Those who participate in the discourses of social and ideological criticism encounter
time and again the almost routine complaint about the dualistic split between «man»
and «nature.»7 For instance, Andreas Weber writes in his essay Enlivenment that the
economy’s endless focus on competition as a social form—and at the same time on
money as the (supposedly) general medium of exchange—is directly connected to
the metaphysical separation between «human culture» and «brute matter»: the fact
that «man» is traditionally thought of as the controlling opposite of the natural placed
his existence—as we are now finally recognizing under the pressure of ecological
urgency—in a problematic or even absurd relationship to the rest of nature.8
who advocates sustainable development of human coexistence in the fragile cosmos
must as a consequence work towards dismantling the dualism between humans and
There is no question that the opposition between «man» and «nature» diagnosed
here constitutes part of the history of the West. It can be traced as far back as the classical
Greek era. Without a doubt it is one of the fundamental causes of the precarious
situation into which human civilization, despite all its progress, has maneuvered itself.
However, Andreas Weber and many other critics of dualism err when they consider
the dichotomization of human culture and nature «endless.»9 The construct in question
always ended precisely at the point where human beings, aspiring to spiritualization
and independence, want and need to be provided with their daily needs—with
warmth, love, protection, meals, purpose, cleanliness, and more—and when they
want to procreate. Human needs—which cannot be eliminated and are unceasing—
impose boundaries everywhere and always on the concept of the independence of
homo sapiens from nature. But philosophers are loath to mention this:
In my culture, «Western» culture, it has become common practice to define a certain construc
tion of past events history as «history.» By deciding to use the indefinite article instead of the
definite article, I am indicating that I consider this usage questionable. At the same time I am
inviting you to perceive, emphasize and bring up other histories.
From a certain stage in the history of humankind onwards, since influential thinkers
seem to have experienced their own naturalness—and thus the limits of their
removal from nature—as a nuisance, as a humiliating deprivation of their liberty,
they have not only conceived of themselves as the site of an immortal spirit, but at
the same time have invented compensatory human ways of existence that are supposedly
closer to nature10
and thus not conceived or structured for a life in freedom
and equality but for serving in subordination. In the history of Western explanations
of the world, therefore, «the» human hardly ever meant all members of the species.11
Instead, what was meant were primarily or exclusively white adult propertied local
men, who had themselves cared for by wives, male and female slaves, domestic servants,
maids, menials, nannies, mothers, grandmothers, day care professionals, neighbors,
care migrants, «domestic animals»:12 primarily in private13 households, which
each conceptually are under the control of a «free» citizen and in which everyone’s
needs are (should be) fulfilled so discreetly that the heads of the family more or less
succeed in creating the appearance in the public sphere of being the independent
beings virtually without needs which they fantasize themselves as being.
1.1 The question of the beginnings
How and where people began to separate higher, free, symbolic (and often also real)
masculine spheres of humanity from lower, dependent, «feminine,» natural ones,
what came before, and when what came before was superseded on a lasting basis
and for what reasons by the multi-dimensional dichotomous symbolic order still in
effect today, is contentious and the subject of a vast field of speculations that interest
me here only in the form of questions: Did early agrarian societies, in the scope
of an original accumulation of means of production, develop a practice of abducting
in the course of which men took advantage of the «ambivalence of hunting
to forcibly gain possession of women—as a doubly productive labor power?
Was there another form of society before the patriarchate, a matriarchal one that was
forcibly eliminated by men—as a consequence of whatever events or interests?16
not so much the subjugation of women that is primary, but rather the seizure through
war and enslavement of entire nations? Was the beginning even the psychological
dilemma of a masculine «womb envy,»17
which—after the gradual discovery of the
function of male sperm18—initially turned into its overvaluation? Or do all these factors
and more come together?19
At any rate: the fact is that in the eastern Mediterranean area in the centuries
before the turn of the eras, a construction of the world was established and stabilized
in countless texts, the key points of which can be summarized as follows:
There are two kinds of humans, free and unfree, and there are two sexes, men and women.
Men are more important, smarter, stronger, and freer than women.
The benchmark for defining what is human is the local adult man.
There are people—wives, children, slaves—who are legitimately possessed by
other people—masters and mistresses.
That there are free and dependent people in these terms corresponds to the natural
or divine law (logos)20 and is thus unalterable.21
1.2 Xanthippe and Socrates: Life begins on the other side?
The story of the death of Socrates, as handed down in Plato’s « Phaedo» dialogue (428348
B.C.), can be considered an important key scene in establishing the dichotomous
symbolic order, often made light of as a «body-soul dualism»:22
The Athenian authorities have sentenced Socrates to death because he is said to
have led the youth astray and to have denied the gods. Before he drinks the deadly poison,
he gathers his friends in prison to reflect with them about the meaning of death.
So that the philosophizing men can do this undisturbed, Socrates’ wife Xanthippe is
first led away with their son, because she bewails the impending death, making clear
that she places too much emphasis on this mortal world:
On entering, we (Socrates’ friends, I.P.) found Socrates … and Xanthippe—you
know her—sitting beside him with his little son. When Xanthippe saw us, she
cried out and said the sort of things that women always do, «Ohfi Socrates, this
is the last time your friends will ever speak to you, or you to themfi» Socrates
looked at Crito and said, «Crito, let someone take her home»; and some of Crito’s
retainers took her away, crying aloud and beating her breast.23
The woman and child are a disturbance when the men begin to agree that only with
death does real life begin, provided that death releases the immortal soul from the
prison of the body and thus from everything that sets bounds to it. Both the woman
who bore him and the child become the symbol of the material,24
natural, inconstant, unauthentic, disgraceful side of existence:
The body presents us with innumerable distractions, because of the necessity
of looking after it ; … The body fills us with emotions of love, desire, and fear,
with all kinds of phantasy and nonsense, … it seems, we shall have our heart’s
desire, that of which we claim to be lovers, even wisdom—when we die, … for
then, but not till then, the soul will be independent, free from the body. 25
After Socrates has declared that for the truly wise the real is on the other side, incorporeal
and invisible, he performs serenely, almost joyfully the death sentence on himself,
not without reprimanding his friends who are still blinded26 for their womanish lack of self-control:
A boy handed Socrates the cup. Socrates took it … quite serenely, and without
any trembling, or any change in color or countenance, but … raised the cup
to his lips, and showing not the least distaste, quite unperturbed, he drained
Most of us had till then been more or less able to restrain our tears, but when
we saw him drinking and then that he had drunk it, we could do so no longer.
