There are lots of reasons to read; to soothe, to entertain, to escape. And most definitely to educate. The chance to do just that and to push myself slightly out of my reading comfort zone is why I accepted Anne Cater’s kind blog tour invite for this intriguing and important book.
The Philosopher Queens is a collection of 20 essays written by female philosophers about female philosophers who have been overlooked by history. This book, edited by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting, published by Unbound, is an attempt to fill the void in philosophical teaching and thought, a void created by the fact that women of philosophy have gone unrecognised and championed for too long.
These essays highlight the fact that for too long philosophy has been viewed as a Male domain, and that philosophical thinking has been seen through the lens of a male perspective. This has lead to a narrowing of views, of perceptions and focus. This collection debunks the myth that intelligent free thinking women are a modern construct. While it is true that opportunities for women have grown in recent decades, it is ridiculous to believe that intelligent women haven’t lived and thought throughout history. Rather like colourising a sepia photograph, these essays bring our focus into sharp relief and turn the spotlight on brilliant women too long over looked.
I have never studied philosophy in it’s own right, and before I read this book I was thinking of it’s content in terms of challenge. However having studied Sociology, Pyschology, English Literature, not to mention any number of pedagogies associated with teaching, I am familiar with the names and basic premises of many male philosophers such as Kant and Rosseau, Plato and Socrates.
Yet when I challenged myself to think of female philosophers, I drew a complete blank. I was expecting to encounter women I had never heard of before. And yet while many of the women explored in these page are unknown to me, many are not. Iris Murdoch, George Eliot, Simone De Beauvoir and Mary Wollstonecraft, for example are well known names but no one, in any context or course of study, has ever framed their work as philosophy to me and I, foolishly perhaps, have never made that leap. This book provided me with fresh eyes through which to view old friends, to seek new inspiration and explore new ideas.
Within this collection the reader will find philosophers from across the decades and from a wide range of cultural and societal backgrounds. I have no intention of listing all the women written about here; it is enough to know that we begin in Ancient China, travel through Ancient Egypt and leave within the realms of Modern Islamic thinking. There is something for everyone within this book and every reader’s responses will be unique. I, for example, was fascinated by the quartet of Oxford Wartime Philosophers; Murdoch, Midgley, Anscombe and Foot. Working together through out the Second World War and beyond, challenging each other and taking advantage of the unique academic opportunity afforded to them by an absence of men.
And perhaps given my day job, it is not surprising that Mary Warnock grabbed my attention. Her work on the ethics surrounding the issue of surrogacy, and her role in championing the educational and social rights of children with Special Educational Needs through the Warnock Review have changed the course of many lives. As such Mary Warnock’s work highlights the tangible importance and impact of philosophical thinking on society today. And if we only value male philosophical perspectives then that impact is hopelessly one sided and skewed.
However you choose to read this book, whether cover to cover like myself, pausing between each essay to digest and reflect; or dipping in and out, over a period of days, weeks or months, this is book to educate and challenge. And I already have this one marked up as a Christmas present for some budding philosophical female thinkers in my life!!
And there is more…
For more reviews and responses to The Philosopher Queens, check out the rest of the Blog Tour…