At the 2017 Annual Conference of the Société de Philosophie du Québec. Photo credit: Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert
My research focuses on Immanuel Kant's practical philosophy and on the history of feminist philosophy (17th and 18th centuries)
I completed a PhD in Philosophy in August 2019 at McGill University. My dissertation "Can She Think for Herself? Kant on Women and Enlightenment" investigates the political and legal implications of Immanuel Kant’s exclusion of women from the Enlightenment. There are three main parts of my discussion. I first show that Kant is not anti-egalitarian on every level: in particular, he is eager to preserve women's moral agency. Yet he still excludes them from his conception of Enlightenment, which can come across as puzzling if they are taken to be intellectually and morally equal to men. I then argue that this exclusion is due to the pre-established legal framework in which this conception of Enlightenment is intended to take place. Indeed, Enlightenment as Kant understands it requires making public use of one’s reason. I demonstrate that, by his own standards, making public use of one’s reason is not something that all citizens are allowed to do, and that women are the only members of society who are strictly prohibited from accessing the necessary civil independence by Kant’s conception of right. Finally, I argue that despite Kant’s exclusion of women in his conception of right, the ideals of the Enlightenment in general need not be hostile to women: Theodor von Hippel and Mary Wollstonecraft, who were both influenced by Kant’s ideas, provide convincing arguments for the legal emancipation of women. I thus move to consider how later thinkers, familiar with Kant’s ideas, were able to use his system to argue for something that Kant does not allow.
Here is more on some of my recent or forthcoming publications:
Sabourin, C. (2021). "Kant’s Enlightenment and Women’s Peculiar Immaturity". Kantian Review, 1-26. doi:10.1017/S1369415420000564
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In ‘What is Enlightenment?’, Kant claims that no women are currently enlightened. Here I argue that this exclusion is due to certain legal restrictions guiding Kant’s conception of enlightenment. As enlightenment is intended to take place in society, it appears that Kant has a specific legal context in mind that affects its enactment. His twofold conception of citizenship and the dimension of subordination he puts forward by restricting the private use of reason will prove useful in clarifying those legal restrictions. It thus seems unlikely that Kant intended women to take an active part in enlightenment.
(Forthcoming) “Theodor von Hippel on the Status of Women in Germany” in Women and Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Germany (ed. C. W. Dyck), Oxford University Press.
While Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel is best known today for his friendship with Immanuel Kant, he was also a well-liked Aufklärer who had a fairly successful career of his own as a writer and as a civil servant. Hippel is also to be credited for his contribution to early modern feminism. Not only did Hippel provide convincing arguments for the legal equality of men and women; he also made clear that the difficulties experienced by women in partaking in public philosophy in his day were caused by civil society and needed to be addressed as such. In this paper I show that Hippel’s and Kant’s shared Enlightenment beliefs in the progress in the use of reason and in the intrinsic worth of human beings are effectively used by Hippel to argue for the improvement of the civil status of women. Hippel provides an argument for the natural equality of men and women and shows, in light of this argument, that any difference between the sexes is irrelevant in granting civil status and privileges. Hippel’s proposals provide support to the idea that the legal subordination of women is a problem for the enactment of the Enlightenment broadly construed, and even more so in a Kantian perspective. In the end, the goal of the Enlightenment will be achieved only if it is rendered consistent with its own universal principles.
(2017) “Plaider l’égalité pour mieux la dépasser : Gabrielle Suchon et l’élévation des femmes” [“Overcoming Equality: Gabrielle Suchon and the Elevation of Women”], Philosophiques 44 (2), pp. 209-232. [Paper published in French, available here]
This paper examines Gabrielle Suchon’s contribution to the famous “querelle des femmes”. I argue that although Suchon is a proponent of the equality of the sexes with respect to their capacities for freedom, science and authority, she ultimately suggests that there is a way in which women can make themselves superior to men. I will show that her project for the elevation of women can be accomplished only by isolating women from men, given that the relationships between the sexes will always be detrimental to women.