Thursday, March 09, 2006

Women and Philosophy

For a variety of reasons, I have recently been reading and thinking a lot more about philosophy than I ever did, and one of the things that I found intriguing, is the essential domination of men in the field of philosophy. Women, for the most part, had little to do with philosophy in general, or organized philosophy, or what we understand as "famous" philosophy.

The even more curious part is that this has happened over several hundreds of years, while there have been innumerable contributions, and the concomitant development of the schools of thought by men, across a wide range of religions, geographies and socio-political environments. It appears that the most famous women philosophers have been the more recent Ayn Rand types, and not too many of them anywhere in the ancient and medieval history of mankind.

Of course, the most obvious reaction would be to say that women were not allowed to enter the domains of philosophy, as in the case of most other professions. But if you look at it closely, philosophy is far from a profession. And besides, there is no skill or training involved in becoming a philosopher; it requires perhaps a little bit of reading, and most of all a curious mind. This proposition of "entry barriers", seems somewhat similar to the reasons why very few women took up the study of the sciences, until very recently. But the distinction must be made here, that, although in the ancient times, there was not a lot of difference between the fields of science and philosophy, pursuit of science did require, progressively, a lot more reading, over the ages, than philosophy did. And despite the interconnections between pure science and philosophy, they have been quite clearly, two vastly different fields.

Most of us have periodically reflected on life, being, society, conscience and many other topics that may be loosely classified as "deeper questions", but not too many of us have put in any reasonably concerted effort to pursue these deeper questions. For most of us, basking in the glory of what is the sparkling crown of materialism, these questions are not worth the serious effort it takes to think and build on our own system of perspectives, or philosophy.

I believe the pursuit of philosophy does not need any more than a very keen mind, and the love of wisdom. I also believe that there is not one among us, who has never dwelled on these "deeper questions" for however small a period of time. I also believe there cannot, possibly, be any barriers to pursue the line of thought and wisdom, as it essentially involves much occupation with the self, more than any thing else.

In the light of this background, aside from any biological programming in women in contrast to men, I am tempted to say that women, in general and over the years, have demonstrated no seriously strong interest in pursuing matters of philosophy. I make no presumptions on whether the pursuit of philosophy is good or bad, or any judgmental remarks to any effect.

I am, therefore, led to believe that within the framework of my understanding, women over the ages have been, essentially, materialists. This may be for either of two reasons: one, because most women think about the philosophical aspects of life, and essentially conclude that it is a pointless pursuit very early in the game. Or, it may be that women do not think too much on these lines, and possibly are quite content with the more mundane aspects of life.

While we all know that men and women have different dynamics of the grey cells in our heads, I am still quite puzzled that this in some way means, that women are not as likely to have as much metaphysical inclinations as men do. For all we know, it may have all been programmed in our DNAs, probably, to ensure the continuity of the human race, but still, for good or for bad, to me this world looks slightly different when I begin to see it in the light of this understanding.

Whether I am putting on spectacles on a pair of eyes with perfect vision, or indeed taking off a lens that has been clouding my vision, I don't know. Maybe, I will never know. But I'll be glad to know what you have to say.


Blogger apu said...

I have to say, this article made me see read. And it is one of your most poorly thought out and written ones. Full of illogical logic.

For e.g. " And besides, there is no skill or training involved in becoming a philosopher; it requires perhaps a little bit of reading, and most of all a curious mind".

Sorry, my dear, but that is simply not true. If you look at any of the ancient 'famous' Greek philosophers, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, all of them were men of high learning. To think in a philosophical manner may be easy, but to build it into any kind of cogent framework that is of any use to others, requires a lot of prior education. How many women had access to that kind of education, I cant say.

Again, As a philosopher, for me to refute or build on other theories requires knoweldge of those. It is not just a question of a 'love of wisdom'. Otherwise, I could just be reinventing the wheel.

Again, "In the light of this background, aside from any biological programming in women in contrast to men, I am tempted to say that women, in general and over the years, have demonstrated no seriously strong interest in pursuing matters of philosophy" - My knowledge of the subject is littl, so I cant name any women philosophers for you, but suffice to say, that the background of women's work and commitments over the years had usually left little spacfor issues like prsonal space, self-improvment, focused thought - all of these essenial to build a life in philosophy. It is only post the 19050s that women really started having the ability to make a choice, for e.g. to say that it is not critical for me to prove myself as a great cook.

So blaming it on disinclination doesnt make sense.

This is going to become a post of my own:), so I will stop here. But if you havent already, I suggest you read Sophie's World.

Thursday, March 09, 2006 8:14:00 PM  
Blogger Srihari said...

I was expecting to get a good dose of criticism for the article, given the way I structured it. May be it was poorly thought out, but unless I am fairly convinced otherwise, I would more or less stand by my views.

Apu, firsly, peace. I do not intend to be taking a sexist position on this. I am fairly sure (as far as I understand from history), that these Greek philosophers had some formal schooling in some disciplines as was the case in those days, but most of these philosophers were self-made,Plato served in the military for a while, and most of their beliefs are based on reflection, and discussion among like-minded people. Perhaps, the fact that women were unable to travel much, may have something to do with it.

As far as the inclinations and interests go, I would think that family life and commitments might have more than likely come in the way,but that is still for me an issue of mindset of the whole society at that stage. And I still think there was an issue of inclination here, because if a whole generation of women wanted to actively engage in philosophy, sooner or later, some one would have made progress.

But, still my hypotheses are not illogical, just that the logic is slightly extreme ,rather than moderate. All said and done,I am just opening a book on this topic, I am quite keen on finding more of the whys and wherefores, not just of ancient Greek philosophers, but also the subsequent ones.

But, I perfectly understand you seeing red. And apologies for any offense implied.

Thursday, March 09, 2006 9:12:00 PM  

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