For my part, despite my efforts I found that the tears flooded down my cheeks
(…) he made everyone present break down, except Socrates himself. «What
are you doing, strange fellows?» he said, «That was my chief reason for sending
the women away, so that they shouldn’t make this mistake» (…). At this we felt
ashamed, and checked our weeping.28
1.3 Soul and body, polis and oikos, master and slave, man and animal: Aristotelian metaphysics
One generation after Plato, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) further developed the dichotomy
of the world sketched out in Phaedo into higher and lower, soul and body, male and
female, eternal and temporary, sublime and disgraceful, freedom and dependency
into the unified metaphysics which is still influential today:
We will therefore restrict ourselves to the living creature, which, in the first
place, consists of soul and body; and of these two, the one is by nature the
ruler, and the other the subject. (…) for the soul rules the body with a despotic
rule, whereas the intellect rules the appetites with a constitutional and royal
rule. And it is clear that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and
the rational element over the passionate is natural and expedient ; whereas the
equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful. (…) Again, the
male is by nature superior and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the
other is ruled, this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind. Where then
there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and
animals (…) the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for
all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. (…) It is clear, then,
that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter
slavery is both expedient and right.29
That the pervasive dichotomization correlates with the interests of the (supposedly)
independent citizen of the polis in conceiving of the oikos as a sphere in which
dependents, controlled by masters, satisfy everyone’s need by working physically,
ensure reproduction of the species, and thereby create their masters’ (supposed) freedom,
is clearly stated in Politics:
The rule of a household is a monarchy, for every house is under one head:
whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals (…)
There is likewise a science of the master, which teaches the use of slaves; for
the master as such is concerned, not with the acquisition, but with the use
of them. Yet this so-called science is not anything great or wonderful, for the
master need only know how to order that which the slave must know how to
execute. Hence those who are in a position which places them above toil have
stewards who attend to their households while they occupy themselves with
philosophy or with politics.30
Aristotle clearly equates oikonomia with the sphere of needs which is held in subordination,
which is why it is defined to the present day as «a societal process designed
to satisfy the human need to preserve and sustain life and the quality of life.»31
To be sure, the early theoreticians of the economic distinguished between household arts
and the art of wealth acquisition. They did not call the latter «economy,» however,
but rather «chrematistics,»32 and called explicitly for subordinating wealth acquisition
at all times to caring for human needs in order to integrate its inherent tendency to
boundlessness into the purpose of the good life on a lasting basis. Only later, explicitly
in the 18th century, did people split the «societal process designed to satisfy human
needs» itself in two by reinterpreting needs-centered oikonomia to the mere sphere of
consumption or to «life» and placing above it programmatically a higher virile sphere
with the ostensibly self-regulating «free» market. The fact that this also resulted in
what Aristotle had warned about, namely the perpetuation of an «economy» that does
not deserve the name, because instead of revolving around human needs it revolves
around a newly conceived, invisible «other reality,» to wit money and thus the potentially
infinite amassing of wealth, can hardly be denied in an era of late-capitalist predatory
exploitation of humanity and the natural world.
1.4 God the Lord and the silent woman: the patriarchal monotheisms
In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI identified Christianity in his famous Regensburg lecture as
the «profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the
biblical understanding of faith in God.»33
Indeed, what we now call «Christianity» or «the Christian West» can be read as a synthesis of two distinct conceptions of the
world, which are not, however, as far apart as some Philhellenic spirits would wish:
The Greek classical era and the «faith in God based on the Bible» both have their origins
in the ancient Near East ; both posit the institution of slavery; both are, at least in
terms of their superficial structures, patriarchally/dualistically constructed in terms
of the criteria listed under 1.1; both reflect the transition from the polytheistic to the
monotheistic construction of the world; and, besides ideas of (more or less) eternal
hierarchical orders, both contain dynamic emancipatory elements, such as the idea of
the equality of all human beings before God and concepts of justice derived from this.
