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Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle

Ward, Julie K., 1953Hypatia, Volume 17, Number 4, Fall 2002, pp. 238-243 (Review)
Published by Indiana University Press

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Plato. 1968. The republic, trans. and ed. by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books. . 1993. Phaedo. In The last days of Socrates: Euthyphro, the apology, crito, phaedo, trans. and ed. by Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant. London: Penguin Books.

Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle. Edited by CYNTHIA A. FREELAND. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. Julie Ward This volume consists of twelve essays, mostly newly published, on a variety of topics in Aristotelian scholarship ranging from the theoretical to the practical and productive parts of the corpus. The volume divides the papers into one group addressing topics in Aristotles metaphysics, physics, epistemology, biology, and logic on one hand, and his ethics, politics, poetics, and rhetoric on the other. The contributors include established scholars in ancient philosophy, such as Cynthia Freeland, Deborah Modrak, Martha Nussbaum, and Charlotte Witt, and younger scholars such as Angela Curran, as well as those in disciplines outside ancient philosophy, including literature, law, and political science. The latter group of essays includes a chapter by Luce Irigaray on Book IV of Aristotles Physics from her work, An Ethics of Sexual Difference (1993), Freelands interpretation of Irigarays essay, as well as papers on Aristotelian political emotion, the historiography of Aristotles rhetoric, and his political anthropology from Texas Law Review (1992). The very range of methodological perspective that lends breadth to the volume presents difculties for an overview, in light of which four papers were selected for detailed comment, those on Aristotles logic, Freelands essay on Irigarays reading of Physics IV, Aristotelian virtue ethics, and Aristotelian political emotion. Feminism and Aristotelian Logic While it is familiar to cite the inherent biases of theoretical disciplines like the social sciences and philosophy, it is less common to read how areas like mathematics and logic are similarly biased. It seems hard to see how a system of proof with rules, axioms, and formal notation is inherently biased against any one group. Yet feminists like Andrea Nye, Valerie Plumwood, and Luce Irigaray have criticized formal logic on the ground that it is antithetical to womens experience and interests.1 In Feminist Readings of Aristotelian Logic (1998), Marjorie Hass takes on criticisms of Aristotles logic, including three main objections: his logic is motivated by unequal relations of power, uses binary

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truth-value, and ignores the concrete and the subjective in experience. In being thus characterized, Aristotles logical theory represents a gendered way of reasoning, and should be avoided. Hass does well in replying to these objections with one exception. The rst objection, that logic masks unequal power relations, is answered by Hass noting that logic and logical systems (in mathematics and philosophy) have arisen among various cultures and classes worldwide, and are not the domain of an elite group of men. Hasss further point that attaining logical skill can be liberatory to women needs to be underscored: it is surely politically loaded for feminists to argue that women cannot, or should not, do logic. Hass rightly responds to the third objection concerning the need for concrete experience on two grounds: rst, for Aristotle the end of logical argument is in part the illumination of observed experience, not its dissolution, and second, that it is impossible to conceive of a language without any abstraction. We cannot construct a feasible language without abstract terms or categories, as Nyes criticism suggests. Hasss response to the second criticism, that bivalence is noxious, is correct but incomplete. The ground of this objection stems from the idea that in classical logic the laws of excluded middle and noncontradiction obtain such that given two contradictory propositions, only one can be true, and this fact implies inequality to feminist critics. But, as Hass points out, this objection does not acknowledge Aristotles notion of contrariety in which both sentences are falsethe point being that contrariety does not yield the same results as negation. Still, Hass admits, the uid form of negation sought for by thinkers like Irigaray is not forthcoming in Aristotles logic.2 Here Hass overlooks what Aristotle has to say about future contingents in De Interpretatione 9, that statements about the future are neither true nor false: it is not necessary that of every afrmation and opposite negation, one should be true and the other false. For what holds for things that are does not hold for things that are not but may possibly be or not be (1979, 19a39b5). Since Aristotle denies that the laws of excluded middle and noncontradiction hold for future contingents, they are neither true nor false; Aristotle rejects bivalence for these statements. As the rejection of bivalence comprises a major portion of the critique, this result considerably weakens the negative analysis of Aristotles logic.3 On Irigaray on Aristotle This essay serves as Freelands analysis and explanation of Irigarays chapter on Aristotles Physics IV that deals with the notions of place, space, and time. Of the ve problems Irigaray cites with regard to Aristotles concept of place, two of the ve criticisms are found wanting, but those concerning methodology Freeland nds useful. She nds this aspect of Irigarays criticism similar to Sandra Hardings critique of standard philosophy of science, in that biases inherent in ones method of argument are exposed. Like Deborah Modraks



