The philosophical discussion of the nature of the female mind and specifically the epistemology of women has been universally debated for as long as there has been recorded words. What is the nature of God? And then: What is the nature of Man? followed shortly there after by: What is the nature of Woman?
It is not a secret that most of the first recorded philosophers were men, in fact this is even true today. To many this qualifies as the reason for the inherent misogyny associated with epistemology and its relationship to women.
Without the insight of women, which was voiced by many but was not always well-known, the internal workings of the mind of a woman is simply a mystery associated with the proprietary circumstances of her allowable voice. It is within the context of the late 18th century that we begin to see the real voices of feminists speak out against the stifling assumptions of their lives and minds.
The education of women has therefore historically been based upon the idea that society is better served by woman embracing her true nature, in the sense of her non-aggressive and nurturing characteristics. The essence of woman, or that which makes her different and to many opposite man, required an attainment of knowledge that was restricted to her role as dutiful wife to her master. For many if not all feminists the most basic necessity for women and therefore her society was to be able to fully realize her ability through the attainment of equal education and knowledge, an education that went far beyond that of Sophie, the docile pleasing support staff, in Rousseau's Emile.
Though there are those who definitely came before her, namely Christine de Pizan in the very early renaissance, Mary Wollstonecraft, is thought of as the mother of the feminist demands of equal education. Wollstonecraft, chided men, society and women for allowing women to continue to leave their abilities unrealized through trifling education that only left her with enough knowledge to serve her family and engender romantic thoughts.
This work will establish through the analysis of a keystone of feminist and some would say anti-feminist work, a demonstration of the understanding of the epistemological programme of mastery. The work will develop a line of thought that demonstrates the evolution of the idea of female knowledge, first through some of the main works associated with the early demands for equal educational attainment and then through some modern ideas associated with the concepts of feminism and philosophy.
First through a careful analysis the work of Rousseau, Emile as it pertains to the development of the female mind, and its limitations. Then, on to the work of Mary Wollstonecraft, who eloquently establishes the idea of the shortcomings of the accepted "female" education in Vindication of the Rights of Women. Next, the work of what some would call a modern feminist, Simone de Beauvoir who in The Second Sex, called for an end to the idea of women as the second sex, in a strong sense a call to women to challenge the boundaries of their own station in life. Moving forward again through the introductory work of Jennifer Mather Saul as she attempt to dissect the impact that philosophical ideals of the female mind have had upon the modern world, through discrimination and other modern issues facing women. Lastly the backbone of the piece will be established through the context of the years in the Cambridge Companion to Feminism in Philosophy.
The epistemological programme of mastery and it association of source work develops an interesting philosophical rhetorical argument. It is through the old ideals of mastery, or the mastery of self, by men and the mastery of women by men that women were to be educated and obtain knowledge. Yet, through the reasoning of many feminists women are required, through their very essence of ability to develop knowledge, to better their own lives and the whole of society. Whether through family, and a woman's ability to teach their children, beyond their formative years, or through the simple betterment of self, the necessity for a minority which encompasses greater than fifty percent of the population within most countries is recognized as integral in most though today.
It is through the analysis of the thought associated with the minds of women, and their development that we may better understand the present situation of society. The changes within our society that have taken place over the last century or so in association with women seem to be in a constant forward progression. We seem to have permanently left behind old ideas associated with women's inability to learn to the same degree as men and yet it is clear through works like that of Saul that these old ideas can clearly be seen as a reflection or source for the symptoms that we consider feminist issues, such as sexual harassment, abortion, and the different voice that is assigned women through both real communication differences and also assumptions made by the listener.
Without a clear understanding of the history of the philosophical idea of women, and her place, along with the recognition of just how near these times are to today, it would be difficult to distinguish the need for continued feminist scholarship.
It is though a greater understanding of self that the individual develops his or her place within society, and as women are clearly viewed as individuals capable and responsible for the betterment of self, today the4 old ideas must be challenged and the cultural collective memory must be both remembered and forgotten, within the same philosophical line of thought.
The Aristotelian approach to sexual matters offers a relatively obvious target to feminist criticism. Aristotle (3 84-3 Zz Bc) holds that the essence of a thing is to be identified with its function, or with what it is 'for' from the point-of-view of some organic whole to which it belongs (Politics r253azo-zs; cf. de Anima 4zzbz8-Zo). This identification rests on the assumption that 'Nature does nothing in vain' (Pol. i2 56b2 r), and hence that in order to understand a thing we must first come to see the point or purpose of it." Within this frame of thought women's essence includes only her purpose, and in the case of society and relationships this is defined as her procreative role and the support of it." Cambridge Companion to Feminism in Philosophy pg. 3.
He has an overwhelming need for another, but that other must be the embodiment of the ideal of beauty, and his interest in her partakes of the disinterestedness of the love of the beautiful. Moreover it is not quite precise to say that he loves an "other," for he will not be making himself hostage to an alien will and thus engaging in a struggle for mastery. This woman will, to use Platonic language, participate in the idea he has of her. He will recognize in his/her own highest aspirations. She will complete him without alienating him. If Emile and Sophie can be constituted as a unit and individualism thereby surmounted, then Rousseau will have shown how the building blocks of a society are formed." Rousseau and Bloom in the introduction to Emile pg.22
Christine de Pizan (1365 - c. 1430), author of The Book of the City of Ladies, among other influential texts and a key player in what is thought of as the first feminist debate, an epistolary intercourse that revolved around a poem called the Romance of the Rose and the renaissance rejection of the chivalric ideal through an assassination of the character of women. In The Book of the City of Ladies and the work that followed it The Treasury of the City…