Cover image for Feminist Interpretations of Benedict Spinoza Edited by Moira Gatens

Feminist Interpretations of Benedict Spinoza

Edited by Moira Gatens

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ISBN: 978-0-271-03515-4

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ISBN: 978-0-271-03516-1

256 pages
6" × 9"
2009

Re-Reading the Canon

Feminist Interpretations of Benedict Spinoza

Edited by Moira Gatens

“This volume makes a significant contribution, both to Spinoza studies and to feminist theory. This stimulating collection of essays offers readers in both fields some provocative, and sometimes controversial, new interpretations of the classic rationalist philosopher.”

 

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  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
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This volume brings together international scholars working at the intersection of Spinoza studies and critical and feminist philosophy. It is the first book-length study dedicated to the re-reading of Spinoza’s ethical and theologico-political works from a feminist perspective. The twelve outstanding chapters range over the entire field of Spinoza’s writings—metaphysical, political, theological, ethical, and psychological—drawing out the ways in which his philosophy presents a rich resource for the reconceptualization of friendship, sexuality, politics, and ethics in contemporary life.

The clear and accessible Introduction offers a historical sketch of Spinoza’s life and intellectual context and indicates how Spinoza’s philosophy might be seen as a rich cultural resource today. Topics treated here include the mind-body problem and its relation to the sex-gender distinction; relational autonomy; the nature of love and friendship; sexuality and normative morality; free will and determinism and their relation to Christian theology; imagination and recognition between the sexes; emotion and the body; and power, imagination, and political sovereignty. The essays engage in a rich and challenging conversation that opens new paths for feminist research.

Contributors, besides the editor, are Aurelia Armstrong, Sarah Donovan, Paola Grassi, Luce Irigaray, Susan James, Genevieve Lloyd, Alexandre Matheron, Heidi Ravven, Amelie Rorty, and David West.

“This volume makes a significant contribution, both to Spinoza studies and to feminist theory. This stimulating collection of essays offers readers in both fields some provocative, and sometimes controversial, new interpretations of the classic rationalist philosopher.”
“This volume is an excellent contribution to Spinoza scholarship. Spinoza scholars will find that this book offers new angles from which to think through questions about Spinoza’s metaphysics, ethics, and politics. Feminist researchers will find it provides additional, perhaps surprising resources for considering a range of issues, such as autonomy, individuality, political organization, ethics, and sexuality and gender.”

Moira Gatens is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney in Australia. Among her previous books is Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present (1999).

Contents

Preface Nancy Tuana

Acknowledgments

List of Abbreviations and Notes on Translations

1. Introduction: Through Spinoza’s “Looking Glass”

  Moira Gatens

2. Dominance and Difference: A Spinozistic Alternative to the Distinction Between “Sex” and “Gender”

  Genevieve Lloyd

3. Autonomy and the Relational Individual: Spinoza and Feminism

  Aurelia Armstrong

4. Spinoza on the Pathos of Idolatrous Love and the Hilarity of True Love

  Amelie Rorty

5. Spinoza and Sexuality

  Alexandre Matheron

6. Reason, Sexuality, and the Self in Spinoza

  David West

7. What Spinoza Can Teach Us About Embodying and Naturalizing Ethics

  Heidi Morrison Ravven

8. Adam and the Serpent: Everyman and the Imagination

  Paola Grassi

9. The Envelope: A Reading of Spinoza’s Ethics, “Of God”

  Luce Irigaray

10. Re-reading Irigaray’s Spinoza

  Sarah Donovan

11. The Politics of the Imagination

  Moira Gatens

12. Law and Sovereignty in Spinoza’s Politics

  Susan James

Further Reading

List of Contributors

Index

Preface

Nancy Tuana

Take into your hands any history of philosophy text. You will find compiled therein the “classics” of modern philosophy. Since these texts are often designed for use in undergraduate classes, the editor is likely to offer an introduction in which the reader is informed that these selections represent the perennial questions of philosophy. The student is to assume that she or he is about to explore the timeless wisdom of the greatest minds of Western philosophy. No one calls attention to the fact that the philosophers are all men.

