Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Your turn #2

Professor Judith Butler

 Update: we talked about the different types of contracts that Roussean & Kant had in mind.

On the one hand Rousseau having (in Du Contract Social) an ambivalence regarding his état de société, the implicit tension between obéissance and devoir (do you obey for self-interest, or for the bien commun (common good)? Rousseau's definition of the weakness of force: "la force ne peut relever du droit" (something Hobbes would disagree with) and yet, the tension with his category "bien de tous." some other points:

1- multitude/peuple (one an amorphous mass, the other a vested entity. Yet when he defines the authority of the people he makes a circular observation: le seule autorité qui d'une multitude puisse faire un peuple c'est le peuple.
2- Rousseau idea of sovereignty as (a) indivisible (because it is sovereign & a collective entity) and (b) inaliénable (because it's directed by la volonté general.

Which brings us to the idea of how much here is necessary and how much is an affaire de convention once you build your own political edifice. What I'm saying is that after Rousseau, the political edificie cannot stand without some degree of legitimation. And what's that?  Here is where Kant comes in.

In his Metaphysic der Sitten Kant takes revises Rousseau's contractarianism. He disagrees with Rousseau's  intérêt propre as a social glue. More a propos of his philosophy Kant proposes the idea of gutter Wille (good will) as the only thing that can be maintained without restriction. The best expression of this becomes the so called categorical imperative (Kategorischen Imperativ) particularly in Kant's second formulation:
Handle so, daß du die Menschheit sowohl in deiner Person, als auch in der Person eines jeden anderen jederzeit zugleich als Zweck, niemals bloß als Mittel brauchest.
(do not treat people as a means (Mittle) to and end, but as ends (Zweck) themselves) which translates as respect (Achtung) it's interesting that Kant uses Achtung, which also means "attention," instead of merely Respekt.

So, what we need here is not self-interest (nor the "happiness" we obtain through it, and remember there's a difference between English utilitarian happiness and Aristotle's eudaimonia) but a reasonable agreement.

1- Kant agrees with Locke regarding freedom (Freiheit) as innate right (Freiheit remains a difficult category for Kant to prove, but this is a discussion for another time).
2- The contract is translated as state law (a state order staatlichen Ordnung, that guarantees sovereignty in the people (das Volk)... as with Locke, liberty and separation of powers. The deal for Kand is reasonableness (reasonable agreement).
3- For Kant there is practical reason (Wille) which acknowledges the reasonableness of moral considerations and makes us respect their authority, on the other we have the power of choice (Willkür) which can be arbitrary, enabling us to choose in practice or to violate that authority. So, there is a little separation from Wille to Willkür, but the consequences are far reaching.

1- Feminist Epistemology, please scroll down the Stanford article to situatedness. Read it first and then we can discuss it in class. There are two aspects to the following paragraph:
Many of these ways in which knowers' physical and psychological relations to the world affects what and how they know are familiar and extensively studied by cognitive psychology, naturalized epistemology, and philosophy of science. Feminist epistemology takes such studies a further step by considering how the social location of the knower affects what and how she knows. It can thus be seen as a branch of social epistemology. An individual's social locations consists of her ascribed social identities (gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, kinship status, etc.) and social roles and relationships (occupation, political party membership, etc.). Partly in virtue of their different ascribed identities, individuals occupy different social roles that accord them different powers, duties, and role-given goals and interests. They are subject to different norms that prescribe different virtues, habits, emotions, and skills that are thought to be appropriate for these roles. They also acquire different subjective identities. Subjective identification with one's social groups can take several forms. One may simply know oneself to have certain ascribed identities. One may accept or endorse these identities, actively affirming the norms and roles associated with them. Or one may regard one's social identities as oppressive (if, say, one's identity is cast by society as evil, contemptible, or disgusting), yet see one's fate as tied with the groups with which one is identified, and commit oneself to collective action with other members of those groups to overcome that oppression.
2- There's Gilligan's argument: you cannot speak of a child ignoring the child's gender. 

