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The Contemporary Women Philosophers You Should Know About

Donna Haraway, Rebecca Goldstein and more on the women philosophers you should read

international womens day collage2

For International Women's Day, we've asked established as well as up-and-coming contemporary women in philosophy to recommend the other women in the field that they admire most. According to HESA data, only 35% of philosophy PhD students in the UK are female, compared to 61% in English and 53% in history, and only 24% of permanent academic staff in UK philosophy departments are women. The situation is similar across the transatlantic and anglophone world. Yet female thinkers produce groundbreaking work across all fields of western philosophy, from metaphysics to political theory, and sometimes on the boundaries between philosophy and other disciplines such as biology, economics and law. Our hope is that this list will point our readers towards new ideas and thinkers that have transformed the intellectual landscape of the past few decades. And if there are other contemporary female philosophers you would like to recommend, or whose work you admire, then join the conversation and let us know in the comments. 

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Elizabeth Anderson

A moral and political philosopher, Anderson has done groundbreaking work in the philosophy of economics in her most recent book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It) (2019). She is currently working on a history of egalitarianism.

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

The Imperative of Integration (2010): This gives the best sense of how I think normative inquiry should be done: starting with real-world problems of our non-ideal world,
doing normative theory in close engagement with findings in the social sciences and history.

“What is the Point of Equality?”, which was published in Ethics 109.2 (1999): 287-337. That is my most influential paper, aiming to redirect the focus of egalitarianism.


Which contemporary female philosophers have inspired you, and why? 

  • Sally Haslanger (MIT): An amazing feminist philosopher, a model not only to all who want to learn how to do feminist philosophy, but to all who want to advance social justice.
  • Helen Longino (Stanford): I basically learned how to do feminist epistemology and philosophy of science from studying her work.

 

Which female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading, and why? 

Besides my inspirations, above, I recommend:

  • Alison Jaggar (University of Colorado, Boulder), who shaped philosophy from the start of second-wave feminism, and whose latest work on naturalised moral epistemology is very exciting.
  • Michele Moody-Adams (Columbia), who is doing wonderful work on moral progress, forgiveness, and democracy.
  • Kate Manne (Cornell), an exciting next-generation feminist philosopher, pushing the frontiers of the field.


What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading, and why? 

  • Sarah Moss (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), a mind-blowing formal epistemologist
  • Tamar Gendler (Yale), who does highly illuminating work in philosophy of mind
  • Miriam Solomon (Temple), a splendid philosopher of science

 

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Michelle Moody-Adams

Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University, Moody-Adams has written on morality, social justice and democratic disagreement. She is currently working on a book on the political culture and institutions that can achieve justice in multicultural democracies.

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

I would recommend these three works because they express some of my deepest intellectual and ethical commitments: 

  • "Moral Progress and Human Agency", Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2017)  
  • Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture and Philosophy (1997)
  • "Culture, Responsibility and Affected Ignorance", Ethics (1994) 

 

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why?

I have been fortunate to study with many extraordinary female philosophers,  so choosing only two is quite difficult.   

martha nussbaum How To Escape Fear: An Interview With Martha Nussbaum Read more  In my undergraduate days, I studied with Ruth Anna Putnam (now an emeritus professor of Philosophy at Wellesley college).  Prof. Putnam is the co-author, with Hilary Putnam (her spouse)  of  Pragmatism as a Way of Life: The Lasting Legacy of William James and John Dewey.  Prof. Putnam held her philosophy students to high standards,  but never hesitated to encourage those students for whom philosophy seemed to be "calling" as a vocation.  

As I completed my graduate degree (at Harvard), Martha Nussbaum was one of my teachers and a constant reminder of what women could contribute to the discipline.  My favourite work of Nussbaum's is The Fragility of Goodness. 

What contemporary female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading, and why? 

