Reading Questions for Elshtain’s “Antigone’s Daughters”

February 9, 2015

Jean Elshtain is one of the better known political philosophers of her generation (she was also the main advisor to my own advisor in grad school, so she’s kind of my academic grandmother, if we wish to stick with family metaphors). Throughout most of her career, she has focused on issues in feminist theory, particularly regarding questions of gender roles as they relate to questions in political ethics. This, of course, is the central issue in this essay too. She is concerned about and critical of a particular strand in feminist theory that holds that the central task for feminist politics is to have women become fully assimilated into the practices and logics of the “public sphere,” particularly the state. Instead, she suggests that the character Antigone might model a more valuable form of political activity. So that is the central question for your reading: what kind of political engagement does Elshtain think Antigone models? Why does she think it is superior to the alternative conceptions of feminist politics that she analyzes?

  • Elshtain begins her essay with a collection of worries about the state. What are her concerns? List a few of them.
  • In the first section of the body of her piece (starting on p. 47), Elshtain describes a particular model of feminist thought. What are the main features of this model? What does this model think the goal(s) of feminist theory should be?
  • In her second section of the body of her essay, Elshtain describes a second model of feminist thought, what she calls “difference feminism” (the term “difference feminism” is fairly standard, by the way). According to Elsthain, what are the main features of difference feminism? What do theorists in this tradition think the goals of feminist action should be?
  • Elsthain calls her own model “social feminism” (not to be confused with “socialist feminism,” which is a whole other kettle of fish), and she uses Antigone as the model actor for this sort of feminist thinking. What are the features of social feminism? How does it differ from the other models? Given that its difference from the first model should be fairly apparent, how specifically does it differ from difference feminism?
  • To develop her conception of social feminism, Elshtain focuses on specific aspects of the play, “Antigone”? What parts does she focus on? What parts does she ignore? Are the parts of the play that would contradict the point she is trying to make?
  • And here’s the big question: if there are parts of the play that contradict Elshtain’s point, what does that do for her argument on behalf of social feminism? If she gets “Antigone” wrong (or that she misses crucial parts of the play) suggest that something is also wrong with her notion of social feminism?
  • Elshtain insists that social feminism (and “maternal thinking,” p. 58) offer a genuine alternative to the bureaucratic rationalism she associates with the state. What is her reasoning for this claim? How are the two forms of thinking different from one another, and how would a society oriented more toward maternal thinking be differently organized?

Welcome to a new semester of Ancient Greeks blogging

January 12, 2015

We are about to begin a new semester on The Ancient Greeks, and so this message is just a welcome to the new students in the class. Take a look around. Read what your fellow students have written about over the last few years (there’s a post on Socrates and Jesus from a few years ago that has gotten tens of thousands of hits since it was published). Leave comments.

Our readings for Thursday will include Sophocles’ famous play, “Oedipus the King.” I’ll re-post the reading questions for that play in the next few days.

Some Food for Thought for All the Mice Out There

April 7, 2013

Gotta love Kafka :p


Welcome to the students in the 2013 class

January 15, 2013

Since this is a course blog, we have been on hiatus for the past two years. However, as I am teaching the class again, we will be adding new posts over the next several months. If you are a student in the Ancient Greeks class, please look through the categories and posts that the former students have written. You might find some things that inspire or annoy you. If you are a visitor, welcome and feel free to contribute any comments you might have.

On A Conversation Yesterday

May 6, 2011

I was talking with Prof. Mackin yesterday about how I was still dissatisfied with the idea of certain pleasures being higher than others. My objections are that each pleasure is a subjective experience that each individual experiences for themselves, and therefore, we cannot know that one pleasure is truly greater than another except in our own experience of it. In class, and yesterday, the defense presented was a John Stewart Mill quote basically saying that no man that has experienced a higher form of pleasure would trade it away for that of a pig. Even with extreme dissatisfaction, the experience of a higher pleasure is greater than being satisfied constantly with a lower form of pleasure.

I gave the example of someone who has tried to achieve the higher pleasures of philosophy or playing a good concert etc. but in the end would rather just get drunk and play Halo with his friends. A bad response to this would merely be to say that means they didn’t really understand the higher pleasure. This defense is like seeing a movie that everyone hates except for one guy that keeps saying the movie was too deep for everyone else. At the same time, if this person doesn’t like a movie that everyone else does, they can simply say that the loner didn’t understand the movie. This “Too deep for you” defense is unreasonable because it really just becomes a matter of taste. You can’t prove that The King’s Speech is any better than Jonah Hex. Sure, one is artful and emotional, but if what brings me pleasure is Megan Fox’s body and Gunshots, chances are I will think Jonah Hex was better and TKS was just boring.

