University Of Tasmania
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Creating an ethics of sexuate difference : looking at the philosophies of Luce Irigaray and Hannah Arendt together in order to develop new foundations for the future of feminist theory

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posted on 2023-05-28, 08:55 authored by Picone-Wightman, NS
The western world, though exceedingly privileged in a myriad of ways, nevertheless gives rise to a culture that is an ill fit for many of its inhabitants. In fact, not being tailored to any one person's measurements, it is arguably to varying extents an ill fit for all. When viewed through the neoliberalist lens so popular in the west, it may appear that the constrains of western culture simply boil down to the restrictions placed on one's freedom in order that they do not impinge on the freedom of others - a necessary requirement in any highly populated, functioning society, and certainly, in my view, an ethically desirable one. However, if we can manage to step outside the reigning paradigms of western thought for a moment, we are afforded an entirely different view. It becomes clear that the necessary limitations on one's freedom are not the cause of any perceived cultural disaffection. Rather, as we shall see, they are part of its remedy. The actual problem is something so insidious that it is difficult to grasp even when facing it head on and, thus, almost impossible to name. Oppression would seem to be the term best suited to the phenomena, yet even this term is too ambiguous in nature to allow us to properly get a handle on what we are experiencing. In other words, the circumstances of oppression peculiar to the west so deeply immerse its inhabitants that they lack the clarity of distance required to adequately see it, let alone satisfactorily name it. Arguably, however, they feel it. I believe that we in the west are in the grip, whether tightly or loosely, of a multi-faceted oppression which, regardless of what shape it takes, comprises at its core an unequal power structure where, basically stated, one gains their benefit and growth at the expense and diminishment of another. And though this situation, wherein we are qualitatively categorised as either a majority or a minority ‚Äö- i.e., as either more or less human ‚Äö- is the subject of extensive, expertly researched and deeply thought out theory, especially within many of the feminist strands of philosophy, I imply its ongoing namelessness because its root causes are still not adequately recognised within mainstream western philosophies. Or, in other words, though there are substantial, invaluably complex and enlightening bodies of theory pertaining to western oppression, much of this work remains at the periphery of western philosophical interest. In trying to draw such theory towards the centre of the western philosophical cannon, I have chosen to focus on certain key concepts within the respective philosophies of Luce Irigaray and Hannah Arendt as, for me, they are especially illuminating. And this only intensifies when the work of these two thinkers is brought together within the one theoretical framework. That is, by drawing on certain key concepts within Arendt's and Irigaray's bodies of work, I propose to construct a particular kind of feminist ethics. To here explain my understanding of ethics, I see ethics as the way we choose to conduct ourselves among the other people, living creatures, ecosystems, plant-life, etc. with whom we share the planet. I seek to reinforce a feminist ethics wherein each person shapes their conduct by according all other persons with intrinsic human worth, valuing human differences, maintaining a gratitude for the sheer givenness of life and upholding a respect for the earth. Moreover, as I understand the two cornerstones of current world crises to be identified in Irigaray's work on the male symbolic order of the west, and in Arendt's work on the widespread suppression of human uniqueness, I have chosen these aspects of each thinker's philosophy to construct the feminist ethics I am seeking to achieve. Accordingly, what I propose to achieve in this thesis is to use the existing basic framework of thought which places at is centre the unequal power dynamics characteristic of the west and bring firmly within its boundaries certain combined tenets of the philosophies of Luce Irigaray and Hannah Arendt respectively. Namely, I will focus on Luce Irigaray's theory of sexuate difference 1 and Hannah Arendt's theory of human plurality in order to reveal that western oppression, irrespective of what form it takes, has its roots in a cultural practice that ab initio conceptually erases the female sex and, in turn suppresses the fact of each person's irreplaceable and invaluable uniqueness. In other words, my focus will be on analysing a limited number of key concepts within each thinker's work, most notably sexuate difference and plurality. Thus, it is not my intention to engage their work as a whole. Rather it is my intention to engage with only those elements of each thinker's thought that I deem most important for a feminist ethics, and which could be brought into dialogue with each other, for example bringing Arendt's earth/world concepts into dialogue with Irigaray's nature/culture concepts. Further, as I am seeking to construct a feminist ethic, I have chosen to lead my analysis with the work of Irigaray as the feminist thinker. Through this kind of analysis, we shall see that such oppression is not innate to the human condition, nor to the western world. It can be otherwise. It is ethically desirable that it be otherwise.


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