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Women in Philosophy (Level 6)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor and tutor: Dr Sophia Connell
  • Assessment: a 1500-word essay (40%) and 2000-word essay (60%)

Module description

Within the western philosophical tradition, women philosophers have largely been excluded from the canon of significant authors. Recently, however, researchers have begun to recover their writings and ideas. In this module we shall consider how their work changes our understanding of philosophy and its history, focusing on a selection of topics such as: women philosophers' roles in developing styles and genres of philosophy and in challenging the mainstream; oppression and liberation; female education; Black feminist thought; love and friendship; sexual agency and sexual oppression; women’s knowledge; women and children.

We will approach these topics by exploring the contributions of women philosophers in a subset of the following broad historical periods:

  • ancient philosophy (including philosophers such as Hipparchia, Diotima, Aspasia, Ban Zao)
  • modern philosophy (including philosophers such as Marie de Gournay, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish, Émilie du Châtelet)
  • late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophy (including philosophers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Tubman, Elisabeth Cady Stanton, Josephine Butler, George Eliot, Sojourner Truth, Constance Jones, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper)
  • twentieth-century philosophy (including analytic philosophers such as Susan Stebbing, Margaret Macdonald, Elizabeth Ansombe and Philippa Foot; Black feminist philosophers such as bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lourde; Marxist/socialist philosophers such as Alexandra Kollontai, Dora Russell, Christine Delphy and Angela Davis; and Anarchist philosophers such as Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, Lucy Parsons).

Indicative syllabus

  • Writing philosophy as a woman: styles and genres
  • Power and subordination: women philosophers and their mentors
  • Women’s challenges to the philosophical mainstream: critiques and innovations
  • Women system builders
  • Radicals and Conservatives: women’s place in the polity
  • Conceptualising the social position of women: forms of oppression and liberation
  • Women’s education: moral and intellectual
  • Black feminist thought: the outsider within
  • Love, friendship and sexual agency
  • Sexual oppression: violence, pornography, slavery
  • Women’s knowledge: intuition, positionality, bias
  • Women and children: birth, motherhood, care

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the approaches and contributions of different women philosophers from a selection of historical periods, as well as their interrelationships with contemporary philosophical movements
  • understand different ideas, contexts and frameworks deployed in debates over the role of women in philosophy, in political institutions and society, and recognise some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • undertake thorough critical analyses of different philosophical theories of love and friendship, sexual agency and oppression, motherhood and care, and women’s knowledge, and evaluate the outcomes
  • critically challenge accounts of the roles played by women philosophers in developing philosophical styles and genres, building philosophical systems and challenging the philosophical mainstream.