analysis of Aristotelian epistemology (Freeland 1998, chap. 4), Irigaray faults Aristotles employment of reputable opinions, or endoxa, as the starting points in the formulation of his positions as relying exclusively on the beliefs of male experts. Freeland thinks that Irigaray corrects Aristotles insufciently narrow beginning points by adding womens views of place, space, and body (79). Freeland generously allows for the variance between Irigarays interpretation and uses of Aristotles text and its standard reading among historians of philosophy. As far as this reviewer can see, Irigarays purposes are to employ Physics IV as a starting point for her literary meditations about gendered places, rather than an attempt to illuminate the text, a perfectly acceptable aim if one manages to keep consistent with the text. But such concern is not forthcoming: in her account of place, for example, Irigaray faults Aristotle for not allowing for relational place, or spaces neither up nor down, but the criticism fails since his theory of place is in fact relational and his cosmology is based upon a spherical system (71). Overall, Freeland nds Irigarays meditation on Physics IV helpful in revealing deeply entrenched sexist categories within Aristotles thought, including the concepts of form and matter operative in his metaphysics, physics, and biology, as developed elsewhere in this volume by Charlotte Witt and Marguerite Deslauriers (chaps. 5, 6). Here Freeland notes that form and matter are themselves gendered in that form is associated with activity and rationality, and matter with passivity and inferiority (65). If we take Aristotle to have but one conception of form or matter, then form is identical to maleness, matter to femaleness, as suggested by Physics I.9 where matter yearns for form, as the female for the male (1984, 192a2023). But a univocal reading of form, or matter, strikes this reader as overly reductive: not only do these notions bear numerous meanings, they are mutually implicative concepts, not actually separate entities, as this reading implies. Aristotles Ethics and Care Ethics In The Virtue of Care: Aristotelian Ethics and Contemporary Ethics of Care (1998), Ruth Groenhout claims that although Aristotles ethics and politics have justly given rise to feminist criticism, there is, nonetheless, much in his moral theory that is of use to feminists. Briey, the aspects of Aristotles moral theory that she takes to be of interest include the synthesis of emotions along with reason, the implicitly social aspect of his theorizing, the virtues of the self that combat subservience, and a conception of the self that is situated, enmeshed in social relationships (172). Employing the thick notion of the self that feminists since Carol Gilligan have come to recognize as amenable to feminist concerns, Groenhout proposes a kind of synthesis of Aristotelian theory and care ethics as a way of showing that Aristotles account of moral ourishing should hold interest to feminists.

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Groenhout rst takes on some criticisms of Aristotles theory by way of objections to virtue theory. These objections take virtue theory to be inadequate insofar as they fail to be sufciently critical of traditional moral values that have historically been oppressive to women. Again, it is offered that Aristotles virtue theory is perfectionist and also inegalitarian, preventing those who are thought to be incapable of full rationality from political participation. While Groenhout concedes that Aristotles theory is in some ways inegalitarian insofar as he never grants women full merit with men, for example, nevertheless she thinks that his moral theory in particular is promising for various feminist uses. In addition to the social notion of the self, and the role of emotions in moral reasoning, her discussion in this area includes consideration of the relative valuation of abstract reasoning, theoria, to the activity of moral virtue in the best human life on which she takes a comprehensivist position, arguing that the best life is the mixed life including both activities, aligning herself with various recent Aristotelian scholars on this vexed subject. With regard to the proposed aim of providing a meeting ground of two traditions, feminist and Aristotelian, the attempt is noteworthy, following in the footsteps of others seeking to reconstruct Aristotles rational ideal and moral theory for feminism.4 But this present account falls short of actually synthesizing the two traditions as promised, leaving an open question whether a compromise position is, indeed, possible. Tragedy and the Construction of Political Emotion in Aristotle Joan Tronto and Virginia Held have written on the emotions from the standpoint of feminist ethics, yet as Barbara Koziak notes in Tragedy, Citizens and Strangers: The Conguration of Aristotelian Political Emotion (1998), these accounts fail to explain the nature and function of social emotions and their relation to political identity. Nor do these accounts explain how care ethics is situated in terms of a larger view of overall human functioning. On both counts, Aristotles political theory and his view about training emotions as necessary for political life seem promising to Koziak. As she reads Aristotles theory, part of the habituation needed for moral excellence is accomplished through our viewing dramatic representations, in particular, tragedies, which enables us to achieve a balance between our capacities for emotion and reason. She focuses on the positive effects of tragedy in the development of the relation between thumos, the overall capacity for emotional response, and reason, that stands as the core of what Aristotle takes to be moral excellence. Koziak situates Aristotles account of tragedy and the development of thumos within the social, political changes between the fth and fourth centuries that involved the conict between the older, heroic code of values and that



