From medicine to mysticism, existentialism to phenomenology, the lives and work of women thinkers have all too often been marginalised in ways that have erased their contributions from the record.
Modern European Women Philosophers
On the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers you can access over 400 entries on American and European women in Britain, North America, France and Germany who contributed to modern thought between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. Each entry is accompanied by a bibliography and further reading. These entries cover their life and work, explaining why we might have not already heard about them.
Read about Dorothea Christiane Erxleben
(1715-62) the first women in Germany to become a doctor of Medicine who wrote one of the most significant, and neglected, pieces of Enlightenment feminist theory.
Dorothea Christiane Erxleben (1715-62). (Credit Alamy © Fine Art Images/Heritage Images)
A great letter writer of her time, Caroline Schlegel-Schelling
(1763-1809) (who was married to both August Wilhelm Schlegel and F.W.J. Schelling) was at the centre of literary activities, personal friendships and feuds. Johanna Charlotte Unzer
(1725-1982) a poet laureate and one of the few female thinkers allowed to speak publically. Gabrielle Suchon
(1632-1703), a precursor to French feminist theory, was also the earliest female philosopher whose work has been preserved in its entirety. Marie de Gournay
(1565-1645) is known mainly as the first editor of Montaigne’s Essais, but her ‘feminist’ texts and her status as a woman of letters (she was linked to the creation of the Académie française) make her a true intellectual who was critical of many aspects, both literary and philosophical, of her era.
Marie le Jars, Lady Gournay (1566-1645). Lithograph by Pierre Langlumé. (Credit Bibliothèque de Bordeaux, public domain)
An influential and controversial figure of French mysticism, Jeanne-Marie Guyon (1648-1717) was condemned for the personal sacrifice she made to her work.
The theme most frequently associated with Luce Irigaray’s philosophical work is sexual difference, later termed sexuate difference. Her insistence on the need to recognise sexual difference guides her interrogation of the Western philosophical tradition in her early works as well as her issue with what she termed the ‘phallocentrism’ of western philosophy. Questioning how major thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition have written about women, the other and otherness, and the means by which this tradition, embodied in the works of Freud, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant and Hegel, constitutes itself as the province of truth and sense.
To engage more with Irigaray’s work read this encyclopedia article on Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers
, and delve into a selection of her primary works
on Bloomsbury 20th-Century French Thought
Anna Jameson and 19th Century Aesthetics and Religion
Once a household name, Anna Jameson will be unfamiliar to many people today. A successful art critic, Jameson achieved her position of influence in an era when women’s publications on art were still relatively rare. Her writings doubtless contributed to the rise in representations of biblical women and female saints from the 1840s to 1860s, especially in paintings by women. Rossetti read her essays on the early Italian painters and she certainly influenced George Eliot. But why did Jameson fall out of history so swiftly? Why was she so quickly dismissed as old-fashioned?
Women and Critical Phenomenology
Critical phenomenology involves challenging the dominant strands of male phenomenology via Husserl, whilst continuing some of the key questions and debates which arise out of the tradition of transcendental phenomenology. Inextricably tied up in work of feminist theory, critical phenomenology undertakes a normative task, and seeks to dismantle the very concrete social, historical, political, and economic realities that operate in everyday experience to propel a collection of hostile forces, including white supremacy, settler colonialism, global capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and ableism, to name a few.
The work of critical phenomenologists elucidates the way lived experience is constitutive of and constituted by these forces, to highlight how these forces confer meaning and undermine the possibility for a meaningful existence at the “level” of embodied subjectivity, and aims to cultivate new sensibilities that allow for ethical transformation. Taking cues from various modes of social critique, critical phenomenology wrestles with and against such realities of power and domination. To read more about the re-invention of transcendental phenomenology through the work of pioneering critical phenomenologists like Linda Martín Alcoff
, Alia Al-Saji
, Bonnie Mann
, and Mariana Ortega
, you can read Megan Burke’s full introduction
to the subject here.