Rediscovering Women Philosophers: Philosophical Genre and the Boundaries of Philosophy

Rediscovering Women Philosophers: Philosophical Genre and the Boundaries of Philosophy

Rediscovering Women Philosophers: Philosophical Genre and the Boundaries of Philosophy

Rediscovering Women Philosophers: Philosophical Genre and the Boundaries of Philosophy

Synopsis

Catherine Villanueva Gardner is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan at Flint.

Excerpt

Perhaps the best way to provide an introduction to this work is to start with an account of how it began. Inspired by Mary Ellen Waithe four- volume work A History of Women Philosophers, I wanted to learn more about our philosophical foremothers; and I wondered what, if anything, their work may have to offer modern theorizing in feminist ethics. I decided to interpret a varied selection of moral philosophers from our all but forgotten past that would both contribute to our understanding of their work and perhaps even encourage other philosophers to interpretive work of their own. Yet as I began reading, my philosophical toe was stubbed time and time again on a particular aspect of the work of these women philosophers, for the particular works that I was interested in took the form of novels, poetry, or letters. Specifically, Catharine Macaulay wrote using the epistolary genre, Mary Wollstonecraft and George Eliot both wrote fiction, Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote poetry, and Christine de Pisan wrote allegory. Moreover it seemed that a significant number of women philosophers from our past employed these, or similar, forms. But as a philosopher from what is typically called the Anglo-American tradition, I did not have the analytic and conceptual tools immediately at hand to read philosophy in these other forms of writing. I had been trained to read purely for argumentative content and to discuss style and form only if and when they obscured comprehension. Like many of us, I am most comfortable with what Alasdair MacIntyre has called "that most eccentric latecomer of all philosophical genre forms, the article contributed to a professional journal" (MacIntyre 1995, 32).

The moral philosophical tradition within which I (like many of us from English and American universities) have been trained to work stresses the impartial, the coolly reasoned, and the universally applicable. But novels, letters, and poetry, by their very nature, are often more intimate, more personal, more particular. Indeed during the seventeenth and eigh teenth centuries . . .

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