The Anthropocentric Idealism of Judith Butler


Justin E. H. Smith over at his website:

Those who, with Judith Butler, deny a distinction between sex and gender, however they may think of themselves, are either classical philosophical idealists, or they are anthropocentrist human-exceptionalists, and thus heirs to the legacy of the Christian theological model of the human being.

Consider this from a recent online ‘syllabus’: "Butler proves that the distinction between sex and gender does not hold. A sexed body cannot signal itself as different sexually without cultural gender categories, and the idea that sex comes before cultural factors (which are believed to be only overlaid on top of sex), is disproven in this book. Gender is performance, there’s no solid universal gender basis beneath these always creative performances. There is no concrete sexed body without constructed human categories to interpret it."

At least since Fichte dispensed with the Kantian thing-in-itself, we have been aware of the possibility that there is no concrete external world without constructed human categories to interpret it. That is, if we acknowledge that the world beyond our experience is entirely inaccessible to us by definition, then there are good arguments to the effect that we should not believe it exists at all.

But the philosophical possibility of absolute idealism in no way prevents us from continuing on with our research programmes in, say, fluid dynamics or vulcanology. What makes the human body so different?

The concrete sexed human body is, alongside volcanoes, etc., a thing of nature– unless, that is, you are an idealist and you think there is no such thing as nature at all. But in any case, the sexed human body and the volcano, whether ‘constructs’ or natural objects, can only have the same ontological status– unless, that is, you are a human exceptionalist.

Which brings us to our second point.

More here.