Is Rational Mysticism Compatible with Feminism? A critical examination of Plotinus and Kashani (2006)
AuthorsCooper, Elisabeth Janeshow all
Plotinus (3rd century C.E.) and Afdal al-Din Kashani (12th century C.E.) each posit that the highest human goal is to become aware of the ultimate unity of reality. Both are rational mystics, and each describes a rigorous moral and intellectual training through which alone a human can achieve the goal. Seldom studied as a field in itself, rational mysticism offers a vision of philosophy that combines reason, intuition, virtuous practice, and mystical awareness. The relatively young discipline of feminist philosophy is both a response to what its practitioners see as male prejudice in past and present philosophical theories and an attempt to forge new, inclusive theories. Plato and Aristotle, among others, are called to account for their alleged contributions to the philosophically common representation of women as less rational than men, and to the development of philosophical and theological paradigms reflecting a male perspective. Since Plotinus and Kashani both owe much to Plato and Aristotle, including significant elements of how they conceptualise human nature and the nature of ultimate reality, it might be expected that they would incur the same criticisms. So far, however, little feminist attention as such has been paid to Plotinus and the rational mystics of the Islamic tradition, and almost none to Kashani. My examination of these two figures is an attempt to rectify this neglect. In addition, for the first time in a feminist historical critique of this kind, a diversity of feminist perspectives is taken into account. Thus, the question 'Is rational mysticism compatible with feminism?' will be seen to yield a somewhat different answer according to which group of feminists is in view. In offering a revisionist interpretation of Plotinus and Kashani, I aim first to establish which of their theses are consistent with feminist theses; second, to determine whether the consistency of theses is significantly affected, in Kashani's case, by the additional influence of Islamic religion; and third, to identify which group or sub-group of feminists could find in rational mysticism resources for reconstructive work in philosophy. I thereby aim to enrich the understanding of both rational mysticism and feminism.