[Helpsheet prepared for Phi 383W class, Spring 2000]



Our selection, "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 authorities' knowledge-claims. But the very method of systematic reasoning that was 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 Descartesí 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" and "passion" and "emotion" somewhat differently from Descartes. Intuition in Spinoza's sense is actually superior to methodized reason. Emotion can be positive or negative, depending on the situation--passive emotion ("passion") is not good, for it amounts to letting your perceptions be determined by the world around you, affecting you. But "action emotion" is clear, detached perception, and is good. The good person is, then, the one who perceives clearly. Still, the dominant legacy from the 17th century was Descartes's 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 requiring special training. These were people such as Voltaire and Diderot, who popularized reason, 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 womenís 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--(for 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 been some attempts to use the strategy of "expanding" reason rather than repudiating.

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 he 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.

Our second article by Lloyd, "Maleness, Metaphor, and the ëCrisisí of Reason," was written in 1992, eight years after "Man of Reason." In it, she reflects on the reception of "Man of Reason" within the feminist community. While it was generally well received, it was also criticized. Some readers thought that Lloyd should have clarified the distinction between sex and gender (presumably to say that reason is not specific to the male sex although it has been culturally constructed as proper to the masculine gender). Others thought Lloyd should have clarified the distinction between literal and metaphorical uses of language (presumably to say that the attribution of maleness to reason, or of rationality to males specifically, is a metaphorical but not a literal attribution).

Lloyd uses these criticisms as a way of revisiting the question of the maleness of reason--now in the context of proposals that feminists should accept the maleness of reason but reject the valorization of reason and should, instead, affirm "the feminine." But she also uses these criticisms as an occasion for examining the very function of distinctions. Making conceptual distinctions (such as sex/gender, male/female, literal/metaphorical) is a "symbolic operation." It is something we do, and it is something we do in language, something we do with words and other symbols.

In fact, the main purpose of this article is to examine the symbolic operations that constitute our thinking. Making distinctions is a simple case of a symbolic operation. Metaphor is another, more complex symbolic operation. And, she points out, much of our thinking is made of up complex networks of metaphors interacting with other metaphors.

How does metaphor work? What can we say about the working of metaphor and the other symbolic operations that make up thinking? That is the question she wants to ask first. And then, having looked at that, we can go back and see what perspective that gives us on reason and its relation to sex and/or gender.

Lloyd begins with a new distinction, one taken from the feminist epistemologist Sandra Harding. This is the distinction between structural gender and symbolic gender (p. 289). Structural gender refers to division of labor by gender (the social dimension of structural gender) and to individual gender identity (the individual dimension). Symbolic gender refers to the way in which certain symbolic operations work, the way in which our habit of associating certain concepts with gender works to affect both our individual self-understanding (structural gender) and the content of our philosophical theories. By gendering reason in the symbolic domain (i.e., in discourse and thought), we deeply affect the content both of our personalities and of our theories.

Lloydís task here is twofold. First, she must sort out how structural gender and symbolic gender differ. Then she must explore how they interact. First, differentiate between individual women and symbolic Woman; then, see how symbolic Woman is related to the identities of individual women.

Lloyd begins her exploration of this separation and interaction by turning to the work of the French feminist, Luce Irigaray. Irigaray employs a strategy of reading, thinking, and writing known as "deconstruction," and associated with Jacques Derrida. Irigarary begins with an old construct, an old set of distinctions and associations:

Male                                                                 Female

Reason                                                             Unreason

Distinct units                                                    Lack of boundaries, indeterminacy, fluidity, multiplicity

Discourse                                                         Outside the domain of discourse

Irigaray proceeds to deconstruct this old, familiar construct. She does this by paradoxically, ironically, standing within the Female domain and, from right there, "reading" traditional texts. Of course from that "female" perspective the texts "read" quite differently from the way traditional male discourse has read them. In this way the old construct is discredited. The female domain turns out to be one very rich in symbolic operations, rich in interpretation--not outside the bounds of these activities. It is something to be valued, embraced, valorized. Irigaray names the right-hand column of our schema the "feminine Imaginary."

One might ask, says Lloyd, why we should not simply embrace indeterminacy, fluidity and multiplicity without associating these with the female or feminine? Doesn't that just perpetuate old stereotypes? Derrida and Irigaray insist that "the feminine" as they conceptualize it does not mean an essentialist feminine. (They are not suggesting a fixed, essential nature for women.) They insist that they are not working with the old polarity of male/female. Rather, they have reconceptualized difference: for them, the right-hand column represents a non-polar, non-binary, multiple, indeterminate, fluid sort of difference.

