The Chronicle

Bios of feisty feminists


EDITORS Buxton and Whiting study at the universiti­es of Oxford and London respective­ly, researchin­g the rights of refugees and migrants, and in areas concerning practical ethics.

Together they have chosen several of their colleagues to write these essays on women philosophe­rs through the ages. The collection brings into the limelight twenty prominent women who have had a profound, but nowadays largely unrecognis­ed impact on the world.

Plato, often regarded as the founding father of philosophy, included Diotima in his dialogues and she is immortalis­ed in his most famous work, the Symposium.

Women also featured in Socrates’ and Plato’s dialogues, and had them as students.

Thinking far ahead of his time, Plato proposed that “women as well as men were capable of leading the ideal city-state”.

From Greece in 400 B.C. we move to Ban Zhao, the greatest intellectu­al lady in ancient Chinese history, and regarded as a pioneer of women’s education and the liberation movement.

Hipatia, Lalla, Mary Astell, well-known figures in their time, were ardent critics of social and religious orthodoxy, defying convention­al norms in their quest for liberation.

They searched for truth and freedom that required a radical transforma­tion of body, mind and awareness.

Mary Wollstonec­raft is perhaps the best-known name in this collection of biographie­s. Her calls for education reform resonate today. All lived in a society in which women had no rights of their own.

Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Iris Murdoch, Mary Warnock and more recently, Angela Davis, internatio­nally recognised icon of the American Black Rights movement, bring up the rearguard in these fascinatin­g, very reader-friendly short biographie­s.

Who would have thought that philosophy could be so digestible and lucid? I really enjoyed getting to know these feisty feminists.

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