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Feminism and the Problem with “Human Rights”

One of the interesting things about the feminist movement (taken broadly of course, obviously everything I’m about to say here will be something of a generalization) is the way in which it has linked its program of gender equality to the Western liberal tradition of human rights. If all human beings have innate rights, then, clearly they should be not inhibited by anyone. Thus there should be no societal discrimination between men and women as both are persons and therefore entitled to the same rights.

This alliance between advocates of gender equality and the Western liberal tradition is a curious one if we stop and consider the genealogy of the language of human rights. The notion of human rights is irreducibly located in the enlightenment notion of a person, which Vinoth Ramachandra helpfully defines as “an independent, solitary will, lodged in an unsatisfactory body not of its choosing and entering into voluntary, contractual relations with other wills based on mutual benefit.” It is this autonomous subject that the Western liberal tradition puts forth as the bearer of human rights. However, it is important to note that “This rational, independent, self-legislating will is always identified with the male, while the fickle passions associated with the body with the female.”

The phrase “all men are created equal” is not empty sloganeering! The subject of human rights discourse in the Western liberal tradition is precisely the male subject defined over against the female. Rousseau, who by the way was dependent on the patronage of a rich woman, claimed that “Woman is made to submit to man and even to endure injustice at his hands.” In his book, Emile (on education), he argued that “girls should early be accustomed to restraint, because all their life long they will have to submit to the most enduring restraints, those of propriety. . . . They have, or ought to have, little freedom. . . . As a woman’s conduct is controlled by public opinion, so is her religion ruled by authority. . . . Unable to judge for themselves, they should accept the judgment of father and husband as that of the church.”

Ramachandra rightly notes the radical disparity between this language, coming from the mouth of an enlightenment philosopher and that of the  villainous chauvinist, the Apostle Paul. For Rousseau a woman’s “dignity depends on remaining unknown; her glory lies in her husband’s esteem, her greatest pleasure in the happiness of her family.” For Paul, however, “the husband does not have authority of his own body, but his wife does” (1 Cor 7:4). It is quite ironic how much disparity can be found between the much-tauted religious bigotry and patriarchy of the Apostle Paul and the liberal discourse of human rights issuing from the enlightenment. No statements comparable to Paul’s about the wife’s authority over the body of her husband can be found anywhere else in the history of literature. Whatever other ambiguities there may be in our attempts to interpret Paul’s writings on men and women, this is surely a pretty significant point, especially when contrasted with the blatant sexism of Rousseau, to whom the whole discourse of human rights is indebted.

The point of all this is that, ironically enough, the views of women encoded into the enlightenment’s discourse of human rights have more in common with the Taliban than with any alleged Pauline chauvinism. The quest for “equal rights” is quite misguided if we allow the Western liberal tradition to continue to define the content and language of human rights. What we cannot have and do not need and should not want are “human rights” that cast us all in the role of the autonomous self-determining monad. The Western liberal tradition of human rights cannot eventuate gender equality, let alone reconciliation because encoded into its very fabric is an understanding (and practice!) of personhood that is violent, exploitative, selfish, and nihilistic. Thus, the only way for there to be any genuine liberation, equality, and communion between human beings is for all of us to reject the demonic fabrication that masquerades under the title of “human rights.”


  1. Halden wrote:

    Please note, all of this post, including the source for the Rousseau quotes, is highly endebted to Vinoth Ramachandra’s Subverting Global Myths, p. 98-99. You should all buy that book and read it. Honestly I don’t really think I have an original thought in this post.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  2. adamsteward wrote:

    I concur wholeheartedly!

    I think there is a great deal in what you have said here which bears strong echoes to J. Kameron Carter, too. So often, operating within that enlightenment anthropology, it seems that the big outrage hasn’t been that the definition of a human was flawed, but rather that women were excluded by social forces from fitting that definition. So then the content of liberation was seen as getting women to the place where they, too, could be articulate, reasonable, and powerful agents in their world. But the whole power structure that determines what actually constitutes a liberated human was actually left in place.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Exactly. Everything said here about gender and rights could also be said about race and rights. The subject of Rousseau was not only male, but very clearly white.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  4. mike d wrote:

    I think this is the second time in a fairly short period that I’ll be quoting Wolterstorff at length here but I’m beginning to think the he is someone that you should be reading Halden.

