Helpsheet created for Phi 383W, Spring 2002.

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Helpsheet created for Phi 383W, Spring 2002.

(Some overlap with Spring 2000 Lloyd helpsheet.)
Our selection by Genevieve Lloyd, "The Man of Reason," is from the book of the same name. It is the earlier of the two articles we are reading. In it, Lloyd traces a history of the common association of reason with maleness. While that distinction has been part of the western heritage since Aristotle and before, it is in the 17th century that the "Man of Reason" became a character ideal. Moreover, since reason was now understood as a particular systematic method (much like that of mathematics), and since that sort of reason required training, and since women normally were not allowed access to such training, the character ideal of the "Man of Reason" came to exclude women.

It was René Descartes' work that was most responsible for establishing this idea of methodized reasoning as the ideal. (He wrote his "Discours de la méthode" in 1637.) He wanted to valorize the reasoning of individuals, over against submission to the knowledge-claims of authorities (especially Church authorities). But the very method of systematic reasoning that was intended to free thinkers from authority became an imprisoning restriction on what could count as knowledge.

Other 17th-century philosophers, e.g. Spinoza and Leibnitz, each in his own way challenged the adequacy of Descartes' method of systematic reasoning, but overall, the 17th-century ideal remained that of Descartes' method. And what was that method? It was a combination of two mental operations. First, we start with self-evident "intuitions," clear-cut, discrete ideas that we cannot doubt. Then, step by step, we make a series of necessary deductions (and at the end, we hold the entire series all together in a contemplative gaze).

This new theory of mind and reasoning got laid on top of old, traditional ideas about men being rational and women having at best a different sort of rationality (at worst, having little rational capacity). So once again, males and females were said to have different functions: he, to reason; she, to attend to the sensuous, emotional side of life.

Spinoza's twist on all this is especially interesting. He uses the terms "intuition," "passion" and "emotion" somewhat differently from Descartes. Intuition in Spinoza's sense is actually superior (as he sees it) to methodized reason. As for emotion, it can be positive or negative, depending: passive emotion ("passion") is not good, for it amounts to letting your perceptions be determined by the world around you, the world affecting you. But "active emotion" means clear, detached perception, and is good. The good person is, then (according to Spinoza) the one who perceives clearly. Still, the dominant legacy from the 17th century was Descartes' view.

In the 18th century, the "philosophes" (the popularizers of philosophy associated with the French revolution, and their counterparts in other countries) worked to change the image of reason as a method that would require special training. These were people such as Voltaire and Diderot, who popularized reason and represented it as accessible to the common man (or woman!) The philosophes also rejected the 17th-century devaluation of the passions. For them, the passions are a positive spring or motivation for action.

Reason fared differently in the 19th century, with its Romantic Movement, which exalted in imagination and feeling and regarded them as superior to reason. Since women were still associated with the irrational, this exaltation of imagination and feeling might seem to boost women's interests; actually, however, the tendency instead was to place women on a pedestal--another way of keeping them away from political power. In the 20th century, it became apparent that the Romantic exaltation of the irrational (note: the Romantics conceived imagination and feeling as being in polar opposition to reason)was often sterile, vacuous, even dangerous.

In the 20th century, there have also been some attempts to use the strategy of "expanding" reason rather than repudiating it. Lloyd warns (p.164) that feminist critiques of the 17th-century ideal "Man of Reason" must not fall into the trap of simply becoming a catalogue of the damage done to women in the name of this ideal. Rather, feminist critiques need to clarify how that particular notion of reason impoverishes both men and women.

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