3- The argument that few people have actually consented to their governments so no government is actually legitimate is responded to with Locke's tacit consent. What it means is a symmetry of benefits & duties. In addition, political authority is dependent on political legitimacy. Remember Rousseau: 
À supposer que la force soit un droit, aucun ordre politique ne serait possible puisque la force ne tire sa légitimité que d’elle-même (force doesn't ground itself since it cannot legitimate itself, so the political order needs to justify).
4- In passing, I briefly mentioned hegemony and Carl Schmitt (we'll talk about him soon). In Marxist terms:  Die herrschenden Gedanken sind immer die Gedanken der Herrschenden (i.e., ruling ideas are the rulers' ideas).

5- This is my beginner's list of feminists philosophers:

*Judith Butler (professor of critical theory @ the University of California). I recommend Gender Trouble (2011).
*Avital Ronel, professor of Germanic Language and Literature at NYU. Her book Stupidity (2002) is a winner.
*Syla Benhabib (professor at Yale and specialist in Hannah Arendt), check out her Politics in Dark Times (2010).
*Julia Kristeva (professor at the University of Paris). Read her New Maladies of the Soul (1995).
*Hélèn Cixous (professor at-large of Cornell University). Stigmata is a good book to understand Cixous' philosophy.


  1. Carolina L. SantanaJanuary 29, 2014 at 9:27 PM

    The notion of “feminist epistemology” is the most logical and rationally-based viewpoint describing the role of women from a holistic perspective throughout human history. This concept asserts that the circumstances unique to a certain demographic affects what the individual knows and how that knowledge is acquired. Therefore, the only valid judgments and opinions of matters regarding women are those only of women; throughout civilization women have been ascribed certain social roles, responsibilities, and relationships that are specific to their demographic. An individual’s knowledge of the world is based on experiences, which are directly influenced by their immediate surroundings. The suggestion asserting that knowledge can be obtained from experiences then generates the idea that men and women have acquired a different sense of knowledge that was influenced by those factors such as the social norms and boundaries that were coerced upon women. I personally argue that the disparity between men and women is innate (in our nature) because we experience life differently whether it is from a biological, evolutionary or psychological point of view. Therefore, a man who is ascribed the same roles that women have historically been subjected to will still not experience and gather knowledge in the same way that women do. This impression leaves me suspicious of the knowledge that we possess in the entire human experience, in which history is recorded by the victors who are almost always patriarchal bigots.

  2. I feel that many of the students in our class will be able to comprehend that women have been "assigned" certain tasks in society depending on their culture. Who "assigned" these roles? Were the first women of civilizations to assign themselves the role and men have continued to accept it? Or has it been the notion that women have been emotionally and physically oppressed and the men decided for the women? Matters regarding women should not only pertain to men only or women only as input from both genders could vital on certain issues. Women may experience different situations in life where men would infer it differently than the women would. In the Stanford article it was stated that "[Experiences] They affect their attitudes toward their beliefs (certainty/doubt, dogmatic/open to revision)." The doubts about women's role possibly affecting or hindering the MALE SOCIETY may have led for the male to limit the women to certain roles and attributes. This continues to the topic of "masculinity" and "femininity" in social situations. If a male would have more femininity than masculinity in certain societies it could be seen as something negative. Culture and knowledge plays a large role in the degree of rational criticism.

    To be continued...

