The Center in Brazil

WHERE DO ALL THESE WOMEN COME FROM? - THE CENTER FOR THE HISTORY OF WOMEN PHILOSOPHERS AND THE HISTORY OF WOMEN IN PHILOSOPHY

Ruth Hagengruber responds to the questions of Marcio Ferrari, journalist, writing an interview for the journal Pesquisa Fapesp.

 

 

Prof. Dr. Ruth Hagengruber

 

I have some simple and introductory questions in order to introduce our readers to the Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists. Here they are:

1.    When and why was the Center created and developed?

Back in the 90ties I started to teach women philosophers in the history and published some of the first translations of texts from women philosophers in German. Inspired by the works of Prof. Mary Ellen Waithe from Cleveland State University, U.S.A. and many German Historians in Philosophy, such as Hannelore Schröder and other, I started in 2006 with the establishment of a teaching and research area on the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists. The Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists can look back on a long tradition at the University of Paderborn. Fourteen years ago, at a time when the academic interest in women philosophers was not regularly discussed, together with my wonderful and supporting team, foremost with Ana Rodrigues, we established a “Teaching and Research Area – History of Women Philosophers” for the department of philosophy there. “Putting women philosophers into focus” was the public agenda of this ambitious project, which aimed to renew and narrate the long tradition of women philosophers. Since then, the academic staff of the Paderborn philosophy department has offered classes – many in English language – on women philosophers such as Hildegard of Bingen, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Émilie Du Châtelet, the 19th and 20th century women in the philosophy of economics, such as Harriet Taylor Mill or Charlotte Perkins Gillman and women in phenomenology, such as Edith Stein, Gerda Walter and Hedwig Conrad Martius. The lecture cycle in 2012, “2600 Years History of Women Philosophers” was distributed on YouTube. The University of Paderborn was among those established as German and European gravitational centers for the study of women philosophers and as a place for innovative research in the field of the history of philosophy. This new teaching and research area drew international interest to the University of Paderborn and members of the team organized important events and spoke about women philosophers at international conferences. One of the significant developmental steps was the long-overdue recognition of Émilie Du Châtelet in the Leibniz-studies. A panel was introduced at the Leibniz-Conference in Hannover in 2016, which I was asked to chair.

Since then, regular lectures and seminars on the works of these philosophers have been offered and are well-received among students and other scholars alike. Due to the continually growing interest in this area of research, we were able to successfully apply for funding for the project Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists in April 2016. On October 24th of the same year, we celebrated the official opening of the first international center of its kind, together with Svenja Schulze, the Minister for Culture and Science in North Rhine-Westphalia, and supporters and partners ranging from Turkey to the U.S.A.

Although the history of female philosophers dates back more than 2600 years, their philosophical achievements have often been disregarded. In the philosophy department at the University of Paderborn, we felt that it was time not only to show how women have been excluded from the canonical history of philosophy, but also to focus on promoting research on the women philosophers who, despite all challenges, were an integral part of the philosophical discourses of their respective epochs. Inspired by the works of Prof. Mary Ellen Waithe from Cleveland State University, U.S.A. – who is now the Center’s chief advisor – we started in 2006 with the establishment of a teaching and research area on the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists. Our goal was to renew the academic discourse on the long-standing historical tradition of female philosophers.

  1. How did the Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts in Woman Philosophy come about?

I am in my main vocation professor of philosophy with relevance also to the field of information science. I have some special ideas how philosophy in future will present itself. This will change compared to how it is presented today. Thanks to this technology also the world of philosophy is rapidly expanding. New technological advance gives us quicker, broader, more complete access to new knowledge. We read Hannah Arendt on our phones. We study Edith Stein on our tablets. Voice-activated technology takes notes and posts them to cloud storage while we drive. New historical information about women’s contributions is generating new knowledge, warranting reconsideration of the standard histories of the discipline.

