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20 September 2011


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This is great. Someone or ones should compose a letter like the one by GCC to send to the editors of the series.

Charles Wolfe

Yes, great.

Aidan McGlynn

I don't think a letter to the editors of such series will do the trick - it's a different kind of issue to that raised by conferences. Publishers aren't going to lead the way on anything like this, since they won't commission volumes that they don't think there's a market for. There would need to be a prior change in how philosophers see, and probably more importantly how they teach, the canon - precisely the sort of change that the penultimate paragraph calls for.


"...a woman has what it takes to tackle Plato or Descartes or Hegel." This just reminds me of the anecdote in LeDoeuff's preface to 'Hipparchia's Choice' which I won't cite here because it's a bit long for a comment (but awesome with snark). I posted about it here, if anyone's interested: I don't know if it's a good or a bad sign that it was published in English 20 years ago - how much has philosophy shifted since then?

In response to Aidan: as always, it's hard to work out whether the supply strictly *answers* rather than *produces* demand. I suspect these two are intertwined, and I do really think that series editors can negotiate this terrain a little better than they do, especially in the way that the original post calls for: not just books on great women philosophers, but books about men by women, rather than just more men. I suspect that these twinned strategies, along with the reshaping of teaching and perception that you outline, are not so much causally linked as mutually sustaining in redressing gender imbalances. Then again, I'm enough of a cultural studies person to *always* be suspicious of canons!

James Williams

Another useful step might be to draw attention to and encourage series that do commission volumes on women philosophers such as Polity's Key Contemporary Thinkers Series (note: I am not disinterested as I have a book in the series).

The series includes volumes on Cixous, Spivak, Butler, Kristeva, Arendt, de Beauvoir and Irigaray. Many of the volumes in the series are by woman philosophers.

There are two worries in the context of the original post. First, it might be significant that the series uses the label 'thinkers' rather than 'philosophers' thereby allowing it to bypass tedious discussions of whether X 'really is a philosopher'. Second, the series does not engage in a numbers game 'the ten best X,' 'the top fifty Ys' this allows it to bypass equally tedious and more sad rankings games (blame our sports culture).


Yes, and this is probably a sign that there *is* a market, but that philosophy series don't think there is, or don't think it's *their* market. Which I think is part of the problem, as is also indicated by your observation about the 'thinker' vs 'philosopher' thing. The border politics around philosophy are often quite vexed when it comes to women... are they philosophers or thinkers? Do they do philosophy or 'theory'? I think this is probably also connected to the loss of some portion of women philosophers to other departments, which has been discussed here (or was it over at Feminist Philosophers?) before, I think.


I was thinking of contacting the series editors (do all of these have series editors?) and not the press editors. The series editors are just prominent philosophers who may be concerned not to appear so parochial, while the press editor will be more narrowly concerned with marketing and prestige.

Cynthia Freeland

The remark about the Oxford Very Short Introductions series is not accurate. I have a book in the series, indeed it is, I have been told, one of the most best-selling ones in the entire best-selling series. It is admittedly titled Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction, but I am a philosopher and the author. If you don't want to count that one, even so, you can still count, and should count, Julia Annas's Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. These are only two I am aware of off the top of my head but I wonder how good the research is if these have been overlooked.


Professor Freeland,
First of all, I should say that I greatly enjoyed your book What is Art (which is the same manuscript, is it not, as the VSI book?). Anyway, I think the thrust of Scalinger's post was that there are no books in the series on women philosophers, and not by. That being said it is still a sad state of affairs when, of the dozen or so books in the series only two are by women.


That sounds like a good plan to me, Hasana!

Cynthia Freeland

Thanks to Michael for the clarification, I did realize that myself late last night and thought "I bet what they meant was...". And yes that's the same book. The VSI list in Philosophy is way longer than 12 books. If you look on their catalog site you find around 40 listed under Philosophy (mine isn't, and a few topics are that some might take issue with). There are some other ones by women, including Plato also by Julia Annas and Presocratic Philosophy by Catherine Osborne. There were also a couple by people with names that were either initials or gender indeterminate (to me at least).

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