Women and the History of Analytic Philosophy

I will be teaching a new (for me) upper-level History of Analytic Philosophy course in the spring. I’d like to make sure I have some works by women philosophers, including feminist philosophers if possible, on my reading list. Could our readers lend me their expertise and make some suggestions? Some of the topics I plan to cover are listed below, though I’m entirely open to additions or revisions:

Moore on epistemology and analysis

Russell on logic and language

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

Logical Positivism

(Btw, I’ve already thought of Marie McGinn and/or Cora Diamond for the Wittgenstein stuff.)

Your suggestions are much appreciated!

26 thoughts on “Women and the History of Analytic Philosophy

  1. Yeah, Susan Stebbing is fantastic, see especially her work on metaphysical analysis (and her philosophy of science).

  2. Obviously, Anscombe is worth considering re: Wittgenstein. Other figures worth considering, although they are a little later than very early 20th century, are Ruth Barcan and Alice Ambrose. I’m actually going to be teaching the same kind of class next semester too, and have been thinking about this issue too. I haven’t written up a sillybus yet, so would love to hear thoughts.

  3. Susanne Langer fits in *beautifully* with the Tractatus esp. as an interesting counter to non-cognitivism about ethics and aesthetics (precis: She endorses a Tractarian picture like, composition theory of “cognitive” language but develops an alternative representational type (which is sort of “holistic”, but closer to a Kantian manifold) for presenting the “subjective” feel of experience. It’s pretty easy to hook up to, e.g., Nussbaum on novels as moral description.

    I particularly like it because art is still representationally (not merely expressive) so makes for an interesting contrast with logical positivists.

    (I think Langer is hugely underrated.)

  4. Juliet Floyd, definitely. As for feminist, Lynn Tirrell maybe. Also check out: Meredith Williams; Joan Weiner; Rosalind Carey (on Russell); Judith Genova (Wittgenstein, Turing).

  5. Her Abstraction in Science and Abstraction in Art gives a taste:

    Yet the two ideas—constructed unity and organic differentiation of an original whole—both involve the more general concept of relative distinctness. They are specifications of this concept that arise from epistemological sources, from the nature of logical intuition and the nature of the symbols whereby we elicit and promote it. Now the object of logical intuition is form; and although there are two ways of developing our perception of this object, and consequently two sets of associations with the word “form,” the use of it is equally and similarly justified in both contexts.

    There are certain relational factors in experience which are either intuitively recognized or not at all, for example, distinctness, similarity, congruence, relevance. These are formal characteristics which are protological in that they “must be seen to be appreciated.” Once cannot take them on faith. The recognition of them is what I mean by “logical intuition.” All discourse is a device for concatenating intuitions, getting from one to another, and building up the greater intuitive apperception of a total Gestalt, or ideal whole.

    Artistic intuition is a similar protological experience, but its normal progress is different. It begins with the perception of a total Gestalt and proceeds to distinctions of ideal elements within it. Therefore its symbolism is a physical or imaginal whole whereof the details are articulated, rather than a vocabulary of symbols that may be combined to present a coherent structure. That is why artistic form is properly called “organic” and discursive form “systematic,” and also why discursive symbolism is appropriate to science and artistic symbolism to the conception and expression of vital experience, or what is commonly termed “the life of feeling.”


  6. Margaret Cavendish might be more fit for an early-modern class (she was born in 1623), but her arguments can be taught as historical seeds of today’s work in the philosophy of mind. The SEP has a great entry on her, in which David Cunning claims that she anticipated some arguments now associated with Chalmers, Searle, Nagel, and McGinn. The entry discusses her possible status as a feminist. Her nickname, “Mad Madge,” might be telling of her gender’s impact on the reception of her work by her contemporaries.

  7. I mostly just wanted to second Stebbing and Langer as good primary sources. For Stebbing, you might consider looking at her “Logical Positivism and Analysis,” which covers her view of the relationship between Mooreans (such as herself) and Tractarians, as well as “The Method of Analysis in Metaphysics” — a nice antidote to the view that early analytic philosophers were monolithically anti-metaphysics. For Langer, I personally am partial to her 1930 book _The Practice of Philosophy_: she pre-dates many of the key claims Schlick makes in his widely-read article “The Turning-Point in Philosophy” (and Schlick himself recognizes this). The later stuff Bijan Parsia mentions is also fascinating.

