Below are my notes on Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views by Elizabeth B. Spelman.
How a philosopher conceives of the distinction and relation between soul (or mind) and body has essential ties to how that philosopher talks about the nature of knowledge, the accessibility of reality, the possibility of freedom.
Plato’s Lessons about the Soul and Body
- According to Plato, the body, with its deceptive senses, keeps us from real knowledge; it rivets us in a world of material things which is far removed from the world of reality; and it tempts us away from the virtuous life.
- It is in and through the soul, if at all, that we shall have knowledge, be in touch with reality, and lead a life of virtue. Only the soul can truly know, for only the soul can ascend to the real world, the world of the Forms or Ideas.
- when one is released from the body one finally can get down to the real business of life, for this real business of life is the business of the soul.
- Beauty has nothing essentially to do with the body or with the world of material things. Real beauty cannot “take the form of a face, or of hands, or of anything that is of the flesh.”
- Yes, there are beautiful things, but they only are entitled to be described that way because they “partake in” the form of Beauty, which itself is not found in the material world.
- Attraction to and appreciation for the beauty of another’s body is but a vulgar fixation unless one can use such appreciation as a stepping stone to understanding Beauty itself.
- The kind of love between people that is to be valued is not the attraction of one body for another, but the attraction of one soul for another. There is procreation of the spirit as well as of the flesh.
- The rational part of the soul ought to rule the soul and ought to be attended by the spirited part in keeping watch over the unruly appetitive part; just so, there ought to be rulers of the state (the small minority in whom reason is dominant), who, with the aid of high-spirited guardians of order, watch over the multitudes (whose appetites need to be kept under control).
- If the body gets the upper hand (!) over the soul, or if the irrational part of the soul overpowers the rational part, one can’t have know- ledge, one can’t see beauty, one will be far from the highest form of love, and the state will be in utter chaos.
Plato’s view of the soul and body, and his attitude towards women
- He wants to remind us of how unruly, how without direction, are the lives of those in whom the lower part of the soul holds sway over the higher part.
- Because he can’t point to an adul- teratedsoul, he points instead to those embodied beings whose lives are in such bad shape that we can be sure that their souls are adulterated.
- And whose lives exemplify the proper soul/body relationship gone haywire? The lives of women (or sometimes the lives of children, slaves, and brutes).
- their emotions have overpowered their reason, and they can’t control themselves.
- To have more concern for your body than your soul is to act just like a woman;
- Those men who are drawn by “vulgar” love, that is, love of body for body, “turn to women as the object of their love, and raise a family” (Symposium 208e); those men drawn by a more “heavenly” kind of love, that is, love of soul for soul, turn to other men.
- The problem with physical love between men, then, is that men are acting like women
- Plato also says, in a dialogue called the Meno, that it doesn’t make sense to talk about “women’s virtues” or “men’s virtues,” because virtue as virtue is the same, whether it happens to appear in the life of a woman, a man, or a child.
- [Counterargument]: If we are our souls, and our bodies are not essential to who we are, then it doesn’t make any difference, ultimately, whether we have a woman’s body or a man’s body.
- If the only difference between women and men is that they have different bodies, and if bodies are merely incidental attachments to what constitutes one’s real identity, then there is no important difference between men and women.
- His misogyny, then, is part of his somatophobia: the body is seen as the source of all the undesirable traits a human being could have, and women’s lives are spent manifesting those traits
- a case of psychrophilic somatophobia
Feminism and Somatophobia
- Slaves, free laborers,children,and animals are put in “their place” on almost the same grounds as women are
- It is important for feminists to see to what extent the images and arguments used to denigrate women are similar to those used to denigrate one group of men vis-a-vis another, children vis-a-vis adults, animals vis-a-vis humans,
- For to see this is part of understanding how the op- pression of women occurs in the context of, and is related to, other forms of oppression or exploitation.
- Explicitly de Beauvoir tells us not to be the people men have dreamt us up to be; but implicitly, she tells us to be the people men have dreamt themselves up to be.
- Friedan remarks on the absence, in women’s lives, of “the world of thought and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit.”13 She wants women to be “culturally” as well as “biologically” creative
- Friedan thus seems to believe that men have done the more important things, the mental things; women have been relegated in the past to the less important human tasks involving bodily functions, and their liberation will come when they are allowed and encouraged to do the more important things in life.
- Her solution to what she referred to as the “problem that has no name” is for women to leave (though not entirely) women’s sphere and “ascend” into man’s.
- Friedan could only have meant middle-class white women – seems to require woman’s dissociation and separation from those who will perform the bodily tasks which the liberated woman has left behind in pursuit of “higher,” mental activity.
- But is the way to avoid oppression to radically change the experience of childbirth through technology, as Firestone suggested, and insist that woman not be seen as connected to her body at all, that is, to insist that woman’s “essential self,” just as man’s, lies in her mind, and not in her body?
- The solution, or part of the solution, lies in realizing that whatever the differences there are between women and men, they should not be used to try to justify the unfair distribution of society’s goods.
- assumptions are that we must distinguish between soul and body, and that the physical part of our existence is to be devalued in comparison to the mental
- Of course,these two assumptions alone don’t mean that women or other groups have to be degraded; it’s these two assumptions,along with the further assumption that woman is body, or is bound to her body, or is meant to take care of the bodily aspects of life, that have so deeply contributed to the degradation and oppression of women.
- It has seemed to feminists, she (Adrienne Rich) implies, that we must either accept that view of being female, which is, essentially, to be a body, or deny that view and insist that we are “disembodied spirits.”
- But we don’t have to do that, Rich reminds us; we can appeal to the physical without denying what is called “mind.” We can come to regard our physicality as “resource, rather than a destiny”: