When I posted about the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcasts, commenting that they did in fact have some – women-shaped – gaps, a discussion started about who, if anyone, was to blame for systematically leaving women out of the history of philosophy.
One of our authors, Lena, pointed out that it certainly wasn’t the case that a only a few, male, philosophers were to blame. As students, most of us didn’t even ask ourselves why all the ‘classics’ we read were written by men, swept up as we were by the ideals of rationality, the thought that reason is universal and unaffected by gender. Certainly I still believe those things, as a Wollstonecraft scholar would, but I’m no longer so impressed with them that I fail to notice that most of those representants of human ungendered rationality offered to us as undergraduates had beards and penises. It’s no longer something I can overlook.
Yet I still do, regularly. It did not occur to me to propose the inclusion of female philosophers in our history of philosophy service course until my male colleagues suggested it. I did not think Christine de Pizan, whose name I’d been familiar with since childhood, might be a philosopher until I met someone who’d edited a book on her. And then there was Sophie de Grouchy whose book was given to me by a Montreal philosopher. The book’s title was: Lettres sur la Sympathie, Lettres d’amour. I had never heard of her. I doubted this could be a proper philosophy book: love letters?
Thankfully I know better now. The Letters on Sympathy are a philosophical commentary on Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, which de Grouchy translated into French. The love letters are added because the editor liked them. But who publishes private love letters alongside a work of philosophy? You don’t read Kan’t love notes to his housekeeper at the back of the Critique of Pure Reason, and even Wollstonecraft kept her private letters to Imlay separate from the ones she chose to publish on her travels in Sweden, Denmark and Norway!
These are the sort of mistakes we make, the kind of things we have to look out for. If we really do care about women being reinstated in the history of philosophy, we need to keep reminding each other not to forget, to keep bringing out authors and texts which are kept in the dark, and to state the obvious regularly: yes, she was a philosopher. Yes, you should read her texts, teach them, write about them.
This blog is one of the places where this can be done, for a start. So if there’s someone you’d like to write about, drop us a comment and we’ll get in touch.