Elizabeth Spelman

Elizabeth Spelman teaches philosophy at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is working on a slim book exploring the nature of abundance.

Room for the Lambs: sexual equality

Elizabeth Spelman, 26 January 2006

The official US publication date of this portfolio of Catharine MacKinnon’s articles and speeches over the past twenty-five years coincided with the release of Inside Deep Throat, a documentary about the making of the notorious and hugely profitable pornographic exploration of the lady with the lively larynx. MacKinnon has spent a good portion of her career as a scholar and litigator...

Assertrix: Mary Wollstonecraft

Elizabeth Spelman, 19 February 2004

It’s a rare champion of justice who is not rather partial to the injustices that grease the gears of his or her everyday life. Feminists know this all too well: 19th-century white women opposed to being ‘treated like slaves’ remained unmoved by the enslavement of black women (and men); some women who insist on fair salaries at the office try to pay as little as they can to...

Sock it to me: Richard Sennett

Elizabeth Spelman, 9 October 2003

Among the more reasonable demands we make of our fellow human beings is that they treat us with respect. ‘Just a little bit’, as Aretha Franklin sang and sang again, seems to go a long way. Few exchanges among people appear to cost those who offer it so little and benefit those who receive it so much. ‘Why, then,’ Richard Sennett asks, ‘should it be in short...

How do they see you? Martha Nussbaum

Elizabeth Spelman, 16 November 2000

On the occasion of a meeting of the American Philosophical Association some years ago, hotel housekeepers were overheard commenting that in comparison with other conventioneers, philosophers ‘don’t screw very much, but they sure do drink a lot’. What the real if apocryphally reported housekeepers may not have noted – obliged as they were to be constantly cleaning up...

While Richard Wollheim doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the unexamined emotion is not worth feeling, he does proceed on the assumption that it is beneficial for philosophers and non-philosophers alike to have an accurate picture of a powerful and ever-present part of the human constitution. And in a variety of ways he chides philosophers for their inattention to what he takes to be certain facts of the matter about our psyches. To understand what emotions are, Wollheim argues, one must appreciate the very particular role they play in our relationship to the world about us (and inside us). In his inventory of mental phenomena, emotions join beliefs and desires in a holy trinity of roles: beliefs provide us with a picture of the world, desires with things in that world at which we aim, and emotions with an orientation or attitude towards those things. ‘If belief maps the world, and desire targets it, emotion tints or colours it: it enlivens it or darkens it, as the case may be.’ Without the map that belief provides, there would be nothing for desire to target; and without the targets that desires provide, there would be neither the satisfaction nor the frustration from which emotion as an attitude could form. However distinct from desire, emotion nonetheless ‘rides into our lives on the back’ of it. In Wollheim’s psychic cartography, emotions have itineraries: they typically, though not necessarily, proceed along a path marked by nine stages or moments, a prominent subset of which includes the presence of desire, its satisfaction or frustration, the development of a persisting attitude towards the source of such satisfaction or frustration, and the expression of the emotion in behaviour. Working out the details of these ‘characteristic histories’ provides the book’s main structure: it takes up fully two-thirds of the text, and constitutes the major part of his effort to ‘repsychologise’ the philosophical study of emotion.‘

Letter

Mistakes

9 October 2003

By what mysterious forces did the subtitle of my book morph from ‘The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World’ to ‘The Impulse to Destroy a Damaged World (LRB, 9 October)? No doubt it was due either to someone at the BBC or Blair et cie, but still a bit puzzling!

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