Introduction to Volume 1, Issue 1

In: Journal of the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists
Ruth Edith Hagengruber Director; Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists, Paderborn University, Paderborn, Germany

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Mary Ellen Waithe Professor Emerita; Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH, USA

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This inaugural volume of the Journal of the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists aims with its Issue 1 to clarify methodological issues that emerge when we rediscover the history of women philosophers. It is devoted to the questions which go hand in hand with the rediscovery of the history of women philosophers and scientists, asking whether and how we should place these newly discovered texts within the traditional patriarchal context. We do not know yet whether women are making different ways into canonical thought, or whether we should abandon the idea of canonical thought at all. Submissions that we received for the first call for papers are subsumed under the theme “Beyond Borders.” Each article deals in some way with the writing or rewriting of women’s history, filling in lapsus in the historical canons of philosophy and related disciplines, addressing the gendered political intellectual tradition from modern India, engaging with the works and ideas of women thinkers.

The light-hearted title of Karen Green’s article belies the seriousness of the question it poses. In “The Human in Feminist Philosophy: Or Woman Is a Social Animal, I’m Not So Sure about Man”, Green questions the adequacy of the structuralist account of language after critically assessing its role in feminist theory since the 1970s. Green argues that the hegemony of structuralism is as much a Western hegemony as the Enlightenment tradition of a transcendent subject. Texts historically written and published by women provide the raw material for an archaeology of the female subject, which, Green argues, leads to the discovery and exploration of the female subject. She offers an initial sketch of the results of such an exploration, concluding that many male theorists have portrayed humans as inherently self-centred and egoistic, while most female philosophers have assumed that humans are inherently social.

Laura Kotevska’s contribution “Writing Women into the History of Philosophy: Contextualism Re-Examined” examines the advantages and disadvantages of contextualism as used as a methodology. Philosophical works by women have been neglected by historians of philosophy until recent decades. When such works were discussed, it was usually in the context of male philosophers with whom a female philosopher was associated in some way. Kotevska explores how different options for a contextualist history of philosophy can help explain a woman’s involvement in philosophy, or how they can undermine her intellectual authority and cloud our understanding of her work. To avoid some of the epistemically damaging results that can arise when a woman’s work is placed in her patriarchal context, Kotevska concludes with three suggestions for writing and teaching works produced by women, suggestions informed by the methodological considerations addressed in the essay.

Priyanka Jha’s contribution addresses “The Shaping of the ‘Political’: Gendered Intellectual History of Ideas in Modern India (1880s–1940s)”. Her premise is that in most societies, women’s thought has been reflected in a significant and robust ‘political’ tradition, that this tradition of women’s political thought is situated in a larger universe of ideas than is commonly thought. Women have been and continue to be important interlocutors in debates about concerns and values that are central to the human condition. However, the kind of centrality and attention that should have been given to this school of thought as a “political tradition” has either been barely noticed or marginalized in comparison to other ideational currents. This act is not peculiar to postcolonial societies like India but has a global resonance and a universal scope. There are very few women who have been active as political thinkers or political philosophers worldwide. This paper locates the gendered tradition of political intellectuals in modern India by examining the works and ideas of women thinkers.

In the paper on “Women and Freedom of Canonical Thought: A Propaedeutics”, Christine Lopes starts from the observation that in male or patriarchal canonical thinking there is no unified image and representation of women. She uses this broad space of presentation and calls this “the ways of women”. At the same time, she notes that even today we do not know whether women will bring different ways or possibly femininely coherent ways to canonical thought, or whether we can create women’s canonical thought or abandon the idea of canonical thought. For all, therefore, it can be stated that we are given the freedom to judge canonical thinking, to include or exclude ourselves, to adapt or not. The paper discusses some basic epistemological assumptions about such freedom.

Bodil Hvass Kjems begins her reflections on “The Inclusion of Women in the Curriculum of Philosophy: Challenges and Solutions” with the fact that recent decades have made accessible an overwhelming number of philosophical works by women, but that the original conflict is still present. The sheer abundance of material is far from being adequately reflected in the curricula of philosophy departments. It therefore raises the question, as many do, of what the best argumentative strategy would be to make such inclusion successful. In doing so, the author references proposals, such as those of Sarah Tyson (2014), to frame the debate in the following way. For the author, the question is whether misogyny is an intrinsic feature of the (Western) philosophical tradition or merely an unfortunate development. That is, whether the response to the integration of women’s texts is corrective or transformative to the dominant model. In doing so, it assumes that both strategies, regardless of the ontological status of the philosophical discipline, promote engagement with women’s work in ways that revolutionise contemporary philosophical practice.

In her article “Privacy, Feminism, and Moral Responsibility in the Work of Elizabeth Lane Beardsley”, Julie van Camp looks at the work of an important moral philosopher, Elizabeth Lane Beardsley. The article highlights Beardsley’s philosophical contributions. Using Beardsley as a case study, van Camp points to more general problems in recognizing the work of women philosophers and ensuring their rightful place in our professional dialogue. Van Camp considers sociological and professional factors that may partly explain why the work of women philosophers has not always received the attention it seems to deserve in professional dialogue. The article concludes with suggestions about efforts we can make to address these problems, including the selection of readings for our courses and the sources we consult for our own research and writings, as well as the preservation of records of conferences and other public gatherings that honor women philosophers.

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