  3. What's relevant when having a discourse on feminist thought--especially in an epistemological sense--is the axioms that these viewpoints are based on. Especially if we're considering how identity affects both the way knowledge is absorbed and the substance that make up that knowledge. Broadly, a good starting point would be asking the most obvious question: what is a woman? Judith Lorber made it clear in her article analyzing gender "Night to His Day" that "talking about gender for most people is the equivalent of fish talking about water." Notions around gender are so deeply ingrained into both the collective and personal social psyches that rarely is there ever any meaningful discourse discussing what gender--women, hijra, two-spirit, men etc.--means (of course, unless you read a lot of feminist thought). Since this discussion is revolved around feminist epistemology, a good way of understanding it, is by identifying the axiom that frames this discourse. That axiom seems to be a suspiciously undefined idea of what it means to be a woman, and, more specifically, what a woman is. Simone de Beauvoir, a feminist theorist, using the existentialist principal of "l'existence précède l'essence" (existence precedes essence), argues in her book "The Second Gender" that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” This would be a controversial statement to those who believe that there is a inherent "woman-ness" innate in being a woman (by nature? by circumstance?). So, it's difficult to begin this discussion without answering that question, what is a woman? The reason it is hard to define what a woman is, or what being a woman means under de Beauvoir's statement, is that all definitions of women seem a bit fallacious. In fact, by extension, all definitions of any gender seem to be fallacious. If it is decided that a woman is defined by her biology (the presence of a vagina, etc.), that definition could be accused of being oppressive, since that removes the possibility of discourse of either someone who was born female but identifies as male, or someone assigned the gender of a man but identifies with a woman role (these are two different scenarios). If the definition uses societal characteristics of being a woman (kind, motherly, feminine) then it could be said that the definition uses stereotypes that have traditionally oppressed women and that don't define woman as a whole.

    That leaves these questions unanswered, so, what does it mean to be a woman?

  4. I find Rousseau very interesting. I understand why you say that he makes a circular observation when he says “le seule autorite qui d’une multitude puisse faire un people c’est le people,” because it all ends up going back to the people. They have, both, the authority and possibility to create a society. Sovereignty is also inalienable because when directed by la volonte general, the people, then, want and authority and therefore it’ll always be indivisible and inaliénable. I also find it interesting how Kant describes the difference between the idea of wille and Willkür. Which makes me think that without Willkür, wouldn’t it be possible for us to have a “perfect” society? But wouldn’t that also violate our “freedom”? They seem to contradict each other. As far as the paragraphs included on feminist epistemology, I definitely agree that the social location affects an individual in so many ways. If you look into criminology, they also have a very similar theory as to why criminals are the way they are. I’m am not entirely sure of Gilligan’s argument though. I feel that in most cases, you can’t ignoring a child’s gender but there are some where I feel you can. Rousseau’s argument of the legitimacy of is a little odd to me. I find that although when you are born you do not actually consent to their government, you do when you become an adult. In the U.S. legal system, a child under seven years old in not mentally capable of making conscious and correct decisions and, therefore, may not be prosecuted for any crime and even so, you are not seen as an adult until eighteen years old. After that, you have the complete right to make your own choices and leave if you dislike and do not approve of the government. I disagree with that particular argument.

  5. When I first think of Female Epistemology, I think of maybe some innate difference physiologically that would cause this, so I went ahead and tried to find some info on differences in female/male brains, seeing as that that’s where I believe cognition and knowledge arises. Don’t get me wrong I still believe gender roles are mostly societal constructs, but maybe there is also a biological component to all this too. Mans’ brain is on the average bigger 15 – 20% bigger which is a result scientist believe of males usually being larger and taller, yet this does not make larger brain males any more intelligent. The cerebral cortex of women is on the average thicker than males due to women having more grey matter and men more white matter in that area. The hippocampus, a structure involved in memory formation, is on average larger in men than in women, as is the amygdala, which is also involved in memory, as well as emotions. I also found this interesting.
    “Another sexual variation is found in a structure called the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus. The function of this tiny structure is unknown, but research from four different laboratories has repeatedly found that it is almost twice as large in males than in females. It has also been linked to sexual orientation and gender identity: one study showed that it is more than twice as large in heterosexual males than in homosexual males, where it more closely resembles that of women; another found that it is smaller in male-to-female transsexuals, and larger in female-to-male transsexuals. These studies have been criticized for their small sample sizes, and the findings have not been confirmed.”

    So it seems that it is not too far-fetched to believe some of these differences in female/male epistemology might be hard-wired as well as effected by societal roles both genders are pushed into.

    Another interesting bit of info I found online was early research that leads some scientist to believe that brain structure and function change in response to experience. Meaning any observed differences between the brains of men and women could also be due to differences in upbringing and socialization.

