Where are the lady philosophers? You just have to look.

Recently, I read Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy. It’s a pretty fascinating read with a lot of the main ideas in philosophical history broken down into easily digestible pieces. Warburton’s task wasn’t an easy one. It’s a pretty big job to take all of the history of philosophical thought and drill it down into brief, clear ideas.

I just had one problem with it… there were like four chicks in the book. Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson. de Beauvior shares a chapter with Sartre and Camus, while Foot and Thomson share a chapter with each other. This in a book with forty chapters about fifty-two philosophers.

That was a bit disheartening.

The thing is, there were definitely female philosophers operating at the same time as the men covered in the book. I wondered if maybe the problem was that they weren’t covering as important topics as the dudes.

But then I started reading Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change? by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins. Turns out, there’s a lot of research that suggests a mixture of implicit bias and stereotype threat has kept women’s voices quieter in the discipline.

In essence, when dudes make the curriculum and decide what readings to assign to new students, they create a cycle of identifying the ‘important’ voices and ideas in philosophy. Like every other university discipline, there’s a history of sexism in philosophy. Women weren’t considered clever enough to study philosophy in Socrates’ time (though kudos to Epicurus for letting them into his garden, even if it did give him a reputation), and the universities were boys clubs until about a century ago. When they started letting women into the philosophy discipline, the male voice was deeply entrenched in the culture.

And why should they look for others or update their reference lists when they’ve already got a good thing? Why read about Arete of Cyrene when you already know Epicurus so well? When you already have a curriculum and class outlines on Pythagorus, why would you read about his teacher, Themistoclea?

But there ARE lady philosophers throughout history. It is super easy to find them, too! Bringing them into the conversation would be easy for the motivated lecturer. The Australasian Association of Philosophy thinks so, too, which is why they developed a list of  women’s works by area.

I’ve gone ahead and made a brief list as well. The below is a result of a cursory search of the internet to find women who practiced philosophy at the same time periods that Warburton identified as crucial to the development of philosophical thought. It’s by no means intensive – I’m sure there are plenty of gaps and names that I’ve neglected. But this was the best I could do on a Sunday morning between grading assignments!

Check it out! Women abound in the history of philosophy!



3rd BC             Ptolemais of Cyrene

4-3 BC             Aesara

440 BC            Diotima of Mantinea*

4th BC             Sosipatra

5-4 C. BC        Arete of Cyrene

6th C. BC         Theano of Crotone.

6th C. BC         Themistoclea

AD 237            Catherine of Alexandria

AD 325            Hipparchia

AD 350            Hypatia of Alexandria

AD 5-6             Theodora of Emesa



1090–1164       Héloïse

1098–1179       Hildegard of Bingen

1250–1310       Marguerite Porete

1347–1380       Catherine of Sienna

1510–1556       Tullia d’Aragona

1555–1592       Moderata Fonte



1618–1680       Elizabeth of Palatinate

1623–1673       Margaret Cavendish

1631–1679       Anne Conway

1646–1684       Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia

1666–1731       Mary Astell

1706–1749       Émilie du Châtelet

1711–1778       Laura Bassi

1759–1797       Mary Wollstonecraft



1810-1850       Sarah M. Fuller

1831–1891       Helena Blavatsky

1856–1918       Helen von Druskowitz

1870–1952       Maria Montessori

1871–1919       Rosa Luxemburg

1895–1985       Susanne Katherina Langer

1905–1982       Ayn Rand

1906–75           Hannah Arendt

1908–86           Simone de Beauvior

1909–44           Simone Weil

1919–               Mary Midgley

1919–1999       Iris Murdoch

1919–2001       GEM Anscombe

1920–2010       Philipa Foot

1924–               Mary Warnock

1929–               Judith Jarvis Thomson

1930–               Luce Irigaray

1934–1992       Audre Lorde

1938–               Carol Gilligan

1939–               Margaret Atwood

1939–               Germaine Greer

1942–               Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak

1944–               Angela Davis

1945–               Susan Haack

1947–               Martha Nussbaum

1947–               Adriana Cavarero

1947–               Camille Paglia

1948–               Adrian Piper

1950–               Rajeswari Sunder Rajan

1951–               Susan Blackmore

1952–               bell hooks

1952–               Christine Korsgaard

1953–               Anita L. Allen

1955–               Linda Martin Alcoff

1956–               Judith Butler

1957–               Nancy Cartwright

1959–               Elizabeth Anderson

1959–               Bonnie Honig

1962–               Naomi Wolf

1965–               Helen Steward

1968–               Amie Thomasson

1969–               Sara Ahmed

1969–               Ayaan Hirsi Ali



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