All of this discussion is essentially about it means to be an ‘I’, a self, and individual. Enlightenment rationalism thought that the ‘I’ was an isolated will, directed by intellect, and randomly and arbitrarily tangled up with unhelpful feelings and physicality. Seeing the individual like this made it possible to argue that we should disentangle ourselves from the constraints which come with embodiment, including social constraints like our allegiance to kings, churches, and custom. The Enlightenment model of the ‘man of reason,’ the ideal human being, was precisely that: a model of a man. Men were seen as rational, intellectual, willing people, and women were identified with emotions and the body. But the problem with this model was that even the men who most embodied this ideal, who were most able to spend their time thinking clever thoughts instead of worrying about what to eat for dinner, were utterly reliant on other people, who would cook for them, clean for them, and get them out of bed on time. The Enlightenment ideal doesn’t work, because ultimately we need each other to live.
Midgley blames Nietzsche, in part: he was skeptical about the possibility that groups of people might arrive at the same rational and moral conclusions, and was pretty grossed out by the idea of community. Nietzsche was neither a socialite nor an extrovert: his philosophical ideal was all about solitary strength, seasoned with a good pinch of misogyny. He couldn’t see that solitude might be just as much a hiding place for weakness as an expression of strength.
The Enlightenment ideal was fine, just as long as women weren’t considered fully human, and were left to all the hierarchical, emotional and biological bits of being human while the men ate their tasty suppers, slept on their clean sheets, and swanned around being free, autonomous, intellectual and creative. The problem now is that some women have noticed that this arrangement isn’t entirely fair on them, and have started pointing it out (cheeky bints). As a result, there are now two political choices: either we start seeing everyone equally as a solitary individual, or we radically rethink the notion of individuality. Midgley thinks that the latter options is better, and that feminism is starting to move in that diraction, but she says that it’s not always clear where it will take us.
In the Enlightenment model, the will was very important: 'reason' consisted of both intellect and will. Today, there’s less emphasis on the will, and more on the scientific intellect: transhumanism, for example, imagines that humanity will continue to exist as disembodied computer-minds.
The problem isn’t just that rational choice is seen as better and more important than the emotions: it’s also that it’s been seen as completely separate from them. This is a pretty crappy account of what it means to be human. Contemporary philosophy is moving towards rejecting this dualism, but it still tends to prefer some sort of ‘materialist’ account which explains human nature as a bunch of physical processes, and usually ignores the body below the neck (where all the fun bits are). Contemporary discussions are all about the relationship between the mind and the brain, or the mind and the physical world as a whole. Human flesh and bones and squidgy bits, not to mention those crucial naughty bits which distinguish men from women and suggest that 'Man' is a poor homonym for 'humankind', are still largely ignored.
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