“Sexual difference is one of the important questions of our age, if not in fact the burning issue. . . . each age is preoccupied with one thing, and one alone.” This statement made decades ago by the French Philosopher Luce Irigaray has not lost any of its relevance. On the contrary. With the emergence of “gender” as something other than “sex,” and the revolutionary goal to “eliminate the sex distinction itself”(Firestone), the question about the nature of sexual difference becomes ever more urgent.
This course will examine the nature of sexual difference, considering both the difference as a difference, and as a male and female one. We will begin with an examination of the framework in which all thinking about sexual difference currently takes place, “gender ideology,” looking first at its modern precursors (via Manent and Del Noce), then its feminist and transgender instantiations (Beauvoir, Firestone, and Butler). Next, we will look straightforwardly at the phenomenon of sexual difference as it belongs to animals generally and humans specifically (Portmann, Jonas, Fortin). Third, we turn to the political dimension of sexual difference (Plato, Aristotle, Pizan). Fourth, we consider the metaphysical status of sexual difference (Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.). Fifth, we consider its theological status as understood by the Fathers (Irenaeus, Origen, Nyssa, Chrysostom, John Damascene, Maximus, Augustine, Aquinas) and more recently (Scheeben, Balthasar). Finally, we take up the sexes in their (correlative) distinctness, as manhood (Ong) and womanhood (Von le Fort, Stein).