In addition to Martha Nussbaum and Ruth Anna Putnam, I recommend:

  • Annette Baier: For her work on David Hume and her many influential essays on trust, but also for her provocative essays challenging the project of systematic ethical theory.
  • Barbara Herman: For her work on Kant and her many influential contributions to moral thought in the broadest sense. 
  • Onora O'Neill:  Another recommendation from her work on Kant, as well as her many recent projects on the demands of global justice. 

 

(My list for this question is confined to truly recent thinkers, but if I could range more widely in history I would add 4 names:  Simone de Beauvoir;  Hannah Arendt;  Elizabeth Anscombe and Iris Murdoch.) 

What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading?

It is always a joy to learn from the work of colleagues who specialise in topics outside of ethics. Here I recommend:

  • Amie Thomasson who makes contemporary metaphysics (among many other subjects) engaging to many outside of her sub-field.
  • Jennifer Hornsby who contributes to philosophy of language in ways that enrich feminist thought.
  • Sally Haslanger who contributes to a rich array of sub-fields, including epistemology and gender studies. 

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Donna Haraway

Donna Haraway made history with her 1984 foundational text A Cyborg Manifesto, often quoted for the famous line ‘I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’ Currently a Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Haraway has encouraged feminists to join the techno-scientific world making. More recently, she has focused on the relations between different species. 

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

Staying with the Trouble (2016) because, well, it helps me stay with the trouble of multiple crises in multispecies solidarity, including Indigenous struggles, arts, sciences, science fictions, and more.

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why? 

Isabelle Stengers: For her deep readings of Whitehead that have shaped my own approach to process philosophy. Also for her immense vitality and commitment to thinking, really thinking, in materialist and hopeful registers.

Marilyn Strathern: An anthropologist who produces extraordinary ethnographies of kin-making and of situated cognitive practices.

What contemporary female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading, and why? 

Vinciane Despret, Belgian philosopher of science and author of Our Emotional Makeup: Ethnopsychology and Selfhood (2004), What Would Animals say If We Asked Them the Right Questions? (2016), and, with Isabelle Stengers, Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaithful Daughters of Virginia Woolf (2014). Despret taught me about attunement, curiosity, and working by addition rather than subtraction.

Susan Leigh Star, ethnographic sociologist attuned to information infrastructure, classification and standardization, and questions about who lives and who dies inside which categories. With Geoffrey Bowker, Star wrote Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (1999).

Rosi Braidotti, Italian-Australian postmodern philosopher and feminist theorist, author of Posthuman Knowledge (2019). In critical engagement with contemporary accelerations of the technologies and myriad destructions generated by rampant advanced capitalism, Braidotti argues that the posthuman is both post-humanist and post-anthropocentric, open to the risk of becoming subjects otherwise in dangerous times.

What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading?

Wendy Brown, a feminist political theorist who addresses the entanglements of race, gender, capital, and neo-liberalism; author of States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity and Undoing the Demos (1995).

bell hooks, who is a feminist theorist, cultural critic, and writer, author of Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (1990).

Gloria Anzalduaa Chicana cultural theorist, practitioner of deep storying as theory, as well as being an innovative thinker on sexuality; author of Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). Her writing draws from 8 linguistic roots, including two variants of English and six variants of Spanish, to propose needed language for living “in the middle” (“Nepantla" in Nuhuatl) rather than in "either/or."

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Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

A novelist as well as an academic philosopher, Newberger Goldstein has a particular interest in Baruch Spinoza and Kurt Gödel. In her fiction, she explores the tension between thought and feeling. Her best-known novels include 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2010) and The Mind-Body Problem (1983). In 2015, Newberger Goldstein was awarded the National Humanities Medal in the US. She is currently working on a book on mattering.

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

rebecca goldstein What Really Matters? An Interview with Rebecca Goldstein Read more Two of my books argue that philosophical progress is not only real but also has been integral to overall human progress. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (2014) interweaves expository chapters explaining why the discipline of philosophy arose in ancient Greece with dialogues featuring Plato addressing such contemporary topics as tiger mothers, fake news, and the relevance of contemporary neuroscience to questions of personal identity and moral agency.  Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006) argues that Spinoza’s attempt to ground morality on purely naturalist foundations, the first such attempt since the ancient Greeks, helped to seed the European Enlightenment. 

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why? 

Martha Nussbaum’s many books and articles are all rich with original insights, but I would single out her work on human capabilities as particularly helpful to me. As a philosopher who was also a first-rate novelist, Iris Murdoch was a role model for me. I particularly admire her non-fiction work, The Fire and The Sun: Why Plato Banished the Poets and also her article “Against Dryness."

What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading? 

Ruth Barkan Marcus did extraordinary--and under-appreciated-- work in modal logic when everybody else was accepting Quinean arguments for why modal logic is impossible.

Philippa Foot’s work in ethics—featuring her inventive thought-experiments, including the now-famous Trolley Problem— was instrumental in turning ethicists’ attention back to applied ethics rather than focusing exclusively on meta-ethics.

I started out in philosophy of science and have always admired Mary Hesse’s Models and Analogies in Science. All three of these philosophers demonstrated a fearless independence in developing ideas orthogonal to the conventional approaches of their day. 

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Sara Heinämaa

A professor of philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, Heinämaa focuses on phenomenology, existentialism, philosophy of mind and the history of philosophy. She has written on Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Stein, Beauvoir, Levinas, and Irigaray, and is currently working on a project analyzing ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’ from a phenomenological point of view. She has previously written a piece on The Phenomenology of Orgasm for IAI News.


Which work/s of yours would you suggest to someone new to your thought but who would like to get a better sense of it, and why?

My old book Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference (2003) still works well for anyone interested in the philosophy of embodiment and gender. In Birth, Death, and Femininity: Philosophies of Embodiment (2010), I study the problems of mortality and finitude. My articles clarify the phenomena of sexuality, generativity and pregnancy as well as the emotions of desire, love and disgust.

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why?

I have learned a lot from Luce Irigaray, Martha Nussbaum, Amelie Rorty and Anette Bayer, especially about emotions. And I love reading female phenomenologists, since they all are bold and thorough: Gail Soffer, Natalie Depraz, Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl, Julia Jansen, Dorotheé Legrand, Sophie Loidolt, Hanne Jacobs, Michela Summa, Alia Al-Saji, Komarine Romdenh-Romluc...

What contemporary female philosophers outside your field/s do you recommend reading, and why?

In order to get clear about Aristotle and ontology, I have read Charlotte Witt. To understand Descartes, I turn to Deborah Brown and Lilli Alanen. In general, there are great female historians of philosophy out there.

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Kate Kirkpatrick

A Lecturer in Religion, Philosophy and Culture at King's College London, Kirkpatrick is currently working on a forthcoming book on Simone de Beauvoir's thought and life. She is interested in feminism, Jean-existentialism and theology. Kirkpatrick has been a prolific IAI News contributor, having written on What Is Authentic Love? A View From Simone de Beauvoir, Can We Reinvent Ourselves? An Existentialist View, and Simone de Beauvoir's MeToo.

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

Kate Kirkpatrick Authentic Love What is authentic love? A View from Simone de Beauvoir Read more Most of my publications are on French existentialists, in large part because I'm fascinated by the intersections of philosophy and culture—especially religion, literature, and feminism. Because it draws on philosophy, religion, and literature I would recommend my monograph Sartre on Sin: Between Being and Nothingness (2017). And for a more feminist focus I would recommend my forthcoming biography of Simone de Beauvoir – Becoming Beauvoir: A Life (2019).

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why?

