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From DailyNous:

Being A Woman In Philosophy: Then and Now

From an essay about, among other things, the interplay between philosophy’s history and its current practices: Early in my academic career I had started to find the climate of academic philosophy unwelcoming to women. No one in my department taught works by women philosophers; a mentor had...

Comments

Comments in green on the left are from DailyNous, comments on the right are from the philosophymetaforum.

Mikelee1998

52 day(s) ago

I doubt if Astell’s contribution even outweights Wollstonecraft, another female thinker and early advocate for women to get educated. 7 Report

Justin W.

52 day(s) ago

Amazing. 37 Report

Pat

52 day(s) ago

I’m with Anthony Kenny on this one. Astell may have been good, but she’s no Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Spinoza, etc.–neither in greatness nor influence. You can insist that editors include work from obscure women in their textbooks and anthologies, and then pretend that that work is on the same level as the early modern greats. Some will believe you because it fits squarely into their ideology, but most will see right through it. If you want to do women a favor, explain that women were not allowed the education men were in the early modern period and that this explains why there are almost no major works from them. Don’t just go hunting for texts from women in the early modern period and then, once you’ve discovered them, tell us that they’re just as good as Kant. 64 Report

Maja Sidzinska

52 day(s) ago

And then find a way to stop the path dependence in current practice. 8 Report

P.D. Magnus

52 day(s) ago

You do realize that “etc” means “and the rest”, yeah? When you say “Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Spinoza, etc”, who do mean? If you mean all of the philosophers of the time, then that includes Astell. If you mean all of her male contemporaries, then you are surely wrong. A class might have valuable discussions about minor figures, so why not Astell? 24 Report

Pat

52 day(s) ago

@P.D. Mangus: Indeed, I am familiar with “etc.” and its meaning. By “etc.” I mean all the philosophers included in Kenny’s book and similar ones that exclude discussions of, or selections from, the work of women in the EM period. “Why not Astell?” you ask. Because space in these volumes is limited. Thus, publishers employ editors, and they insist that their authors choose which figures to discuss and which to pass over. Who do you propose we boot to make room for Astell? Obviously not Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Kant, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Berkeley. Who then? Reid? Voltaire? Rousseau? Bacon? Butler? Do tell. Maja is correct that we must take measures to stop path dependence. We certainly want to avoid giving the impression that we’ve included only men in our EM volume because men in that period were somehow intrinsically superior to women. That’s obviously false. Hence my comment about giving a historical explanation for their exclusion. But here is something that doesn’t help stop path dependence: try to convince people that the work of women in the period is as good as those men mentioned above. That’s just a lie, and anyone not in the grip of ideology can see that. 44 Report

Matt LaVine

52 day(s) ago

I had planned on writing a long counter-argument to Pat’s comments. As I began to sketch it out, I realized that I was basically just rehashing what I’ve learned from a number of brilliant works by contemporary women philosophers. Since men reformulating the ideas of women as their own is one of the many insidious ways that women have been written out of the history of philosophy, I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll just say that, for those interested in seeing sophisticated criticisms of almost all of these points, I suggest reading things like the following: (1) Atherton, Margaret, ed. 1994. Women philosophers of the early modern period. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. (2) Berges, Sandrine. 2015. On the Outskirts of the Canon: The Myth of the Lone Female Philosopher, and What to do About it. Metaphilosophy. (3) Gordon-Roth, Jessica and Kendrick, Nancy. 2015. Including Early Modern Women Writers in Survey Courses: A Call to Action. Metaphilosophy. (4) O’Neill, Eileen. 1998. Disappearing ink: Early modern women philosophers and their fate in history. In Philosophy in a feminist voice: Critiques and reconstructions, ed. Janet A. Kournay. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (5) O’Neill, Eileen. 2005. Early Modern Women Philosophers and the History of Philosophy. Hypatia. 47 Report

