Unsexing Subjects: Marie de Gournay on the Ontology of "Sex"

In Claudia Brodsky & Eloy LaBrada (eds.), Inventing Agency. Bloomsbury Academic (forthcoming)

This chapter analyzes the early modern French skeptical philosopher Marie de Gournay (1565-1645), who makes the provocative claim that sex is not essential to being human and that, furthermore, sex is not a pregiven, natural fact but socially constituted all the way down. Gournay provides some of the first nurture over nature arguments about “sex,” which for her means something like the presumed differences between men and women, arguing that sex differences do not exist. Drawing from analytic social and feminist ontology, this chapter brings to light three innovative claims Gournay makes about the non-naturalness of sex, and shows why Gournay’s innovative proposals are both promising and problematic for rethinking humanism, sex, and the subject. Gournay’s work reveals how the categories of the human subject and sex were debated in the early modern era and compels us to consider what the contemporary legacies of that debate might be.
Keywords Social Metaphysics  History of Philosophy  Philosophy of Sex  Feminist Metaphysics
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