Unsolicited (Philosophical) Dicks

I’ve briefly highlighted some of the men I’ve been reading, and my frustrations with their work, below. Enjoy my rant!

This only applies to XY chromosomes. XX need not apply!

Oh the irony of Jean Jacques Rousseau, made particularly ironic (and illogical) when one considers that he preached radical egalitarianism. ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains’…thunders the inspiring first line of the Social Contract. And if one never read any of his other works one might remain under the blissfully ignorant illusion that when he used the word ‘man’ he meant ‘mankind’.

The French Revolution of 1789 brought with it hope for a new social order characterized by liberty and equality for all. These concepts of liberty and equality stemmed from Enlightenment ideas that spread throughout France in the decades preceding the Revolution. While the Revolution’s propagation of these ideas opened the path towards universal male liberation, they limited the social and political freedoms of women by confining them to the private sphere. During the Old Regime, women had no formal access to politics, but they were not alone, since most men were in the same exact position. However, after the Revolution women were explicitly and legally denied from any participation in government. While women largely accepted their subordination and confinement to the private sphere, revolutionary principles motivated them to fight for better treatment against government policies that invaded their domestic lives. Although at times helpful to the Revolutionary cause, women’s involvement in the public sphere generated male anxiety due to fear of social ruin caused by female ignorance and insubordination. In an attempt to restrain women from interfering in their affairs, the men of the Revolution passed laws that deprived women of any social or political existence.

Nearly identical to the view held by Rousseau were those of Charles Darwin, who stated:

Similar to Rousseau, Darwin makes women at once inferior and morally better, equates her good qualities with those thought at the time to represent more primitive qualities, and apologizes for man’s civilized behavior with a self-satisfied smirk. Darwin’s fundamental difficulties on the topic of man and woman seems to stem from his inability to make a clear distinction between social conditioning and inherited tendencies.

In the history of nineteenth-century German philosophy there is a distinct relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-feminism, in the sense of hostility towards women and an emphasis on her general inferiority. It’s an interesting lesson that should teach us about the dangers of attempting to categorize people on the basis on physical features or their physique, whether it is a matter of sex or skin color. Philosopher Otto Weininger wrote at great length on the supposed foulness of women (and the “femininity of the Jews”). The female, Weininger stated categorically, cannot be possessed of genius. Why? Because she is little more than an animal. Genius is a glorified masculine innate imperative.

Weininger didn’t get validation for his work and killed himself at age 23. But remember, only men can be rational geniuses!

From the soulless woman Weininger moves on to what he refers to as the soulless Jew, who is denigrated for being too ‘womanish’ and as such is also incapable of genius. (Weininger, by the way, was born Jewish).

This unstable, insecure man, whose male genius had not been sufficiently recognized by the time he was 23 years old, killed himself. Ironic for a man who identified masculinity and manhood with reason and rationality!

Schopenhauer and all men believing in his accounts of women are very much at fault of everything they claim women to be. For a philosopher to claim so confidently how he understands what woman are, as a fact, is a big sign of having veered of the philosophical path. Schopenhauer clearly had biased views due to his own bad experiences with women, notably his turbulent relationship with his mother. Fortunately, it seems that during his elderly years Schopenhauer finally became aware of the potential that women have (as long as they set themselves apart from the common behavior of others).

Before I get to reading about continental philosophy (Julia Kristeva, save me!), one final note…the idea that racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted views automatically disqualify a historical figure from study is misguided. Anyone who cannot bring themselves to study such a historical figure betrays a profound lack of understanding about just how socially conditioned all our minds are, even the greatest. Because the prejudice seems so self-evidently wrong, they just cannot imagine how anyone could fail to see this without being depraved. But accepting this does not mean glossing over the prejudices of the past. The good news it that the past twenty-five years have seen an explosion of feminist writing on the philosophical canon, a development that has clear parallels in other disciplines like literature and art history. Feminist philosophers are engaged in a project of re-reading and re-forming the philosophical canon, in order to include women in the philosophical “us”

Works cited:

[1] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Emile of Jean Jacques Rousseau: Selections. New York: Teachers college, Columbia University, 1956.

[2]Michelet, Jules. History of the French Revolution Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1967.

[3] Darwin, Charles. On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London :John Murray, 1859.

[4] Clack, Beverley. The Philosophy of Religion: A Critical Introduction. Polity, 2019.

[5] Schopenhauer, Arthur, and T B. Saunders. Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer. New York: Willey Book Company, 1910.

[6] Thompson, Mel. Rodgers, Nigel. Philosophers Behaving Badly. London : Peter Owen Ltd, 2005

Other works referenced:

Figes, Eva. Patriarchal Attitudes (London, 1970)

Proctor, Candice E. Women, Equality, and the French Revolution. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990

Published by Jaclynn Joseph

Hawai’i born PhD student and university lecturer. Devourer of books, amateur historian, travel junkie and educator. A curious mind in search of the rational.

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