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Paglia, Rand, and Women in Philosophy

Camille Paglia, who contributed to the anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, which I co-edited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, has raised her voice in defense of women philosophers who were marginalized by a recent BBC-Radio 4 Greatest Philosopher poll that placed Karl Marx at the top. Paglia writes in The Independent:

For most of history, the groundbreaking philosophers have all been men, and philosophy has always been a male genre. Women had neither the education nor the time to pursue the life of the mind. ... Now that women have at last gained access to higher education, we are waiting to see what they can achieve in the fields where men have distinguished themselves, above all in philosophy. At the moment, however, the genre of philosophy is not flourishing; systematic reasoning no longer has the prestige or cultural value that it once had. ... Today's lack of major female philosophers is not due to lack of talent but to the collapse of philosophy. Philosophy as traditionally practised may be a dead genre. This is the age of the internet in which we are constantly flooded by information in fragments. Each person at the computer is embarked on a quest for and fabrication of his or her identity. The web mimics human neurology, and it is fundmentally altering young people's brains. The web, for good or ill, is instantaneous. Philosophy belongs to a vanished age of much slower and rhetorically formal inquiry.

Paglia is spot on with regard to a number of points here. Systematic reasoning is clearly at a disadvantage in a culture that embraces atomizing and dis-integration as the preferred mode of analysis.

But there are a number of women thinkers, says Paglia, who merit our attention. Among these: Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand. Paglia writes:

Both Simone de Beauvoir and Ayn Rand, another favourite of mine, have their own highly influential system of thought, and therefore they belong on any list of great philosophers. Rand's mix of theory, social observations and commentary was very original, though we see her Romantic sources. Her system is broad and complex and well deserves to be incorporated into the philosophy curriculum. Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, The Second Sex (which hugely influenced me in my youth), demonstrates her hybrid consciousness. It doesn't conform to the strict definition of philosophy because it's an amalgamation of abstract thought and history and anthropology—real facts. The genre problem is probably why both these women are absent from the list. But Plato too was a writer of dramatic fiction—so that it is no basis for dismissing Rand.

It's a worthwhile read.

Hat tip to David Boaz.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, where comments are posted here, here, and here.


This is an interesting perspective, yet I think Paglia has declared philosophy dead prematurely -- and I say that for one reason only: Ken Wilber.

Wilber, though obviously not a female, is very much a ~systematic~ philosopher in the grand tradition. Plus, his "Integral" approach to philosophic theory stands, in my view, at the cutting edge of the discipline (in terms of the breadth and depth of knowledge it integrates), and also appears to be gaining in popularity and influence.

One thing Wilber does not seem to have integrated into his approach, however, is a principled libertarian politico-economic understanding, even though he explicitly recognizes the value of capitalism and industry. Perhaps, Chris, you and he could trade notes! :)

Andrew, thanks for that. I've had a lot of people tell me about Wilber. I first became aware of Wilber's work through Nathaniel Branden's mentions of him in various books. I've read only a few essays of Wilber's.

I too think that Paglia has given philosophy a premature burial. But I suppose it depends on where you look. Some interesting discussion of this at L&P.