I'm a female philosophy student, and I had an argument with my sister about the lack of female philosophers taught in college classes. She claimed that this was because of current sexism in the field of philosophy -- the mostly male philosophy professors disregard many great female philosophers and don't teach them. I thought that it was just a product of past sexism -- there historically haven't been many women in the field of philosophy, and therefore very few great female philosophers. Who's right? And if there aren't great female philosophers, should texts by women be taught anyway, as a kind of affirmative action?

It is, first of all, worth saying that the work of female philosophers is widely taught in philosophy courses. For the most part, this would be in courses on contemporary issues. As I mentioned in responding to a different question, question 1202, there are a lot of very highly regarded women in philosophy nowadays. I would be very surprised indeed, perhaps even suspicious, if asignificant amount of work by women were not included in, say, anundergraduate introductory ethics course. In the more technical parts of philosophy, that might not be so. My own introductory philosophy of language courses usually don't include work by women on the main reading list, though there are usually papers by women mentioned as optional or additional readings, and arguments from these papers will get mentioned in lecture. When I teach more advanced courses in philosophy of language, I certainly do include work by women such as Ruth Barcan Marcus, Marga Reimer, or Delia Graff. I take this to reflect the fact that, while there is now no area of philosophy in which women are not doing significant work, women continue to be found in greater numbers in moral philosophy and history of philosophy. That was certainly the case twenty years ago, and most of the papers one teaches in undergraduate courses are going to be ones that have "stood the test of time". Or at least been around long enough to have had some influence.

So women are a much greater presence in philosophy now than they ever have been. That is not to say there were no significant female philosophers before the second half of the twentieth century, but there were not very many. Of course, this is my own judgement, and that of most of my peers in the profession, and of course it's possible it is colored by prejudice, but I don't think it is. It's simply a fact that women during, say, the so-called Early Modern period---think Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume---did not have access to the same kinds of opportunities to which men had access. It doesn't follow that there were no women who did work of any significance, and, over the last couple decades, some very interesting work has been done on this very topic: See, for example, some of the work of Eileen O'Neill. But no-one, I think, supposes that any of these women ought to be installed in the philosophical pantheon alongside the four I just mentioned. The going view seems to be that the women of the early modern period were then, and are now, relatively minor figures. Nonetheless, one might well find their work included in a more in-depth course, perhaps an undergraduate seminar, that read other relatively minor figures of the period.

Whether the work of these relatively minor women should be included in an introductory course on early modern philosophy is a question that can be debated. I can see arguments on both sides, but have not thought sufficiently deeply about the question to have a firm view.

I doubt that philosophy has ever harbored more sexism than any other academic discipline, now or in its history. But sexism has nonetheless played a role in keeping women from doing philosophy, and from being taken seriously when they tried. And this is still true, to a discouraging extent.

I work in the philosophy of mind, and in epistemology, sub-fields where women are less well represented than in ethics or history. The main thing I do to combat sexism -- including my own -- is to work hard at "microenvironmental" issues that are known to have a negative effect on women's participation in intellectual activities. I take care to notice if women have their hands up, to acknowledge and follow up on their comments, to attribute their good points to them by name, and to see that they have as much time to develop their points in discussion as men do. I try to get women, in other words, to see philosophy as belonging to them as much as it does to men.

As for readings: they are still mostly works by men, but there are, as Richard Heck points out, lots of important works in my field by women, so I needn't go out of my way to get women represented in the syllabus.

And I just let it go when students refer to Hilary Putnam as "she."

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