of the city-state. Aristotles moral and political theory aims to undermine the older, heroic code so as to produce a state of readiness for the shared political values of cooperation and friendship that are accomplished through viewing tragedy. Using Euripedes Iphigenia at Tauris, she demonstrates how pity, fear, recognition, and purication play pivotal roles in accomplishing proper moral response: she nds pity, not fear, is primarily effective in tragedy. Pity, in combination with recognition allows us to identify with the tragic characterto acknowledge psychological kinship with the stranger whose narrative we are witnessingand thereby achieve a sympathetic unity of vision with the tragic character. Thus, our general emotional disposition, or thumos, achieves a balance, and in this respect tragedy comprises a crucial part of our moral education. Koziaks essay responds to two deciencies in feminist work on the emotions: the relation of social emotions to political identity and a justication of care ethics. On the rst, her reply is sufcient; on the second, her paper cannot do this work alone, but suggests a direction to be followed: a connection should be made between moral virtues like care and compassion and their relevant political context. Overall, the essays in this volume represent a welcome addition to the second wave of feminist criticism and reappraisal of Aristotelian thought on central concerns to feminism such as biological and metaphysical essentialism, standpoint theory, the normativity of science, and feminist ethics and aesthetics. In addition to the essays reviewed, the strongest essays, (for example, those written by Marguerite Deslauriers, Charlotte Witt, Deborah Modrak, and Angela Curran) exhibit both careful textual scholarship and feminist critique, constituting a strong core. Witts paper on hylomorphism begins with the criticism of objectivity in order to examine how Aristotle comes to incorporate sexist assumptions in his theory of sensible substances. Currans essay criticizes Aristotles theory of tragedy in its focus on the individual as a source of error, and proposes interpretations of classic tragedies about women where social conditions, including patriarchy, are the cause of womens wrongdoing instead. There are weaker essays as well, such as those by Irigaray and Carol Poster, making the volume uneven in quality, but given its other strengths and its scope, it should prove valuable to students and scholars in a wide range of disciplines. The book itself is wellprinted and wellbound, containing a select bibliography and general index, but lacking an index of passages.

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1. See Andrea Nye (1990), Valerie Plumwood (1993), Luce Irigaray (1989). 2. Plumwood opts for a notion of negation that allows for asserting opposing claims without collapsing the system; this seems to be what Irigarary takes as a uid form of negation (Hass, 36). Nye and Plumwood overlook multivalued logics that reject bivalence, to which Hass alludes, but then neglects (33). 3. Further analysis of true on both sides is necessary: for Plumwood and Irigaray, it appears that for two opposing statements to be true simply means that they are asserted, perhaps with some evidence; for Aristotle, truth is a matter of correspondence with some existing state of affairs, which is why statements about future contingents cannot be said to true or false. 4. For example, see Deborah Achtenburg 1996.

Achtenburg, Deborah. 1996. Aristotelian resources for feminist thinking. In Feminism and ancient philosophy, ed. Julie Ward. London, New York: Routledge. Aristotle. 1979. Aristotles categories and de interpretatione, trans. J.L. Ackrill. Oxford: Clarendon Press. . 1984. The complete works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hirshman, Linda R. 1992. The book of A. Texas Law Review 70 (March): 971. Irigaray, Luce. 1989. Is the subject of science sexed? In Feminism and science, trans. Carol Bove, ed. Nancy Tuana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. . 1993. Place, interval: A reading of Aristotle, physics IV. In An ethics of sexual difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Nussbaum, Martha. 1992. Aristotle, feminism, and needs for functioning. Texas Law Review 70 (March): 1019. Nye, Andrea. 1990. Words of power: A feminist reading of the history of logic. New York: Routledge, 1990. Plumwood, Valerie. 1993. The politics of reason: towards a feminist logic. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (4): 43662.