With Professor Mary Ellen Waithe, co-chief editor of the ECC, we are eager to offer this encyclopedia: to create a living, growing work filled with new information from an ancient discipline, adapted to up to date technology.

We gave this challenge to eminent scholars around the globe: in 100-300 words explain a concept as it was developed by a woman philosopher. Append to each essay a short bibliography of the most relevant articles and books in which that philosopher’s concept is developed or discussed. Most encyclopedias are arranged according to philosophers’ names etc. But NONE offer a comprehensive list of entries about the ideas women philosophers have developed. The Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers is unique.

We begin with more than a hundred philosophical concepts as they were developed by women from antiquity through the turn of the 21st century. As we regularly update and expand its contents, we will begin to provide links to sources where available. This encyclopedia will be accessible for free online, through university libraries world-wide, through national libraries, and in the online collection of the Paderborn University Library Digital Collection through which it is curated. The Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers launched its first body of articles in Mai 2018, in Mai 2019 we have about 200 articles and many more in the review. We have many request to allow the translation into other languages which we have to handle. One year ago, the request came from Brazil. There, a huge effort was made  and the first fifty entries have been translated by scholars in the field. As soon as all relevant questions have been taken into account, we will publish this part of the Encyclopedia in Portuguese language.

  1. Is it possible to summarize the importance of women’s contribution to philosophy in modern times?

The history of women philosophers stretches back as far as the history of philosophy itself, yet women have not played a large role in the canonical narration. The participation of women philosophers in the intellectual discourses of their respective epochs is undeniable, as is their relative absence in the curricula of modern universities and educational institutions. This absence is striking since it has been shown that female philosophers were extensively involved in the intellectual environment since Greek antiquity. Hildegard of Bingen was read in all times, Margret Cavendish and Anne Conway have been influential thinkers. Émilie du Châtelet is a most important writer in the German 18th century and her influence on the works of Immanuel Kant are going to be well documented. Yet these women do not play the roles they deserve in classes on Antiquity or the French Enlightenment, but are vastly overshadowed by their male contemporaries. While a few of these names have recently experienced tentative academic recognition, an overwhelming number of women philosophers from each period of history havs yet to be acknowledged and investigated.

Prof. Dr. Ruth Hagengruber

The idea for the Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists (HWPS) resulted from the recognition that the academic treatment of women philosophers has often been limited to the declaration and methodical description of their exclusion in the intellectual discourses of their times. This treatment, however, disregards the fact that in many instances women were thoroughly involved. While it is important to criticize the exclusion of women philosophers in the canonical narration of the history of philosophy, it is not sufficient to fixate on the exclusion itself, as this contributes to its continuation. Recently, scholars of the history of philosophy were successful in reconstructing an impressive compilation of important concepts by women philosophers and to uncover an extensivee body of their works – these bodies of work now need to be further investigated. While there is no denying the unfair treatment of women in the philosophical tradition and the writing of history, the Center HWPS was built on the idea that there are more than enough writings of importance for the devotion of a philosophical research institution. Through the recognition of women’s work on philosophical problems, a wealth of new ideas and concepts is re-emerging, which will facilitate the integration of women philosophers into the philosophical canon and which will provide us with new perspectives on important epochs in the history of philosophy.

  1. What are the main trends in women’s philosophical thought nowadays?

Women played a pivotal role in spreading the ideas of the European Enlightenment. However, the French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-1749) did not only propel the movement of the Enlightenment through her writings. She also established concepts and scientific frameworks that are still of relevance in the understanding of Newtonian physics. While her name is not mentioned as regularly as those of Newton, Leibniz or Kant, we argue that without a comprehensive understanding of the works of Du Châtelet, one cannot justifiably claim to understand the works of her male contemporaries.