Eric Schliesser

52 day(s) ago

Pat’s credibility is low because s/he fails to mention Newton, Pascal, Adam Smith and Condillac in the list of ‘purported’ male greats. (Really Voltaire but no Diderot??? Butler but not Malebranche? etc.) Anyway, any anthology that ignores Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Cavendish, Émilie du Châtelet, Sophie de Grouchy, Anne Conway, Mary Astell, and (my favorite, the hilarious) De Gournay misses out on some fantastic philosophers and also shows itself shamefully ignorant of the excellent scholarship of the last few decades and the important work that is in the pipeline. 38 Report

Leslie Dema

52 day(s) ago

Thanks for bringing attention to this important work! For more background on Astell see Patricia Springborg’s Broadview Edition: https://broadviewpress.com/product/a-serious-proposal-to-the-ladies/#tab-description [full disclosure: I work with Broadview] “Springborg’s introduction clearly places Astell’s work in the context of two important early eighteenth-century crosscurrents, the ‘woman’ question and the debate over empirical rationalism. She grounds Astell’s writings in the tradition of imagining intellectual communities of and for women but Springborg also usefully sets them in the context of the larger philosophical debates over Locke’s epistemology of environmental conditioning and psychological sensationalism. Thus, Astell takes her place again among the voices of the Cambridge Platonists and the supporters of the Port Royal School in this defining debate touching education and politics, both national and domestic. The inclusion of four appendices (Drake’s “Essay in Defence of the Female Sex,” Defoe’s “An Essay upon Projects,” and two essays from the Tatler commenting on Astell) make this a splendid package.” — Margaret J.M. Ezell, Texas A & M University 9 Report

Joshua Blanchard

52 day(s) ago

Unlike Pat, I find the Kenny line a bit odd (or at least underdeveloped). Suppose Hume is a better philosopher, even a much better philosopher, than Reid. Is that a reason not to teach Reid in an Early Modern Philosophy course? Maybe I misread something, but I didn’t see Penaluna claiming that Astell was (in Pat’s paraphrase) “just as good as” this or that canonical figure. The point seems to be simply that Astell’s work is objectively good, interesting, and relevant, and that there aren’t compelling reasons for always excluding her. Perhaps some people think that Astell’s work fails to meet some absolute, objective measure of quality or relevance, but the mere gesture at comparative judgments in rhetorical questions doesn’t show that any more than it would with the canonical philosophers themselves. 25 Report

Pat

52 day(s) ago

@Joshua: I think I address your worry above in my reply to P.D. Mangus. 5 Report

Joshua Blanchard

52 day(s) ago

Hi Pat – thanks for the note. You write, “Who do you propose we boot to make room for Astell? Obviously not Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Kant, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Berkeley. Who then? Reid? Voltaire? Rousseau? Bacon? Butler? Do tell.” You’re talking here about books like Kenny’s though the same point is often made about syllabi. Here is what I think is (again) a bit odd about this line: Don’t plenty of books and syllabi de-emphasize this or that canonical figure, for reasons of space? And then every now and again you try to get someone reviving interest even in a canonical figure’s less-influential work (e.g., Descartes’ moral philosophy). So take a book or syllabus that overlooks, say, Bacon. Now suppose that author or teacher opts to add Astell to their book or course. Is there something wrong with this? 8 Report

Pat

52 day(s) ago

“Is there something wrong with this?” No. I take including Astell in one’s book/syllabus to be permissible (in some sense). I meant only to defend Kenny and others who include only men in their books/syllabus from the charge that THEY’VE done something wrong by including only men. The thought was this: If what we’re doing in EM books/courses is introducing students to the best or most influential ideas of the time, then one cannot complain that no women are included because women did not publish the best and most influential ideas of the time. This is, of course, because men were oppressing women in the EM period (as they often do now). This should always be emphasized. I suppose I was also objecting to the idea, which one often hears, that women actually DID publish some of the best and most influential ideas of the time, but that men were then, and are now, suppressing this fact. 19 Report

