“Women’s Works” by Peter Adamson

“Despite the ancient Oracle’s advice to ‘Know Thyself’, it’s only relatively recently that we philosophers have started wondering why so few of us are women. In fact, gender disparity among professional academic philosophers has now become something of a scandal. (…)  in the earlier ages studied by those historians, women were even more shut out of the discipline than they are today.

(…) The early modern period especially featured numerous prominent female thinkers, such as Margaret Cavendish and Anne Conway. They were active in the mid-1600s, more than a century before Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1790 work Vindication of the Rights of Women (I’m guessing that this is the earliest philosophical treatise by a woman that most philosophers would be able to name).

If we look further back, we find that the history of women in philosophy is as old as the history of philosophy itself. In the time of the Pre-Socratics (6th C. BCE) there was Theano, an associate of and possibly the wife of Pythagoras. Plato famously argues in his Republic that women would be philosophers in his ideal city. (…)


By the way, non-European traditions have also featured women. We find several female disputants in theUpanisads (6th C. BCE onwards), for example.

Of course, it is not enough to acknowledge the existence of these women thinkers and then turn back to studying only their more famous male contemporaries. (…) After all, when we study Aristotle or Kant, we don’t usually start with the observation that they were men; so why should we see Hipparchia or Hildegard as women first and philosophers second? (…)

If female philosophers are to be rescued from their undeserved obscurity, it will be by using the same tools that can illuminate male historical figures.(…) And if this richer historical picture gives encouragement to women who are considering whether to devote their lives to philosophy, then an improvement in our understanding of philosophy’s past might just help improve philosophy’s future.”

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