Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Women's HoP

Sharon has an interesting post at Early Modern Notes on women's history and gender history, and asks about other disciplines. That, of course, turned me to thinking about history of philosophy. It seems to me that history of philosophy is, or has been, very weak in this respect. It has become much better in recent years; and some of it is very good. Recent years have seen several surveys and anthologies of women philosophers, for instance; and feminist philosophy, of the sort found in Hypatia, for instance, occasionally does what might be called women's history of philosophy. But in fact it is very patchy, and, in North America at least, does not seem to have been made a major thread of the discipline. Work on neglected women philosophers, for instance, seems to be slow and uneven. In my own field, astoundingly little is known about Masham, Astell, and Shepherd, despite the fact that all three are undeniably brilliant -- it cannot at all be claimed that they are in any way secondary intellects, in the way one might claim that (say) Oswald is among the Scottish Common Sense theorists. But Masham is largely ignored; Astell has mostly been mined for feminist nuggets; and Shepherd, who puts forward one of the most brilliant theories of causation in the early modern period, is barely studied. It's possible that this is limited to early modern history of philosophy. It could be that people who study continental philosophy study Edith Stein and Conrad-Martius right up there with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. But I haven't seen any indication of that. And recognizing women in the history of philosophy in the first place seems to be a basic step. Women didn't suddenly leap into philosophy with Elizabeth Anscombe. They've contributed in brilliant ways to every part of it: natural theology, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of education, philosophy of science, epistemology, and so forth. If we fail to recognize even this basic point, it seems to set up an obstacle to work in more advanced forms of women's HoP, like a fully developed equivalent of a women's history of philosophy or a gender history of philosophy.

Fortunately, as I said, it is slowly getting much better. Examples of important names who are getting this work done would be Annette Baier and Margaret Atherton; in recent years there have been interesting titles in the field. But it's still just a snippet of what's left to be done.

Or so it seems to me. But philosophy, and even history of philosophy, is an immense discipline. Does anyone have a different perspective?

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