    “Decades of research have now shown that substantial changes occur in the lowest neocortical processing areas, and that these changes can profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to experience. Neuroscientific research indicates that experience can actually change both the brain's physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology).”


    So maybe leading women into these roles early in their developmental stages has some sort of physical effect on their brains.

    Edward Delatorre TUE/THUR 9:50

  6. I wanted to talk about two things, one (the first) was spoken of in class, last meeting I think; what would Marx say about women's role in the world, historically and what what would he had said it should have been/be? We didn't really get into it, but I think it would lead into a really interesting talk in class. That is where do women come into play in the whole bourgeois vs proletariat war? Would they be in both camps or solely in the proletariat?
    So Locke would argue that all gov'ts are illegitimate because vast tracts of their populations didn't voluntarily agree to them? Would this mean that all previous laws should be annulled and just reinstated upon complete or democratic compliance? Do we constantly (all generations) get rid of the previous generation's laws in some degree, or do we just change what we don't want and keep what we like as time goes by? Would Locke say that states would thereby be legitimate? Like Jefferson said, "I am increasingly persuaded that the earth belongs exclusively to the living and that one generation has no more right to bind another to it's laws and judgments than one independent nation has the right to command another." Was that Locke's influence?
    -Manny Alonso

  7. I could see why men and women could have different epistemology. I just feel that the Feminist epistemology is borrowed from Marx, where his thoughts have been borrowed and influenced by G.W.F Hegel. Yes, there are differences in the thoughts, but the ideas are sorta the same: the submission to some "master". I do have to agree with the Feminist, that maybe their epistemology is different from men, seeing as that they have been oppressed in almost every society that has existed till now; but I like to believe each human is different. And that we're are not the products of our society. We can be much more.

    Links to Hegel's thought http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master%E2%80%93slave_dialectic

    By Marco Fonseca

  8. Just by taking into observation history, in regards to women, you can see how their body of knowledge has been affected. Women have been oppressed from the longest time into the role of homemaker which is an extremely laborious role. Even if women were more openly able to go to a university and get an education, most of them were already either already so wrapped up in their "womanly role" that they had no time or already saw it as something that a man would strive for. Then, when a women would want to go to a university to be something like a doctor men say they are not fit to be one because women aren't good at math or science. It's such a ridiculous statement seeing as men themselves steered women away from even thinking they could go into that field! This was so much so that the first female doctor in the United States, Elizabeth Blackwell, only came to practice medicine in 1849. That's how extensive the barring of knowledge in regards to gender became.

    Female epistemology does have a biological side, there's no denying that, but the effect that their oppression has had on their way of thinking is way more drastic.

    ~Katherine Davila

  9. I think an interesting aspect of this argument which has not been brought up is the thinning/blurring of the gender separation lines and roles. I think people are starting to become more transparent with their sexuality and more are taking to getting sex changes or admitting to their transsexualism. I think this is interesting because it would seem if women are the proletariat according to Jagger then there would seem to be a transition without a revolution. Those of the "ruling class" are turning and become those subjugated. I suppose the argument could be made that while their sex was male their gender was always female and as such always a member or feeling like a member of the proletariat. I do think that gender does not fit will with Marx's economic theories. They are similar however.
    I also think it is interesting when considering Locke's views of governments in this issue. Just as you can argue that we do not consent to these governments do we consent to our gender roles? I do not think this is possible just as you do not consent to the culture or family to which you were born. So does this not make all gender roles illegitimate? Roles imposed upon us by the higher authority called culture? Knowing this can we possibly attempt to change said roles? It goes back to if we have the ability to escape our culture. I think this is where it truly differs from Marxism. I.E. revolution vs subtle changes.
    -Stefan Petersen

  10. all of this is defiantly riddled with every shade of gray known to man and it makes the man's brain fizzle.

