Birkbeck Philosophy and Gender 2015-16

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Birkbeck Philosophy

Philosophy and Gender 2015-16
This module is in two parts. Part 1:1 “Gendered Freedom: Independence and Dependence”
Lecturer: Prof. Susan James

Part 2:2 “Speech, Free Speech and Gender”

Lecturer: Prof. Jennifer Hornsby

Times and Places

Lectures: Lectures for this module will be held in Term 2 only on Thursdays at 6p.m.


Seminars: There will be separate seminars for BA and for MA students—Thurs 7p.m.

BA seminars will be in YYYYYY.

MA seminars will be in XXXXX.

Set Readings and Essays

Required Reading: For each lecture there is assigned reading (listed below as ‘required ’). This is reading that you must do in advance of the lecture, in preparation for it.

Additional Reading: Each week there is also a piece of reading which you should try to do in preparation, and must do in connection with essays you write.

Essays: BA students will write essays in preparation for seminars—to be arranged with your tutor. M.A. students may be asked to prepare a short seminar presentation.

Essay questions: These are questions to be used for essays for assessment.

Further Reading: Following the essay questions for each part is a list of further reading, to be done in connection with presubmitted essays.


B.A.: One presubmitted essay of c.3,000 (max. 3,200) words.

M.A. Philosophy: One presubmitted essay of c.3,500 (max. 3,750) words.

Students taking an M.A. Two presubmitted essays, one from each part of the course

but not M.A. Philosophy: One essay (‘Essay 1’) should be in the range 3,000 – 3,500 words.

The other (‘Essay 2’) should be in the range 2,000 – 2,500 words.

The total of the two essays should not exceed 6,000 words.


Electronic copies of the required reading and some other course materials are available through Moodle. You will need your ITS login name and password to enter.

Part 1: Gendered Freedom: Independence and Dependence

In what terms should we describe the cultural and political subordination of women? According to one influential view, women’s subordination lies in certain forms of dependence that in turn make them unfree. The idea that freedom consists in independence is currently much discussed, and the aim of this section of the course is to see how far this analysis of liberty can illuminate gender relations past and present. We shall begin with two classic philosophical works, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1790), and John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), each of which offers an account ways in which dependence makes women unfree. We’ll then move on to examine the extent to which the idea of freedom as independence can and does inform contemporary discussions of gendered subordination.

WEEK 1 (7th January): The Idea of Freedom as Independence

Required Reading: Pettit, Philip (1996), ‘Freedom as Antipower’, Ethics, 106 (3): 576-604.

Additional Reading: Sally Haslanger, ‘Oppressions, Racial and Other’ in Resisting Reality (OUP, 2012)

WEEK 2 (14th Jan.): Wollstonecraft on Independence, Education and Domestic Life

Required Reading: Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Chs 6–12.

Also available at:

Additional Reading: Alan M. S. J. Coffee, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft, freedom and the enduring power of social domination’, European Journal of Political Theory.

WEEK 3 (21st January): Mill on Independence and Access to Public Life

Required Reading: John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women in On Liberty and Other Writings ed. Stefan Collini, (Cambridge University Press, 1989).
Also available at:

Additional Reading: Maria Morales, ‘Rational Freedom in John Stuart Mill’s Feminism’ in Nadia Urbinati and Alex Zakaras eds., J.S. Mill’s Political Thought. A Bicentennial Reassessment.

WEEK 4 (28th January): Independence and Care

Required Reading: Marilyn Freedman, ‘Pettit’s Civic Republicanism and Male Domination’ in Laborde, Cécile and Maynor, John (eds.) (2008), Republicanism and Political Theory, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing), Chapter 8.

Additional reading: Eva Kittay and E.K. Feder, The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), chs 1, 2 and 5.

WEEK 5 (4th February): Internalising Dependence: Adaptive Preferences

Required Reading: Serene J. Khader, Adaptive Preferences and Women’s Empowerment (available at Oxford Scholarship Online), chapters 1 and 2.

Additional reading: Ann Levey, ‘Liberalism, Adaptive Preference and Gender Equality’, Hypatia 20 (2005).

Essay Questions

  1. According to Wollstonecraft, the situation of women undermines the freedom of both women and men. Critically assess her analysis of the ways in which it does so.

  2. Can Pettit’s account of arbitrary interference satisfactorily determine when women are and are not dependent?

  3. ‘Mill’s tacit appeal to what is natural undermines his account of the subjection of women.’ Critically assess this claim.

  4. Are caring relations incompatible with independence, and thus with a republican conception of freedom?

  5. Analyse the role and limitations of care in helping dependent groups to become more independent

  6. When is a preference adaptive?


1: The Idea of Freedom as Independence

(This reading is especially relevant to Essays 2 and 4.)

Honohan, Iseult (2002), Civic Republicanism, London: Routledge. [Chapters VI and VIII. There is also a short section on Wollstonecraft, Chapter III, pp.99-102].

Lovett, Francis (2006), “Republicanism”, The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy,

*Laborde, Cécile and Maynor, John (eds.) (2008), Republicanism and Political Theory, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing) Chapter 1, ‘The Republican Contribution to Contemporary Political Theory’.

Pettit, Philip (2006), “The Determinacy of Republican Policy: A Reply to McMahon”, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 34 (3): 275-283. [includes a very clear 15-point summary of freedom as non-domination].

*Pettit, Philip (1996), “Freedom as Antipower”, Ethics, 106 (3): 576-604.

Pettit, Philip, ‘Republican Freedom: Three Axioms, Four Theorems’ in Laborde and Maynor eds., Republicanism and Political Theory, Chapter 5.

Skinner, Quentin (2002), “A Third Concept of Liberty”, Proceedings of the British Academy 117, 2001 Lectures (2002); a shortened version, London Review of Books, 4th April, 2002, pp.16–18.

