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Philosophy & Religion | Spinoza Symposium


  • Philosophy / Religion
    Fax: 202-885-1094
    Battelle Tompkins, Room 120

    Harshe, Shelley G
    Senior Administrative Assistant

Mailing Address

Spinoza: Feminist Perspectives/Aspects of Embodiment

The Madeline Renee Turkeltaub Memorial Symposium on Ethics

Cosponsored by the Turkeltaub Family Charitable Foundation, Washington Spinoza Society, and the Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University.

Symposium Program

Download: Printable Symposium Program with Participant Bios

Download: Concluding Remarks

(10-minute breaks will be interspersed)

9:00 – 9:45
Hasana Sharp, McGill University
“Eve’s Perfection: Spinoza on Sexual (In)equality”

This paper demonstrates that Spinoza presents two diametrically opposed views on the question of sexual equality. In the Political Treatise, he contends that women are by nature, and not by convention, inferior to men. He further argues that women ought to be excluded from political office due to what amounts to their inability to practice virtue. The fact that women remain under the authority of men prevents them from being able to apprehend and desire their own good, and, by extension, the good of others. Spinoza presents an antithetical portrait of Eve in his peculiar retelling of the Fall in the Ethics. There, Eve’s nature accords perfectly with Adam’s, and their relationship was such that it might have enabled each to desire their own good, and thereby enjoy genuine freedom. Indeed, the perfection that was lost in the episode of the Fall, Spinoza suggests implicitly, was not proper to man, but lay between man and woman. Attention to Spinoza’s version of the story of the garden of Eden reveals the profound importance of the human bond for the enjoyment of freedom, and the possibility that women are not categorically excluded from Spinoza’s vision of virtue.

9:45 – 10:05     
Respondent: Claire Raymond, University of Virginia
Moderator: Colin Marshall, New York University

* * *

10:05 – 10:50  
Paola Teresa Grassi, con_ISMO
“The Eternal Feminine: Spinoza/Goethe”

This presentation will be divided into three parts: an account of Goethe’s reading of Spinoza; the rising and working of the concept of God-Nature in Goethe’s poetical, dramatical and autobiographical production; and Faust’s “eternal feminine/feminal” interpreted in a spinozistic key. Goethe’s Second Faust ends with a quite enigmatic reference to the Eternal Feminine. The Ewig-Weibliche (literally, the “eternal feminal/feminine”) seems not to be meant in the anthropological sense of the Mediterranean Feminine, nor in the sense of a mysterious-esoteric reference. The delightful, but transforming,reading of Spinoza infuses in Goethe’s poetics—that is, an autobiography as well as the building of a philosophy—the seed of what will get the name of God-Nature—that is, the psychological as well as the dramatic version of a Substance, whose modes are momentarily “appearances.”

10:50 – 11:10
Respondent: James Stam, American University
Moderator: Colin Marshall, New York University

* * *

11:20 – 12:05
Sarah Donovan, Wagner College
“Spinoza: Bodies, Difference, and Activity in a Feminist Context”

One must tread lightly when discussing the role of the body in feminist philosophy. Irigaray is one contemporary Continental feminist philosopher who focuses on the manner in which canonical Western philosophers have depicted the female body. Her philosophical critiques of the canon have often been praised, but her discussions about society and politics continue to be controversial. In this essay I return to, and develop, a train of thought that I began in an earlier essay of mine entitled “Rereading Irigaray’s Spinoza.” In that essay I saw Spinoza as an unacknowledged and unclaimed resource for Irigaray’s philosophy of the body. A point touched upon but not developed in that essay revolved around Moira Gatens’ concerns in Imaginary Bodies about Irigaray’s exclusive emphasis on sexual difference in the imaginary. This essay begins with the role of the feminine imaginary, and the operations of mimesis and strategic essentialism that accompany it. I first trace out a line of interpretation of Irigaray’s work that agrees with Gatens’ concerns insofar as it views Irigaray’s later work as breaking from, and threatening to endanger, her earlier, more radical work on the imaginary. Following this, I begin to trace out why feminist interpretations of Spinoza help us to deepen a critique of Irigaray’s exclusive focus on sexual difference by highlighting the respect and cultivation of difference that Spinozistic philosophy provides.

12:05 – 12:30            
Respondent: Lauren Weis, American University
Moderator: Colin Marshall, New York University

* * *

12:30 – 1:30  LUNCH BREAK

* * *

1:30 – 2:15                
James Blair, National Institute of Mental Health
“The Neurobiologies of Morality”

In this paper, I will consider moral reasoning from a neurobiological perspective. I will consider two main issues: First, the importance of the amygdala and orbital frontal cortex in moral judgment and their functional roles; Second, the importance of systems engaged in “Theory of Mind” in moral reasoning. With respect to both, work with patient populations, individuals with psychopathy, neurological lesions, and individuals with autism will be cited to further understand the specificity of forms of moral reasoning and how they may break down.

2:15 – 2:35                
Moderator: Jean Johnson, George Washington University

* * *

2:45 – 3:30                
Heidi Ravven, Hamilton College
“Reviving a Spinozist Model of Embodiment and Moral Agency”

After summarizing the new evidence from the brain sciences that is challenging the standard notion of free will agency, I argue two main points. First, I provide historical evidence that the free will model of moral agency that is still culturally dominant today has its origins in an Augustinian Christian theological anthropology that was secularized (but not fundamentally changed or relinquished) within the course of the standard history of philosophical ethics. Second, building upon what I argue is Maimonides’ radical naturalism, Spinoza’s philosophical anthropology anticipated a biological and systems model of the human person that is only now being confirmed and extended by the neuro- and cognitive sciences. It provides the resources for a revised and scientifically plausible model of moral agency.

3:30 – 3:50                
Respondent: Emilie Connolly, Johns Hopkins University
Moderator: Daniel Spiro, Washington Spinoza Society

* * *

4:00 – 4:45                
Karen Houle, University of Guelph
“How Spinoza’s Metaphysics Subverts Environmental Ethics as an Exercise in the Extension of Moral Standing”

I will speak about the general trend in Environmental Ethics—the bulk of intellectual labour—to try to extend moral standing to non-human entities (animals, plants, ecosystems) and why this effort is fundamentally wrongheaded. It is intellectually self-serving and environmentally (pragmatically) bankrupt. I will make explicit the ontological premises that that recent work presumes, and then contrast those with Spinoza’s metaphysical premises. I will then show how the ethical and political moves or norms that follow from the former do not follow from a Spinozist conception of nature and reality. And I will say what moves or norms do follow from a Spinozist conception and why I think these are true and more environmentally promising.

4:45 – 5:05
Respondent: Brent Adkins, Roanoke College
Moderator: Evan Berry, American University

* * *

5:05 – 5:15
Concluding Remarks* * *

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Monday, February 7, 2011
Butler Board Room
Butler Pavilion 6th Floor
American University
9:00 to 5:15
AU Maps/Directions

Baruch Spinoza


See Participant Bios

Brent Adkins

Evan Berry

James Blair

Emilie Connolly

Sarah Donovan

Paola Teresa Grassi

Karen Houle

Jean Johnson

Colin Marshall

Heidi Ravven

Claire Raymond

Hasana Sharp

Daniel Spiro

James H. Stam

Lauren Weis