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Inspiring Female Philosophers and Their Legacies

This article sheds a light on the legacies of some of the most influential female philosophers in history.

Jan 2, 2024
  • Education
Female Philosophers: Mary Wollstonecraft

Throughout history, the contributions of female philosophers have often been overshadowed in a discipline predominantly led by men. Yet, the impact of these remarkable women in philosophy cannot be understated.

We want to celebrates the legacies of some of the most influential female philosophers who have shaped the discipline with their groundbreaking ideas and perspectives.

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Here are some of the most inspiring female philosophers in history.

Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria was the most famous of Ancient female philosophers, and one of the leading minds of her era.

Growing up, she studied under her father Theon, a famous mathematician and astronomer of the Alexandrian Museum - an elite research center of Ancient Egypt. Over time, she continued researching mathematics and astronomy, and expanded on his studies with philosophical theory.

She was part of the Plotinian Neoplatonist school of thought, which believed that mind came before matter, and that it's possible to achieve union with God ("the One") through philosophical contemplation.

Alexandria came to be associated with the Neoplatonist movement in the following centuries, and it's believed that Hypatia was a significant factor. She earned much renown and popularity through her brilliant discourse and her famous teachings at her father's school, which she took over after his retirement.

Her teachings blended mathematics and philosophy together - for Hypatia, science was inseparable from spirituality. Some of her teachings and beliefs clashed with the rapidly rising Christian movement, which made her a threat in the eyes of certain religious figures. As a result, and despite the fact that she was over 60 years old at the time, Hypatia was proclaimed a witch and stoned to death.

As one of the most famous female philosophers of ancient times, her legacy continued to inspire women in philosophy for many centuries to come.

Notable works:

  • Commentaries on Arithmetica by Diophantus of Alexandria and Conics by Apollonius of Perga
  • Revised version of her father’s commentary on Almagest

Famous quotes by Hypatia of Alexandria:

Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.
He who influences the thought of his times, influences all the times that follow.
Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher and the foremother of feminist theory - dubbed as "Britain's first feminist".

Mary's life in England was riddled with financial troubles and unrest.

Like most other women of her time, she was denied proper education, so she pursued education on her own, and even opened a school for women with two close friends. Her years as as carer and educator resulted in her book on conduct Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and her children's book Original Stories from Real Life.

By the time she reached her 30's, she suffered at the hands of an abusive father, was fired multiple times, lost a close friend to childbirth, watched the school she opened fail and was struggling to support herself with her career as an author - she was all but fed up by the lack of fairness in opportunities given to women of her time - even titling a chapter in Education "Unfortunate Situation of Females, Fashionably Educated, and Left Without a Fortune".

This frustration and her first-hand experience of living in France during the French Revolution inspired some of her most famous works: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.

Mary saw that the society in which she lived was fundamentally unequal for women and those who didn't come from money. She believed in a "society based on reason", and highlighted education as the determining factor for life opportunities, not one's sex.

As such, her writings often represented a rally for a middle-class ethos, firmly opposed to what she perceived as corrupted and manipulative aristocratic way of life.

Her philosophy laid the groundwork for the basis of the feminist theory, and inspired generations of feminists such as Jane Austen, Millicent Fawcett and Virginia Woolf.

Notable works:

  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution
  • Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Famous quotes by Mary Wollstonecraft:

Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.
My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.
I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.
Elizabeth Anscombe

Elizabeth Anscombe

Elizabeth Anscombe (Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe or G.E.M. Anscombe for short) was an important British philosopher in the 20th century, and one of the most important female philosophers of all time.

Her studies comprised of various areas of philosophy, but she's best known for the philosophy of ethics and action. One of her most important works, Modern Moral Philosophy, outlined three main theses:

  • Philosophers should stop using moral philosophy until a concrete philosophy of psychology is established
  • The language of we "ought" to do due to moral obligations or duty is harmful and shouldn't be used
  • There was little difference between major British philosophers at the time

Modern Moral Philosophy was also where she coined the term consequentialism and introduced it into analytical philosophy discourse. She presented arguments for redefining virtue ethics, a branch of philosophy that prioritizes one's character when it comes to actions and morality. She criticized modern moral philosophy's preoccupation with law conception of ethics, stating that such interpretations were far too rigid.

Elizabeth's other famous work was Intention, This book was so influential that it quickly earned the status of a "modern philosophical classic".

Elizabeth was also a devout Christian and wrote about of ethics of sexuality and was a firm believer in a traditional marriage.

Notable works:

  • Modern Moral Philosophy
  • Intention

Famous quotes by Elizabeth Anscombe:

If someone really thinks, in advance, that it is open to question whether such an action as procuring the judicial execution of the innocent should be quite excluded from consideration—I do not want to argue with him; he shows a corrupt mind.
The devout Catholic bomber secures by a “direction of intention” that any shedding of innocent blood that occurs is “accidental.” I know a Catholic boy who was puzzled at being told by his schoolmaster that it was an accident that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were there to be killed; in fact, however absurd it seems, such thoughts are common among priests who know that they are forbidden by the divine law to justify the direct killing of the innocent.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the philosophical legacies of these women have been instrumental in shaping various philosophical disciplines and societal norms.

Their diverse contributions reflect not just their intellect but also their resilience in a field that has often overlooked female philosophers.

Sara Evans

Author

Sara is the Content Designer at Keystone Academic Solutions, in charge of creating and curating content for students across the globe. Due to her background in UX and teaching, she's always in pursuit of new ways of presenting information more clearly.

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