Unsettling the Myths we Live By: Feminist Perspectives on Human Nature, Culture and Freedom

Keynote by Professor Sally Haslanger

Interdisciplinary International Women’s Day Conference

St Aidan’s College, Durham University

8 March 2016, 9.45am -7pm

The image of the enlightenment subject and the hero of the modern novel is that of a brave young man:

“he is free, independent, lonely, rational, responsible, brave … the offspring of the age of science, confidently rational and yet increasingly aware of his own alienation from the material universe that his discoveries reveal.” (Murdoch, The Sovereignty of the Good)

This conference seeks to unsettle this myth of enlightenment man and to use feminist perspectives to explore alternative conceptions of human nature, culture and freedom.

What does an account of the human subject, which takes seriously women’s lived experience, look like?

This conference explores this question under three broad themes: Human Nature, Culture, and Freedom.

Papers address themes related to the following, or related, topics and questions:

HUMAN NATURE – In what sense is the dominant image of human nature gendered? Can we speak of human nature in a non-essentialist manner? What ways do contemporary myths about human nature impact on women? In what ways do they falsify or distort women’s experiences? Can feminist fiction and writing help us to unsettle the dominant myths which construct male and female subjecthood?

CULTURE – Is the polarization of science and religion open to feminist critique? How do the cultural norms that arise out of enlightenment discourse impact and distort women’s experience? What might a feminist culture look like? What dominant myths shape our culture today and how might they be challenged? What might a feminist critique of the myth of progress look like?

FREEDOM ­– What are the dominant myths that shape our conception of freedom in the present day? In what ways are they gendered? How might a conception of freedom from the perspective of those who are marginalized or oppressed differ from that articulated by those who hold social and political power?

“Unsettling the Myths We Live By” is organized by the In Parenthesis Research Project (funded by the British Academy), the Department of Philosophy, St. Aidan’s College, and the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities. The In Parenthesis project is exploring the themes of Human Nature, Culture, Freedom and Ethics through the work of a group of 20th-century women philosophers: Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot and Mary Midgley.


Please send an email to and include the following information.

  1. Registration is £10 – to be paid on the day. Free registration is available for the unwaged, underwaged and students. Please indicate if you would like to register for free.
  2. Refreshments and a vegetarian lunch (with vegan and gluten free options) will be provided. Please indicate if you have any other dietary requirements.
  3. The conference dinner will be in a restaurant in Durham. Please indicate if you would like to join us.
  4. The conference will be at St. Aidan’s College, Lindesfarne Centre. Please do take a look at St Aidan’s College website ( and access information ( and let us know if there is anything we can do. A quiet break-out room will be available throughout the day.


Supported by / in collaboration with:

Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities
Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities
Department of Philosophy, Durham University
Department of Philosophy, Durham University
St Aidan’s College
Durham University
Bloomsbury Publishing logo
Bloomsbury Publishing