Presidential Project 

Associate Professor Karen Green - AAP President  2018 - 2020

Karen Green AAP President

This year’s Presidential Project aims to foster greater gender diversity within the Philosophy curriculum. Two specific tasks are being pursued to foster the aims of the project:

1Redevelopment of the already existing Women’s Works list on the AAP website. The redevelopment will construct a resource that is both more comprehensive and more selective than the existing list. The redeveloped resource will provide more indications of the way in which the articles recommended contribute to existing and emerging debates within philosophy. It will include both historical and contemporary works chosen for their relevance and suitability for undergraduate teaching. To this end, there will be a workshop associated with the 2019 AAP Conference, which will bring together all those interested in working towards improving this resource. In conjunction with this part of the project, a list of already published gender balanced text books in Philosophy will be compiled, and added to the AAP website.

2. Development of a textbook (in conjunction with the German Philosophical Society) which will offer easy access to selections from the works of historical women, who have contributed to philosophy. This will offer an important resource for those wishing to add women’s works to existing courses in the history of philosophy.

There are many considerations that point to the value of undertaking this project.

First, as philosophers, we do our courses no favours by making them seem biased and irrelevant to half the student population. If young women are to see philosophy as an area of study relevant to them, it is important to include works by women. This sets an example. It shows that philosophy is an endeavour to which women have contributed and to which they are expected to contribute at the highest levels in the future.

Second, while it is true that most historical ‘big name’ philosophers are men, it is important to understand why this is the case. Some may suppose that the reason was, actually, women’s intellectual inferiority or lack of capacity for philosophy. But women’s lesser historical contribution to philosophy is much more plausibly the result of, for example, the burdens of child-bearing and child-rearing, the imposed duties of caring for men’s physical well-being, the systematic lack of education of women, the exclusion of women from institutions of higher education, and so forth. If the lasting effects of the past cultural exclusion of women from philosophy is to be overcome, a little bit of effort may be necessary. In fact, despite all these disadvantages, historically, numerous notable women did contribute to classic philosophical debates, as recent scholarship is revealing. Some of their works may not be as accessible as the widely copied and distributed works by their male contemporaries. The aim of this project is to help rectify this problem, both by offering guidance as to the most influential and accessible works by women who contributed to the history of philosophy, as well as by suggesting classic papers by more contemporary female philosophers.

Third, it is important to think about how we determine what counts as ‘good philosophy. Our determination depends on what we take philosophy to be, and what we understand the purpose of teaching philosophy within the academy to be. I believe that philosophy involves reflection on the fundamental beliefs and values of a society, and that the philosophy taught in the institutions of a society are an expression of those fundamental beliefs and values. I hope, and expect, that our society is one that has arrived at the position that sex, skin colour, and cultural background are irrelevant factors in determining the capacity of individuals to contribute to the articulation of the fundamental beliefs and values of contemporary society. Therefore, philosophers, who have power and influence within it, should be committed to overcoming those elements of our historical legacy that militate against this equal opportunity. More bluntly, one could say that women’s philosophical opinions are not taken to be authoritative within sexist and male dominated societies, and part of what it is for a society to shake off its male domination is for the intellectual authority of women’s voices to come to be recognised as equal to those of males.

The articulation of the above considerations indicates the spirit in which this presidential project is being developed. For more in a similar vein, see Karen Green, ‘Reimagining the Philosophical Conversation’ in Russell Blackford and Damien Broderick (eds.) Philosophy’s Future (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), 201-212.

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