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34. Shulamith Firestone  

Victoria Margree

This chapter explores Shulamith Firestone’s 1970 feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex, which provided an analysis of women’s oppression. The chapter introduces the Women’s Liberation Movement and its strands of liberal, socialist, and radical feminism. According to Firestone’s thesis, the origins of women’s oppression lie in their procreative capacities. The chapter also details Firestone’s vision for a utopian society created through a feminist revolution in which women seize control of reproductive technologies. The chapter highlights the significance of The Dialectic of Sex in relation to queer politics and movements for reproductive justice despite its flaws, notably its treatment of race.

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35. Angela Y. Davis  

Manjeet Ramgotra

This chapter examines the core ideas of Angela Davis’s radical Marxist, abolitionist, political theory. It starts by looking at her experiences of racism, sexism, and imprisonment which underpin her activism to create a better world against the oppressions of the capitalist, white supremacist and heteropatriarchal state. Additionally, Davis advances arguments for the abolition of prisons. Davis’s abolitionism promotes a more humane and inclusive society based on radical conceptions of community, caring, and solidarity. The chapter also covers Davis’s work examining how Black women in particular faced multiple and intersecting oppressions of gender, race, class, and sexuality, especially as articulated in her Women, Race and Class (1981).

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3. Aristotle and bell hooks  

Manjeet Ramgotra

This chapter compares Aristotle’s and bell hooks’ conceptions of politics. Even though he was a foreigner in Athens and therefore not a citizen, Aristotle writes from the position of the ruling classes; whereas bell hooks writes from the position of a Black American woman. The chapter examines Aristotle’s theory of teleology in relation to knowing and being, which it then contrasts with hooks’ conception of knowledge as constructed through experience and positionality in relation to marginalized groups. It further compares Aristotle’s understanding of human nature comprised of reason, appetite, and spirit to hooks’ view that human beings are political subjects constituted by systems of power that situate them in hierarchical categories, but who can reclaim agency and create their own subjectivities. Finally, the chapter focuses on the home as the first social institution in which individuals learn about authority, gender, and social relations. It contrasts Aristotle’s defence of patriarchy with hooks’ conception of homeplace as a site of resistance that Black women created to nurture and restore human dignity.

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17. Catharine Macaulay and Edmund Burke  

Alan Coffee

This chapter discusses the contrasting philosophies of Catharine Macaulay and Edmund Burke regarding the fundamental nature of political society and the approaches to take on reform. Macaulay’s philosophy revolves around the core ideal of freedom as independence from arbitrary control. Additionally, Macaulay’s work recognized that people’s beliefs are shaped by the social environment but could be manipulated by elites. On the other hand, Burke’s philosophical beliefs are organic, contextual, and pragmatic while addressing the complexity and range of social considerations and human motivations that contribute to a viable and productive state. However, Burke’s philosophy could be challenged as to whether he provides protection against possible abuse of power or not. The chapter also covers the weakness in their philosophical works while considering equal citizenship rights for women and minority social groups.

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23. J. S. Mill on the Subjection of Women  

Jennifer Ring

This chapter examines John Stuart Mill's treatise The Subjection of Women, a manifesto of liberal feminism that advocates ‘perfect equality’ between the sexes. Written in 1861 and published in 1869, The Subjection of Women has been criticised by contemporary feminist theorists, who find Mill's theory lacking because of its political shortcomings and contradictions. The chapter analyses the political and intellectual context in which The Subjection of Women was written as well as its significance from the standpoint of contemporary feminist theory. It considers Mill's relationship with his father, James Mill, and with his wife, Harriet Taylor, along with the emergence of the women's rights movement in the United States and England. It also assesses the political import and methodological perspective of the work and concludes with a discussion of Mill's utilitarianism.

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16. Rousseau  

David Boucher

This chapter examines Jean-Jacques Rousseau's political thought. It first provides a short biography of Rousseau before discussing varying interpretations of his ideas, suggesting that, because of his emphasis upon civic virtues and freedom as lack of an insidious form of dependence, the republican tradition best reflects Rousseau's concerns. It then considers Rousseau's distinctive contribution to the idea of the state of nature, noting that the springs of action in his state of nature are not reason are self-preservation and sympathy. It also explores Rousseau's views on private property, social contract, inequality, natural law and natural rights, democracy, religion, and censorship. The chapter concludes with an analysis of Rousseau's concern with freedom and dependence, and how the related issues of slavery and women were relevant for him.

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Cover Contemporary Political Philosophy

9. Feminism  

This chapter examines various strands of feminist theory, with particular emphasis on three feminist criticisms of the way mainstream political theories attend, or fail to attend, to the interests and concerns of women. The first argument focuses on the ‘gender-neutral’ account of sex discrimination, the second is concerned with the public–private distinction, and the third claims that the very emphasis on justice is itself reflective of a male bias. These arguments represent three of the most sustained points of contact between feminism and mainstream political philosophy. The chapter also considers two different conceptions of the public–private distinction in liberalism: the first deals with the relationship between civil society and the state, or between the social sphere and the political sphere; the second emphasizes the right to privacy. It concludes with an analysis of the ethic of care as opposed to the ‘ethic of justice’.