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Fair Reading of Spelman's Critique of Plato's Belief

Spelman's injunction to feminists to be cautious of the latent misogyny in valorizations of the mind is difficult to discredit. Yet as cogent as Spelman's argument may be, it does not so much dispose of mind-body metaphysics as enrich the discourse and critique of misogyny and lend structure and texture to the interpretative exercise. That is not only because of her selective reading of Plato but also because her interpretation of mind-body dualism is not the only possible one.

One feature of Spelman's textual selectivity can be seen in the fact that, at least in Jowett's translation of the Phaedo, the soul/mind is gendered as female (she) and not as either male (he) or neuter (it). Spelman also cites the Republic's statement that "natural capacities are distributed alike among both [male and female] creatures" (51), though she says that does not make up for misogynistic texts elsewhere in Plato's works. Meanwhile, she has to admit that dualism by itself does not cause sexism (56); she sees dualism plus casual attribution of body reality to women as the source of women's oppression.

Instead of condemning Plato for his misogyny, Okin credits him with granting their rational status in the Republic (20) and the Laws (60), in the latter even calling for universal education for boys and girls. In Plato, Okin says, "the biological implications of femaleness have been clearly separated from all [their] conventional, institutional, and emotional baggage" (20). She criticizes commentators who insist that Plato must diminish women in order to make his argument work, much as Spelman criticizes those who accept the mind/body distinction and the body/female attribution and either exploit or fail to examine their implications.

Just because Plato places the mind over the body, however, does not prove that he intends for women to be oppressed. Okin's


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Fair Reading of Spelman's Critique of Plato's Belief. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:09, August 18, 2017, from
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