SG

52 day(s) ago

“Suppose Hume is a better philosopher, even a much better philosopher, than Reid.” But why suppose something that’s obviously false? Couldn’t get past this. 4 Report

Joshua Blanchard

52 day(s) ago

Fair enough! I myself don’t accept the supposition. 1 Report

Joshua Blanchard

52 day(s) ago

By the way, I want everyone in professional philosophy to take note of the fact that I have given Pat’s reply to me a “thumbs up.” This is my way of showing that peace, love, and understanding are possible even across contentious divides. 14 Report

Pat

52 day(s) ago

I note here that I have also given Joshua the thumbs up in peace, love, and understanding across contentious divides. 14 Report

Maja Sidzinska

52 day(s) ago

Here are some recent works on Astell: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-philosophy-of-mary-astell-9780198716815?cc=us&lang=en& http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-07124-4.html And to follow up on ending path dependence: women haven’t been historically excluded from philosophy because philosophy *specifically* is a sexist practice. Women have been historically excluded from philosophy for the same reasons that they’ve been historically excluded from professional life in general: society in general is a sexist practice (e.g., patriarchal family relations, sex/gender roles–especially bearing/nursing/raising children, formal exclusion via laws (esp. in the past), etc.) But just because this exclusion has been/is endemic to society in general rather than to philosophy specifically doesn’t mean that philosophy specifically (as an institution) shouldn’t aim to stop itself from reproducing the patterns found in society. 12 Report

Margaret Atherton

52 day(s) ago

“Teach only the best” is a remarkably restrictive directive and would I think have as a consequence that everyone writing philosophy today shut up immediately. Ask yourself: Am I as good as Kant? In the early modern period there were many more people writing philosophy than the handful we have canonized and much of what they write is interesting and well worth reading and thinking about. This is true of many men and many women writing at that time. I might add that many of the women were recognized by men of their time as interesting and talented philosophers. It is unfortunate that the love of ranking that prevails in philosophy today has as a consequence that a great deal of worthwhile work is dismissed as “not the best”. 53 Report

Pat

52 day(s) ago

What I said has no consequences for what people today should write, since my comments so far have been about which figures should be included in EM anthologies, overview books, and courses. Nor does anything I said entail that there is not lots worth reading from the EM period. “I might add that many of the women were recognized by men of their time as interesting and talented philosophers.” This has not been denied. Nor has anyone “dismissed” the writings of those who were not the best. By all means read these texts. The suggestion was that authors and editors who only include the best ideas from the EM period should not be castigated for failing to include women in their volumes. No love of ranking here. Just limited space in volumes. 13 Report

Brian

52 day(s) ago

I agree with Pat. Space in these books are finite, and wise editorial decisions need to be made. The idea is to cover the most influential philosophers of the given historical time period, most of whom are going to be men. Perhaps this is due to men being afforded better educational opportunities and other sexist reasons, but it is a fact that the best/most influential philosophy in history was written by men. Hopefully that will, and is, changing. It certainly isn’t a fact to be proud of as it was the result of systemic sexism, but one cannot change the past, and books about the history of philosophy need to reflect history. If one wants to go and write a specialized book about the more unknown and less popular figures in the history of Western philosophy then I think that’s great and it should be done. But my only point is that we shouldn’t expect authors like Kenny, who are writing on the history of Western philosophy generally, to include the works of women just for the sake of including women, or have to bend over backwards to argue that their works are just as influential to the history of Western philosophy as Hume for instance, when space is limited. 27 Report

Margaret Atherton

52 day(s) ago

Well, really, as others have remarked, there is no reason to suppose anyone has to make arguments of this sort, whether space is limited or not. But these notions about the obvious limitations of space that would prevent poor old Kenny from including any but the most major of philosophers are a little puzzling. Most historians of philosophy working today would not dream of producing works dealing with Western philosophy or periods therein without including a good deal of mention of other figures besides the big seven, and would certainly include discussions of relevant women doing philosophy. Somehow or other there seems to be ample space for them to do history of philosophy the way they think it ought to be practiced. 26 Report

