metaphor of Plato’s cosmology is that of rational male form (cosmos) ruling irrational female matter (chaos). Plumwood considers this dualism has a parallel in ‘deep ecology’ which she thinks draws on a psychology of incorporation. ‘deep ecology proposes a “unifying process”, a metaphysics which insists that everything is really part of, indistinguishable from, everything else…such treatment is a standard part of subordination; for example, of women, servants, the colonised, animals.’ 177-178. Also ‘deep ecology gives us another variant on the superiority of reason and the inferiority of its contrasts’. 182. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature,  op. cit.

52. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, 6

53. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 76 -79

54. Ibid.78

55. Plumwood argued that it is not only a masculine identity underlying the Platonic conception of reason ‘but a master identity defined in terms of multiple exclusions, and in terms of domination not only of the feminine but also of the slave (which usually combines race, class and gender oppression), of the animal, and of the natural.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 72

56. Plato, The Laws, Trans., T. Saunders, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, 262-263 (781)

57. ‘Philosophers…have been predominantly male; and the absence of women from the philosophical tradition has meant that the conceptualisation of Reason has been done exclusively by men. It is not surprising that the results should reflect their sense of Philosophy as a male activity…there has been no input of femaleness into the formation of ideals of Reason.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.108

58. Ibid. 106. Also ‘Contemporary consciousness, male or female, reflects past philosophical ideals as well as past differences in the social organisation of the lives of men and women.’ 107

59. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 127

60. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.107

61. Plumwood noted that Plato’s abstract realm of Forms is maximally distanced from the inferior world of change and that (as developed in Descartes’ metaphor of the machine) permits the emotional distance which enables power and control. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 81, 119

62. ‘(Such an ethics) abandons the exclusive focus on the universal and the abstract associated with egoism, and the dualistic and oppositional accounts of the reason/emotion and universal/particular contrasts given in rationalist accounts of ethics.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 184

63. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 183

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s