    The common narrative that human rights language is solely a product of the secular enlightenment (and not only that but now we’ve narrowed it down to Rousseau specifically!) is a perspective that is insufficiently historically informed and is one that hasn’t grappled with a theological understanding of legitimate claim and rights talk. Wolterstorff:

    “As the result of recent work by some legal historians of the medieval period, especially Brian Tierney and Charles Reid, and by some legal historians of the Reformation period, especially John Witte, we now know that the common narrative concerning the origin of the idea of natural rights is plainly false. Witte has shown that the idea of natural rights was in common use among writers in various branches of the Protestant Reformation especially the Reformed; the claim that the idea originated with the supposedly secular Enlightenment political thinkers is plainly false. And Tierney and Reid have shown that the canon lawyers of the twelfth century were self-consciously employing the idea of natural human rights; the claim that the idea originated with Ockham in the fourteenth century is also plainly false. I trust that no one will claim that the twelfth century canon lawyers were infected with possessive individualism, or that the Reformers were.

    I think the evidence points to the conclusion that the twelfth century lawyers were the first to articulate and self-consciously employ the concept of natural human rights. But now let’s take a next step. It’s quite possible for someone to recognize what you and I would conceptualize as natural human rights without himself conceptualizing it that way, without himself formulating and employing the concept. We don’t conceptualize everything that we recognize. So when one is told that the twelfth century canon lawyers were the first to conceptualize natural human rights, the natural question to ask is whether there are indications that such rights were nonetheless recognized before the twelfth century.”

    He’ll go on to argue that rights find an infancy in the in the Church Fathers and further back in the Scriptures.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Mike, Ramachandra interacts with Wolterstorff in the chapter in question, so perhaps you’d be interested in reading it. But, what source are you quoting, just in case it’s something else?

    Also I didn’t mean to “reduce” the notion of human rights to Rousseau’s view, merely to indicate that they are conceptually linked. As is the connection between the rise of Protestantism and the Enlightenment. If Wolterstorff’s point about the language of rights originating in the Reformed tradition is correct, that would seem to indict the Reformed tradition rather than exonerate the language of rights.

    And if they can be traced back to Ockham, that’s even worse. Ockham is one of those guys I don’t think we want on our side.

    Moreover, the question for us is not how the language of rights might have once been deployed in an acceptable way, the question is what the language actually means in actual use today. On that score I think the way Ramachandra defines the Enlightenment idea of the autonomous self is pretty determinative for how human rights are understood in today’s world. Of course then question is whether or not we try to reclaim the language and imbue it with new meaning or discard it. I think perhaps you and I might make different decisions about that.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
  6. mike d wrote:

    That quote is from a talk entitled Can Human Rights Survive Secularization?; link below. Though his thought on justice and rights and specifically his use of Tierney and others can be found in many recent articles and lectures and (presumably) most thoroughly in his recent book Justice: Rights and Wrongs (though I should admit that I haven’t gotten around to reading that yet). If you’re interested in some decent places to look let me know and I can email you some.

    I think you might have slightly misread the quote. His point was that rights talks pre-dates Ockham – not the they can be traced back to him. Just the opposite really.

    I think its interesting that in the notes in Ramachandra’s book (those Amazon previews are great) he mentions that he is greatly indebted to Wolterstorff’s work on justice. Since Wolterstorff’s account of justice is unmistakably rights based I would have to think that Ramachandra is not advocating the dispelling of rights talk in any way. I would think he is interested in recovering/providing a theistic understanding of them. Is that right?

    “Of course then question is whether or not we try to reclaim the language and imbue it with new meaning or discard it. I think perhaps you and I might make different decisions about that.”

    This is definitely right. Or mostly right – its not so much imbuing it with new meaning but rather recovering the thick moral and social understanding of rights that are at their heart. Since I think that there really are natural rights I would want to go that route rather then attempt to purge our vocabulary.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Yes, Ramachandra does seek to present an alternative theological way of conceiving human rights. I didn’t mean to imply that he sought to do away with the language completely. What he (and I) are trying to do is debunk the mythology that informs how we currently construe rights. And the fact of the matter is that the modern discourse of rights is informed almost exclusively by enlightenment notions of human freedom. Certainly there are theological antecedents for that, but the issue is whether or not those antecedents are something to be celebrated or repented of.

    For my part I’m not sure that the language of rights is even worth saving, but that’s just my view. If we are created ex nihilo, then ultimately I think we haven’t got a “right” to anything. Everything we have is gift. Of course, our ways of withholding gifts from others are what constitute sin and evil, or what is commonly talked about as “human rights violation.” But from my angle what is at issue there is not that someone is being deprived privileges they are entitled to by virtue of being human. Rather what is happening is that the divine gifts which God gives us are being disrupted and withheld from some by others. Ultimately we have no “right” to anything since being is purely a gift of grace. That’s why I don’t want to hang onto the language of rights, even though I probably share a lot of the priorities of someone like Wolterstorff.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  8. adamsteward wrote:

    First of all, demonization is boring, and we have enough of it going on at the RNC right now. Occam is great – like any of us he was blind to plenty of things, took some of his positions to absurd extremes, and so forth, but no Occam, no Luther. I’ll take nominalism over scholasticism any day!

    But on to Mike’s point, I think the relevance of specifically the Enlightenment in the genealogy of human rights is not so much that they upheld human rights, or were the first to do so, but why they felt humans deserved rights. Surely Christians have believed for a long time that strangers ought to be shown hospitality, but they were convinced of this for strictly theological reasons, namely that they saw in others the image of the same Creator, and that their enemies were potential brothers for whom Christ died. What is novel about the enlightenment is that rights move from this gifted way of thinking about them to a natural, inherent possession (and by “natural” here I mean a nature conceived in abstraction from its specific relation to the Word in whom it and all things subsist). This forced the language of rights to depend on things that where supposed to be shared by all humans everywhere, most often the capacity of reason. The ground quickly becomes the goal, though, and so it goes that we create ourselves in our own image, and in our haste to preserve the dignity of all, we end up excluding from our world of rights all those who don’t fit our image of a human (Foucault, to my knowledge, is the best at talking about this phenomenon, especially in Madness and Civilsation).

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Nominalism isn’t any less scholastic. But the real problem for me is Ockham’s voluntarism. When you say that the Word could have become incarnate as a donkey or a stone, that’s kind of a big deal.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  10. adamsteward wrote:

    Occam’s only point there was that there are no constraints upon God external to God’s self. Seems fair enough to me.

    I don’t know what you mean by scholastic there. Clearly Biel and Anselm had different ways of going about things.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    No scholastic would dispute that God is not constrained by something outside of God’s self. The difference is far deeper. For the scholastics, God is “constrained” by his nature. Thus God can’t make square circles or endorse torturing babies. Ockham went further by claiming that God is not constrained by anything other than his decree. For him God could just as easily have made square circles or decreed baby torturing a moral good. Hence the arbitrary voluntarism that is such a problem. It’s a radically different understanding of divine freedom than that offered by Aquinas for example.

    What I meant by scholastic is really just that both the Franciscans and the Dominicans were equally rationalistic in the way they applied their philosophical logic to their respective tasks.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  12. adamsteward wrote:

    I’m thinking of scholasticism vs. nominalism in the sense of how do you answer the question, “do universals exist?”

    How is God’s decree something separate from his being?

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    For Ockham God’s decree was perfectly voluntary, it was in no sense coterminous with God’s being. It’s just what God happens to have chosen and he could have just as easily chosen something else.

    You and I of course don’t buy that sort of separation of God’s act from God’s being, but that’s exactly what Ockham did and that’s why its so dangerous.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Permalink
  14. adamsteward wrote:

    No, I don’t think Ockham separated the two, because if God had decreed otherwise, then God would be some other God. Ockham is not trying to speculate on some pre-existence of God. He is simply trying to situate us as creatures who do not have the right or the resources to be able to project their expectations for what sort of a God they ought to have.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  15. adamsteward wrote:

    Sorry, I ought to have have said “there would be some other God.” I don’t mean to imply any sort of ontological continuity between our God Immanuel and some other God of a different decree.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    I think you’re being far too generous with Ockham. I agree that he’s trying to do a good thing, namely trying to dispel notions of what God “must” be like that we derive from some source other than revelation. But he ends up falling way too far off on the other side. Ockham defines God’s freedom solely as God’s unconstrained ability to chose quite literally any way of being God.

    And I don’t think its true that for him if God had decreed differently God would be a different God. That’s why he claims that Christ could have saved the world by becoming incarnate as a rock. That claim seems to clearly imply that salvation would still be salvation, Christ would still be Christ, God would still be God, but it could have all been done different if God had wanted. Act and being remain pried apart because God’s act must always be completely voluntaristic, not necessitated, even by God’s own nature.

    Thus, God could have been God if God had decreed and acted differently than God has. If that is true then God’s being and act cannot be coterminous because God’s act, for Ockham is not derived from God’s being or nature, but simply from his decree which is absolutely free in a voluntaristic sense. One could say that given that God has made this decree God is this particular God, but that implies a whole notion of temporal succession that Ockham wouldn’t have countenanced.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  17. adamsteward wrote:

    You may be right that I’m being too generous, but I don’t think either of us are really in the position to tell, since we haven’t actually read Ockam. We’re just dealing with what we think he would have meant based on our understanding of Ockhamism, so it’s probably best that we leave that debate.

    I’m just saying that the notion of the contingency of the world as we have found it is crucial, and that we have Ockham to thank in large part for it. I think that, in general, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors to dismiss out of hand any thinker that has been so hugely influential with so many people smarter than us. There must be some reason why they were so influential, and we ought to do our best to understand that reason. Otherwise we’re just swaddling ourselves in the security blankets of what we already know to be the case.

    But specifically, Luther himself said “I AM AN OCKHAMIST.” Luther understood Christianity much better than I do, so I’m holding out that there’s something to that.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:26 am | Permalink
  18. Andy wrote:

    I recommend taking a look at the lecture Rowan Williams gave at the LSE in May:

    To quote from the blurb:

    Dr Williams responds specifically to the challenge laid down by Alasdair McIntyre to find a language, or ethics, for human rights which is robust enough to resist moral relativism on the one hand and political utility on the other.

    If McIntyre was right to say that the problem with the strict Enlightenment framework of human rights is that it leaves us ‘bereaved’, what might religion have to say about the ‘most secure foundations’ for a universal ethic of inalienable rights? In answering this question Dr Williams shows how theology can come to the aid of social, political and legal theory.

    Human rights cannot be allowed to become just a list of entitlements ‘dropped into the cradle’. If human rights theory is to be robust enough to rank as ‘the only generally intelligible way in modern political ethics of decisively challenging the positive authority of the State to do what it pleases’ it needs to be rooted more deeply than is possible within a purely secular rationale.

    Using the development of Christian thinking about slavery as an example, Dr Williams explores how the notion of bodiliness could be a key to a deeper rooting of our notion of inalienable human rights and how my rights and yours are inextricably linked: ‘my liberty not to be silenced, not to have my body reduced to someone else’s instrument, is nourished by the equal liberty of the other not to be silenced.’

    ‘Equal liberty is at root inseparable from the equality of being embodied. Rights belong not to the person who can demonstrate capacity or rationality but to any organism that can be recognised as a human body, at any stage of its organic development.’