Lisa Shapiro

52 day(s) ago

All I can say is that if The Economist can get on board promoting early modern women philosophers, like Emilie Du Chatelet, then maybe the discipline of philosophy might consider rethinking its canon. http://www.economist.com/node/6941672 18 Report

Sahpa

47 day(s) ago

I can’t figure out what you’re suggesting. Are you suggesting that academic philosophy take its cues from The Economist? Why the heck should we do that? 2 Report

Eric Brown

52 day(s) ago

I have found that the best bowl of mixed nuts is rarely the bowl that includes only those nuts widely regarded as the very best nuts, nor even the bowl that includes only those nuts that I regard as the very best nuts. 33 Report

Lisa Downing

52 day(s) ago

Indeed! Especially if one hopes to be edified by one’s bowl of mixed nuts. 13 Report

Eric Brown

52 day(s) ago

Or are sharing with some other people, not all of whom agree about what the best nuts are or what makes a nut an especially tasty contributor to a bowl of mixed nuts. 17 Report

Gradstudent_ontheway

52 day(s) ago

I believe that the problem here belongs to a subclass of the larger problem,”‘How should we approach *non-canonical figures* in philosophy classroom?”, so I will just concentrate on this broader term. (Of course, gender is the salient feature that has structurally prevented talented philosophers from being recognized in the canon, but I think this feature can be abstracted away for the sake of argument since it will be applicable mutatis mutandis to other factors as well, e.g., culture, ethnicity, etc.) From the perspective of one who does not really intend to teach history of philosophy per se in philosophy 101, I find myself ambivalent about deliberately introducing ‘non-canonical’ figures in the class. As it is widely agreed, I believe that introducing the work by philosophers currently marginalized in the canon should encourage students that our profession has largely paid little attention to. For that reason, if I find a canonical figure X and a non-canonical figure Y independently expressing more-or-less the same idea, I will opt for teaching Y instead of X in many occasions. (e.g., I didn’t have an actual chance yet, but I have been thinking of teaching one-over-many argument for abstract object not with reference to Plato but in the form introduced by neo-Confucian moral metaphysicians). For in either way students will get to learn a philosophical device that will be useful for discussing contemporary topics. But I am not so sure if we should introduce non-canonical figures solely for the sake of ‘revisiting the forsaken’, insofar as we do not want to devote phil 101 course to the history of idea. It is evident our textbooks are missing the names of numerous important philosophers despite their philosophical sophistication as well as their actual contribution to the history, but I don’t think it necessitates amending the textbook to include them if the addition does not thereby significantly widen the conceptual inventory of a student. As others pointed out, we have limited time and space, so it would be better to focus on those that make difference in the present. For these reasons, I am all for highlighting non-canonical figures in curricula for instrumental reasons, but I am unsure whether there are more rationales available. 1 Report

Roberta Millstein

52 day(s) ago

I think it’s probably the case that we are covering the people who we take to still be influential in our own time, not people who were influential in their own time. (That is, I suspect that that there are many people who were influential in their own time, but who have been since forgotten and don’t get taught, and there’d be similar controversy about bringing them into the canon). And if that’s right, then saying that we don’t teach someone because they’re not “influential” is self-reinforcing. Who is influential in our time is strongly affected by who is taught. And so, we need to think carefully about what we want our students to be learning. We cannot just default to “influence” as though it is immutable. 34 Report

Daniel Kaufman

52 day(s) ago

From the OP: Early in my academic career I had started to find the climate of academic philosophy unwelcoming to women. No one in my department taught works by women philosophers; a mentor had openly doubted women’s ability to do philosophy. = = = This was not my experience at all. I wonder how representative it is. Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Mary Midgely, and Mary Mothersill were all prominent parts of my education and were highly regarded by my professors, men and women alike. And they are just the ones that I got off the top of my head. 12 Report


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