The philosopher's seduction: Hume's essays and gender
Sapp, Vicki June
Piper, William Bowman
Doctor of Philosophy
The Philosopher's Seduction documents the experience of a non-professional-philosopher-female reader's encounter with a father of modern philosophy. I review and analyze the critical history of David Hume's "literary" essays which ostensibly appeal(ed) to a female readership; the gender politics of academic discipline, canon formation, and reader-response theory provide background and substance to my study. Hume's turn from the Treatise to the essay form, but especially to the "woman-appeal" mode, has been critically judged as a deviation from the practice of serious philosophy, to the mercenary and effeminate service of a feminine (both biologically and symbolically) public. These critics point to Hume's own excision of these texts from his subsequent essay editions, and to these essays' putative deficiencies in style and subject matter, as eminent grounds for their rejection by both author and critical traditional. This critical rejection of Hume's woman-appeal essays can be studied as a virtual catalogue of misogyny persisting to the present date in the relevant academic disciplines. Foregrounding my experience as a woman "of Sense and Education" (Hume's own phrase for his intended female readership) in reading Hume, I demonstrate how the shift in reader gender identity and, therefore, conventionally-predicated experience can entail a reversal of critical perspective on the woman-appeal essays. In fact, only by reading "as-a-woman" can one gain access to the philosophical core of these texts, to discover their epistemological centrality to Hume's entire system. In them Hume discloses, through such literary devices as anecdote, metaphor, and irony, how gender issues and in particular woman's situation in society underlie both his conception of philosophy ("understanding") and his moral philosophy. It is crucial to recognize how Hume's manipulation of gender issues along a philosophy-literature continuum reflects his self-consciousness and motivations as a "philosopher" and "belletrist"--two occasionally collaborating, occasionally conflicting literary roles--within his culture. Analogies between Hume's eighteenth- and late-twentieth-century female readers are difficult to discern and uneasy; yet, a common experience of "woman-appeal" and reading "as-a-woman" can be hypothesized against the backdrop of an enduring patriarchal (misogynist) economy. The Philosopher's Seduction reverses the terms of this economy by re-placing Hume's woman-appeal essays into the critical canon and in an epistemologically primary place. At the same time, this study traces an ambivalent coming-to-power of Hume's woman reader "of Sense and Education": in the context of these essays, a qualified invitee, or ultimately initiate, into the traditionally gender-exclusive practice of philosophy.
English literature; Women's studies; Philosophy