Women in the History of Philosophy
This International Women’s Day, Tad Schmaltz touches upon the important place of women in the history of philosophy and introduces a new special series by the Journal of the American Philosophical Association.
In her classic article, “Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and Their Fate in History” (1998), Eileen O’Neill (1953-2017) concludes by urging a re-writing of the history of philosophy that allows women to “escape being footnotes and flourishes to the history of philosophy—makers of nothing more than silk knots and little nothings” (“Disappearing Ink”: 43). And indeed, spurred on by O’Neill’s call to arms, scholars have shown an increasing interest in the contributions of women to developments in the history of philosophy. These contributions stretch back to ancient Greece (Hypatia is only a notable example) extend through the medieval period (from women other than Heloise), and into the Renaissance (as shown by the proto-feminist writings of Renaissance Italian women). Such contributions are also particularly prominent in the early modern period, as O’Neill’s discussion documents. In addition to the canonical greats of modern philosophy, such as Descartes, Locke, Leibniz and Hume, it is now becoming increasingly possible to add the names of women philosophers such as Cavendish, Conway, du Châtelet and Shepherd.
The current focus on historical women philosophers is not entirely without precedent. O’Neill mentions several works from the seventeenth century devoted to women in the history of philosophy. However, women tended to disappear from the grand histories of philosophy in the nineteenth century, when the philosophical canon started to be established. Due to this development, it is now a challenge to incorporate women into discussions of the history of philosophy. There is the danger of either separating out women philosophers for special treatment, and thus “gheto-izing” them, or considering their accomplishments as mere footnotes to the work of their canonical male contemporaries (“makers of silk knots and little nothings”). Yet as recent scholarship has shown, there also is currently an exciting opportunity to think creatively about how to recover an aspect of the history of philosophy that has long been neglected and forgotten.
The Journal of the American Philosophical Association (J-APA) is attempting to ride the current wave of more inclusive scholarship by instituting a new special series, Women in the History of Philosophy. This is in addition to the special series for J-APA on Non-Western Philosophies. Both series are intended to include not introductory or encyclopedic pieces, but rather research articles on specific figures or topics that are presented in a way that makes these accessible to the non-specialist. Articles in the series will appear in individual issues after submission and review, but there will also be a virtual collection of articles in the series once all of them have been published.
Forthcoming articles to be included in the series:
Emily Thomas (The Philosophy of May Sinclair (1863-1946), January 2019)
Marcy Lascano (‘Du Châtelet on illusions’, May 2018)
Caterina Pellò (‘Pythagorean Women’, December 2018)
Marguerite Deslauriers (‘Lucrezia Marinelli (1601) and Marguerite Buffet (1680) on
Sameness of Soul’, December 2018)
Sara L. Uckelman (Women in Medieval Philosophy, date, TBD)
You can find out more about the Journal of the American Philosophical Association here. If you are interested in submitting an article to the series, you can find further information on submissions here.