Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Alison Stone's "Being Born"

Alison Stone is Professor of Philosophy at Lancaster University. Her books include: Petrified Intelligence: Nature in Hegel's Philosophy (2004), Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference (2006), An Introduction to Feminist Philosophy (2007), Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Maternal Subjectivity (2011) and The Value of Popular Music (2016). She is also editor of The Edinburgh Critical History of Nineteenth-Century Philosophy (2011) and co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy (2017).

Stone applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Being Born: Birth and Philosophy, and reported the following:
Page 99 is in the middle of chapter 3 of the book. The page moves – swiftly! – through Hegel’s, then Marx’s, then Heidegger’s views of human social relationships and human sociality. Then I assess them:
Hegel, Marx and Heidegger all offer insights here, but those insights can be enriched by taking account of the formative impact of our early relationships. Whether we belong to a shared community spirit or set of social production relations or world of practical involvements, we come to belong to and participate in them from birth onwards. We do not spring into existence as full-fledged adults but enter into shared ways of life through a temporal and developmental process. Through this process we receive and inherit from others, and learn to participate with others in, a pre-existing communal spirit, or set of production relations, or network of shared involvements—or something of all these.
The page 99 test works here reasonably well, if not perfectly. In the book overall, I argue that philosophers haven’t paid much attention to the fact that we are born, and I explore some ways that human existence looks different once we take being born into account. Page 99 fits in, since I’m pointing out that Hegel, Marx and Heidegger’s views of sociality omit birth and could have benefited from taking account of it.

Also, I explain Heidegger’s view of shared networks of meaning surrounding practical tasks and objects with an example about building a run for my rabbits – nice to see them getting centre stage!

I think the reader can get a sense from page 99 that I try to explain philosophical theories in everyday language, and to draw lots of disparate philosophical ideas together to bring them to bear on birth.

This page might, though, give the impression that I dwell heavily on ‘the great’ philosophers – the canon of mainly male, white, European authors. But actually some of my most important influences are recent female and feminist authors and I want to open up philosophy beyond the canon. That said, I do spend quite some time with the classic existentialists including Sartre and Heidegger – so this page again reflects that.

In another way, too, page 99 is revealing about what I’m doing in this book more broadly. I argue that, being born, we begin life as helpless, dependent babies and infants who remain heavily dependent on adult care and education throughout childhood and beyond. Hence my claim on page 99 that we receive cultural traditions and practices from adults in the corners of the world we’ve been born into, and that we inherit cultures from generations before us.

I argue in Being Born that we’ve over-valued autonomy, agency, and independence compared to dependency, reception, and inheritance. We’ve over-stressed the individual’s agency to shape his or her life. By comparison, we’ve neglected the extent to which individuals receive cultural frameworks of meaning and value from others, and only learn to exercise agency and creativity by navigating within these prior frameworks. As we are born, we receive first and only second do we become able to create.
Learn more about Being Born at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue