Subject, Body and the Exclusion of Women from Philosophy

  • Joanna Hodge


Descartes’s declaration in part 4 of his Discourse on Method: ‘cogito ergo sum’, ‘I think, therefore I am’, installs the theme of subjectivity at the centre of philosophical enquiry for the next three hundred years. Now, however, the usefulness, indeed the availability of a conception of subjectivity is increasingly open to question, from angles as diverse as Derek Parfit’s post-utilitarianism1 and the phenomenological hermeneutics of Martin Heidegger.2 This questioning makes indispensable a critique and reconstruction of the terms of reference of philosophical enquiry, in order to complete the displacement of subjectivity as a central term. That critique and reconstruction will be all the more effective if it can at the same time identify and take into account the way in which certain conceptual structures, for example that of subjectivity, have played a part in the exclusion of women from philosophical enquiry and from the processes of determining the parameters of such enquiry. The critical task of this essay is to show how the concept of the subject, produced in Descartes’s enquiries, has served both to exclude women from philosophy and to obscure how that exclusion has been effected. The positive result will be to show how the displacement of this concept makes it more possible to begin to criticise and dismantle an illegitimate gender specificity, which has been a characteristic feature of the Western philosophical tradition.


Feminist Critique Philosophical Enquiry Metaphysical Commitment Ontological Context Phenomenological Hermeneutic 
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© Morwenna Griffiths and Margaret Whitford 1988

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  • Joanna Hodge

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