Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Medieval Women and Philosophy

Christina Van Dyke has an interesting post on philosophy and medieval women:

As I rolled up my sleeves and went to work, I discovered that although female contemplatives in the Middle Ages might not have thought of themselves as engaging in philosophy per se--and although what they wrote often tends not to fit neatly into our contemporary conceptions of even just philosophical theology--if you take a step back and think of philosophy as the love of wisdom, perennially addressing the issues that human beings have wondered about "Since the dawn of time," it turns out that medieval women have a wealth of things to say about classic philosophical debates involving, say, self-knowledge, love, human nature, ethics, God, and the meaning of life.

And this is very certainly true; they often are only touching on the philosophical topics incidentally, but in the strictest sense this is true of most of the people we think of as "medieval philosophers" -- they were theologians or doctors or lawyers doing philosophy in those contexts. As she quite rightly notes, Anselm's 'ontological argument' is part of a prayer.

She gives a number of suggestions for incorporating them into medieval philosophy courses. Another point to note is that it's often the case that women have done philosophical work on different subjects than the men were usually focusing on, particularly in cultures in which there were fairly sharp role differences between men and women, and so it's sometimes worthwhile to look at slightly different philosophical topics to see if women start showing up more -- education, for instance, or moral psychology.

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