    Also, I think Alice Ambrose might be worth investigating for your class, both as primary literature (she has papers on (roughly Wittgensteinian) finitism in the 30’s that make much more sense than W himself) and as secondary literature — her later work is commentary on both Moore and Wittgenstein. She leans toward the math/logic end of things.

  8. Why not include some older writers, such as Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot. They were my teachers at Oxford. and were part of the movement to increase women’s presence in philosophy. Anscombe was a student of Wittgenstein.

  9. I just did a review for an otherwise good book on the history of analytic philosophy, but one deficiency I noted was the exclusion of Stebbing and Langer. Anscombe (and some lesser mention of Barcan Marcus) was included, but the exclusion of these pioneer women analysts–Stebbing was a co-founder of the movement’s major journal Analysis after all–was a major oversight in my estimation.

  10. Paddy Blanchette has done excellent work on Frege–I would consider including both of them.

  11. Susan Haack, Penelope Maddy have written quite a number of important things on logic and the philosophy of math in early analytic phil, and would be very good additional sources. Nancy Cartwright’s take on Neurath’s importance –which might motivate one to read a bit of Neurath, the forgotten member of the Viennese founders– is also great (as is her own work, but probably not for an intro to analytic phi; if philsci is in the mix, Mary Hesse is another original source for constructivism). Of original sources, Susan Stebbing’s “Logical Positivism and Analysis” is a fine work from the 1930’s (which is more or less when she founded the journal Analysis), Ruth Barcan Marcus’ earlier work on names as an additional, and according to some, precursor of rigid designation based semantics for modal languages (i.e. Kripke), and for later Wittgenstein-related philosophers, GEM Anscombe and Alice Ambrose (both Wittgenstein-students but, needless to say, entirely independent theoreticians) come to mind. In case of ethics-related topics, Judith Jarvis Thompson, Philippa Foot, Rosalind Hursthouse. Not my field, though, probably there are many more I forget.

  12. Just to second Meredith Williams for Wittgenstein. I have used her edited collection of essays on Witt’s Phil Investigations, and her monograph ‘Wittgenstein, Mind and Meaning: Towards a Social Conception of Mind’, and have found them both really excellent.

  13. I would recommend Julia Tanney’s writings on Gilbert Ryle — because they help make clear the significance of the history of analytic philosophy for thinking about contemporary issues in philosophy of mind. See her introduction to the 2009 Routledge edition of The Concept of Mind, and her essay on Ryle for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

  14. I’d strongly recommend a number of articles in the Aristotelian Society proceedings by EEC Jones. “Miss Jones” as she is referred to, discovered independently of Frege the “sinn/bedeutung” (spelling??) distcinction, later claimed by (then student) Russell as his “sense and reference” distinction. See Vol 4 of my History of Women Philosophers for details, bib, etc.

  15. Hidé Ishiguro’s work on the Tractatus was (is) ground-breaking. See especially her “Use and Reference of Names”, in Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, ed. P. Winch (Routledge, 1969).

    Also, you might consider Cheryl J. Misak’s Verificationism: Its History and Prospects (Routledge, 1995), which includes a detailed discussion of Logical Positivism.

  16. I am no philososopher.
    But one important question for thinking women is : why and how are women excluded from philosophy itself?

    Indeed, isn’t femisnism a form of philosphy in engenering (sic-in both senses ) debates about why half the human race does not ,apparently, think? merrely respondng to male philoso[hers doesnt cut it.

    Surely there are women who have had ideas and written well about this?

    I know it more from the psychological perspective. There are loads of references there.

  17. The original poster: Just curious how your syllabus worked out, and if you’d consider sharing it.

  18. Hey Kris, still finalizing things with the aid of all these excellent comments (semester doesn’t kick off for a few more weeks where I am), but will email it to you when it’s done.

  19. Sara Ellenbogen has a book, Wittgenstein’s Account of Truth, that might be appropriate for your class. Sandra Harding’s controvertial Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? might be a good example of Analytic Feminism depending on your point of view.

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