19th Century, part 1: the women“Women have been largely excluded fromphilosophical history,” but their real contributionshave also been neglected. Consider again thetragedy of Hypatia, for instance.
J.S. Mill’s friend Harriet Taylor (1807-1858) (bbc) made a hugecontribution in the 19th century,as did others whose overlookedstories are detailed by JennniferMichael Hecht in Doubt: A History:Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B.Anthony, Ernestine Rose, Fanny Wright, Isabella Hooker… Andhere’s a list compiled by the BBC;here’s another.
When I asked my colleague Dr.Magada-Ward for her list ofthe half-dozen most importantfeminist philosophers, here’swhat she came up with: susanbordo, nancy tuana, shannonsullivan, nancy hartsock,evelyn fox keller, helenlongino, lisa heldke, maragreturban walker, bell hooks,carolyn korsmeyer, hilde hein,and carolee shneeman…
One’s life has value so long asone attributes value to the lifeof others, by means of love,friendship, indignation andcompassion. Simone deBeauvoir
Many of these women share Mary Wollstonecraft’s suspicions about “romantic love”being a social construction and imposition to reinforce traditional gender inequalityand keep women in their place (the kitchen, the bedroom, the home in general).In philosophy especially they challenge the easy dichotomy that associates mind withreason, culture, and masculinity, and the body with instinct, nature, and femininity.They bristle at Aristotle’s active/passive paradigm of procreation and its suggestionthat “the male is more fully able to actualize his potential” as a matter of metaphysicaland biological reality (rather than historical sexist exclusion).
Many feminists think the wholewestern scientific mindset is duefor an overhaul. Evelyn Fox Keller:“the emphasis on power andcontrol so prevalent in westernscience [is] a projection of aspecifically male consciousness…that conjoins the domination ofnature with the insistent image ofnature as female…”
It will be a good day for humanity,will it not, when all of us can riseabove gender (and race, ethnicity,religion, politics) and accept theplurality of our differences onequal terms? We’re not there yet.But to this “happy pragmatist” itlooks like we’re moving in the rightdirection.
The 20th century has (finally!)been more hospitable andreceptive to female perspectives. Itwas 1920 before the suffragistssucceeded in wresting the vote,but it’s been a magnificent chorusever since. Simone de Beauvoir,Hannah Arendt, Kate Millett, SusanBordo, Genevieve Lloyd, MayaAngelou, Martha Nussbaum…many more women’s voices arebeing raised and heard, to ourcollective good fortune.