It’s very hard to choose only two! I’ve chosen Pamela Sue Anderson and Katherine Morris because both of them have made an impression on me in person and in print. In person, they modelled ways of doing philosophy that are rigorous without being destructively adversarial. In print, I appreciate Anderson's 'revisioning' of the philosophy of religion, and the way she draws from both analytic and Continental traditions. In Morris' case, I think the clarity of her work on phenomenologists like Sartre and Merleau-Ponty is brilliant – as are her analyses of the lived body in body image disorders, where she brings phenomenology into dialogue with psychological and psychiatric perspectives.

What contemporary female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading?

My most recent research has been on Simone de Beauvoir, so I'll focus on philosophers working on Beauvoir and feminist philosophy rather than my other interests. In this area, I highly recommend...

Manon Garcia: Garcia's 2018 book On ne nait pas soumise, on le devient was one of my favourite philosophy books of 2018. Her reading of Beauvoir (and Beauvoir's differences from the philosophers she is often seen to agree with, i.e. Husserl, Hegel, and Sartre, for a start) is very clear and persuasive as is her Beauvoirian analysis of contemporary feminist questions.

Sara Heinämaa: I find her work on feminist ethics and phenomenology very thought-provoking, not least her 2003 Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir.

Sonja Kruks: Kruks has written extensively on Beauvoir, but if I had to recommend one book it would be Simone de Beauvoir and the Politics of Ambiguity (2012), because it draws on sources so many philosophers ignore and presents such a well-rounded picture of Beauvoir's political thought (not to mention being the first book-length work to treat this subject).

What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading?

Clare Carlisle: Her philosophy is written in a distinctive literary voice and her prose is a pleasure to read. (Try her 2019 biography of Kierkegaard, for example.)

Fiona Ellis: In addition to her case for the compatibility of theism and naturalism in God, Value, and Nature (2014) I find her recent work on love and metaphysical desire fascinating.

Amia Srinivasan: I’m looking forward to her book on genealogy and in the meantime recommend her paper ‘The Aptness of Anger’, on oppression and affective injustice.

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Carolyn Merchant

American ecofeminist philosopher and historian of science Carolyn Merchant is most famous for her work The Death of Nature (1980), in which she argued that the Enlightenment marked the beginning of science’s objectification of nature. She is Professor Emerita of Environmental History, Philosophy and Ethics at UC Berkeley.

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (1980).

Earthcare: Women and the Environment (1996).

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why? 

Feminist and queer studies scholar Irene Diamond and art critic Gloria Orenstein, who pioneered in the field of the women of Surrealism.

What contemporary female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading, and why? 

French feminist Françoise d’Eubonne, who coined the term ‘ecofeminism’ in her foundational book The Time for Ecofeminism (1974).

Ynestra King, author of Women and Life on Earth: Ecofeminism in the ‘80s (1980).


What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading?

The Australian philosopher Val Plumwood, who is a key figure in ecosophy: the philosophy of ecological harmony

Karen Warren, author of An Unconventional History of Western Philosophy: Conversations Between Men and Women Philosophers (2009), an anthology that juxtaposes the writings of Western men and women philosophers over the past 2,600 years.

The conservationist Rachel Carson who educated the public on science and climate change.

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Kathryn Sophia Belle

Kathryn Sophia Belle writes on existentialism, phenomenology and Africana philosophy. She is the founding director of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers in 2007, which she created when she knew only 29 black female philosophy academics in the US, out of the 11,000 members of the American Philosophical Association. She is the author of Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question and has co-edited the anthology Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy.

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why?

“Being a Black Woman Philosopher” (2011), which was published in the journal Hypatia, gives an overview of my experience in philosophy and founding Collegium of Black Women Philosophers.

Another essay, “Comparative and Competing Frameworks If Oppression in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex” (2014) in Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal , provides a sneak peek into the longer book project I am finishing on women of colour engagements with this author and text.

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why? 

I appreciate the deeply philosophic work Dr Myisha Cherry is doing on women, especially black women, and anger.