Women in Early Modern philosophy have been investigated in the last years and a highly scholarly debate is taking place in regard to Margret Cavendish, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Anne Conway, Olympe de Gouges and other major figures of the Early Modern Philosophy. I am also proposing to shed new light on how to receive the philosophy of Renaissance. Platonic philosophy was broadly received and translated in Italy. In the early 16th century women started to enter the discussion questioning their subjection in marriage and demanding political and societal participation. My colleague Karen Green holds that the democratic claim for equality in the 18th century revolution is due to the intensive discussion women have created in their fight for equal rights over centuries. Much more is going on now. There are also very good attempts to study women in the history of logic and in analytic philosophy.

  1. Is it already possible to write a new history of philosophy, different from the traditional canon?

We are facing today a huge amount of valuable resources from women philosophers, many from antiquity and some in the middle Ages, a tradition without cease from Humanism and Renaissance till today. Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, and Simone de Beauvoir, the famous representatives of the 20th century, did not appear from nowhere, they are standing, so to speak, on the shoulders of female titans before them. The history of women philosophers stretches back as far as the history of philosophy itself. Much more, the presence as well as the absence of women philosophers through the course of history parallels the history of philosophy of the mainstream. Even the ups and downs of philosophical history are reflected also in the history of women philosophers. In 2015, my paper was published: Cutting through the veil of ignorance: Rewriting the history of philosophy. There I have introduced various examples that illustrate how a history of philosophy could look like that integrates women philosophers. The philosophy of Marie de Gournay, connected to founders of the French Academy, to Montaigne, Richelieu and Ménage, had a wide impact. A main target is the gendered personalisation of God, which stand as a universal principle, embracing and including everything: “If anyone is so dull as to imagine masculinity or femininity in God … such a person shows in plain light that he is just as bad a philosopher as he is a theologian”. The theological issue of a male God was early on discussed by female philosophers. Elisabeth of Bohemia was familiar with outstanding scientists of the time, among them Descartes. As she points out in her correspondence and based on the observation of physical experience, she finds the separation of mind and body to be antagonistic and argues in favour of the concept of continuous matter. Another peak of elaborated intellectual achievement highly influential in the course of the history of philosophy is presented by the writings of Emilie du Châtelet. She was concerned with Examinations of the Bible, with a rewriting of Newtonian physics, and also with outlining a new methodology. Harriett Taylor Mill, Lady Welby, and many other women influenced the history of philosophy and should be acknowledged for this. We have a whole set of scholarly work at hand that would allow to start such a presentation of the history of philosophy, which also includes the ideas of women philosophers.

  1. What is the “methodological impact” referred to in the title of your speech?

The keynote I was honored to offer at this conference in Rio was entitled: „The stolen history. Retrieving the History of Women Philosophers and its Methodological Implications.”

The methodological impact which I address in this talk makes evident that we are tackling facts of exclusion. There were these women and they had influence, it is that the narratives about these facts told us to deny their importance. The exclusion of women, and its legitimating narratives belonged to an interpretational topology which has hindered the acknowledgement of their relevance to our cultural development. The exclusionary method worked to establish and maintain the patriarchally-formed canon and its own outstanding achievements. For quite a period of time, it seemed that the research of women philosophers in the history of philosophy represented a specialized and gendered philosophical claim, meaningful to provide a narrative invention of gender history. This confined women’s contributions beyond the universal claim of philosophy into the realm of particularized wisdom. When we learn to read the history of philosophy as one of male and female contributors, as a history of contributions of truth-seeking people (not only from the Western world), we will start to understand the grave philosophical limitations and mistakes that characterize the institutionalized mainstream and malestream patriarchal history until today. -We must also remember that this is the case not only in Western countries. The methodological approach has thus turned: the “gendered” interest turns out to have always been on the side of the misogynists. If there is to be criticized the particularized methodology that focuses on gendered interests instead of universal ones, the malestreamed history of philosophy has to be blamed for having disguised its gendered interest behind its universal claims.

Thank you very much.

Best wishes
Márcio

Response to Marcio Ferrari

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