22 April 2016

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Being a Woman

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Being a Woman.

My position on the topic is that this is not about feminism but
precisely being a woman, i.e. 50% of the human population. In my few
paragraphs below I try to outline and address the philosophical issues
behind this topic. Understanding the fundamentals of the topic should
free us to put the issues in ethical and social contexts.

Being a woman

There are many ways we can interpret this topic.

What is it like to be a woman? Can we really understand what women
experience? And is there a difference being a man or a woman, or at
least a difference that matters?

The seminal paper on the topic is "What is it like to be a bat?" by
Thomas Nagel a paper that includes two key ideas prompted by
reductionism: consciousness and the mind-body problem. Basically,
because consciousness is a subjective experience we cannot explain
consciousness by the component parts of the brain (body).

I am however, not totally convinced that Nagel's paper is that relevant
to our topic. Women are no less human beings than the rest of humanity.
Nagel addresses the issue of a conscious being that is completely
different from us: bats. But half the population of humanity is similar
to being a woman and as I said the other half are also humans. Thus, all
the human population have something in common with women, unlike with bats.

The other more general problem I have with this paper is that talking
about "being a bat" or "bats in general" (or woman / women) is that this
is a linguist extrapolation from experiencing individual bats. And
basically, as Nagel argued, we are locked out of the individual
consciousness, so how can we extrapolate or generalise about a species
when we don't even have access to an individual of the species? My point
is that there are only individuals and any extrapolation to generalise
about the species is a human ability to express our thoughts into a
communicable language. In our context, there are only individual women
like there are only individual men or bat for all that matters.

Daniel Dennett (see Wikipedia link below) finds a way round the impasse
in Nagel's arguments. Basically, scientific investigation can still give
us access to the subjective aspect of living entities. Thus whilst we
cannot become a bat, we can still say and understand a lot about bats.

Similarly, whilst half of the population cannot become the other half,
science gives us a reasonable methodology to understand or at the very
least come close to understand, at the human level, what life is like
being a woman. This achievement is a huge step forward from ignorance
and prejudice that dominated the topic for a long time.

Best Lawrence

"What is it like to be a bat?" by Thomas Nagel

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Being a Woman

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