    - daniel soto

  11. Interesting topic of conversation here, one that isn't discussed enough. I have been thinking about what to right and finally decided on something I thought I could relate with. Stephan already touched on it a little bit, bringing up the question what is a woman?
    Bringing to light the topic of sexuality. To start I am tag, just a preface for the questions to follow and so some of you have a general idea of how it fits together.
    For a long time LGBT individuals have been labeled and misunderstood. Right now as I write this I am overwhelmed by the research that must go on in order to begin to understand how the physchy of LGBT people works especially in a relationship.
    People often ask me "who pays when you go on a date?" Or "who is the woman in the relationship?" What? That's the whole being gay thing there is no woman. So then I got to thinking about how these interactions take place, are we all on a level playing field? And I found myself unable to answer most of these questions. I could only think of questions back such as "So you pay because you are the man correct? Well why is that?" I'm sure the average man would be stumped.
    Anyways I'm late on my post and am not sure I made any sense.


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  13. For this subject, I'd like to take a more contemporaneous, political approach. As usual, upon reading my favorite source of public debate, Project Syndicate, I coincidentally, come across Naomi Wolf's latest publication. For those not so familiar with (including myself), Wolf is a leading advocate for the "third-way feminism," accounting for a re-observation of gender and sexuality interpretation -- and, essentially, eradicating the "fragile" and "docile" stereotype designed to women not entirely reinvestigated during the 70s. Coining movements apart, in "India's Women on the March," Wolf expounds the failure of cases of rape and workplace sexual harassment to be publicly scrutinized, simply because they don't go public: "a former law intern who has alleged sexual harassment against retired Supreme Court judge Swatanter Kumar. Incredibly, the Delhi high court took care of one of its own, prohibiting the media from reporting on the case."
    Another recent incident — maybe not so recent anymore — regards women’s inferiority in the educational segment: does it take a bullet? For Malala Yousafzai, it did. Pakistani 14-year old was just a fierce advocate for education for girls, until shot in the shoulder by the Taliban on her way back from school.

    Feminism has gone beyond inherent subversive behavior, professional discrimination, and women's rise in politics. It is not about freedom of speech anymore. The conversation on feminism today revolves around principles long assessed, secured, and imposed in the Declaration of Human Rights:
    a person’s right to life, safety, and, above all, to come and go.

    (Naomi Wolf's full article: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/naomi-wolf-examines-the-inspiring-struggle-against-rampant-sexual-harassment-and-rape)

  14. Femenist have a fought a long battle over the years to get to where they are now. IN todays society we have a preety well balanced community between the females and the males. That could not be said about times before or can it. I think in a way it wasn't that women weren't highly regarded but its juts that society moved along better with the roles they had. In certain cultures, one being native American the women are held to high regards they do much more then the men. All the men were was a form a protection. The women would do everything from preparing food to getting the weapons ready for the men. I really don't think it has to do with men wanting to oppress women since they were first born because if we look at the anamalistic kingdom we kindo of see the same behaviors where the female doesn't have much of a role besides taking care the cubs. Is this because then they think like this or is it simply that maybe that is the role that women were made for and anything they do outside of that is seen as extra.

  15. Over the weekend I found this article published on Slate, which I found rather interesting as it used some statistical data. I found it interesting how it opened up by claiming the estimate of "only 21.9 percent of the tenure-track faculty in 51 philosophy graduate programs were women in 2011." It shows how women overall in this field of expertise do not seem to be interested in. But another approach may be because men have looked down and set women at lower regards. The women are seen as weaker than the men in the atmosphere of debate which also relates in society. The apparent "rough" world which is society in nature is built up by the views of men. Depending on the situation it has been stated by Camille Paglia, "I feel women in general are less comfortable than men in inhabiting a highly austere, cold, analytical space."

    The second article follows up on how societies in general viewed the women inferior. Since the beginning of civilizations women were needed at home because the lack of sophistication in society basically relegated most men and women into the roles that they had as the men had much greater physical power and women were more emotional and caring thus became se to the home power and child-bearer. The setting of level on the genders is not something that men had placed but rather the societal needs and women rightly demanded as they felt useful at the childbearing position.