Lloyd is not, however, fully satisfied. She would like a clearer idea of what this new, nonessentialist "feminine" is. She is not so sure that it escapes old polarizing concepts, and therefore is not so sure that feminists ought to embrace the deconstructionist "feminine."

On the other hand, Lloyd sees that simply affirming multiplicity and fluidity without gendering these symbolically--i.e., affirming them and insisting that they are sexually neutral attributes and concepts?is a strategy that has its hazards also. After all, itís not so easy to escape the old polarized gendering of our concepts, our symbols. To claim that multiplicity and fluidity are sexually neutral is, she suggests, to covertly privilege the masculine yet again. After all, it is masculinity that has often, in our symbolic life, been identified with the sexually neutral "human." (E.g., "man" and "he" are the supposedly universal terms.)

In occupying the symbolic domain (the realm of thought, discourse, and non-discursive symbolic forms), we occupy a complex territory where boundaries are more or less firm, items and units are more or less discrete, meanings are more or less determinate. Determinate and indeterminate, discrete and continuous, are inextricably mixed. Thus distinctions such as sex/gender and literal/metaphorical are "unstable." Thus also, we cannot claim that the symbolic gendering of reason (the association of the concepts of reason and maleness) is a product of some one, straightforward metaphor. Rather, it is the product of an entire network of interacting metaphors.

Sometimes, in the western tradition, reason has been associated with maleness, in contrast to emotion's being associated with femaleness. At other times, Reason gets elided with the Soul, to which is attributed sexual neutrality. This, then, contrasts with the Body, to which is attributed sexual differentiation. . . . But then these two metaphorical constructs cross, yielding a third set of associations, namely the associations affirmed by the deconstructionists, Derrida and Irigaray: here, the masculine is associated with sexually neutral Reason, while the feminine is associated with sexual Difference. Now, granted: Derrida and Irigaray read "difference" on the model of multiplicity, not on the model of bi-polarity. Still, Lloyd is somewhat skeptical about the advisability of simply and swiftly affirming the association of difference with the feminine or with the "feminine Imaginary." But to say this is to skip to the end of the essay (p. 300). Let's take a schematic look at the various metaphorical constructs that have operated within the western tradition and still have a shadowy presence in the new deconstructionist metaphors (female = difference, indeterminacy; male = [phallic] unity, determinacy).

I use the following schema to represent Lloyd's claim that the old metaphor of the maleness of reason is "both used and erased" (p. 295) in the deconstructionistsí work:


Structural gender:                                                Body ---------- Soul                                                     (literal meaning)
                                                                                                  /         \
                                                                                   emotion - - - - - - reason
Symbolic gender:                         F. . . . . . vs . . . . M                 


Symbolic2:                                                             Body --------------Soul
                                                                    M/F difference - - - - -sexual neutrality
                                                                              F . . . . . . vs . . . . . . . . . .M                                (embedded metaphor)

What about the section, in this essay, on Descartes' metaphors of the mind in motion (pp. 296 ff.)? Whatís that doing here? Well, remember that this essay is, in part, about how language works, how the "symbolic operations" that make up thinking work. (This goes for both ordinary, everyday thinking and philosophical, scientific, theoretical thinking.) Lloyd is using this section on Descartes less to show us what Descartes thought about the mind (although that's relevant to the topic of the maleness of reason), and more to show us another example of the workings of metaphor. For Descartes, mind is the active principle (opposed to inert matter); mind is motion. And yet motion is a kind of instability. So the goal of reasoning and method is to reach a kind of stable contemplation, a rational intuition that carries with it utter certainty. . . . Now, what Lloyd does with this is to ask whether this idea of "mind in motion" is meant literally or metaphorically; and her conclusion is that there is no clear answer to that. When we make a close study of the idea "mind in motion" (aiming for mind in stable contemplation), we become very clear on the contingency of the metaphor--but that is not to say we could escape the metaphor, or translate it into "what Descartes literally meant." (It may be that "mind in motion" is what he "literally meant.") The distinction literal/metaphorical is here again shown to be unstable?if, that is, we make it out to be a polar opposition rather than merely a contrast.

Returning, finally, from her attention to the symbolic operation of metaphor, to the question of the maleness of reason, Lloyd writes (p. 300):

Feminist rage against narrowly instrumental conceptions of rationality can distract attention from the more subtle operations of sexual symbolism in relation to reason. . . . To some of these symbolic operations, the appropriate response may well e a reevaluation and affirmation of neglected aspects of being human that have traditionally been associated with women. But I remain skeptical about the generalized affirmation of the feminine that has characterized some contemporary feminist critiques of reason.