Blogs > Liberty and Power > Paglia, Rand, and Women in Philosophy

Jul 14, 2005 2:21 pm

Paglia, Rand, and Women in Philosophy

Camille Paglia, who contributed to the anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, has raised her voice in defense of women philosophers who were marginalized by a recent BBC-Radio 4 Greatest Philosopher poll that placed Karl Marx at the top. Paglia writes in The Independent:

For most of history, the groundbreaking philosophers have all been men, and philosophy has always been a male genre. Women had neither the education nor the time to pursue the life of the mind. ... Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. ... Today's lack of major female philosophers is not due to lack of talent but to the collapse of philosophy. Philosophy as traditionally practised may be a dead genre. This is the age of the internet in which we are constantly flooded by information in fragments. Each person at the computer is embarked on a quest for and fabrication of his or her identity. The web mimics human neurology, and it is fundmentally altering young people's brains. The web, for good or ill, is instantaneous. Philosophy belongs to a vanished age of much slower and rhetorically formal inquiry.

Paglia is spot on with regard to a number of points here. Systematic reasoning is clearly at a disadvantage in a culture that embraces atomizing and dis-integration as the preferred mode of analysis.

But there are a number of women thinkers, says Paglia, who merit our attention. Among these: Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand. Paglia writes:

Both Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand, another favourite of mine, have their own highly influential system of thought, and therefore they belong on any list of great philosophers. Rand's mix of theory, social observations and commentary was very original, though we see her Romantic sources. Her system is broad and complex and well deserves to be incorporated into the philosophy curriculum. Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, The Second Sex (which hugely influenced me in my youth), demonstrates her hybrid consciousness. It doesn't conform to the strict definition of philosophy because it's an amalgamation of abstract thought and history and anthropology—real facts. The genre problem is probably why both these women are absent from the list. But Plato too was a writer of dramatic fiction—so that it is no basis for dismissing Rand.

It's a worthwhile read.

Hat tip to David Boaz.

Cross-posted to Notablog.

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More Comments:

William Marina - 7/15/2005

Continuing on the S&F theme, is the Crisis (rather than Death) of Philosophy
related to what has happened in the universities?
Rod, given the present world situation, which professional philosopher could you recommend as having some valuable to say in a broad, perspective kind of way?
If Rand were alive, I believe she would have something to say about it.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/14/2005

First, thanks Bill for that reference on fragmentation and unity in knowledge.

Second, thanks for your comments Roderick. One question: You write that "philosphy is certainly not dead within the genre; in my view, the past forty years of Anglo-American philosophy have seen a great many extremely significant achievements, but they have gone unsung outside the discipline."

I'm curious as to your own view of this. Why do you think that is so?

Roderick T. Long - 7/14/2005

"Philosophy as traditionally practised may be a dead genre."

Well, it depends what that means. Certainly philosophy in English-speaking countries no longer has the influence outside the discipline that it once had. In English-speaking countries, academics in history, literature, sociology, etc. are largely ignorant of the recent philosophical traditions in their own countries; they may have some familiarity with French or German philosophers -- Sartre, Heidegger, Habermas, Focault, Derrida -- but would be hard-pressed to name many major British or American philosophers more recent than Bertrand Russell. (Okay, maybe Rawls, and philosophers of science like Popper, Kuhn, and Dennett -- though it's not really philosophy that Dennett does any more.) But philosphy is certainly not dead within the genre; in my view, the past forty years of Anglo-American philosophy have seen a great many extremely significant achievements, but they have gone unsung outside the discipline.

Roderick T. Long - 7/14/2005

Another 20th century woman philosopher of great importance was G.E.M. ("Elizabeth") Anscombe. A student of Wittgenstein, she developed a philosophical synthesis of Wittgenstein and Aquinas. Her social conservatism (on such issues as contraception and abortion) is not my cup of tea, but her Ethics, Religion, and Politics contains a great moral critique of military policy in WWII and Korea, and her Intention offers a conceptual analysis of action-concepts that complements Austrian economic methodology.

William Marina - 7/14/2005

In the 75th Ann. History of the U. of Miami (2001), in the final chapter I discuss many of the same themes you note, & your Gregorian link, with respect to the general, fragmentation & specialization.

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