From Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras:
After that, [Pythagoras’] reputation greatly increased: he found many associates in the city of Croton itself (not only men but also women, one of whom, Theano, achieved some fame), and many, both kings and noblemen, from the nearby non-Greek territory. What he said to his associates no one can say with any certainty; for they preserved no ordinary silence. But it became very well known to everyone that he said, first, that the soul is immortal; then, that it changes into other kinds of animals; further, that at fixed intervals whatever has happened happens again, there being nothing absolutely new; and that all living things should be considered as belonging to the same kind. Pythagoras seems to have been the first to introduce these doctrines into Greece.
Tangents and Non Sequiturs From Prudence:
It wasn’t until I read that paragraph that I realized I could not name a single female philosopher until reaching the 20th century and Ayn Rand.
I don’t go around taking score on gender diversity in anything really. I figure that if you excel at something, you will be admitted to the club. It doesn’t bother me that some fields are predominated by women and others by men.
But as I am just starting on this philosophical journey, I have to wonder, am I venturing into an area that women typically don’t excel at? Why is there such a dearth of women philosophers? Don’t worry, it won’t scare me off. I’m used to going places where I make a surprising addition. I just hadn’t considered the possibility that I wasn’t supposed to be doing this.
Could it be as Larry Summers said, and was roundly chastised for, about women mathematicians and scientists: that even in the brain, we’re just built different. Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion and Russian politician, once said that women could never equal men in chess either. Our brains just couldn’t handle the mathematical complexities. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s true. But that doesn’t mean of course that we can’t make our own contributions to the science, or have occasional “freaks of nature” that do find themselves competing on the same level. It would, of course, be nice to see more women give it a try.
It does strike me as odd that the first mention I find of a female philosopher is one attached to Pythagoras, whose philosophy was heavily intertwined with mathematics (see preceding paragraph).
I looked up Theano on the internet, and found a website dedicated to women philosophers. It turns out that Theano was Pythagoras’ young wife who took over his school upon his death. Ah, so that’s how you become the first famous female philosopher. (Not to take away from her own intellectual abilities, which in her writings showed she was one smart cookie.)
The website has lists of women philosophers in different eras. Upon review, there are a few names that I recognize, but couldn’t tell you why I have heard of them. Upon reaching the 20th century there, I see that I left Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft off my one philosopher list. (I hadn’t really thought of her as a philosopher, even with her Vindication of the Rights of Women, but I can the classification now. Apologies to Mary.) There was also Iris Murdoch, whom I know as a novelist, but wasn’t aware of her philosophical writings.
It’s funny. The one female philosopher that I could name—Rand—and who had a great impact in my conservative/libertarian evolution, she wasn’t to be found at all on the Women Philosophers website.
Pre-Socratic Self Quiz:
Bertrand Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy, says:
The influence of geometry upon philosophy and scientific method has been profound. Geometry, as established by the Greeks, starts with axioms which are (or are deemed to be) self-evident, and proceeds, by deductive reasoning, to arrive at theorems that are very far from self-evident.
Q4. What 18th century American document models itself on this method?
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