Presenter Information

Maja Pellikaan-EngelFollow

Start Date

26-6-2010 10:45 AM

End Date

26-6-2010 11:45 AM

Description

This presentation is part of the Feminist Discourse and Philosophical Traditions track.

In this lecture, I would like to give an overview of the ideas presented in my study Calypso’s Recipe: On Biased Traditions in Philosophy. The book presents my view of a number of famous classical texts, a view that evolved over the decades between my student days and my position as a lecturer of classical languages. Reading as a woman, I have developed a perception of some classical texts that is fundamentally different from the standard.

Homer is a good illustration in point. He is the first author in the history of our western civilization to make a case for feminism. He presents this case in the Odyssey, which is the oldest work in Greek literature alongside the Iliad. In this epic tale Odysseus spends ten years away from home to fight the Trojan War, only to take as much time to return to his wife, Penelope. His return journey is a series of adventures. These include a seven-year period of living with the goddess Calypso, after which the gods decide that she should free him to go home. Zeus sends Hermes, messenger of the gods, to her with the decree. On hearing it, Calypso trembles with rage:

Cruel are you, you gods, and quick to envy above all others, seeing that you begrudge goddesses that they should mate with men openly, if any takes a mortal as her own bedfellow.

While this reaction is emotional, Calypso follows with a line of reasoning that is both rational and presents an extraordinary criticism for the time. She attacks the double standards that begrudge goddesses the freedom to mate with mortal men, while the gods engage in all too many affairs with mortal women – especially Zeus.

Despite her arguments, however, Calypso decides to release Odysseus. When she informs Odysseus of her decision, she has already a full plan of action. She advises him to build a ship and she herself will supply all the necessary provisions. Initially distrustful, Odysseus makes her swear an oath to the sincerity of her intentions. She complies on the spot. Calling on heaven, earth and the underworld as her witnesses, Calypso reassures him and concludes her oath by saying:

But I am only thinking of and shall ponder on what I should devise for myself, if I were in your straits; for my mind is righteous and the heart in this breast of mine is not of iron, but has compassion.

Though the simplicity of her words evokes more an image of a homemaker’s recipe than a moral stand based on principles - Homer presents a Calypso, who bases her moral actions explicitly on the collective working of her mind and heart, her reason and her empathy. She turns out to be a kind and intelligent woman with a highly developed moral sense, rather than the egoistic sex bomb as she is commonly viewed. Calypso’s condemnation of the double standard and her view that rationality and empathy together form the basis op proper moral conduct sound surprisingly modern.

In subsequent chapters of Calypso’s Recipe, the double standard is found to be taken for granted by a number of well-known authorities on ethics such as Socrates, Cicero, Seneca and Augustine. These philosophers give rationality a central place, with little or no room left for empathy. They laid the foundations for the one-sided views in the history of philosophy in which, even today, women are disregarded, or at best granted a minor role. It is high time we put an end to these biased traditions in philosophy and start to pay attention to the insights of women philosophers, from early champions of equal rights, such as Hipparchia and Olympe de Gouges, to present day thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir and Martha Nussbaum.

Hipparchia in particular seems to me to deserve a separate introduction. She is an intriguing Greek philosopher from the late fourth century BC. She came from a good family, but against her family’s wishes she gave up her comfortable life, took off her fashionable clothes, dressed in rags and joined a group of philosophers led by the cinic Crates. She lived around the same time as Aristotle. This authority in Greek philosophy based his ideas on a fundamental inequality of human beings; he believed that due to naturally inherent properties all men were superior to all women, and that certain men were superior to certain other men. He regarded all slaves as inferior but drew a distinction between those who had become slaves through circumstance, through being prisoners of war for example, and those who were slaves by nature; these he regarded as the lowliest type of human being, referring to them as to andrapodon,’ the human-footed creature’. Considering that Hipparchia, barefoot and clothed in rags, put herself in the position of these most despised of human beings and demonstratively proclaimed that all human beings are fundamentally equal, you might think that an honourable mention of her name and her opinions might have made it into philosophy books. Quod non.

In the history of philosophy it often turns out that words like ’mankind’ and ‘human beings’ actually referred only to men and that women were excluded from philosophical discourse. At present the academic world is no longer the exclusive domain of men. The integration of women into academic philosophy, however, is a laborious process. It has become quite clear that in reality double standards have been applied all too often throughout the history of philosophy. The monoculture of rationality which has been predominant there is being challenged and more attention is being paid to the positive value of emotions. On this score, Nussbaum’s oeuvre marks a turning-point in philosophical thought. The idea that emotions actually imply value judgements is in her books amply illustrated by philosophical and literary texts, both old and recent. Nussbaum makes a strong case for using human feelings of empathy and compassion as a basis for morally responsible citizenship. In fact, this is Calypso’s recipe dished up at a contemporary academic table.