In the melting pot of the Roman Empire, whose o%cial philosophy borrowed
heavily from Greek classicism, various worldviews, embodied for instance in itinerant
teachers like Jesus of Nazareth, social outsiders like Mary Magdalene, and enthusiastic
educated citizens such as Paul the Apostle, came into contact with each other and
formed new connections. From the 4th century A.D. onwards, the syncretism of the
Hebrew/biblical faith in God, which is rooted in turn in the polytheisms of the ancient
Near East and its patriarchalizations34 and Platonic-Aristotelian metaphysics, developed
into the powerful institution of the Roman Church. It was the Roman Church in
particular which handed down the dogma of the omnipotent, otherworldly, invisible
God and the essentially differing «dignity»35 of the sexes, despite all partial reform,
renewal, and Enlightenment movements, defending both views until today against
various movements towards the «dehellenization»36 of the symbolic order:
In our times the question of «women’s rights» has taken on new significance in
the broad context of the rights of the human person. The biblical and evangelical
message sheds light on this cause … by safeguarding the truth about … that
dignity and vocation that result from the specific diversity and personal originality
of man and woman. Consequently, … the rightful opposition of women
to what is expressed in the biblical words « He shall rule over you» (Gen 3:16)
must not under any condition lead to the «masculinization» of women. …
women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to
their own feminine «originality.» There is a well-founded fear that if they take
this path, women will not «reach fulfillment,» but instead will deform and lose
what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness. …
The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources
of masculinity: they are merely different.37
Even so, despite all the persistent church paternalism, in 2013 there does seem to be a
feminine plural and «profound questions»:
The church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women
make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill
sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the
special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even
if not exclusive, expression in motherhood … Demands that the legitimate
rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and
women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging
questions … .38
There can be no doubt that in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible as well as
in the Koran of late antiquity,39 strong traditions are at work which identify the divine
with an invisible higher reality, which is accessible only to or primarily to men. Social
orders are similarly pronounced in all three major monotheisms in how they make the
feminine into a part of nature and allocate to women the role of the privatized housekeeper
who meekly accepts the masculine power of definition:
As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people women should remain silent in
the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the
law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own
husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1
Cor 14:33-35) However, all three monotheisms also contain lines of tradition that run contrary to
dichotomization and open up areas for post-dualistic interpretations which are well
advanced in the meantime, primarily in the form of feminist and post-patriarchal theologies:
that God created humans «in his own image … as male and female» (Gen
1:27) indeed confirms the dualism of the sexes, but already at the beginning of the
Bible it challenges the supposedly unquestionable identification of the divine with
the «higher masculine.» With the doctrine of the Christian Trinity or triune God, particularly
the concepts of the birth of God40 and the unpredictable power of the Holy
Spirit, Christian dogma ruptures the idea of a disinterested Lord God enthroned on
high. That women are not kept away from the execution of Christ and from the place
of Resurrection, as in the case of the Platonic Xanthippe, but rather occupy key positions
in what is happening as doers and agents of the Gospel, marks a clear difference
to the only ostensibly obvious, Platonically understood focus on the afterlife of
Christian tradition. In Islam too, the identification of Allah with the higher masculine
is more a product of cultural usurpation than theological reflection. Allah is in
any case only rarely called « Lord,» « Father,» or « King» in mosques, and «113 of the
114 Quranic Surahs start with the phrase ‘In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the
All-Compassionate,’»41 while at the same time it should be noted that the Arabic terms
for divine mercy, ar-Rachim and ar-Rachman, can be traced back to the word for the
female organ of the uterus. For their part, ar-Rachim and ar-Rachman are related to
the Hebrew root rhm, which already designates divine and human mercy at the beginning
of the First Testament.42
In this way, in all monotheistic traditions—perhaps in all religions—alternative
doctrines and practices can be found that contradict the hegemonic doctrine of the
independent, spiritual masculine to which natural functional human forms of existence
are subject in a compensatory fashion. Linking up with such lines of tradition
and bringing them up to date is an important element of present-day transformatory
politics.43 There is variation in the way Greco-Roman metaphysics, which in the history of
the origins of the three great monotheisms has intertwined with the worldviews of the
ancient Near East—which are also patriarchal but less static—has affected the many
specific contexts to which it was transferred, for instance through Christian missionary
work. "us, it is probably no coincidence that the Scandinavian societies, which
were less exposed to Roman influence in the ancient and medieval eras than south
and central Europe, broke away from patriarchal structures with comparative ease.
And it is certainly no coincidence that political-religious renewal movements of the
recent past—such as Latin American liberation theology, feminist theology arising in
North America, Korean Minjung theology and Black liberation theology—do not have
their roots in the Mediterranean area shaped by Greco-Roman culture.
1.5 Human dignity and persistent paternalism: the European Partial Enlightenment
That the dichotomization of humanity long established by the end of the Middle
Ages survived the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment
in Europe virtually unscathed has by now been proven by a number of studies.44
The entanglement of the founding discourse of modern science with the long-practiced
dualistic gender ideology reflected, for instance, in the writings of Francis Bacon
(1561-1626) can be considered paradigmatic.45 For Bacon, the scientist is just as
unquestionably male as nature is female: Bacon’s man of science viewed nature as
a «slave» and «bride, who requires taming, shaping, and subduing by the scientific
mind» and ultimately contracts a «chaste and lawful marriage» with the masculine
spirit.46 With sexualized imagery for the relationship between humankind, conceived
as masculine, and feminized nature, Bacon, like all his contemporaries in Europe in
the early modern era, was able to link seamlessly to the conviction ubiquitous before,
during, and after his time—often implicit—that the res cogitans was always to be
thought of as male, whereas femaleness was to be attributed to the res extensa, which
could be used and exploited.
It is no surprise that the same identification of active appropriation of nature with
«maleness» and of passive nature with «femaleness» can also be found in the history
of economic dogma. William Petty (1623-1687), an early theoretician of economic
liberalism, became known for his pertinent maxim: «Labour is the Father and active
principle of wealth, as lands are the Mother.»47
"is complementary view of the difference between the sexes is consistent with
the momentous decision not to conceive the individual as the fundamental unit of the
economy even in the modern era, but instead the patriarchally structured family, and
as a consequence to regard wages as a «family reproduction wage.»48 "is family wage
is normally paid to the father of the family and head of household, who continues to
be considered the sole representative and guardian of wife and children.
Continuing with emancipatory elements of the Jewish–Christian–Muslim tradition,
for instance, the First Testament theme of all humans being the image of God,
European Enlightenment philosophers developed the principle of general inalienable
human dignity as a corrective:49
The human being and in general every rational being exists as an end in
itself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will, but in
all its actions, whether they concern himself or other rational beings, must
be always regarded at the same time as an end. (…) Accordingly the practical
imperative will be as follows: So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own
person or in that of any other, in every case at the same time as an end, never
as a means only.50
That Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also intended this principle of autonomy and all
«rational beings» being an end in themselves to refer to women can be seen in the
well-known passage from his polemic « Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?,
» in which he opposes the practice of gender guardianship and warns women
against remaining «domestic animals» in imposed immaturity:
Those guardians, who have graciously taken up the oversight of mankind,
take care that the far greater part of mankind (including the entire fairer sex)
regard the step to maturity as not only di%cult but also very dangerous. After
they have first made their domestic animals stupid (…) they show them the
danger that threatens them if they attempt to proceed on their own.51
In his pre-Critique anthropological writings, however, Kant described not only the
«fair sex» but also entire ethnicities as for the most part resistant to the Enlightenment.
