Philosophy Lecture Essay

1029 words - 5 pages

Background of feminist theory Feminism is another contemporary movement that questions some of the underlying assumptions of the Western Tradition in philosophy and seeks to develop a new model for doing philosophy.
Like any living movement that is breaking new ground, feminists have many different and conflicting visions of what the character and agenda of their movement should be. However, although there is not an official creed or set of doctrines that all feminists agree upon, their thinking revolves around some common themes. Feminism is a movement within philosophy and other disciplines that (1) emphasizes the role of gender in shaping how we think and how society is structured, (2) focuses on the historical and social forces that have excluded women from full participation in the intellectual and political realms, and (3) strives to produce a society that recognizes women and men as BOTH equal and different. These three themes illustrate that feminism includes both a theoretical understanding of the way things are and an attempt to use this knowledge to transform the status quo.

A quick glance at standard works on the history of philosophy will reveal the notable absence of women prior to the 20th century, which is one example of the way in which women's voices have been excluded from our intellectual traditions. Actually, there were a number of women philosophers in every historical period, starting with ancient Greece. The reason that women intellectuals have had a hard time getting their voices heard is illustrated by the views about women held by notable philosophers. While the history of disparaging remarks that male philosophers have made about women is a long story, one of the earliest and most influential accounts was given by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He believed that the normal outcome of mating was that of a male fetus, but if there was some deficiency in the process, a female would be formed. For this reason, he referred to females as "mutilated males" and said that the female character is "a sort of natural deficiency." Furthermore, he believed that the female contributed the material portion of the embryo while the male contributed the "principle of the soul" or the capacity for reason. Aristotle's biology of the sexes was repeated throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

There have been some notable exceptions to this disparagement and exclusion of women. For example, Plato, in his Republic, argued that it is inevitable that any given society would produce some women whose intellect and abilities would be superior to those of the average person. In his ideal society, these gifted women would take their place with men of like abilities to receive specialized training to make them the intellectual and political leaders of the nation. Similarly, John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century English philosopher, wrote a work on The Subjection of Women in which he argued that his society was cutting itself off from the benef...

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