At least three thousand years of traceable voluntary use of the human intellect have yielded a modest but not altogether insignificant harvest on the most enduring challenge to cerebral cognition: women.
Not all proponents of a view cited herein may qualify as philosophers in an academic sense, although all believe they do, as all are male. Rather than indulge the almost irresistible temptation to interpret and comment, we should let great men speak unmistakably for themselves, in their own words. Right off the Aegean cradle of philosophy, one can observe their figure skating on the thin ice of reason.
With Trojan and Peloponnesian wars safely behind them, and even the subversive Lysistrata insurrection put down safely – reportedly, Aristophanes got tenure at the Prytaneion for that one – now unemployed Hellenic heroes fixed their gaze onto philosophy. Of course one of the most stereotypically offensive things about Greek philosophers is their incurable belief in duality and opposites. It started with Pythagoras and has not ended yet just because the International Monetary Fund or German taxpayers wish it would. But even before the conjecture of a “Greek Budget” was first proposed – by Roman tax collector, no doubt – it must have been approved by a “democratic” legislature and voted on exclusively by men. Such were the results history has handed down to us:
“A Man is best off with a nonentity – a woman who sits in the house useless in her stupidity. I hate clever women. I don’t want a woman in my house thinking more than a woman ought to think, because Aphrodite inspires more mischief in the clever ones, while a helpless woman is freed from folly by the simplicity of her thoughts.”
Euripides. Hippolytos, 638-644 (480-406 B.C.E.).
Socrates, for one, drew a somewhat finer distinction between domestic specimens and fine imports. He plead guilty to having studied rhetoric from Aspasia of Miletus, the lover of Pericles (Plato, Menexenus) and to have been taught erotics by the priestess Diotima of Mantinea (Plato, Symposium). Despite a great many mitigating circumstances sufficiently evidenced by his marriage to Xanthippe, we know his sentence by a jury of his peers. That lesson stuck, and it did not go unheeded by his disciples:
“It is the best for all tame animals to be ruled by human beings. For this is how they are kept alive. In the same way, the relationship between the male and the female is by nature such that the male is higher, the female lower, that the male rules and the female is ruled.”
Aristoteles. Politica. ed. Loeb Classical Library, 1254 b 10-14.
"Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own."
Aristoteles (384-322 B.C.E.)
Thankfully Menander, his contemporary, grasped the educational as well as the ontological nexus of the subject with zoology:
“A man who teaches a woman to write should recognize that he is providing poison to an asp.”
Menander. Synkrisis. 1.209-210. (341-290 B.C.E.)
As a First Amendment matter, we will not comment here on the long and noticeable absence of philosophy from the history of human thought from post-Constantine antiquity till the enlightenment, except to say that it was caused by Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church who discovered the logically simplest solution with habitual infallibility:
“Mulier taceat in ecclesia.” (A woman’s place in church be silence)
St. Paul of Tarsus. 1 Cor. 14, 34. (5-67 C.E.).
The Holy Spirit – allegedly a pigeon and also a known ex vitro inseminator of sheltered modest virgins, second as such only to Zeus (consider, inter alia, the earliest known pre-Lohengrin swan whisperer, Leda) – must have relinquished this pearl of wisdom on his way out.
But once the megawatt bulb of the enlightenment came on, things positively changed – or did they?
“Woman: a human being that dresses, chatters and undresses.”
François Marie Arouet a.k.a. Voltaire (1694-1778).
Leave it to a Frenchman to evaluate profound questions first and foremost for their fashion impact! It was an interesting commentary for a man professed disconsolate over the passing of Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet, arguably the most evolved mathematical mind in her day in France, who had introduced him to the sciences and, aside from being his lover, was his copyrighted partner in responding to the 1734 prize question of the Académie des Sciences about the ‘nature of fire.’ Rumor has it she wrote the whole thing and gave Voltaire some mercy credit.
Then came a man who originally planned to emigrate to Pennsylvania to form a commune and, with his classmate, married two sisters to that end. They neglected to poll their ladies intentions, which is unsurprising in light of his groundbreaking tenet:
"The man’s desire is for the woman; but the woman’s desire is rarely other than for the desire of the man. "
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Table Talk. July 23, 1827. (1772-1834).
Colderidge’s theory explicitly permits exceptions. His manifestation of Murphy’s Law was that he happened to marry one without having done his homework. Yes, caveat emptor.
Kant (1724-1804), for one, basically thought that every single thing imaginable was immoral, including women. He was right. Yet, regardless, and supported by anecdotal evidence of continued population growth, the quest continues for a reason why anyone would seem to care.
Schopenhauer is too often viewed as little more than a commentator on Kant. In fact, he is a pessimistic thinker in his own right (“suffering is the substance of all life”), though he is generally more articulate than the sage of Königsberg:
“Thus nature has equipped women, as it has all its creatures, with the tools and weapons she needs for securing her existence, and at just the time she needs them; in doing which nature has acted with its usual economy. For just as the female ant loses its wings after mating, since they are then superfluous, indeed harmful to the business of raising the family, so the woman usually loses her beauty after one or two childbeds, and probably for the same reason.”
Arthur Schopenhauer. “On Women.” In: Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin Books, 1970, 80-81.
“As a consequence of her weaker reasoning powers, woman has a smaller share of the advantages and disadvantages these bring with them. She is, rather, a mental myopic…”
Arthur Schopenhauer. “On Women.” In: Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin Books, 1970, 82-83.
“It is only the man whose intellect is clouded by his sexual instinct that could give that stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged race the name of the fair sex; for the entire beauty of the sex is based on this instinct. One would be more justified in calling them the unaesthetic sex than the beautiful. “
“Woman is an animal with long hair and short-sighted.”
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).
Another analyst like Menander, then, with a pronounced faible for zoological paradigmata. That is what happens if you do not find time to take your children to the zoo yourself. If you let father do it, count on him to draw unflattering analogies – significantly, before reaching the ape house.
“The relationship between man and woman is nothing other than that of subject and object. Man is Something, woman is Nothing.”
Otto Weininger, Schopenhauer’s acolyte (1880-1903).
No wonder that man killed himself in the room where Beethoven had died. Ta-ta-ta-tamm! Now, here’s proof that no such thing as bad publicity exists for untenured philosophers.
For all you trivia lovers, there actually is some Nietzsche beyond the whip. He comes in plenty shades of gray:
“Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).
“Behind all their personal vanity, women themselves always have an impersonal contempt for woman.”
“Woman was God’s second mistake.”
Friedrich Nietzsche. The Antichrist.
“Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has a single solution: that is, pregnancy.”
Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Still, the Great Whippersnapper may have stumbled onto something late in life:
“Stupid as a man, say the women: cowardly as a woman, say the men. Stupidity in a woman is unwomanly.”
We can now safely depart from the assorted witticisms of philosophy’s lengthy Blue Period and turn to the likely most truthful scholarly confession made by man to date:
"The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'"
Sigmund Freud in conversation with Marie Bonaparte in 1925, quoted by Jones, Ernest. Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Hogarth Press, London, 1955, Vol. 2, 468.
For a mixed bag of reasons (and advisors), some of the most enlightened summaries today are given by thinkers who recognize that their office rests on a slim and thinking majority of female voters:
“The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it’s educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they are going to fall behind.”
Barack Hussein Obama, Ladies’ Home Journal, September 2008.
“This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities….. The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
James Earl Carter. Losing My Religion for Equality. July 2009.
Perplexing that one can still find voices who would argue with that circa 2012. C.E.
Sapere aude. A neo-Kantian translation of that might be “go figure”…