Into the Light: Philosophy's Women

Times Higher Education, April 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Into the Light: Philosophy's Women


Project Vox aims to illuminate key female thinkers absent from the field's history. Jon Marcus writes

Women "can...be educated", Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher, once wrote, "but their minds are not adapted to the higher sciences, philosophy, or certain of the arts".

A collaboration between Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University would beg to differ, and at a time when women studying philosophy in the US are in the minority, the group are spearheading an effort to bring attention to the overlooked history of women in the field.

"The time seemed ripe to do something that might have a positive impact on the discipline," said Andrew Janiak, an associate professor at Duke who specialises in the history of philosophy.

The result is Project Vox, a website that lists the accomplishments of four female philosophers - Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil and Damaris Masham - and offers open source teaching materials and other tools to widen public knowledge of them.

"What I learned in college is that there weren't any women who were important during the Enlightenment, and historically that's just not accurate," Professor Janiak said.

"The standard idea would be, well, look, women were excluded from colleges and universities, Oxford and Cambridge - they weren't allowed to get an education and they weren't allowed to join things like the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris," he said. "That's the answer many philosophers would give. But it turns out it's not correct. There were plenty of women who, though they were usually excluded from university education, were taken seriously and did find a way to publish."

It was largely the sexism of subsequent scholars that omitted these women from the canon, Professor Janiak said. …

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