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 3:34 am | Permalink
  19. Richard wrote:

    The point of all this is that, ironically enough, the views of women encoded into the enlightenment’s discourse of human rights have more in common with the Taliban than with any alleged Pauline chauvinism.

    I think this is just an outrageous statement. Let’s pause and think about the plight of women prior to the Enlightenment, a time dominated by the church, who, apparently, could have just read Paul (Paul!!) for proper guidance! I’m just baffled by this reading of history.

    The fact is, women have thrived because of the Enlightenment, often over against Paul.

    But maybe Paul was being misread! Maybe it took 1500 years to read him correctly!

    It just seems curious, to me at least, that enlightened readings of Paul began to thrive after the Enlightenment.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  20. Lee wrote:

    Waitasec, now, to use some statements from the notoriously misogynistic Rousseau to show that such an attitude toward women is “encoded into the enlightenment’s discourse of human rights” steals a whole bunch of argumentative bases. How about dealing with more representative figures like J.S. Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft? Or, I dunno, the actual history of feminism which has drawn on several traditions of moral thought, including that of human rights?

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    Richard, The claim that “women have thrived because of the Enlightenment” is, neither provable, nor accurate. Depending on your definition of “thrive” the most one could say is that they thrived after the enlightenment. To establish a causal link you’d have to do more than just make and assertion, just as you’d have to to do more than assert that generations of patriarchy were caused by Paul. What you’re doing is nothing other than giving us a textbook example of post hoc ergo propter hoc–the fallacy of believing that temporal succession implies a causal relation.

    Lee, I didn’t mean (as I said above in the comments) to claim that Rousseau represents all thinkers associated with the enlightenement. But neither should we think that he has no relation to it. Do we really think that social contract theory did not inform how we think about rights and government today? Or that “all men are created equal” did not in fact mean men? Of course it did.

    Mill would be an interesting discussion, but he’s not part of the enlightenment, at least in a historical sense. He wrote nearly a hundred years after Rousseau in the late 19th century. The problem I have with Mill’s treatise on the subjection of women is not that it wants equality, it is that it defines equal rights in precisely the way I’ve described above, as autonomy. In so doing he is not a misogynist like Rousseau, but he leaves the whole agonistic definition of humanity intact. That’s precisely the problem with this whole inherited discourse of rights in my view.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  22. Hill wrote:

    “I’ll take nominalism over scholasticism any day!”

    You are the first person I’ve ever encountered who claimed to understand what both “scholasticism” and “nominalism” mean and prefer the latter. Not that I acknowledge any hard dichotomy between them, but I prefer wedgies (and just about anything else) to nominalism. In the words of Walter Sobchak: “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude… at least it’s an ethos.”

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    Hah! Now there’s a comment I can get a laugh out of. Well said, Hill.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  24. adamsteward wrote:

    Yeah, I’m no Gilsonite. Who have you been hanging out with for me to be the first enthusiastic nominalist you’ve ever met?

    I think at its core nominalism is simply an affirmation of the linguistic construction of reality, which I give a lot of credence to.

    Nice quote, though.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  25. Evan wrote:

    Not that this has much to do with the original post, but wouldn’t “nominalism” be more appropriately opposed to “realism” than “scholasticism”?

    I think Halden may have brought this up earlier.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  26. adamsteward wrote:

    Scholasticism, Realism, and the Via Antiqua are all just different names for the same thing – an epistemological belief in the existence of universals prior to the existence of particulars.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  27. Hill wrote:

    I don’t think that’s a totally fair characterization of “scholasticism.” To suggest that the scholasticism of, for instance, Suarez, is the same thing as the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas, or again Duns Scotus is a vast over simplification, to the point of being simply wrong. There is such a significant divergence on essential matters within “scholasticism” that referring to it as a univocal theological or philosophical program is almost meaningless. And buying in to the Gilsonian program is not the only mode of agreement with members of the scholastic tradition. For a helpful article on the problem of the one and the many (or universals and particulars) from Plato through Aquinas, see the following by David C. Schindler on participatory metaphysics in a Christian context:

    Basically, if we take Thomas to be the height of the scholastic program, which we ought to, it doesn’t simply suffice to call him a “realist” in the same sense that Plato is a realist. His contribution to the problem of the one and the many is far more novel and profound.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  28. Evan wrote:

    I’ve always thought of scholasticism as more of a method or a style. Add the Protestant scholastics to the mix with Suarez and others who should be distinguished from the high middle ages. Adamsteward, could you point me to a reference that uses scholasticism, realism, and the via antiqua as synonymous? Perhaps I need to revise my mental taxonomy here.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  29. Hill wrote:

    Evan, I agree. Scholasticism is more usefully understood as a methodology. After all, William of Ockham was a scholastic. Damned Franciscans.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    That’s what I meant above when I said that nominalism was just as scholastic as anything else. They all used the same method.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  31. Evan wrote:

    See Halden, we do agree on things!

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  32. Araglin wrote:


    I think your characterization of scholasticism and realism is reading back the essentialism of Bonaventure (and the strand of Avicennian Aristotelianism left standing after the Paris Condemnations), as taken up by Scotus and his bastard intellectual progeny, onto the entire scholastic/realist project, whic his a huge mistake.

    Also, your point about the linguistic construction of reality does not equal a commitment to nominalism unless you have an essentially Sausurrean concept of language in mind. Try reading C.S. Peirce for a clear demonstration of the compatibility of realism with linguistic construction (rightly understood).


    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  33. adamsteward wrote:

    No, they did not all use the same method. The via antiqua, in the broadest sense (how the hell else can you talk about anything except in generalizations?), begins with universals that are known apriori and moves from there to deduce the nature of particulars. The via moderna begins with particulars, and projects onto those particulars linguistic labels (putting the name in nominalism) in order to organize them and draw some continuity across reality. Nominalism ends up with universals, but always tentative universals, which may certainly be revised if someone were to come up with a better way of organizing the particulars. Scholars of the enlightenment, then, generally trace the scientific revolution to the earlier philosophical revolution of nominalism.

    Stephen Ozment in The Age of Reform provides a good discussion of these matters. One of his explicit intentions in that work is to rescue Ockham from Gilson, and the rest of the crowd that purports a myth of the late middle ages as a fall from Scholastic glory, and to my mind he makes a pretty good case.

    Heiko Obermann and Carter Lindberg also use the terms synonymously.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  34. Evan wrote:

    I’m confused… they use the terms “via antiqua” and “realism” synonymously, sure. But I don’t think that’s what’s being disputed here.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  35. adamsteward wrote:

    I’m not sure what you’re asking Evan. Maybe we should distinguish between scholasticism with a lower-case vs. upper-case “s”. As far as [s]cholasticism, that could be just bookishness or esotericism I guess. But [S]cholasticism would be the intellectual tradition usually traced to a genesis in Anselm, an apex in Aquinas, a downfall with Ockham, Biel, and Luther, and a revival with later Melanchthon’s return to Aristotelianism.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  36. Hill wrote:

    By your own admission, then “scholasticism = realism” seems to be a rather crude reduction, then. I think that is what some have taken issue with. That’s like saying Platonism = Scholasticism because both are “realist” in some vague sense. The “via antiqua/via moderna” distinction is so broad as to be relatively unhelpful in drawing any sort of meaningful distinctions between different schools of thought. It also smacks of whiggery.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  37. Evan wrote:

    I love the fact that we’ve gotten here from a discussion on feminism and modernity. Leave it to a bunch of theologians…

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  38. adamsteward wrote:

    Of course, as a good nominalist, the scholasticism/nominalism dialectic this is just one way of making sense of a broad range of intellectual projects. I wont admit that it’s not useful though.

    Central in my mind for all of this is Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation as the best example of how all of this is relevant for theology. His Theology of the Cross was a great departure from anything being done in the Scholastic tradition, and his nominalist training is one of the best ways of accounting for it.

