Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Modern philosophers engage

Yesterday, I was told that this blog was mentioned on Feminist Philosophers. I had hoped to tidy up a bit before inviting esteemed academics around for tea, but welcome! And by a delightful coincidence (and I swear it is), today's post is on the subject of philosophy.

Sandrine Berges has written professionally about Amartya Sen and his reflections on the work of Mary Wollstonecraft. She was too modest in her guest post to link to her work, but last month her piece "Why Women Hug their Chains: Wollstonecraft and Adaptive Preferences" was published in the CUP journal Utilitas. (Now how do I do a blog-friendly footnote, not off-puttingly academic? So many blog things I need to learn.) The Cambridge abstract:
In a recent article, Amartya Sen writes that one important influence on his theory of adaptive preferences is Wollstonecraft's account of how some women, though clearly oppressed, are apparently satisfied with their lot. Wollstonecraft's arguments have received little attention so far from contemporary political philosophers, and one might be tempted to dismiss Sen's acknowledgment as a form of gallantry. That would be wrong. Wollstonecraft does have a lot of interest to say on the topic of why her contemporaries appeared to choose what struck her as oppression, and her views can still help us reflect on contemporary problems such as the ones identified and discussed by Amartya Sen. In this article I will argue that a close look at Wollstonecraft's arguments may lead us to rethink some aspects of Sen's discussion of the phenomenon of adaptive preferences.
It is good to see groups of philosophers, and others, responding to (Amartya Sen responding to) Mary Wollstonecraft. For example, Derek Bowman tackled chapter 5 of  The Idea of Justice on Public Reason, a blog for political philosophers. "In this chapter, Sen weaves together three different lines of thought: Wollstonecraft’s critique of Burke, impartiality as a minimalist basis for evaluative objectivity, and the role of convention in the relations among facts and values." Let us hope that Sen's keynote speech at the American Society of International Law may have planted a few seeds too.

I'm not going to go too far down these fascinating academic rabbit holes, lest I disappear in turn, but I am very glad to see Mary Wollstonecraft's work given the light well beyond the field of women's studies.

Tomorrow: we continue our walk around Mary's London, this time in St Pancras.

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