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Women, Change, and the Birth of Philosophy

  • Clara Fischer
Chapter
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Part of the Breaking Feminist Waves book series (BFW)

Abstract

With this verse, Parmenides’s poem “On Nature” invites the audience to follow the philosopher on a mystical journey—a journey that promises to enlighten listeners with certain knowledge, by distinguishing between what is merely perception or opinion, and what is truth. The latter, for Parmenides, consists of immutability and singularity, premised upon a strict delineation of Being and Not-Being. That truth should lie in a denial of change and plurality seems intuitively misled, and yet, Parmenides’ ideas were highly pertinent for subsequent philosophizing. In his startling denial of what most of us take to be obviously true, he rejected change, and, as will become clear, woman. Parmenides is indicative of much philosophical theorizing on women and change, and it is my objective here to outline the problematic treatment of women in their relationship to change, and to trace this to the development of philosophy itself.

Keywords

Sexual Reproduction Human Reproduction Greek Mythology Pure Thought Double Seed 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See, for example, Stumpf, S. E. and Fieser, J., Philosophy: History and Problems, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2008.Google Scholar
  2. For feminist texts that seek to redress the gender imbalance in the historiography of philosophy by uncovering the work of women philosophers, see Warren, K. J. (ed.), An Unconventional History of Western Philosophy: Conversations between Men and Women Philosophers, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2009;Google Scholar
  3. and Waithe, M. E. (ed.), A History of Women Philosophers, Vols. 1–4, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1992.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Lawson-Tancred, H. (ed.), Penguin Books, London, 1998, 986a 22ff.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    See for example, Tuana, N., Woman and the History of Philosophy, Paragon, St. Paul, MN, 1992;Google Scholar
  6. Clack, B., Misogyny in the Western Philosophical Tradition: A Reader, MacMillan, Basingstoke, 1999;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 9.
    What has been pieced together to form “On Nature” as we know it today, is probably only one-third of the original text—see Gallop, D., Parmenides of Elea: Fragments: A Text and Translation, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1991, p. 5.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    My interpretation of Parmenides falls broadly under what John Palmer calls the “strict monist interpretation,” and its further development into the “logical-dialectical interpretation”—see Palmer, J., Parmenides and Presocratic Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. These traditional readings are, to my mind, the most convincing interpretations of Parmenides’s poem—for examples see Guthrie, W. K. C., A History of Greek Philosophy, Vols. 1 and 2, Cambridge University Press, London, 1971;Google Scholar
  10. and Kirk, G. S., Raven, J. E., and Schofield, M., The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    I draw upon several translations in this chapter, however, my primary source for “On Nature” is Coxon, A. H., The Fragments of Parmenides: A Critical Text with Introduction and Translation, the Ancient Testimonia and a Commentary, Parmenides Publishing, Athens, 2009.Google Scholar
  12. 62.
    Parmenides has been called “the first Cartesian philosopher”—see Scolnicov, S. (ed.), Plato’s Parmenides, University of California Press, Berkeley & London, 2003, p. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. See also Popper, K., The World of Parmenides: Essays on the Presocratic Enlightenment, Petersen, A. F. and Mejer, J. (eds.), Routledge, London, 1998.Google Scholar
  14. 76.
    See Loraux, N., The Children of Athena: Athenian Ideas about Citizenship and the Division between the Sexes, Levine, C. (trans.), Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1993, p. 143.Google Scholar
  15. 80.
    Apollodorus and Hyginus, Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology, Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. (eds.), Hackett, Indianapolis, 2007, 188, p. 68.Google Scholar
  16. 90.
    Amongst others, see Rich, A., Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, W. W. Norton, New York, 1986.Google Scholar
  17. 92.
    Aristotle, The Politics, Everson, S. (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, 1260a9–13.Google Scholar
  18. 93.
    Aristotle, Generation of Animals, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1953, 736b35–737a4.Google Scholar
  19. 97.
    For more on this see also Tuana, N., “The Weaker Seed: The Sexist Bias of Reproductive Theory,” Hypatia, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring, 1988, pp. 35–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 99.
    Hesiod, Hesiod, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Homerica, Evelyn-White, H. G. (trans.), Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, London, 1998.Google Scholar
  21. 103.
    This adornment is given to her by Aphrodite, herself a problematic female figure in Hesiod’s poetry. For an analysis of the connections between Pandora and Aphrodite, see Marquardt, P. A., “Hesiod’s Ambiguous View of Woman,” Classical Philology, Vol. 77, No. 4, Oct. 1982, pp. 283–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 129.
    Bernick, S. E., “The Logic of the Development of Feminism; or, Is MacKinnon to Feminism as Parmenides Is to Greek Philosophy?,” Hypatia, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 1992, pp. 1–15, p. 6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 130.
    See Wolfe, C. J., “Plato’s and Aristotle’s Answers to the Parmenides Problem,” Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 65, No. 4, June 2012, pp. 747–764.Google Scholar

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© Clara Fischer 2014

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  • Clara Fischer

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