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Jun 26th, 10:45 AM Jun 26th, 11:45 AM

Calypso’s Recipe: On Biased Traditions in Philosophy

This presentation is part of the Feminist Discourse and Philosophical Traditions track.

In this lecture, I would like to give an overview of the ideas presented in my study Calypso’s Recipe: On Biased Traditions in Philosophy. The book presents my view of a number of famous classical texts, a view that evolved over the decades between my student days and my position as a lecturer of classical languages. Reading as a woman, I have developed a perception of some classical texts that is fundamentally different from the standard.

Homer is a good illustration in point. He is the first author in the history of our western civilization to make a case for feminism. He presents this case in the Odyssey, which is the oldest work in Greek literature alongside the Iliad. In this epic tale Odysseus spends ten years away from home to fight the Trojan War, only to take as much time to return to his wife, Penelope. His return journey is a series of adventures. These include a seven-year period of living with the goddess Calypso, after which the gods decide that she should free him to go home. Zeus sends Hermes, messenger of the gods, to her with the decree. On hearing it, Calypso trembles with rage:

Cruel are you, you gods, and quick to envy above all others, seeing that you begrudge goddesses that they should mate with men openly, if any takes a mortal as her own bedfellow.

While this reaction is emotional, Calypso follows with a line of reasoning that is both rational and presents an extraordinary criticism for the time. She attacks the double standards that begrudge goddesses the freedom to mate with mortal men, while the gods engage in all too many affairs with mortal women – especially Zeus.

Despite her arguments, however, Calypso decides to release Odysseus. When she informs Odysseus of her decision, she has already a full plan of action. She advises him to build a ship and she herself will supply all the necessary provisions. Initially distrustful, Odysseus makes her swear an oath to the sincerity of her intentions. She complies on the spot. Calling on heaven, earth and the underworld as her witnesses, Calypso reassures him and concludes her oath by saying:

But I am only thinking of and shall ponder on what I should devise for myself, if I were in your straits; for my mind is righteous and the heart in this breast of mine is not of iron, but has compassion.

Though the simplicity of her words evokes more an image of a homemaker’s recipe than a moral stand based on principles - Homer presents a Calypso, who bases her moral actions explicitly on the collective working of her mind and heart, her reason and her empathy. She turns out to be a kind and intelligent woman with a highly developed moral sense, rather than the egoistic sex bomb as she is commonly viewed. Calypso’s condemnation of the double standard and her view that rationality and empathy together form the basis op proper moral conduct sound surprisingly modern.

In subsequent chapters of Calypso’s Recipe, the double standard is found to be taken for granted by a number of well-known authorities on ethics such as Socrates, Cicero, Seneca and Augustine. These philosophers give rationality a central place, with little or no room left for empathy. They laid the foundations for the one-sided views in the history of philosophy in which, even today, women are disregarded, or at best granted a minor role. It is high time we put an end to these biased traditions in philosophy and start to pay attention to the insights of women philosophers, from early champions of equal rights, such as Hipparchia and Olympe de Gouges, to present day thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir and Martha Nussbaum.

Hipparchia in particular seems to me to deserve a separate introduction. She is an intriguing Greek philosopher from the late fourth century BC. She came from a good family, but against her family’s wishes she gave up her comfortable life, took off her fashionable clothes, dressed in rags and joined a group of philosophers led by the cinic Crates. She lived around the same time as Aristotle. This authority in Greek philosophy based his ideas on a fundamental inequality of human beings; he believed that due to naturally inherent properties all men were superior to all women, and that certain men were superior to certain other men. He regarded all slaves as inferior but drew a distinction between those who had become slaves through circumstance, through being prisoners of war for example, and those who were slaves by nature; these he regarded as the lowliest type of human being, referring to them as to andrapodon,’ the human-footed creature’. Considering that Hipparchia, barefoot and clothed in rags, put herself in the position of these most despised of human beings and demonstratively proclaimed that all human beings are fundamentally equal, you might think that an honourable mention of her name and her opinions might have made it into philosophy books. Quod non.

In the history of philosophy it often turns out that words like ’mankind’ and ‘human beings’ actually referred only to men and that women were excluded from philosophical discourse. At present the academic world is no longer the exclusive domain of men. The integration of women into academic philosophy, however, is a laborious process. It has become quite clear that in reality double standards have been applied all too often throughout the history of philosophy. The monoculture of rationality which has been predominant there is being challenged and more attention is being paid to the positive value of emotions. On this score, Nussbaum’s oeuvre marks a turning-point in philosophical thought. The idea that emotions actually imply value judgements is in her books amply illustrated by philosophical and literary texts, both old and recent. Nussbaum makes a strong case for using human feelings of empathy and compassion as a basis for morally responsible citizenship. In fact, this is Calypso’s recipe dished up at a contemporary academic table.