It's the last week of Women's History Month and to honor the month-long reflection on women's rights, suffragette, and feminism I thought I'd write about The Philosopher Queens by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting.
If you're wondering where the post on Chaos by James Gleick is, I'm still working on it. It's a pretty dense book and every time I sit down to write about it I worry that I'll get some fact about Mandelbrot wrong and then my mind spirals like a fractal. I'll get there. It's a great book.
I picked up The Philosopher Queens primarily because the last two history of philosophy books I'd read barely mentioned women at all. A.C. Grayling's History of Philosophy has a section devoted to philosophy of feminism and only manages to mention a woman once. Nigel Warburton's A Little History of Philosophy does little better.
At the time of writing, a newly published book by A. C. Grayling, boldly titled The History of Philosophy, includes no sections on women philosophers. The book does include a three-and-a-half-page review of ‘Feminist Philosophy’ in which only one woman philosopher – Martha Nussbaum – is mentioned by name. – The Philosopher Queens
There are some historical reasons that women aren't covered in these books. Primarily because for most of human history they were, as Simone de Beauvoir would say, The Second Sex. Seen as subservient to men, and only useful as bearer's of man's progeny, their contributions were mostly overlooked, or attributed to men.
The Philosopher Queens covers important women philosophers in a rough chronological order. Given their subjugation based solely on gender, it isn't surprising that many of the philosophers covered wrote about the place of women in the world.
Hypatia sounds like a badass. We only know about her through the writings of others long after she lived. Like Socrates, she may not have actually existed, but if she did...damn! She was a talented mathematician, had her own school, and died by being torn apart by rabid monks. What a way to go. She was apparently very beautiful, but spurned anyone who tried to get with her. All my women independent!
Hypatia tried to stifle one of her most persistent student’s affections by playing a musical instrument for hours in the hopes he would get bored. When this did not work she turned to more extreme measures and one day pulled out a bloodied menstrual rag and waved it in the boy’s face, proclaiming that it was only lust that he desired, and this was not beautiful compared to her intellect and the true wonder of philosophy. – The Philosopher Queens
the world is nothing but the conceptual ‘net of consciousness’, or rather a conceptual net of consciousness-energy, since consciousness is inseparable from energy, which it controls or ‘rides’. – The Philosopher Queens
Lalla, also known as Lalleshwari, was a Kashmiri mystic. She came up with, or helped popularize, a pantheistic concept well before Spinoza or Hegel's Geist. I really dig this idea of a consciousness being a collective net of energy waves. I wonder what she would think of our approaching singularity with machine intelligence. 🤔
By training the mind and the vital energies it controls, the yogini realises the empty, non-conceptual nature of awareness as the ever-present nature of everything. This recognition is experienced as the ‘flowering’ or freedom of awareness... – The Philosopher Queens
It was Anscombe's birthday last week which is what inspired me to write this post. I wrote a limerick in her honour (she was born in Limerick, Ireland).
There once was a thinker named Anscombe
Who found Wittgenstein quite handsome
When she lifted her pen
She’d frighten the men
And held secular morality for ransom
Harriet Taylor Mill
Similar to Simone de Beauvoir, Harriet Taylor Mill was overshadowed by her partner, John Stuart Mill. They pursued the pleasure of deep thought together and she should be given credit for her contributions that have been credited solely to Mill the man.
"when two persons have their thoughts and speculations completely in common it is of little consequence, in respect of the question of originality, which of them holds the pen." – John Stuart Mill
Improvements and alternatives to the status quo are considered in the chapter of Principles taken from Taylor Mill’s lips. There, she and Stuart Mill outline how workers’ increasing demands for independence will lead to their rejection of wage-relations with capitalists in favour of profit-sharing schemes, and eventually their rejection of any form of dependence on capitalists at all, instead setting up producer and consumer cooperatives. – The Philosopher Queens
Mill was a feminist who believed that women had been held back from their true potential by men. She wrote about the the ethics of marriage and wanted to 'raise the condition of women'.
...women are educated for one single object, to gain their living by marrying... – Harriet Taylor Mill
She separates sex from what we now call gender, explaining how the latter, though deep-rooted in women given their education from birth, is a social construct, and identifies core elements of what would now be termed the patriarchy. – The Philosopher Queens
There are many more women in The Philosopher Queens and even more listed in an appendix at the back of the book. On one hand, I like that this book balances the scales a bit and advocates for the inclusion of women in the history of philosophy. On the other hand, I wish some of these old male philosophers looked beyond their own gender.
Programming Note: Moving to Booked.email
I've decided to move this newsletter off of Substack. I don't want to support a business that allows anti-trans voices and generally bad vibes. By not moderating this content Substack is tacitly supporting these ideas. So I will no longer support them.
Following this post I will be moving to my own custom newsletter at booked.email. My plan is to import my subscribers here over to there, so hopefully there is nothing you will need to do.