A better defense of the statement of no man that has experienced the higher pleasure would trade it for a lower one is simply that it is better because no one would trade it. For starters, that’s a bit of a tautology I realize, but it is sort of like saying no man would trade a hundred dollar bill for a one dollar bill because the hundred dollar bill is worth more. Worth, however is something relative. It is entirely possible that the single dollar for a poor person is more important to a person than the hundred dollars to a multi-billionaire. This isn’t the greatest analogy in the world, but it should show the relativity involved.

Professor Mackin had a great point to make about this topic as well. To go back to the pig versus someone with higher pleasure experiences, talking about the two of them choosing to switch places simply makes no sense. Even if the man with the higher pleasure had experienced them, to imagine him as a pig would be removing these higher notions. There wouldn’t be any part of this higher pleasure knowledge in the pig, and it would still be a pig. Similarly, the man would not enjoy the pleasures of the pig because the pig would be gone. This shows how making this argument of not wanting to switch as a proof for why a higher pleasure is better is simply nonsensical.

In the end, one man enjoys getting drunk and playing pool, and another man enjoys teaching or philosophical debate. One form of pleasure cannot be greater than another because it is a subjective experience. This simple fact dismantles the argument that justice as defined by Socrates is good intrinsically. Since his argument is basically that justice is the highest form of good/pleasure, and pleasure cannot have a true system of ranking, it ends up being that Socrates argument falls apart.

Our Behavior in Response to What We’ve Studied

May 6, 2011

Something I’ve noticed throughout the year is that depending on various topics that we touch upon, we have reacted so distinctly to each portion of this class. I don’t mean to seem like a creep or anything, but I have a great inclination to study people and their habits here and there, and our class is quite colorful in terms of how we behave as students and as the buds of part-time political theorists for the purpose of this class. Some people do not take the opportunities to speak, while others may find themselves speaking more than even themselves really intend on. This roots in different upbringings, self-esteems, thoroughness of readings, and building rage of opposition in which people handle in many ways. Personally, I could care less whether or not what I have to say is valid or not, I like to get my word out on the table. However, there are some people in our class that probably have so much insight that they could have really bloomed as arguers had they taken the reigns in our class.

I think that when it came to reading Oedipus the King, a lot of us were still warming up to the idea of speaking amongst a class and sharing ideas because we were amongst people that we may not necessarily see on a daily basis or met for the first time in this class. I feel that the graphic details and happenings in Oedipus was a nice icebreaker in that sense because it was not really the hardest thing to begin with in terms of the discussion of Greek society and their political habits. Antigone came next and I think this is what really got our wheels turning in terms of different viewpoints and matters for argument. The fact that there were multiple paths and interpretations that Sophocles left us brought a lot of hunger for more information on the ancient Greece culture and practices, so more people found themselves participating and bringing new material to the table.

Moving onto the Plato, Aristophanes, and extra readings seemed like less of a hit in terms of the interest presented by everyone in class. I feel like this period of class may have had less involvement due to either hectic work schedules or disinterest because these discussions ended up being a lot less involved and rowdy as maybe our Antigone or Republic discussions became. Factors such as the weather could have even effected this as I know I feel a lot less motivated when the weather is not agreeing with me.

Even though it was what we spent most time on so by default it brought more discussion, I think that the Republic brought upon the most life in us in relation to the time spent on anything else we did this year. The Republic is just so thorough and has SO much to talk about that I think that people who didn’t even finish a certain reading in time for class discussion could find themselves involved. There is so much that relates to modern society that people were almost upset by the ideas of this type of society existing in the modern day. Many of us put these ideas in the present time and it fueled a lot of the discussion that we found.

Overall, I don’t mean to creep, but I just have a tendency to look at these habits in people. With such a diverse class I couldn’t help but notice this about us.

What does it feel like to exist?

May 4, 2011

I read an article today about existance, and it got me thinking, what does it feel like to exist? I don’t think we know what if feels like to exist, but to exist must feel mundane or boring, just like breathing. To say “you are breathing” is one thing, because if I were to say that “Glenn is breathing” we could all recognize the feeling of breathing. Breathing is news to everyone in the area of Glenn.

But what if no one knew Glenn and I said, “Glenn exists”? This is not news to anyone that may know Glenn. How can we relate to something that we can’t even relate to? Even if I knew Glenn exists, what is it like to be Glenn, or more like, what is it like to be? How can we define the feeling of existence?

This is a very confusing article that I am reading. I wanted to blog about it now, and see if I can follow up with an answer later. I am very intrigued by this article though.

Here is a link: