Books about women philosophers – forgotten again and again, remembered again and again

Why we almost always think of philosophy and philosophers as male is one of history’s great mysteries – especially when you consider how many women have been involved in the business of thought since ancient times.

Periodically, therefore, books appear that commemorate the philosophers – and have done so for centuries: from lists of learned women in the 15th and 16th centuries to the detailed “History of the Philosophers” by Gilles Ménage from 1690 to the in the Standard works by Marit Rullmann and Mary Ellen Waithe published in the 1980s and 1990s – at the height of the establishment of women’s studies at universities.

Three new titles on the subject, which are aimed at a broad audience, show that women philosophers must be remembered again in 2021.

Armin Strohmeyr: “Great philosophers. How their thinking shaped the world”
Piper, Munich 2021
320 pages, 12 euros

Armin Strohmeyr’s recently published book, “Great Women Philosophers. How Their Thinking Shaped the World. 10 Portraits,” is the most conventional of these. The non-fiction author also wrote titles such as “Influential Women. 12 Portraits”, “Adventures of Traveling Women. 15 Portraits” and “Mysterious Women. Rebels, Mistresses, Impostors”.

From Hildegard von Bingen to Hannah Arendt

He tells the life and work stories of ten well-known thinkers in a pretty way, but without any particular feminist impetus: from the medieval mystic and founder of German-language philosophy Hildegard von Bingen to the expected greats of the 20th century, Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt.

Rebecca Buxton/Lisa Whiting (eds.): “Women philosophers. From Hypatia to Angela Davis: Outstanding women in the history of philosophy”
Mairisch Verlag, Hamburg 2021
240 pages, 22 euros

The 20 short portraits of female thinkers in the volume “Female Philosophers. From Hypatia to Angela Davis: Outstanding Women in the History of Philosophy” are academically more ambitious, even if their form is even more popular. The volume begins with two ancient philosophers and then ends up relatively quickly in the 20th century.

In the introduction, the editors, the two young British philosophers Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting, explicitly reflect on the frustrating experience that even female thinkers who were influential in their own time hardly ever make it into the great “Histories of Philosophy”.

Forced out of canon formation

It is an irritating fact that, in addition to the hurdles of the time that women had to overcome if they wanted to participate in the scholarly public, there was another hurdle: historical displacement from the formation of the canon.

The volume is also characterized by the effort to also include non-European philosophers, such as the ancient Chinese thinker Ban Zhao or – for the present – ​​the Nigerian philosopher Sophie Bosede Oluwole, who is enthusiastically praised by the Finnish-Nigerian journalist Minna Salami.

Ingeborg Gleichauf: “We want to understand. History of the philosophers”
With illustrations by Peter Schössow
dtv, Munich 2021
256 pages, 16.95 euros

The greatest overview of the history of female thought is probably obtained from Ingeborg Gleichauf, whose book “We want to understand. History of women philosophers” goes through the entire history of European thought from antiquity to the present day and portrays a wealth of women for each epoch. Attached are portraits of the respective philosopher by illustrator Peter Schössow and a box with an easily consumable work excerpt.

Accessible and illustrated

This also makes the volume extremely accessible. He presents the history of women philosophers in its entirety: from ancient Pythagoreans to medieval mystics, Renaissance feminists, polymaths of the 17th century, enlighteners and forerunners of the modern women’s movement to the influential thinkers of the 20th century.