Wednesday, 19 December 2018

XII—Fighting for My Mind: Feminist Logic at the Edge of Enlightenment

Hannah Dawson Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Volume 118, Issue 3, 1 October 2018, Pages 275–306, Published: 03 December 2018 Abstract In the seventeenth century, men stepped out of the pages of political philosophy as equal and free, their subjection to government a matter of artifice, manufactured through the social contract. By contrast, women’s subjection to men appeared as the creation of nature. Less rational and less virtuous than their counterparts, so the story went, they were rightfully inferior to them. This article examines some pre-modern writers, including Jane Anger, Rachel Speght, Judith Drake and Mary Astell, who wanted to re-carve the boundaries of nature. They argued that with regard to reason and virtue, men and women have equal capacities. They proposed that gender is a construct of power, not of nature. In so doing they marked out anti-essentialist territory that has become central to modern feminism. I propose, however, that their interventions become most legible (and no less urgent) if we situate them in their own context, and in particular in the context of the discipline of logic—the art of reason and the bedrock of an early modern education. These writers used recognizably logical tactics to prove the reason of women, and in so doing donned the mask of the logician, thereby doubly claiming for themselves the mark of a rational man. But they also turned to logic, as logicians since Aristotle had done, to cure the sickness and sophisms of their minds. They appropriated and refigured the obstacles to knowledge, identifying three impediments that beset women: the constitutive power of words, the internalized focus on a woman’s externality, and the mental corruption caused by oppression.