Ten Great Female Philosophers: THE THINKING WOMAN'S WOMEN ; Radio 4's 'Greatest Philosopher' Poll Yielded an All-Male Top 20. but Is Philosophy Really a Female-Free Zone? on the Contrary, Insists Camille Paglia " and Here Are 10 to Prove the Point

By Paglia, Camille | The Independent (London, England), July 14, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Ten Great Female Philosophers: THE THINKING WOMAN'S WOMEN ; Radio 4's 'Greatest Philosopher' Poll Yielded an All-Male Top 20. but Is Philosophy Really a Female-Free Zone? on the Contrary, Insists Camille Paglia " and Here Are 10 to Prove the Point


Paglia, Camille, The Independent (London, England)


For most of history, the groundbreaking philosophers have all been men, and philosophy has always been a male genre. Women had neither the education nor the time to pursue the life of the mind. In modern times, especially in the past 200 years, women have made immense cultural contributions " but much more to literature and the arts than to philosophy. Their absence from the BBC Radio 4's 'Great Philosophers' poll needs to be explained.

I feel women in general are less comfortable than men in inhabiting a highly austere, cold, analytical space, such as the one which philosophy involves. Women as a whole " and there are obvious exceptions " are more drawn to practical, personal matters. It is not that they inherently lack a talent or aptitude for philosophy or higher mathematics, but rather that they are more unwilling than men to devote their lives to a frigid space from which the natural and the human have been eliminated.

Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. The entire way we approach the world has changed. Philosophy once claimed to provide a rigorous method to search for the meaning of life, and it was a precious substitute for dogmatic religion. But in modern times, religion among the educated classes in Europe and North America has lost ground, and intellectuals are neglecting the basic human need to find answers. Philosophers are now at the margin. Philosophy has shrunk in reputation and stature " it's an academic exercise.

The last truly important movement in the world of philosophy was existentialism, in the post-war Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir. There have been theories of language since then, but without the profound insight of the best philosophy. Post-structuralism and post- modernism, by their slippery relativism, have destroyed the concept of philosophy. No one cares about philosophers " cultural criticism has come to the fore. Media and glitzy pop culture dominate now, and people need help to negotiate and survive it.

The term 'female philosopher' doesn't even make sense to me. Simone de Beauvoir was a thinker rather than a philosopher. A philosopher for me is someone who is removed from everyday concerns and manipulates terms and concepts like counters on a grid or chessboard. Both Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand, another favourite of mine, have their own highly influential system of thought, and therefore they belong on any list of great philosophers.

Rand's mix of theory, social observations and commentary was very original, though we see her Romantic sources. Her system is broad and complex and well deserves to be incorporated into the philosophy curriculum.

Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, The Second Sex (which hugely influenced me in my youth), demonstrates her hybrid consciousness. It doesn't conform to the strict definition of philosophy because it's an amalgamation of abstract thought and history and anthropology " real facts. The genre problem is probably why both these women are absent from the list. But Plato too was a writer of dramatic fiction"so that it is no basis for dismissing Rand.

The term philosopher is pass, anyhow, and should be abandoned. The thinker of modern times should be partly abstract and partly practical. Karl Marx, the winner of the Radio 4 poll yesterday, was indeed a truly major thinker. He was not a captive of abstraction and always kept his eye on society and its evolution.But for me his failures emanated from his indifference to the individual and his ruthless privileging of the group.

It has become tiresome to constantly blame every blip in women's lives on sexism and discrimination by men.

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Ten Great Female Philosophers: THE THINKING WOMAN'S WOMEN ; Radio 4's 'Greatest Philosopher' Poll Yielded an All-Male Top 20. but Is Philosophy Really a Female-Free Zone? on the Contrary, Insists Camille Paglia " and Here Are 10 to Prove the Point
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