Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Plants and Animals (Hopefully Not Herbivores)

A curious passage from Hegel:

Women are capable of education, but they are not made for activities which demand a universal faculty such as the more advanced sciences, philosophy, and certain forms of artistic production. Women may have happy ideas, taste, and elegance, but they cannot attain to the ideal. [Ideale. By this word Hegel means 'the Beautiful and whatever tends thither' (Science of Logic, i. 163, footnote). It is to be distinguished, therefore, from Ideelle] The difference between men and women is like that between animals and plants. Men correspond to animals, while women correspond to plants because their development is more placid and the principle that underlies it is the rather vague unity of feeling. When women hold the helm of government, the state is at once in jeopardy, because women regulate their actions not by the demands of universality but by arbitrary inclinations and opinions. Women are educated — who knows how? — as it were by breathing in ideas, by living rather than by acquiring knowledge. The status of manhood, on the other hand, is attained only by the stress of thought and much technical exertion.

[Here at 166, Addition; hat-tip] I find the sharp and unyielding opposition between "breathing in ideas" and "acquiring knowledge" very strange. In any case, what seems to lie behind this is Hegel's slightly odd interpretation of the Antigone -- slightly odd, I say, because Hegel keeps forgetting that the struggle between Antigone and Creon wasn't a struggle against Woman and Man, if for no other reasons than that (1) we also have Haemon, a man, and Tiresias, a man who has been a woman, who don't fall into Hegel's simplistic opposition; and (2) the play suggests strongly that the City itself is tending against Creon, although the Chorus tends to favor him; and (3) Creon changes his mind (too late, of course).

But the plant and animal analogy is strikingly curious. (Although, unfortunately, the man-active/woman-passive and the women-ruled-by-arbitrary-inclinations tropes are still surprisingly common.)