He does not appear to have explicitly withdrawn the relevant passages later, leading to
the conclusion that his critical writings remain ambivalent regarding the question of
whether he considers women and non-Europeans «rational beings» and thus bearers
of human dignity, saying about the former:52
Woman is intolerant of all commands and all morose constraint. They do
something only because it pleases them, and the art consists in making only
that please them which is good. I hardly believe that the fair sex is capable of principles.53
Kant states about Black Africans:
The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling. …
So fundamental is the difference between these two races of man [the white
one and the black one I.P.], and it appears to be as great in regard to mental
capacities as in colour…. The blacks are very vain but in the Negro’s way, and
so talkative that they must be driven apart from each other with thrashings.54
That the European Enlightenment philosophers spent their lives in a society in which
«higher» education was reserved practically unquestionably to local men from the
«upper» classes, made such prejudices and the long-standard and notorious equating
of the concepts «human being» and «European citizen,» seem plausible, despite any
logical inconsistency. How natural this still was in the 18th century becomes apparent
with the French Revolution motto of «freedom, equality, fraternity,» and the fact that
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) was not successful in her lifetime with her « Declaration
of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen,» but was instead condemned to
The failure of the Enlightenment to turn the mechanism of dichotomization itself
on its head had particularly serious consequences in the form of the founding discourse
of economic liberalism. Adam Smith (1723-1790) only rarely used the metaphor
of the godlike «invisible hand» himself. But that in his theory of the «wealth of
nations»55 he made the innumerable unpaid hands of women and colonized people
working outside the «manufactures» (now commonly called «sectors of the economy
»)56—everything that today is being examined and conceptualized as care work,
reproduction or «housewifization of women»57—vanish into the fiction of a mechanism
of supply and demand functioning automatically for the purpose of satisfying
the needs of all, leads right up to the present day to the terrible distortions in economic
theory construction which are the primary subject of this essay.
1.6 Work and love, gender and national characters: the 19th century
The dichotomization of humanity that had become standard both socially and symbolically
over many centuries not only outlasted the European Enlightenment but also
experienced a renaissance in the 19th century in the form of historical-philosophical
«general contractors.» For Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) as well as for
Karl Marx (1818-1883), who by no means turned his idealist godfather on his head
but rather placed him on a kind of alternative head, women, colonized people, and
non-human nature remained by and large the pre-economic source of supply which
fed the great progress of a virile Euro-centric humanity toward self-realization of the
absolute spirit, everlasting peace, or a classless society. In Hegel’s teleology of history,
«the woman» becomes the representation of the unconscious spirit through
which—or passing by which—high-flying manhood works its way up to the light of
The one extreme, universal spirit conscious of itself, becomes, through the
individuality of man, linked together with its other extreme, its force and its
element, with unconscious spirit. On the other hand, divine law is individualized,
the unconscious spirit of the particular individual finds its existence, in
woman, through the mediation of whom the unconscious spirit comes out of
its unrealizedness into actuality, and rises out of the state of unknowing and
unknown, into the conscious realm of universal spirit.58
The gender essentialism integrated into historical dialectics continues in historical
materialism in the sense that the economic achievements of private households,
non-human nature, and to some extent also the colonies continue to be omitted from
economic theory and class struggles. Since Karl Marx and his followers focused almost
exclusively on monetized industrial wage labor and its organization, they maintained
continuity with the bourgeois father figures from whom they meant to distance themselves,
and in this way found themselves in new inconsistencies, the effects of which
in real-life socialism were not only the unresolved housework issue, but also, causally
related to it, an obliviousness to the environment in no way less than that of the capitalist
All the labour that goes into the production of life, including the labour of giving
birth to a child, is not seen as the conscious interaction of a human being
with nature, that is, a truly human activity, but rather as an activity of nature,
which produces plants and animals unconsciously and has no control over
this process. "is definition of women’s interaction with nature—including
her own nature—as an act of nature has had and still has far-reaching consequences.
What is mystified by a biologistically skewed concept of nature is a
relationship of dominance and exploitation, dominance of the (male) human
being over (female) nature.59
That in the context of industrialization romanticized ideas of nature as bounteous and
also, following the dichotomous image of humanity that was already common practice,
tenets of the natural capacity to love, thoughtfulness, submissiveness and «the
woman’s» and «the savage’s»60 need to be supervised were developed, is only logical,
considering the interest in unpaid services that can be profitably exploited. By
defining the other as «nature,» «natural» or «close to nature,» it is not only easier to
exploit it, but systematically removes the obligation to treat with respect that would be
imposed by the categorical imperative to act in such a way that human beings, both in
one’s own being and in any other person’s, are always regarded as an end, not merely
as a means. 61
That these doctrines of the particular naturalness of certain human
beings often formulated first in a mild, sentimental form are open for extreme race
and gender ideologies—right through to the national socialist concept of the worthless
life—has been demonstrated a number of times in the history of the 20th century.
It is not by chance and is a large step forward that after the end of the Second World
War instruments were created in the form of general human rights declarations—and
in Germany specifically as Art. 1 Par. 1 of the Basic Law—that confront the various
dichotomizations of the human with a universal, transnationally recognized standard.
1.7 A divided economy
In 1980, the UN published a finding that has since been cited frequently:
Women represent 50 per cent of the world adult population and one third of
the social labour force, they perform nearly two thirds of all working hours,
receive only one tenth of the world income and own less than 1 per cent of
This sentence highlights the consequences of 2,500 years of dichotomous order, and
makes abundantly clear that the transnational proclamation of equal rights for all
humans is not sufficient to guarantee these rights are upheld—or even to abolish the
pervasive dichotomization. Indeed, a great deal has happened since then: already in
1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the «Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women.»63 It went into effect on December 3, 1981
and has in the meantime been ratified by almost all member states. That around
the world there is considerable room for improvement regarding the enforcement
of women’s rights as human rights64 can be considered a globally recognized fact.
