As feminist philosophers continue to radically change European and Anglophone philosophy, the exclusion of women from this tradition is increasingly recognized as a central problem not just for the demographics of the field, but also for how philosophy is practiced. In light of this growing awareness, many philosophers have begun to rethink the canon and how it is transmitted. Yet, even with the acknowledgment of some women as philosophers, little progress has been made in changing the composition of the field or dominant conceptions of who is really important in its history. In Where Are the Women? Why Expanding the Archive Makes Philosophy Better, Sarah Tyson diagnoses why many efforts to reclaim historical women as philosophers have had little impact on who is afforded philosophical authority. She argues that as long as the norms built on women’s exclusion remain operative, reclamation will not fundamentally affect European and Anglophone philosophical history or practice.
Tyson argues that transformative reclamation practices can change this situation. Through investigating the role of exclusion in dominant norms of philosophical practice, transformative reclamation offers new norms arising from engagements with historical thinkers, especially those typically afforded little philosophical authority. Tyson outlines transformative reclamation strategies based on the work of three influential theorists of exclusion: Genevieve Lloyd, Luce Irigaray, and Michèle Le Doeuff. Each offers powerful approaches for redressing the erasures and prohibitions that have helped define European and Anglophone philosophy as a field.
Following the possibilities opened up by these thinkers, Tyson reclaims two texts from the early women’s rights movement in the United States: The Declaration of Sentiments approved at the 1848 meeting on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York, and Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech in Akron, Ohio. Through speculative readings of these texts, Where Are the Women? engages their philosophical authority, displacing the obscuring legends that have grown up around them. Truth’s actions, in particular, have become legend and the speech she gave in Akron, a feminist touchstone. Truth is widely believed to have thundered out: “Ain’t I a woman?” to a crowd hostile to the idea of women’s political rights. She is typically read as offering a corrective about race to the movement started in Seneca Falls. Yet, this version of events not only fails to be substantiated by documentary evidence, it also screens the plurivocal way Truth was intervening into the debate about how to define and advocate for women’s rights. Tyson revisits this history to engage Truth as a philosopher of freedom and to offer a case study in how reclamation can change philosophy.