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Extra info for Feminism and Emotion: Readings in Moral and Political Philosophy

Sample text

Far from a conflict between passion and reason, Mary Wollstonecraft insists upon the one being a preliminary to the other. Later in their affair, when she had pursued him vainly from port to port and from town to town, she wrote: Why do you not attach those tender emotions around the idea of home, which even now dim my eyes? 18 22 Feminism and Emotion And again: The tremendous power who formed this heart must have foreseen that, in a world in which self-interest, in various shapes, is the principal mobile, I had little chance of escaping misery.

So understood, I shall argue, it coheres with Mill’s other moral and political writings, and draws much of its persuasive power from the doctrines advanced in Harriet Taylor’s The Enfranchisement of Women. The structure of my argument is as follows: first, I shall contrast nineteenth-century commentary on The Subjection of Women with twentieth-century criticism of it. The aim here is to draw attention to the gulf which separates the two. Where nineteenth-century commentators interpreted Mill as presenting a radical (and shocking) moral text, twentieth-century commentators, including feminists, have construed him largely as an apologist for liberal political theory who emphasized the inequity of legal disadvantage but was unmindful of the social structures which sustained and fostered it.

Almost all the commentators of the time (both friend and foe) emphasize not the legal demands which Mill made on behalf of women, but rather the moral assumptions which underpin those demands. Predictably, James Fitzjames Stephen was Mill and Taylor on Women and Marriage 31 appalled and declared the work to be ‘practically indecent’ in its ‘prolonged and minute discussions about the relations between men and women’. ‘I consider it unsound in every respect,’ he said. ’5 Significantly, it was not the legal demands which Fitzjames Stephen took as his major target; rather it was Mill’s moral vision which outraged and appalled him.

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