Several highly effective World Conferences on Women—Mexico 1975, Copenhagen
1980, Nairobi 1985, Beijing 1995—have taken place.65
As part of or as a consequence of feminist criticism of science, which by now has reached all disciplines, new subject
areas have arisen that have developed a significant knowledge base: care ethics
and care economy, nursing science, gender studies, feminist and post-patriarchal
philosophy and theology, and more. Many of these new domains of knowledge have
acquired a stable form in regional or global associations, such as for instance IAFFE
(International Association for Feminist Economics)66 with its professional journal
Feminist Economics,67 and the IAPh (International Association of Women Philosophers).
68 In the scope of gender-sensitive research, new methodological approaches
have been developed: «intersectionality,»69 for instance, in the nineties, which since
then has been continuously further developed; it systematically explores the «interwoven
nature of inequality dimensions.»70 In 2009, Elinor Ostrom was the first woman
to receive the Nobel Prize for Economics for her research into various forms of the
community use of shared resources (commons), which since then has given strong
momentum to criticism of the market-centered economy with its one-dimensional
image of humanity as the homo oeconomicus. And in the spring of 2014, building on
the pioneering work of the American author Riane Eisler,71 the «care revolution»72 was
launched in Berlin as a collective movement to get business and society to go back to
their core business: the «good life for everyone—around the world.»73
However, there can be no question of the breakthrough of a new scientific paradigm74
that places humans—defined as part of nature—and with them human needs
at its center (again), specifically in the leading science of economics: although on the
first pages of economics textbooks there is agreement that economic activity is to be
understood as «a societal process designed to satisfy the human need to preserve and
sustain life and the quality of life,»75 in the ensuing discourse even theoreticians critical
of the mainstream stereotypically reduce economics to a doctrine of the «higher»
sphere of monetized transactions: «The approach of an integrative economic ethics
aims … at establishing an economic ethics … of the market economy.»76
It thus comes as no surprise that a new collection of accounts of the «classics of
economic thinking» begins with a quotation from the Japanese economist Takashi
Negishi from 2008 stating that «truly, there is nothing new under the sunfi»77 in economics.
It is likewise unsurprising that this collection contains the biographies of thirty-
five men, including only one who is not from Europe or the US, and no women.
1.8 Nature as a boundary in itself and the question of meaning
That it has always been possible to include human beings in the variable concept of
nature in order to make them easier to utilize, that this continues to be frequently
practiced, pushing human beings to the very margins of what could be considered
human dignity or shutting them out completely, does not mean, however, that the
natural does not exist per se: it exists as the corporeality of each individual homo sapiens,
just as it does as flora and fauna, as water, air, rocks, biodiversity, as the material
substrate of every «mental» activity, any culture, and all economic activity.
Awareness has been growing all around the world since the 1970s that human
beings are part of nature and our coexistence exists in a bounded, fragile cosmos,
which must be preserved as a necessary condition for human beings to live. No matter
how «the» human being is defined, no matter how transcendent or spiritualized or
intellectual he or she is according to this definition, no matter what is found to be useful
in a newly configured concept of nature predicated on personal interests, there are
boundaries that nature itself imposes on controlling and monopolizing appropriation.
While the struggles of individuals or groups that find themselves unjustly on the side
of a would-be pre-economic «lifeworld,» a seemingly mute nature that can be used
and exploited at will, can still operate in the conventional framework of the criticism
of ideology, the multi-dimensional refusal of the natural itself to submit to the pervasive
logic of exploitation without perishing from it verges on the absolute: when there
is no fertile soil left, you may still be able to raise crops hors-sol and vertically. But
at some point, no more food will grow. Without fertile soil, breathable air, food and
potable water, however, human beings cannot survive; without active care, humanity
does not reproduce itself; and without meaning, people descend into depression,
aggression and suicide. The attempts made by space travel and computer science to
shift human life into space or into virtual worlds have not, at least for the time being,
presented any livable alternatives.
Words like «catastrophe,» «permanent crisis,» or «multiple crises» are thus probably
among the most frequently used in political discourse at the beginning of the
21st century: people talk about not only financial, economic, banking, valorization
and environmental crises. More serious than anything that can be at least temporarily
repaired by means of technical adjustments is the crisis of meaning that is spreading
in the late stage of the dichotomous order: why work at all if working amounts to nothing
more than functioning for absurd, other-directed purposes? Why keep living or
even conceiving and bearing children if there is no future in sight worth living?
It is primarily such questions about the meaning of everything that are giving
politics a new momentum today and (could be) giving rise to new alliances on this
side of conventional party lines and divides. Even if the boundaries of the natural
have not yet been reached, the idea that they soon could be triggers surprising initiatives:
for instance, the question about what politics, economics, and science actually
are, or could be, again on this side of pacifying social engineering articulated in
the public sphere by movements such as eco-feminism, Occupy, Attac, and Degrowth.
Or unpredictable new beginnings in terms of «peninsulas against the current,»78
in which born human beings are trying out, in the here and now, how meaningful
existence feels on the earthbound side of life concepts—long grown flawed—originating
in the only apparently omnipotent great beyond, which in the West has long
stopped involving the « Lord God» but has instead taken up residence in the vicinity of
Wall Street, explaining why the perpetrators of 9/11 deliberately chose not to attack a
cathedral, but instead attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center as «symbols
of globalized modernity.»79 Or intellectual movements that, instead of placing at their
center opposition to a system that has long exhausted its ability to answer questions
of meaning, consciously place it in the thereafter: post-modernism, post-capitalism,
post-secularism,80 post-colonial and post-patriarchal thinking.
