This post is in honour of International Women's Day: a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future, every year on 8 March, since 1911.
As part of my job, I occasionally review books. This is good, because I get free books, a publication of sorts to my name, and I get to find out what some of the other people in my field are thinking.
The latest one is a book by Robert Kane called Ethics and the Quest for Wisdom. Cool title, I thought, when the editor first contacted me about doing the review. A quick look at Amazon told me that the book seeks to revive certain ancient ethical beliefs and apply them to contemporary problems in social and political philosophy. Nice, I though. My kind of thing.
Then, a few weeks later, I received the book. Here it is:
Men, men, and more men. Fat men, skinny men, old men, young men, bearded men, bold men, men. Is this what the quest for wisdom looks like, I asked myself? If so, I might as well give up. Now.
But, no, this may not be as outrageous as it looks, I think. Maybe the book is some sort of a survey of these philosophers. These mainstream philosophers. Maybe that's what the author agreed to do. Even so, that would be problematic. These guys are 'important' because they are on the canon: every one has read them, so every one has to read them. If you haven't you can't join the game, you can't play with the big boys. You might read some women philosophers on the side, but don't talk about them when you're anywhere serious. It won't do.
But looking at the book, that's not even the case. The book is not a survey. And the author does refer to a number of women philosophers, at least twentieth century women philosophers. So what's with the cover? It seems like somebody, probably somebody working for the press, but maybe the author himself, decided that a gathering of these ugly mugs was the best expression of the Quest for Wisdom.
I beg to differ, and I won't bother to be respectful about it.
Women philosophers have been working just as hard towards the quest for wisdom as men philosophers have. Harder, perhaps, because every time one of them had an idea they managed to write down, one of the bastards pictured on that book would do his best to bury it.
Plato - top right - wasn't too bad: at least he allowed women to study philosophy at his school, and thought they would make just as good rulers as men would. Aristotle - bottom right - Kant - in the middle - Spinoza - on Kant's right - all had crazy offensive views about women's natural inferiority to men and believed it was impossible for a woman to produce good intellectual work. Aquinas - top, middle - thought women were so flawed they couldn't have been part of the original creation. Confusius - bottom left - believed that wisdom for women was complete subservience to men. Hume may have been alright, and Mill, well, he did take the credit for his partner Harriet Taylor's work on the The Subjection of Women. (He acknowledged her work, but still signed his name to it).
So in honour of International Women's Day, I'm going to take a small liberty with the venerable people at Cambridge University Press. I'm going to redesign the book cover. Here goes:
The Quest for Wisdom
Happy International Women's Day!