Dr. Shaeeda Mensah offers important philosophical interventions in current debates about state violence, police brutality, and the prison industrial complex by bringing our attention back to how black women have been directly impacted by these oppressive systems (not only in terms of “collateral damage” as mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters of black men ensnared in these oppressive systems).

What contemporary female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading, and why? 

I am currently working on women of colour engagements with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. On this topic, I recommend reading Qresent Mason, Stephanie R. Berruz, Kyoo Lee, Alia Al-Saji, Sabine Broeck, Margaret Simons. They each go beyond myopic white feminist approaches to Beauvoir in important and innovative ways.

What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading? 

  • Linda Alcoff (her recent work on rape)
  • Marina Ortega (In-Between)
  • Lindsey Stewart (philosophical work on Zora Neale Hurston, see it here)
  • Anika Simpson (she is currently writing on what she is calling marriage abolition)

 

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Amie Thomasson

A Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College, Thomasson has written on the philosophy of art, metaphysics, philosophy of mind and phenomenology. Her book Ontology Made Easy was awarded the American Philosophical Association's 2017 Sanders Book Prize"awarded to the best book in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, or epistemology that engages the analytic tradition published in English in the previous five-year period". 

Which of your works would you suggest to someone new to your ideas but would like to get a better sense of them, and why? 

A good place to start to get an overall sense of my approach to metaphysics would be my book Ontology Made Easy. Of course, for those more interested in fiction, ontology of art, or social ontology, there are articles on those topics one could start with instead. Or, for a very brief introduction to how I am thinking about metaphysics recently, I suggest my paper “What can we do, when we do metaphysics?"

What contemporary/recent female philosophers have inspired you, and why? 

Sally Haslanger’s has certainly inspired me—not just in the way she approaches questions about race and gender, but in the way her work opens up the possibility of addressing questions in conceptual ethics across philosophical fields.

Though she is technically in psychology, I’ve also been very much inspired by Susan Carey’s philosophically relevant work in psychology, in her book The Origin of Concepts. 

What contemporary female philosophers in your field/s do you recommend reading, and why? 

In metaphysics, I especially recommend Karen Bennett’s work, which is always clear, interesting, and judicious. 

In philosophy of art I highly recommend Sherri Irvin’s work—her deep knowledge of contemporary art and insightful work on the artist’s ’sanction’ are fantastic and have huge ramifications for how we think about art, and about ontology. .  

In social ontology, I recommend Ásta’s recent book ‘Categories we Live By’. 

What contemporary female philosophers outside your specialism do you recommend reading?  

In feminist philosophy: Kate Manne’s Down Girl, giving a conceptual reconstruction of misogyny, is tremendous, and extraordinarily insightful and relevant. 

In philosophy of language: I’m just listening to Rae Langton’s John Lectures, “Accommodating Injustice”, which provide a wonderful use of speech act theory as a tool for diagnosing various forms of injustice. 

In philosophy of mind: I highly recommend Susanna Siegel’s rich and relevant work on philosophy of perception.

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Pete Harrison 14 March 2019

So do you think your ‘algorithms’ are providing a constructive service here for you and women philosophers, or are they promoting another narrative?

And it is simply ‘de rigueur’ to preface an article on women philosophers with images of women’s naked or partially clad breasts?

Maybe these things are OK with everyone but I feel a little uncomfortable with such linkings, and such a narrative.

IAI News Editorial Team 12 March 2019

Hi Pete, thank you for your comment. The collage was created by our designer to illustrate some of the subject matter the philosophers above have engaged with - from social justice to posthumanist concerns. Regarding the related posts: the algorithm prioritises the latest articles, and our latest issue has focused on sexuality.

Pete Harrison 12 March 2019

And (following from my last question) why are all the ‘related’ posts about ‘vice’, sexual morality, ‘love and sex’ etc.

What is the message meant to be here?

Pete Harrison 12 March 2019

So what’s the deal here with the composite picture used to headline the article? Who picked the images for that?

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