on Nov. 30, 2014 :
It's a long time since I was in school but I can barely remember learning about any philosophers of either gender back then. If they entered the curriculum it was more for their contribution to fields other than philosophy – mathematics, science, literature. Partly that is because the words “philosopher” and “philosophy” have broader meanings than that implied by the title of this book. My 60+ year old edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines philosophy as “Love of wisdom or knowledge” and a philosopher as a “Lover of wisdom”. Cameron's book is more specifically concerned with the study of ethics and morals; of our origins and the meaning of life. In Western societies those subjects traditionally fall into the realm of religious education. Indeed it is only comparatively recently that general education has ceased to be principally the responsibility of religious bodies.
The idea of a person devoting him- or herself to the study of such questions outside the auspices of a Church, Synagogue or Mosque is a very modern concept. Little wonder then, that those who did so in the past, of whatever gender, were often shunned or reviled by their contemporaries. When the ideas they formulated and promoted were at odds with the teachings of Rabbis, Priests and Imams we ought not to be surprised that they have been marginalised by the institutions of orthodox education.
Nor ought we to be surprised that only five of the 15 women covered by this volume practiced their art before 1900 for it is only in the twentieth century that religion ceased to dominate every aspect of our lives. And there are, of course, many whose lives are still tragically constrained by the beliefs of followers of fundamentalist branches of all three of the religions born in the Mediteranian region.
Why, then, should we have learned about these women in school? According to Cameron because “Their work has had impact on politics and how we endeavour to live the best lives we can today.” Her book as an attempt to demonstrate the truth of that statement. For me it succeeds in that endeavour. It made me want to read more about each of these extraordinary women and Cameron offers an extensive list of sources for further reading.
If I have one complaint it is that each of the fifteen essays is frustratingly short. At times the book reads like a set of notes for a fifteen week series of lectures. If Cameron ever presents such a series anyone living close to the venue would be well advised to attend. The rest of us must wait for publication of the full set of lecture transcripts which would make a much larger and, in my humble opinion, far better book.
(reviewed 8 days after purchase)
on Sep. 28, 2014 :
How many women philosophers did you learn about in school? One, maybe or two? Perhaps you would be forgiven for thinking that women didn’t really philosophies at all.
Reading this small but concise book by retired lecturer and philosophy graduate Janet Cameron, should help correct that. Well written, thoroughly researched, engaging and thought provoking, the book addresses the gender imbalance prevalent in so many modern studies, by discussing the works of fifteen very different female philosophers.
Ms Cameron’s research takes us from ancient times to the present day, starting with Hypatia of Alexandria, an example of a female philosopher and intellectual who paid the ultimate price for her intellect and ending with Mary Beard’s “Oh do shut up dear “ which discusses the many ways women’s opinions are still silenced even today.
Professor Beard is better known as a classist than a philosopher. But this is what makes this book additionally compelling: it shows us how wide reaching the scope of philosophy is and how diverse the range of intellectual females who can be deemed philosophers.
As would be expected in a work designed to re evaluate the role of women in the world of the intellect, a number of Ms Cameron’s subjects are engaged in feminism and proto feminism, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Marie de Jars de Gourney, Ernestine Rose and Simone de Beauvoir.
But the book also illustrates how the relative rights and equality of women are not the only matters female philosophers pondered. Their philosophical interests were as deep and as wide ranging as their male counterparts, dealing with the nature of the existence, the meaning of god, morality, freedom of the individual versus the good of society, the nature of evil and happiness, determinism and the morality of cloning.
Each chapter examines the lives of the female philosophers as well as their philosophies. Clearly laid out and illustrated, it would make an excellent introduction for students of philosophy as well as and enjoyable and informative read for the interested amateur. Highly recommended.
(reviewed 43 days after purchase)
on Aug. 21, 2014 :
In her book Ms Cameron gives us interesting insights into the lives of women philosphers of bygone eras who were only too aware of the injustices of living in a world dominated by men. Thinkers like de Gournay and Wollstonecraft were early feminists, demanding that women should have access to education and equality. Wollstonecraft even stated that if men were treated as demi-gods then the inequality would result in women becoming 'cunning, mean and selfish'.
Ms Cameron combines a brief biography of each of her candidates with a summary and an analysis of the main thrusts of their arguments, making us wish for more so it is excellent that there is a useful bibliography at the end.
The work of some of these women may be new to us even if we have vaguely heard of them before. An example is Ada Lovelace - the illegitimate daughter of Byron - whose amazing work with Babbage and prescience in the field of Mathematics led to developments in software in modern computing.
We must be grateful for the independence of thought of these philosophers, many of whom had troubled personal lives, in some cases lives that were all too brief. They committed themselves to political and social activism, to Ethics and Morality. The final chapters deal with more contemporary thinkers like Iris Murdoch and Simone de Beauvoir, famous for other aspects of their work. Mary Warnock is known for her skilful contributions to the Ethics Committee on Human Embryology and Cloning and Mary Beard the Oxford academic,has been attacked on Twitter for her views and it is this that has made them household names.
The irony of Simone de Beauvoir having a modest cycle and footbridge named after her is not lost on me. No grand edifices or vast boulevards?
This book will be an eye opener for all right-thinking modern feminists who will undoubtedly wish to find out more. Well done Ms Cameron.
(reviewed the day of purchase)