“The limits of contextualist history of philosophy:  female friendship and education in Cavendish’s plays”

Karen Detlefsen (University of Pennsylvania)

Contextualist approaches to the history of philosophy have been generally friendly to the recovery of long lost texts written by women philosophers. By focusing on the philosophical activities of the historical periods under study, contemporary scholars have uncovered much interesting philosophical work done by women in early historical periods. But if we follow contextualist approaches fully and faithfully, we ought to bracket many genres in which we can find rich philosophical materials for these are not genres that would have been considered  philosophical according to our historical actors. This poses a problem for the recovery of many women’s writings, and I discuss this problem and ways to think productively about our historiographical approaches by studying the plays of Margaret Cavendish.

”Arendt and Thinking beyond Borders:Superfluous Lives and the Challenge to Political Ideals”

Robin May Schott (Danish Institute for International Research)

Arendt made many innovations in philosophy, challenging the borders of philosophy to think about the crises of the present, and making her difficult to classify both philosophically and politically. In this paper I will return to her concept of superfluity, which she invoked in relation both to stateless refugees and concentration camp inmates, to address the crisis of borders in another sense, one which has transformed the Mediterranean into a cemetery for refugees. Do these deaths challenge European ideals, or show the underside of such ideals? And how, in the midst of such challenges, was Arendt able to carve from her notion of natality a concept of political freedom that acknowledged both the dangers and possibilities of new beginnings?

“2600 Years History of Women Philosophers – Rewriting the History of Philosophy”

Ruth Hagengruber (University of Paderborn)

The history of women philosophers stretches back as far as the history of philosophy itself.  Taking into account the long and rich history of women philosophers our interpretational patterns have to become transformed. Rewriting the history of philosophy is not only a task that corrects the past. It also gives rise to new philosophical tasks. As the explanation of our world that has been provided to such a large extent through male ideas, philosophy now has the opportunity to create a more complete concerting synthesis.

“Kun Dao坤道: Women Thinkers and Practices in Twelve-Century Daoism”

Robin R. Wang (Loyola Marymount University)

While the dominant social models of Chinese culture were for the most part inspired by Confucianism, Daoism (and later Buddhism) has long provided both theoretical and practical alternatives for women. Thus, while the Confucian ‘virtuous wife and good mother’
賢妻良母(xianqi liangmu) has been a model for women, there has also been an alternative way for women to live. Kundao (the way of femininity) refers to woman who makes a “leap of faith” through commitment and passion to the Daoist teaching. The word kundao is the combination of two important terms from the Yijing 易經 (Book of Changes): Kun refers to Earth as the complement of qian, Heaven. It is the highest concept that denotes being female and all things representing femininity in the Yijing. Dao means the Way. Kundao creates a spiritual and physical space for woman to construct her existence, identity, and the cultivation of perfection 修真(xiuzhen). It takes great courage and will power for such women to defy well-defined social roles and to pursue their goal, freedom, and self-realization. Within the context of Daoist theory and practice, there is no significant constraint on the role, leadership, and spiritual attainment of women. Female identity in Daoism encompasses a much greater ontological concern with inner states and cosmic attainment. Women are given a privileged position through their own existence, or simply because they are females. This talk will explore a few female Daoists’ teachings and practices. These include Cao Wenyi 曹文逸(1039-1119) and Sun Buer 孫不二 (1119–1182).


“Iris Murdoch on Pure Consciousness – or “An Exercise of Oneself in the Activity of Thought”

Nora Hämäläinen (Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies)

One of the first things that students and scholars learn about Iris Murdoch is that she proposed an ethics of attention, where the  individual person and his relation to goodness take center stage. This was to be contrasted with the mainstream of mid- and late 20th century moral philosophy, where the consciousness of the individual person had been unduly neglected or considered with suspicion. Less attention has been paid to how Murdoch builds her idea of consciousness on 19th and 20th century thought on consciousness and cognition. In this paper I investigate how Murdoch in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals uses a variety of very heterogeneous accounts of consciousness (and ideas of purification of consciousness), to establish one of the pillars of her moral philosophy: the image of morality as the work of a singular consciousness upon a world which  is real and tangible, and yet veiled by the limitations of the self and ego. In addition to providing a clearer view of one of the key issues in Murdoch’s moral philosophy, the discussion in MGM is also paradigmatic of Murdoch’s philosophical method, which in Foucault’s words could be described as “askesis, an exercise of oneself in the activity of thought”. Both the moral strivings of the individual and the (transformative) strivings of the philosopher, as presented in Murdoch’s work, are helpfully characterized by the idea of askesis. But I will argue that it is essential for a proper understanding of her contribution that we do not conflate these two areas of self-transformative effort: the philosophical and the moral.

“‘Context’ and ‘Fortuna’ in the History of Women Philosophers: a Diachronic Perspective”

Sarah Hutton (University of York)

Much of the work on women philosophers in the last fifteen years has been work of recovery. It has always been my contention that the recovery of women philosophers requires an historical approach to philosophy. Integral to that is knowledge of the philosophical and historical context in which women philosophised. Some of the early attempts to discuss women philosophers of the past stalled because of the mismatch between modern philosophical viewing frames and the female philosophers of yore. The research of the last fifteen years has born fruit both in terms of the number of female philosophers that have been brought into focus, and in terms of a better understanding of their philosophy and philosophical priorities. Nevertheless, we still confront the problem of strangeness and difference in the thought of women from other periods and their relevance to us now. However, recent work of recovery is beginning to give us a clearer idea of their philosophical standing in their own day, and of who read them subsequently. This opens the way for pursuing another line of enquiry integral to the history of philosophy, namely the fortune of philosophers and philosophies across time. To trace a philosophical fortuna entails following the historical trajectory from the past to the present, examining the philosophical debates and the reworkings of philosophical ideas in new and different circumstances which occurred across time. In my paper I shall explore the idea of philosophical ‘fortuna’ as a means for understanding what Eileen O’Neill called the ‘fate in history’ of women philosophers. I shall argue that focus on philosophical fortunae has the potential to bring the history of women philosophers full circle with the present, offering a means to reassess the realities of exclusion and marginalisation, and a means to strengthen the claims for women to be admitted as full members of the community of philosophers


“What is a philosophical canon?”

 Lisa Shapiro (Simon Fraser University)

Within the history of early modern philosophy, we are stuck in a bit of a rut in thinking of the central figures in the early modern period as the seven of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and, of course, Kant. In recent years, there have been those who have made moves to get us out of this rut, whether by turning attention to Malebranche (Nadler and Schmaltz), Gassendi (Lolordo), Newton (Downing, Janiak), or Reid (Copenhaver, Lehrer, Van Cleve). While scholarly interest may have increased a bit, there is a gap between it and pedagogical interest. Not many people teach these figures in their undergraduate classes.  Not unrelated to the rut of the canonical seven is another problem: the homogeneity of the early modern canon. The fact of the matter is that in the early modern period there were many women actively engaged in philosophy, and yet most of us do not read any women thinkers of the period. I here engage in some critical reflection on just what ought to constitute the philosophical canon.  I identify and consider three intertwined strands of justification of the canon: the canon depicts a causal account of the intellectual historical development of philosophy; the canon identifies a set of philosophical questions which are centrally constitutive of the discipline of philosophy; and the canon consists of a set of important distinctively philosophical works. I argue that we can get out of the rut by critically evaluating our conception of a philosophical work and revisiting questions that seem to have dropped out of the philosophical mainstream, though they were once quite central.



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