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Celebrating Women Philosophers on World Philosophy Day

Celebrating Women Thinkers on World Philosophy Day

The clichéd image of a philosopher is a mature white man, bearded and bald, chin cupped in hand. Statistics confirm male dominance in the field more than 2400 years after Socrates founded Western philosophy, but Massey University is bucking the trend with a rise in women philosophers.

Associate Professor Adriane Rini, a philosophy lecturer in the School of Humanities, says World Philosophy Day on November 16 is an opportunity to highlight the place of women thinkers. Nearly half of Massey’s philosophers are women – including one of Māori and Tongan heritage.

“Over the past decade there have been numbers of stories around the world about how philosophy is a discipline that is not welcoming of women, with all sorts of problems about low participation and representation,” she says, referring to articles about gender inequality and discrimination in many philosophy departments published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and others.

A google search for ‘famous philosophers’ across the centuries is almost exclusively men, from Plato to Popper, Socrates to Sartre. It takes a bit of scrolling to find a handful of women among their ranks, including Germany’s Hannah Arendt, France’s Simone de Beauvoir, England’s Elizabeth Anscombe, and America’s Christine Ladd Franklin.

Dr Rini is heartened by “a different story here and now – we at Massey have very good numbers, with three women in our team of eight philosophers,” she says.

All three have helped to bring highly-competitive Marsden funding into Massey, including Dr Rini’s project this year (her fourth Marsden) – in partnership with Victoria University – on New Zealand’s most famous philosopher, Arthur Prior (1914-1969), ‘the father of tense logic’.

Dr Rini’s colleagues are Dr Krushil Watene, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the Auckland campus in Albany, who won a Marsden Fast-Start Grant in Humanities in 2016 for her research on Māori concepts of social justice.

Dr Vanessa Schouten, philosophy lecturer and ethics specialist at the Auckland campus, is part of a Social Sciences Marsden-funded project awarded this year, on sexual consent in nursing homes.

Both women studied philosophy in New Zealand and did their doctoral degrees in Scotland and the United States, respectively.

“Philosophy has always been strong in New Zealand,” Dr Rini says, “but with this track record we’re showing that strength in philosophy isn’t just for the guys.”


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