Though women are omitted from the canons of philosophy, these texts inscribe the nature of woman. Sometimes the philosopher speaks directly about woman, delineating her proper role, her abilities and inabilities, her desires. Other times the message is indirect—a passing remark hinting at women’s emotionality, irrationality, unreliability.

This process of definition occurs in far more subtle ways when the central concepts of philosophy—reason and justice, those characteristics that are taken to define us as human—are associated with traits historically identified with masculinity. If the “man” of reason must learn to control or overcome traits identified as feminine—the body, the emotions, the passions—then the realm of rationality will be one reserved primarily for men, with grudging entrance to those few women who are capable of transcending their femininity.

Feminist philosophers have begun to look critically at the canonized texts of philosophy and have concluded that the discourses of philosophy are not gender-neutral. Philosophical narratives do not offer a universal perspective, but rather privilege some experiences and beliefs over others. These experiences and beliefs permeate all philosophical theories whether they be aesthetic or epistemological, moral or metaphysical. Yet this fact has often been neglected by those studying the traditions of philosophy. Given the history of canon formation in Western philosophy, the perspective most likely to be privileged is that of upper-class white males. Thus, to be fully aware of the impact of gender biases, it is imperative that we re-read the canon with attention to the ways in which philosophers’ assumptions concerning gender are embedded within their theories.

This new series, Re-reading the Canon, is designed to foster this process of reevaluation. Each volume will offer feminist analyses of the theories of a selected philosopher. Since feminist philosophy is not monolithic in method or content, the essays are also selected to illustrate the variety of perspectives within feminist criticism and highlight some of the controversies within feminist scholarship.

In this series, feminist lenses will be focused on the canonical texts of Western philosophy, both those authors who have been part of the traditional canon, and those philosophers whose writings have more recently gained attention within the philosophical community. A glance at the list of volumes in the series will reveal an immediate gender bias of the canon: Arendt, Aristotle, Beauvoir, Derrida, Descartes, Foucault, Hegel, Hume, Kant, Locke, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, Plato, Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Wollstonecraft. There are all too few women included, and those few who do appear have been added only recently. In creating this series, it is not my intention to rectify the current canon of philosophical thought. What is and is not included within the canon during a particular historical period is a result of many factors. Although no canonization of texts will include all philosophers, no canonization of texts that excludes all but a few women can offer an accurate representation of the history of the discipline, as women have been philosophers since the ancient period.

I share with many feminist philosophers and other philosophers writing from the margins of philosophy the concern that the current canonization of philosophy be transformed. Although I do not accept the position that the current canon has been formed exclusively by power relations, I do believe that this canon represents only a selective history of the tradition. I share the view of Michael Bérubé that “canons are at once the location, the index, and the record of the struggle for cultural representation; like any other hegemonic formation, they must be continually reproduced anew and are continually contested.”

The process of canon transformation will require the recovery of “lost” texts and a careful examination of the reasons such voices have been silenced. Along with the process of uncovering women’s philosophical history, we must also begin to analyze the impact of gender ideologies upon the process of canonization. This process of recovery and examination must occur in conjunction with careful attention to the concept of a canon of authorized texts. Are we to dispense with the notion of a tradition of excellence embodied in a canon of authorized texts? Or, rather than abandon the whole idea of a canon, do we instead encourage a reconstruction of a canon of those texts that inform a common culture?

This series is designed to contribute to this process of canon transformation by offering a re-reading of the current philosophical canon. Such a re-reading shifts our attention to the ways in which woman and the role of the feminine are constructed within the texts of philosophy. A question we must keep in front of us during this process of re-reading is whether a philosopher’s socially inherited prejudices concerning woman’s nature and role are independent of her or his larger philosophical framework. In asking this question attention must be paid to the ways in which the definitions of central philosophical concepts implicitly include or exclude gendered traits.

This type of reading strategy is not limited to the canon, but can be applied to all texts. It is my desire that this series reveal the importance of this type of critical reading. Paying attention to the workings of gender within the texts of philosophy will make visible the complexities of the inscription of gender ideologies.

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