1.9 Another dualism: secularism and the question of meaning
However, individuals who place the question of the meaning of everything in the public
sphere of Western-oriented—or, more simply and precisely: Occidentalized—societies
find themselves confronted with another, specifically modern dichotomy: that
between the privatized search for meaning and public political mechanics.
In the European « Partial Enlightenment,» the influence of the overly powerful
institution of the church was pushed back—for good reason—along with its «old-fashioned
language games»81 and meanings of life. While religion and religiousness were
not abolished, they were explicitly declared a private affair. The consequence of this
was that the religious communities remained patriarchally organized in terms of the
traditional order, but at the same time mutated into places which—in the sense of the
proverbial grouping of «children, cooking, church»—were frequented by the privatized
sex: while men of science applied themselves to researching and objectifying the
world—formerly «this world»—they took a fresh look at religion as the unenlightened
and trivial matter of women and children, to be used at most as a rhetorical instrument
and tranquilizer for a «people» still «in need of » the consolatory reference to the
hereafter, as Kant said:
To expect of prayer other than natural effects is foolish and needs no explicit
refutation. (…) He who can in another way attain to the effects for which
prayer is recommended will not be in need of it. (…) The consequence of this
is that he who has made great moral progress ceases to pray, for honesty is
one of his principal maxims. (…) In public sermons before the public, prayer
must be retained, because it can be rhetorically of great effect, and can make a
great impression. Moreover, in sermons before the people, one has to appeal
to their sensuality and must, as much as possible, stoop down to them.82
Privatized religious creation of meaning—the disavowed «opium of the people»83—
remains convenient for the smooth functioning of coexistence particularly because
it still pacifies and calms, and because the naive84 ethical questions of children, the
human newcomers,85 with whose care and cultural and moral stabilization women
are still primarily charged, are very hard to answer without reference to a loving God.
These days, for this reason, it is practically proverbial that church pews are filled «only
with old women»—unless they are, in fact, empty.
Assigning questions of meaning to the private sphere, however, declares that
the public sphere, and with it politics, is more or less a meaningless mechanism.
As Jürgen Habermas diagnosed shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, they are cut off from the «scarce resource of meaning,»86 upon which even a
religion-free politics remains dependent unless it intends to become the custodian
of the market mechanism, which does not permit any collectively posed question of
meaning because it «pulls all interpersonal relations under the constraint of an egocentric
orientation toward one’s own preferences.»87 To nonetheless confront politics
today—which has become social technology and thus (apparently) without any alternative—
with the question of what it all actually means, is thus a kind of test of courage.
If someone dares, for instance, on behalf of a post-secular reclaiming of meaning, to
insist on a «cooperative translation of religious arguments,»88 or, as the governments
of Ecuador and Bolivia have done, to enshrine sumak kawsay89 as a state objective
in the constitution, this person must in Occidentalized contexts overcome the shame
that the Platonic Socrates once instilled in his men friends: of lamenting the shame of
the destruction of the good life here and now in a «womanish,» therefore «unreasonable
» way, like Xanthippe, instead of being fobbed off with a better invisible afterlife,
however it may be defined.
1.10 Post-dualistic beginnings and the return of the question of meaning to the public sphere
That the dichotomous order is currently being clearly confounded—for the moment
including the first Black president of the USA and the first women serving as chancellor
and secretary of defense in Germany—is therefore a sign of hope, not in the first
instance for reasons of justice, but rather, above all, as regards the potential post-dualistic
significance of non-white, non-male persons in positions of power. Perhaps
the historical narrative will one day explain the chancellor’s lasting great popularity,
which can hardly be «rationally» explained, less with helplessness and disorientation
than with a latent «hunger for meaning.»90 Is the hope for more effective femininity the
expression of a wish for politics that once again places the question of the meaning of
the whole in the public sphere?
By now, it will have become clear that the essentialist claim that because of her sex
Angela Merkel or because of his skin color Barack Obama is truly more capable of a
meaningful political and economic reorientation than their white male predecessors
is not at issue here. In fact, both continue to tout measures, often in a habitus of significant
and hopeful disorientation,91 that move in continuity with the practiced subjugation
of the political to the market mechanism that is ostensibly without alternatives.
What causes hope is not the illusion laid out in the dichotomous order that women
or people of color as an almost natural representation of private endowment of life
are particularly capable of realigning the political so that it is more oriented towards
meaning. Instead, precisely the destruction of this illusion opens up the horizon for
new beginnings. What makes us hopeful is not in fact the supposedly natural differences
among sexes, ethnicities or cultures, and the corresponding delegations of the
question of meaning, but rather the liberatingly incalculable potential unleashed by
breaking up the dichotomous symbolic order and the associated allocations: children
today grow up with the perception that knowledge, reason, and power are not linked
per se with maleness and being white, and instilling emotion and the private endowment
of life with meaning are not linked to femaleness and people of color. Instead, it
has become natural for a woman or person of color to publicly exercise creative power
with all the disjointedness, contradictions and corruptibility that, at least in the short
term, cannot be separated from the individual o%ces. With this, the arrangement of a
political mechanics that is immune to meaning and of a creation of meaning (seemingly)
guaranteed in feminine/religious/unenlightened private spheres collapses,
which means that the question of meaning reappears in the public sphere: What does
it mean actually, or what should it mean that seven—and soon more—billion human
bearers of dignity are inhabiting the fragile living space of earth together with countless
other living beings92 and are wishing for a good life, also for future generations?
No longer does each individual decide at home alone about the answer to this
question on the basis of contingent, for instance religious, preferences, and no longer
can anyone delegate the answer to a «lifeworld» or exotic paradises in which, ostensibly,
completely different rules apply: love not profit, charity not calculation, donation
not exchange, ethics not economism. The question of the meaning of the whole
is thus, by necessity, becoming the subject of public debate again. That at the present
time such debates are repeatedly initiated by the terrorist attacks of young people
who, in the vacuum of meaning, have become susceptible to pseudo-religious,
hyper-dualistic hatred of everything «Western» is tragic, but not devoid of a certain
historical logic. In positive terms, the new post-dualist freedom to understand and
claim politics once again as a form of creating meaning, which concerns everyone
and for which all are responsible, will be far more important in the long term than
the question of what political actions this specific Chancellor Angela Merkel and that
President Barack Obama have carried out here and now.
1.11 Economy and ecology
Considered etymologically, the terms «economy» and «ecology» are closely related:
both refer to the oikos, the household, the community household, the world household;
93 both are concerned with the regularities of keeping house. There is a significant
difference, however, between -nomy and -logy, nomos and logos: nomos refers to
man-made rule and agreement, while logos refers to divine law, or, in more modern
terms: natural law, world reason, philosophy, the meaning of everything. It is no coincidence
that the famous prologue of the Gospel according to John says logos, ambiguously
translated in the traditional Bible translations as «the Word,» is the beginning of all things:
In the beginning was the Word (logos),
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the beginning was Wisdom (logos),
and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was like God.
(John 1:1 in the BigS translation)94
The translation could also be carried out with the philological and theological authority
of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
In the beginning there was Thought (logos),95
and Thought was with God. And [the ultimate concern] was Thought.96
As a consequence of this crucial difference, there is the potential in ecology as a political
force to bind the economy to its intended purpose: the satisfaction of the needs of
all seven—and soon more—billion human bearers of dignity who inhabit the fragile
living space of earth together with countless other living beings must be reorganized
so that this complex and symbiotic coexistence remains possible into the future, too.
It is no coincidence that the ecological movement arose in the context of what
used to be called «conservation of nature.» Both initiatives involve, in essence,
reminding the economy—or what is wrongly called this today—of its original task
from the boundaries of the natural. What we call «nature,» however, has two sides,
as has become clear in the meantime: on the one hand, nature is the material substrate
of all human being, doing, thinking and economic activity, which is why the
destruction of the natural is inevitably accompanied by the destruction of the human.
On the other hand, guided by interest in leading as «free» a life as possible, a life
unhampered by the needs and tribulations of the inalterable naturalness of all human
existence, people have again and again defined certain people and spheres as part of
«nature.» While Plato and Aristotle still openly provided information about the wish
of (supposedly) free polis citizens to organize the satisfaction of their needs shaped
by feudal domination by delegating them «downwards,» the identification of certain
human activities with nature develops over time into the implied precondition of all
Meanwhile, this implicit understanding of the dichotomous order has far-reaching
consequences for the organization of the whole: the course was already set when
Adam Smith, the founding father of economic liberalism, summarily reduced labor
and the division of labor, on the first pages of his influential work, The Wealth of
Nations, to those areas of society that are organized in «manufactures» (in contemporary
English: «sectors of the economy»):
The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater
part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed,
or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour. The effects
of the division of labour, in the general business of society, will be more easily
understood, by considering in what manner it operates in some particular
In the lifetime of the professorial lord of the manor and paterfamilias Smith, a large
part of the labor was already organized not in the form of monetized transactions,
thus not in «manufactures» (this remains the case to the present day), but rather carried
out without payment and thus without the financial incentives ostensibly indispensable
as motivation to work in the «lifeworld.» Following Smith and other «classics
of economic thinking,»98 this lifeworld is conceived, sentimentalized, made into part
of nature, and trivialized as external to the system right up to the present day. It is precisely
the work without which economic activity makes no sense, inasmuch as it provides
and restores, again and again, the raison d’être of all economic activity: human
beings who consume and produce.
Thus, to remind the economy of its self-imposed purpose from the point of view of
bounded, fragile nature means two things: focusing again on the material substrate of
all human existence, and making visible those hands, spheres, people, and activities
that have been trivialized into «nature» and thus made invisible, and rethinking them
as the center of all economic activity: environmental and social policy are inextricably
causally linked, and economics needs to again place at its center what it has defined
as its center: «satisfying the human need to preserve and sustain life and the quality
7 The Latin term for «nature» derives from nasci and means «to be born.» See 4.7.
8 Andreas Weber 2013, 26.
9 «This unfolding of modern economic thinking with its endless focus on competition devel
oped in tandem with dualism—the metaphysical division of the world into ‘brute matter’ to be
exploited and ‘human culture’ …» (Andreas Weber 2013, 26. [emphasis I.P.]).
10 See on this, e.g., Susan Griffin 1987, Evelyn Fox Keller 1986.
11 See on this, e.g., Silvia Bovenschen 1980, Adriana Cavarero 1989, Susan Moller-Okin 1979, Ina
Praetorius 1993 and many others.
12 Immanuel Kant 1996 (1784), 58 (see also note 51).
13 The Latin term for «private» is privare and means «to deprive.» What is meant is the absence
(deprivation) of freedom in the oikos.
14 Claude Meillassoux 1983; see also Claudia von Werlhof et al. 1983.
15 Claudia von Werlhof et al. 1983, 179.
16 See, e.g., Gerda Weiler 1983.
17 See Mariam Lau 2001.
18 Since the male contribution to human reproduction is not evident but rather had to be discovered
only gradually, there were various theories of conception in ancient times that are all obsolete
now. Originally, procreation presumably seemed to be a purely feminine ability. For the
ancient cultures of the Near East through the Hellenistic period, Staubli/Schroer (2014) summarize
the development in this way: «The link between sexual intercourse, admitting the sperm …
by the woman, menstruation/fertility and pregnancy was known. … The more precise biological
processes of conception, however, were unknown into the Hellenistic period. They imagined
that a tiny person was put in the woman by the man, similar to placing a seed in the soil, and
grew there if the woman was fertile.» (Staubli/Schroer 2014, 49).
19 For a discussion of the interaction between various forms of discrimination in the scope of a
fundamentally dichotomous model, see the «intersectionality» research approach, e.g., Gabriele
Winker et al. 2009.
