“Spinoza’s free citizen meets Wollstonecraft‘s feminist republican”
Dreyfus Room, Birkbeck, University of London, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ
I offer an account of Spinoza’s free man as exemplifying the affective as well as rational capacities needed for autonomous self-realization, relationally conceived. But his account contains a sad flaw, namely, Spinoza’s inability to recognize women as co-entitled to political freedom and equality. I relate this limitation to his failure to realize the full potential of his relational ontology and the true scope of a virtue that he values highly: fortitudo (or strength of mind). Fortitudo has a double aspect: it embodies the virtue of self-care (animositas) and the correlative virtue of care for others (generositas). I then turn to Mary Wollstonecraft’s understanding of the co-constitution of self and other and the role such understanding plays in her conception of the attainment of genuine autonomy. For her, the exercise of virtue depends upon freedom in both one’s personal and one’s political life. Her vision of an inclusive commonwealth – one that recognises the need for all to develop fortitudo – stands as a corrective to Spinoza’s error. We cannot achieve a virtuous republic if the relationship between the sexes lacks virtue. When combined, Spinoza’s and Wollstonecraft’s republican views tell a rich story about individuals, affect, autonomy, and the institutional practices that constrain or enable the flourishing of important republican virtues.
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