Friday, May 18, 2007

Plato v. Aristotle

'Plato did indeed hold in the Phaedo that mental life would be much better if the bodily appetites could be put to one side insofar as possible - though even he did not maintain this position with absolute consistency...Aristotle, on the other hand, held that someone who was insensible to the full range of the bodily pleasures would be "far from being a human being."'

- Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice, 128

whew, cheers Aris!

Cool, I was just reading Nussbaum too, having obsessed over her for the past six months. I'm finding a disconcerting pattern of her claiming support from Aristotle for whatever she likes and from Plato for what she doesn't. But she found herself trying to get Plato to say the opposite in her infamous testimony in that American sodomy case. Daniel Mendelsohn (sp?) has an article about it somewhere.
wait wait wait, i'm coming to that chapter and then i'll have something to say! btw, her sparring partner in that infamous sodomy case - finnis - is at univ.
ok I am realising as I go along that I am not going to be able to adjudicate the Plato v. Aristotle stuff, since I don't know enough about either. But I will say that Nussbaum is one of my favourite political theorists. I'm impressed by lots of things - the championing of cosmopolitanism (against some particularly vicious attacks from within the American academy - see the collection entitled 'For Love of Country'), the deep engagement with problems in the real world (much as I hate that phrase, the linguistic turn in some recent postcolonial theory has jerked me into the realisation that there is such a thing as a real materialist world and that discourse isn't everything), the extensive use of empirical evidence, the willingness to learn from Andhra Pradesh High Court judgments as much as from the 'great' classics, the breadth of her competence - too broad some would say, but I can't help but warm towards somebody who insists that philosophy demands combining Kant with DH Lawrence, or Catherine MacKinnon with Virginia Woolf. A lot of the early chapters in Sex and Social Justice have been commonsensical, ordinary, occasionally almost plodding. But she's saying important things persuasively. And on the gay thing, she's on our side. We need people like her. (I also wanted her to be my examiner, but alas, that has not been possible.)
Hah, I am so pleased I have finally got you reading Sex & Social Justice. And while the first few chapters are, perhaps, commonsensical, I also see them as a bracing response to a big array of rather shallow assumptions about these issues--perhaps even more needed back in the 90s when she wrote this. In a sense, we're not really the intended audience for some of that material--we're already on board. But she's persuasive to a lot of those who weren't, and that's damn necessary work to be doing.

I have assigned the Objectification chapter--which is possibly the only academic article I'm aware of that cites both Kant and a book called "Macho Lesbian Sluts"--for seminar next week. We are also reading Leslie Green on gay porn, and Amy is bringing a book with naked posey photos of the French rugby team.

Nakul, welcome to the Martha obsession club. We gots issues.
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