20 On the term logos see 1.11.
21 Symbolic orders that share these main points can also be traced in other regions of the world.
For instance, Confucianism, which originated in East Asia at about the same time and is also in
effect right up to the present day, shows numerous parallels to Aristotelian metaphysics. I will
limit myself here to a sketch of the significant traditions in the Occident.
22 Plato 1955.
23 Ibid. 6.
24 The Latin term materia comes from the Greek term meter and means «mother.»
25 Plato’s Phaedo, 50-51 (emphasis I.P.).
26 In another key scene, the cave allegory (Plato, The Allegory of the Cave, translated by Benjamin
Jowett, 2010, 7), people who have not yet arrived at knowledge of the truth are described as
blinded by the initially intolerable light of knowledge. See on this Luce Irigaray 1980, 303-321.
27 The Dialogues of Plato, 147.
28 Ibid. 147 (emphasis I.P.).
29 Aristotle 2005, 33-34.
30 Ibid. 56 (emphasis I.P.).
31 Peter Ulrich 2008, 1 (see note 2).
32 Aristotle 2005; see also Rosemarie von Schweitzer 1991, 51-56.
33 Faith, Reason and the University, 2006.
34 See Othmar Keel 2007a and 2007b.
35 See Chap. 4.10 of this essay for discussion of the term «dignity.»
36 Faith, Reason and the University, 2006.
37 Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem 1988, 10.
38 Apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the bishops, clergy, consecrated
persons and the lay faithful on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world. 2013, 82 65f.
39 See Angelika Neuwirth 2010.
40 See the deliberations on thinking of natality in Chap. 4.7 and Chap. 4.8 of this essay.
41 Mouhanad Khorchide, Islam is Mercy: Essential Features of a Modern Religion, transl. by Sarah
Hartmann, Freiburg: Verlag Herder, 2015, p. 19.
42 Othmar Keel 2007b, p. 91; Ina Praetorius 2014.
43 See Chap. 4.8 of this essay.
44 See note 11.
45 In her analysis (Fox Keller 1986, 40-50), Evelyn Fox Keller exposes the Oedipal character of
Bacon’s argumentation: «The aggressively male stance of Bacon’s scientist» could «be seen as
driven by the need to deny what all scientists, including Bacon, privately have known, namely,
that the scientific mind must be, on some level, a hermaphroditic mind.» (42).
46 Ibid. 43.
47 Petty 1662, 49.
48 Ibid. 74.
49 On Kant’s ambivalence regarding the interpretation of the difference between the sexes, see
Ursula Pia Jauch 1988.
50 Immanuel Kant 2005, 87-88 (emphasis I.P.).
51 Immanuel Kant 1996 (1784), 58-59.
52 On Kant’s ambivalence regarding the gender issue, see Ursula Pia Jauch 1988.
53 Immanuel Kant 1960. (1766) 81.
54 Ibid. 307.
55 Adam Smith 1978.
56 Ibid. See also Chap. 1.11 of this essay.
57 Claudia von Werlhof et al. 1988, 159.
58 Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel 1977 (1806-1807), 266.
59 Claudia v. Werlhof et al. 1983, 45 (emphasis by the authors).
60 See for example Karin Hausen 1976.
61 See note 50.
62 United Nations Report 1980.
64 See Chap. 1.5 of this essay.
65 On the complex relationship between global women’s rights policies and local attainment or
non-attainment of women’s rights, see Christa Wichterich 2009.
69 See, e.g., Gabriele Winker et al. 2009.
70 Ibid. 12.
71 Riane Eisler 2007.
72 http://care-revolution.site36.net See Chap. 4.12 of this essay.
73 The first networking conference of the care revolution (Berlin, March 14-16, 2014) was entitled:
«Bring on the good life—for everyone around the worldfi»
74 See Chap. 3 of this essay.
75 Peter Ulrich 2008, 1. See note 2.
76 Ibid. 109.
77 Heinz D. Kurz (ed.) 2008, 7.
78 Friederike Habermann 2009. See Chapter 4.3 of this essay.
79 Jürgen Habermas, 2003, 101.
80 Ibid. 103 and passim.
81 Ibid. 106.
82 Immanuel Kant, cited in Paul Carus, The Religion of Science, pp. 88-99 (emphasis I.P.).
83 Karl Marx 1843.
84 The Latin term for «naive» is »nativus» and means «belonging to birth, natal.»
85 See on this the characterization of the child as a «newcomer» in Hannah Arendt 1958, chapters
19-27, and Hans Saner 1977.
86 Jürgen Habermas 2003, 114.
87 Ibid. 110.
88 Ibid. 109.
89 Sumak kawsay, a core ethical principle of the Andean cultures, can be translated approximately
as ‘living together well’ or ‘collective well-being.’ On this see Anna Findl-Ludescher et al. 2012
and Chap. 4.9 of this essay.
90 Ulrike Wagener et al. 1999.
91 Andrea Günter 2008.
92 On the dignity of the non-human creature see Chap. 4.10 of this essay.
93 Ina Praetorius 2002.
94 This is the translator’s version of the German alternative. BigS is the abbreviation of an initiative
called Bibel in gerechter Sprache (a translation of the Bible in unbiased language). See www.
95 See Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 2005, 43.
96 The theologian Paul Tillich calls God «the ultimate concern.» See Paul Tillich 1966.
97 Adam Smith 1978 (1789), 11 (emphasis I.P.).
98 Heinz D. Kurz (ed.) 2008.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ina Praetorius, Dr. theol., is a graduate in German literature and a Protestant theologian. She was
a research fellow at the Institute for Social Ethics at the University of Zurich from 1983 to 1987. She
obtained her doctorate in Heidelberg in 1992; her dissertation was entitled «Anthropology and the
image of women in German-language theology.» A freelance writer and speaker, she has been living
in Wattwil, Switzerland, with her family since 1987. Website: Ina Praetorius.