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Title page for ETD etd-03312010-081841

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Ambrose, Robin Alexandra
URN etd-03312010-081841
Title Representing Maternity in Philosophy
Degree PhD
Department Philosophy
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
David Wood Committee Chair
gregg horowitz Committee Co-Chair
Kelly Oliver Committee Member
  • Ethics Gender Studies
Date of Defense 2009-06-20
Availability unrestricted

Few living philosophers would conjecture that women cannot be philosophers; however, the classical notion that those who “generate life” cannot “create ideas” continues to inform philosophical notions of maternity. It is unfair to require exclusion on the basis of sex; however, the inconvenient possibility is that Aristotle’s notion of maternity promotes skepticism, not about the political status of women, but about the merits of political “equality” as an over-arching, regulative ideal which applies to all relationships. As Arendt notes, while the opposition of two worlds so long associated with the feminine and the masculine risks consolidating sexist ideologies, the possibly greater risk occurs when philosophers personalize metaphysics. Arendt sidesteps some of these thornier issues propagated by Aristotle’s notion of “maternity” by replacing “maternity” with “natality.” “Natality” gestures towards the infant’s promise to be unpredictable; in doing so, the concept highlights how infants complicate our attempts to extrapolate identity from biological circumstance. Like Arendt, Klein uses the context of reproductive biology to highlight the manner in which ambiguity permeates memory and identity but, unlike Arendt, encourages her readers to analogize from maternity rather than natality. By widening the scope of her lens of analysis to include maternity, Klein destabilizes the philosophical habit of regarding birth from the point of view of he who is born but does not bear. Kristeva’s “subject in process” is this same trajectory fully realized. Destabilizing the boundary between the creation of ideas and the generation of life permits philosophy to return to its conceptual progenitors, the physical and the metaphysical, with the legitimate hope of reproducing a most fertile offspring: s/he who generates life and creates ideas.

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