*Skinner, Quentin, ‘Freedom as the Absence of Arbitrary Power’ in Laborde and Maynor eds., Republicanism and Political Theory, Chapter 4

Nancy Hirschman, The Subject of Liberty. Toward a Feminist theory of Freedom

2: Wollstonecraft on Independence, Education and Domestic Life

(Especially relevant to Essay 2.)

Maria J. Falco ed., Feminist Interpretations of Mary Wollstonecraft (Penn State University Press, 1996).

Moira Gatens, Feminism and Philosophy. Perspectives on Difference and Equality (Polity Press, 1991).

*Halldenius, Lena (2007), “The primacy of right. On the triad of liberty, equality and virtue in Wollstonecraft's political thought”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 15 (1): 75-99.

Godin, B. (2014), “Freedom Fit for a Feminist? On the Feminist Potential of Quentin Skinner’s Conception of Republican Freedom”, Redescriptions: Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory 17

Halldenius, Lena (2013), “The Political Conditions for Free Agency. The Case of Mary Wollstonecraft”, in Q. Skinner & M. van Gelderen (red.), Freedom and the Construction of Europe, Volume 2. Cambridge University Press.

Jones, Chris (2002), Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindications and their Political Tradition’ in Claudia L. Johnson ed., The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft, Cambridge University Press, pp. 42-58.

*Sapiro, Virginia (1992), A Vindication of Political Virtue: The Political Theory of Mary Wollstonecraft, London: University of Chicago Press.

3: Mill on Independence and Access to Public Life

(Especially relevant to Essay 3.)

*John Stuart Mill, On Liberty ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge University Press, 1989).
(Also available online.)

David Brink, Mill’s Moral and Political Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Moira Gatens, Feminism and Philosophy. Perspectives on Equality and Difference (Polity, 1991), chapter 7.

Joseph Hamburger, John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control (Princeton, 1999).

David Dryzenhaus, ‘John Start Mill and the Harm of Pornography, Ethics 102 (1992), 534-51.

Richard Vernon, ‘John Start Mill and Pornography. Beyond the Harm Principle’ Ethics 106 (1996), 621-32.

*Mary Lyndon Shanley, ‘Marital Slavery and Friendship: John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women,’ Political Theory, Vol. 9, No. 2 (May, 1981), pp. 229-247.

C. L. Ten, Mill on Liberty (Oxford, 1980)

Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton, 1992).

Nadia Urbinati, ‘John Stuart Mill on Androgyny and Ideal marriage, Political Theory 19.4 (1991).

Nancy Hirschmann, ‘Mill, Political economy and women’s work’, American Political Science Review, 102.2 (2008), 199-213.

WEEK 4: Independence and Care
(Especially relevant to Essays 4 and 5.)

Diemut Bubeck, Care, Gender and the Limits of Justice (Clarendon Press, 1995).

*Engster, Daniel (2001), “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Nurturing Liberalism: Between an Ethic of Justice and Care”, American Political Science Review, 95 (3): 577-588.

Carole Gilligan, (1982) In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Harvard University Press, 1982).

Eva Kittay, Love's Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency, (Routledge, 1999).

*Eva Kittay and E.K. Feder, The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, (University of California Press, 1984).

Eva Kittay and E.K. Feder, The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

Catriona Mackenzie, Wendy Rogers, and Susan Dodds (eds.) Vulnerability: New Essays in Ethics and Feminist Philosophy (Oxford Scholarship Online)

5: Internalising Dependence: Adaptive Preferences
(Especially relevant to Essay 5.)

Clare Chambers, Culture, Sex and Justice. The Limits of Choice.

Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar. Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency and the Social Self

Lawrence Blum, ‘Stereotypes and Stereotyping: A Moral Analysis’, Philosophical Papers 33.3 2004, 251-289.

Ann Levey, “Liberalism, Adaptive Preferences, and Gender Equality”, Hypatia 20.4 (2005).

Elizabeth Barnes, “Disability and Adaptive Preference”, Philosophical Perspectives, 23.1 (2009).

Anita Superson, “Deformed Desires and Informed Desire Tests”, Hypatia 20.4 (2005)

John D. Walker, “Liberalism, Consent, and the Problem of Adaptive Preferences”, Social Theory and Practice, 21.3 (1995).

Numerous articles by Marilyn Friedman on autonomy.

Sonya Charles, “How Should Feminist Autonomy Theorists Respond to the Problem of Internalized Oppression?” Social Theory and Practice, 26.3 (2010).

Part 2: Speech, Free Speech and Gender

Lectures and seminars follow reading week: 18th, 25th Feb, 3rd, 10th, 17th March.

The detailed schedule, essay questions and further reading for this part of the module will be in a separate document.

In this part, there will be discussion of the sorts of words and practices of speech whose use has been thought to be to the detriment of women. Topics include (1) sexist language, (2) “slur words”, (3) generics (thought to contribute to stereotyping). Questions that have recently arisen in discussions of hate speech will be considered. E.g. What sense can be made of the idea that women, or members of some social group, are “silenced”? Does “unfettered free speech” sustain relations of power?

Preliminary Reading for this part of the module

Deborah Cameron, More Heat Than Light: Sex Difference Science and the Study of Language, Ronsdale Press, Vancouver (2013). 32pp.

[There is a reference copy (as well as a copy for loan) in Birkbeck Library.]

Jennifer Saul, “Feminism in Philosophy of Language”.

Rae Langton: an interview.

1 The schedule, essay questions and further reading for part 1 are in the present document.

2 A description of part 2 and preliminary reading for part 2 can be found at the end of the present document. But the schedule, essay questions and further reading for part 2 are in a separate document.

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