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Reason and Sexuality in Western Thought



Reason and Sexuality in Western Thought

David West

ISBN: 978-0-745-62421-1 May 2005 Polity 272 Pages


This book traces the genealogy of ideas of reason, self and sexuality in the West, opening the way to a richer and more diverse understanding of sexual experience.

Western philosophy and religion have distorted and continue to distort our experience of sex and love through three far-reaching constellations of reason, self and sexuality. Thinkers like Plato, Aquinas and Kant helped to fashion an ascetic ideal of reason hostile to bodily pleasures and sexual diversity. By contrast, philosophical hedonism advocates a less demanding conception of rationality and defends sexual pleasure. But this approach of thinkers like Hume, Bentham, La Mettrie and de Sade is still one-sided and limiting. A third constellation, Romanticism avoids the limitations of both forms of rationalism, but in the name of a religion of love and passion that ultimately threatens the integrity of the self.

In Reason and Sexuality in Western Thought, a richer understanding of sexual experience is traced to a dissident philosophical tradition. In their different ways Montaigne, Spinoza, Hegel and Kierkegaard, Marcuse and Foucault contribute to a more holistic, multi-layered and open conception of reason, sexuality and the self. This book will be essential reading for all students of philosophy and gender studies.



Part I. The Ascetic Idealism of Reason

1. Eros and the Idealism of Platonic Reason

2. Aristotelian Virtue, Love and the Ends of Nature

3. God, Will and Unruly Sex

4. Divine Order of Nature

5. Intolerance of Universal Reason

Part II. Rationality in the Service of Desire

1. Epicureanism and Sexual Realism

2. Renaissance and the Humanisation of Eros

3. Hedonism within the Bounds of Rational Order

4. Progressive Rationality and Sexual Reform

5. Libertinism at the Limit of Rationality

Part III. Passion Beyond Reason

1. Mystical and Courtly Love

2. Romantic Critique of Rationality

3. Romantic Philosophy as Religion of Love

4. Death, Fantasy and Indifferent Nature

5. Freud and the Sexual Unconscious

Part IV. Perspectives on Reason and Sexuality

1. Holism of Human Experience

2. Metaphysical Unity of Body and Self

3. Love and Reason within History

4. Subjective Existence and the Sexual Self

5. Phenomenology of Sexual Experience

6. Sex and Oppression

7. Eros and Civilization

8. Politics and Anti-Politics of Sexuality





  • Traces the genealogy of ideas of reason, self and sexuality in Western thought, a common topic in gender studies and philosophy courses.
  • Develops a convincing argument that western philosophy and religion have distorted - and continue to distort - our experience of sex and love.
  • Examines the thinking and works of key philosophers like Montaigne, Spinoza, Hegel, Kierkegaard and Foucault amongst others.
  • Keeps the undergraduate student in mind, and explains complex theories and thinkers in a clear and accessible way.