Spinoza: Feminist Perspectives/Aspects of Embodiment: simposio a Washington

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Lunedì 7 Febbraio 2011


9:00 am – 9:45 am Hasana Sharp, McGill University

“Eve’s Perfection: Spinoza on Sexual (In)equality”

This paper will examine Spinoza’s remarks on Eve’s perfect symmetry with Adam in the Garden of Eden. It will then ask whether these remarks call for a reassessment of his insistence on the natural inferiority of women in the final part of the Political Treatise. Although commentators typically note that Spinoza has a dim view of women’s capacities, his characterization of Eve suggests that he was ambivalent about women. Attention to this episode allows us, at least, to question his stated views on women’s relative weakness with respect to men.

9:45 am – 10:05 am Discussion/Respondent

10:05 am – 10:50 am Paola Teresa Grassi, 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 am – 11:10 am Discussion/Respondent

11:20 am – 12:05 pm Sarah Donovan, Wagner College

“Spinoza’s Materialism: Resources for Feminist Philosophers”

Contemporary feminists have taken an interest in materialist readings of Spinoza’s work that demonstrate how he values the body against the seventeenth century norm of prioritizing the mind—without reversing the hierarchy. Feminists have long been interested in debunking the norm that would not only devalue the body, but also associate men with the mind and women with the body. Drawing on my book chapter “Rereading Irigaray’s Spinoza,” I will explain why certain materialist readings of Spinoza ought to be of interest to contemporary feminist philosophers, such as Luce Irigaray, as a reassessment of the value of the body (and, thereby, of the women associated with the body). Irigaray’s rationalist interpretation of Spinoza’s work prevented her from seeing his work as a resource for her own, and I argued that this interpretation is unproductive to her goals. I will extend my analysis here to demonstrate a way in which Spinoza’s work, understood in a materialist vein, will also advance Irigaray’s analysis of how to promote ethical relationships.

12:05 pm – 12:30 pm Discussion/Respondent

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Lunch break

1:30 pm – 2:15 pm Heidi Ravven, Hamilton College

“Did Spinoza Get Moral Psychology Right?”

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.

2:15 pm – 2:35 pm Discussion/Respondent

2:45 pm – 3:30 pm James Blair, National Institute of Mental Health

“The Neurobiologies of Morality”


3:30 pm – 3:50 pm Discussion/Respondent

4:00 pm – 4:45 pm 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 pm – 5:05 pm Discussion/Respondent

5:05 pm – 5:15 pm Concluding Remarks

Moderators/ Respondents:
Emilie Connolly, Johns Hopkins University
Jean Johnson, George Washington University
Colin Marshall, New York University
Daniel Spiro, Washington Spinoza Society
James Stam, American University
Lauren Weis, American University

There will be 10 minute breaks interspersed.

James Blair is Chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr Blair received his Ph.D. in Psychology from University College London in 1993. His primary research interest involves understanding the neuro-cognitive systems mediating affect in humans and how these become dysfunctional in mood and anxiety disorders. His primary clinical focus is in understanding the dysfunction of affect-related systems in youth with specific forms of conduct disorder. His research approach includes techniques employed in cognitive neuroscience (both neuropsychology and functional imaging), psychopharmacology and, more recently, molecular genetics.

Emilie Connolly is a graduate student in the Political Science department at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. She studies Political Theory and is particularly interested in Marx and Spinoza. Her presentation is the product of collaboration with Yitzhak Melamed, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University and a specialist in Early Modern Philosophy and German Idealism.

Sarah Donovan is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wagner College. She received her Ph.D. from Villanova University. Her research interests include social philosophy, feminism, and psychoanalysis.

Paola Teresa Grassi is an organizational consultant for Ismo, where she conducts workshops on practical philosophy. She received her her Ph.D. at Università degli Studi di Padova. Her most recent publication is “Adam and the Serpent: Everyman and the Imagination” in Feminist Interpretations of Benedict Spinoza (Re-Reading the Canon) (Penn State University Press, 2009).

Karen Houle is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, specializing in ethics and in social and political philosophy. She has authored articles on philosophical figures such as Foucault, Spinoza, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, Butler, and Irigaray; and on topics such as friendship, animal perception, abortion, surrogacy, intellectual property, feminism and ownership, politics and pedagogy, and standpoint epistemology. She has been nationally-recognized for her poetry: Ballast (House of Anansi Press, 2001) and During (Gaspereau Press, 2008).
She is a also member of the Canadian “Community of Practice in Ecosystem Approaches to Health.”

Jean Johnson, PhD, RN, FAAN, is the Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences at George Washington University and is responsible for developing numerous health professions programs, including programs for the nurse practitioner, emergency health services and physical therapy. She has provided leadership on national nurse practitioner issues as President of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioners as well as President of the American College of Nurse Practitioners. Dr. Johnson has served on national committees such as the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Primary Care Committee, the Pew-Fetzer Patient Centered Advisory Group, the Health Sector Assembly, The National Capital Area Health Care Coalition, and the Pew Health Professions Commission.

Colin Marshall is Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow at New York University, where he received his Ph.D. in 2010. His research focuses on Kant, Spinoza and metaethics, and he has recently published in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy and in Philosophers’ Imprint.

Heidi Ravven’s training is as an historian of medieval and early modern philosophy. She is an expert on the 17th century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, and on the medieval Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides. She has also published on Jewish feminism and on the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Her work on Spinoza has led her to explore how contemporary neuroscience, especially the neuroscience of the emotions, forces us to rethink what it means for a person to be ethical. Ravven received a four-year grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book titled, What Happened to Ethics? In it, she is investigating the history of the way standard philosophy and Western culture in general approaches ethics, what is wrong about this approach, and how it could be set right. Spinoza’s very different approach to ethics than the standard one is at the heart of this book.

Hasana Sharp is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at McGill University and Secretary General of the Society for Social and Political Philosophy. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Pennsylvania State University. Her current research explores the ethical and political implications of Spinoza’s categorical denial of human uniqueness with respect to the rest of nature, especially in how a rejection of the opposition between humanity and nature transforms feminist and anti-racist politics.

Daniel Spiro is the author of two novels of ideas, Moses the Heretic (Aegis Press, 2008) and The Creed Room (Aegis Press, 2006). For eight years, he has also served as the Coordinator of the Washington Spinoza Society, a discussion group sponsored by the Goethe-Institute Washington. He has published works on the role of religion in public schools and the philosophy of education, and regularly blogs under the name “Empathic Rationalist.” When not pursuing his love of philosophy and religion, he works as a Senior Trial Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he specializes in fighting health care fraud.

James H. Stam is a Scholar-in-Residence at American University, teaching courses in the history of philosophy and logic. He has previously taught at Upsala College, Monmouth University, and Drew University. He was educated at Upsala College, the University of Vienna, and Brandeis University. Among other publications, his Inquires into the Origin of Language
appeared in the Studies in Language series edited by Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle (Harper & Row, 1976).

Lauren Weis is an Assistant Professor at American University. Her research focuses on critiques of the Western metaphysical tradition articulated by feminist theorists, as well as how the philosophical approach of twentieth century thinker Bernard Lonergan helps to clarify the relevance of metaphysical thinking to feminist theory. She is also interested in the notion of epistemic authority and the ethical challenges related to questions of belief, trust, and judgment.

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