    In addition, the split between the two vias was in the forefront of the self-understanding of all academics in the late middle ages, splitting university faculties into competing camps. Perhaps they were all mistaken and really were all doing the same thing, but they understood themselves to be radically opposed to eachother methodologically. This is a distinction that both sides embraced. I just happen to think they were right – they do have different methodologies.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  39. adamsteward wrote:

    Yeah, Evan – I sent the link to a feminist friend of mine, and had to give an embarrassed proviso on the comments!

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  40. Evan wrote:

    Central in my mind for all of this is Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation as the best example of how all of this is relevant for theology. His Theology of the Cross was a great departure from anything being done in the Scholastic tradition, and his nominalist training is one of the best ways of accounting for it.

    Regarding Luther, (and in honor of Eck, I suppose?!), I’ll try my hand at showing where your syllogistic reasoning is flawed. (Don’t make fun of me, anyone, I am no thomist and will likely screw this up!)

    Major premise: Luther’s theologia crucis was a great departure from the scholastic tradition.

    Minor premise: Luther’s nominalist training is one of the best ways of accounting for his theologia crucis.

    Conclusion: Nominalism is a great departure from the scholastic tradition.

    After a quick Wikipedia search (the true Summa of all great scholastics!), I’ve concluded that your problem is the employment of an illicit minor. That nominalism led Luther away from scholasticism does not mean that nominalism is itself a departure from scholasticism.

    (I hope Shane is reading!)

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  41. adamsteward wrote:

    I feel like I’ve been bitch slapped.

    Fair enough – I didn’t formulate that with the most logical clarity. I wasn’t trying to use that as a proof, just as an anectdotal example. But all the way through, Luther is making philosophical arguments against the via antiqua, no less than in the much less famous “Disputation Against Scholastic Theology.”

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  42. Hill wrote:

    This has become quite funny, and I’m sure could become even funnier were Shane to grace us with his wit and insight.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  43. Richard wrote:

    I know the conversation is following different threads, but I’d like to follow up on Halden’s response to my comment.

    Halden, the error I’m making isn’t a logical one. I think your are mistaken for thinking that the gains of the Enlightenment are not tangible and demonstrable. True, they cannot be “proven” as you note, per some verificationist straw man. But to suggest that the Enlightenment did not benefit the lot of women in a way the church refused to do for over 1500 years seems to be, well, not very open to evidence and, as a consequence, dialogue or persuasion.

    Choose any number of metrics–economic opportunity, access to education, political power, basic liberties, standing before the law–and I’d be happy to debate the lot of women under the church and since the Age of Reason. For heaven’s sake (your are Catholic I think, or close), when do you think the Church will ever allow a female pope? And I’m shocked that you could argue that this most obvious form of sexism hasn’t been almost wholly built upon Paul. If not Paul, then whom? Where do you think Driscoll gets his stuff? Kant or Paul?

    Now, based upon what I’m reading here, you seem to have a very specific view of the Enlightenment. That it had a beginning and an ending. A very narrow historical window. If so, well, you’ll win that argument by showing that early Enlightenment thinkers had not fully internalized or confronted the implications of their views. If so, well, congratulations, you win. You’ll find plenty of early (and late) Enlightenment thinkers who were racist and/or sexist. But if the Enlightenment is more broadly understood, I think it clear that the Enlightenment is still with us. Take, for example, Susan Neiman’s new book Moral Clarity or Taylor’s The Secular Age. They seem to think that Enlightenment is very much a part of who we are right now. Much to the benefit of women.

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  44. LRH wrote:

    Did Adam just use the phrase “bitch slapped” in a discussion that started (albeit having come a long way since) around feminism?

    Friday, September 5, 2008 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  45. Evan wrote:

    Sorry, adam, I am just having fun… I know you were offering an example rather than a tight syllogism or anything. No bitch slap intended!

    Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

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  1. Rousseau and Paul on women. « The Kibitzer on Friday, September 5, 2008 at 3:47 am

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