In the nineteenth century, philosophy was still considered the pinnacle of theoretical knowledge; it was seen to have the power to demarcate and distinguish all the other branches of knowledge, to decide the value of alternative avenues of inquiry and methodology. To be admitted into the sphere of philosophy, publicly via published texts, was to partake of a singular form of public power: to be a philosopher was to be a shaper of culture. But what if the sphere of philosophy became democratized? What if, for example, “philosopher queens” ruled in the polis? To imagine such a dismantling of male hegemony at the birth of modern democracy was more than even Condorcet, its staunchest supporter, could manage. Even he claimed that women had displayed "genius" in a number of fields, so far none had done so in philosophy. He says this, while also citing Catherine Macaulay, Marie de Gournay, Madame du Chatalet, and Madame de Lambert as women lacking "neither force of character or strength of mind."
My examination of the reasons for the absence of women in modern histories of philosophy has moved us from a consideration of reasons internal to philosophy’s own development to reasons ultimately rooted in the emerging democratic political order. In part, my aim has been to show that explanations are readily available for the disappearance of women from our histories, only rarely are there justifications for the exclusion of specific women. And, as we might have expected, no justification exists for the wholesale exclusion of women philosophers from the history of our discipline. Perhaps all of this should make us suspicious about our histories; about the implicit claim that our criteria of selection justify our inclusion of philosophers as major, minor, or well-forgotten figures; about our ranking of issues and argumentative strategies as central, groundbreaking, useful, or misguided.--lEileen O’Neill (1998) "Disappearing ink: Early modern women philosophers and their fate in history,"38-39 [(emphases in original; Thank you Stephen Bauer!]
Thomas Pogge interrupted (recall) a piece about O'Neill's Disappearing Ink. I had decided to re-read O'Neill's piece because of Justin Smith's essay "Garfield and Van Norden on 'Non-European' Philosophy," (and recall my response). Smith noted that (a) philosophy played a role in nationalist modernisation campaigns (NMCs). I had modestly chided him for not emphasing enough that (b) NMCs are closely linked to the development of the modern research university (funded by that very state, too) with its highly specialized disciplines (it's the age in which natural philosophy gets displaced by special sciences). As the evidence in O'Neill's piece suggests, it turns out that (a) and (b) jointly also facilitate the exclusion of women from philosophy's self-understanding (and sometimes this is a national self-understanding even when the thinkers taught have cosmopolitan commitments) so that in the long nineteenth century women get displaced from the narratives of progress from one 'genius' (recall my treatment of boy-wonders) to the next that philosophers are disciplined into at university. This also entailed, as O'Neill notes, that projects that were even vaguely associated with women's reflection (education, care, etc.) or just did not fit the notion of progress also get marginalized or turned into 'applied' topics. So, it turns out, then, that at its inception, philosophy as a specialist discipline is founded on a series of conceptual movements that make progress possible while simultaneously generating both a forgetting of women and inscribes a gendered hierarchy into professional philosophy's self-conception.
As an aside, O'Neill implies ("dismantling of male hegemony") that in so doing professional philosophy continues the traditional gendered hierarchy. While undoubtedly, a gendered hierarchy within philosophy predates the nineteenth century and is indeed the traditional conception, but there are strands within the prior history of philosophy, especially ones inspired by Plato, that allow for more equal conception of men and women qua philosophers. (In fact, as her chapter shows, many such conceptions are developed even perfected in the early modern period (some of them inspired even by Descartes). Hobbes, too, provides resources for such a conception (recall and here).
In addition, and in some respects more important, as O'Neill implies, modern (that is, post-revolutionary) national democratic politics, which has universalist and inclusivist aspiratons too, is simultaneously founded on an act of exclusion. Now this is not surprising in one sense (and quite familiar)--the national citizenry (often) excludes non-citizens within its borders and also excludes those denied entry from without. But O'Neill reminds us that democracy was also a way to extend male hegemony. On the conceptual level, this is probably the Republican bequest to then current democratic theory, which also in its eighteenth century incarnation simultaneously defended self-rule while allowing rule over others (including slavery--as the critics of Republicanism noted).
One anesthetizing narrative we tell ourselves from within liberal democracy, is one of progress and emancipation in which the egalitarian potential of democratic values are actualized over time in which Jews, Women, Blacks, Gays, and, soon, Trans-gendered people (and eventually robots, animals, etc. -- this list has local variation of course --) are drawn into the democratic fold and recognized/treated as equals. But as O'Neill reminds us, it's also possible that national democratic projects can, when founded, be steps backward (or partial moral/political regress) and -- as history shows amply -- can be less than righteous in their behavior toward those that do not fit the self-conception of the masculine (and ethnic) national, democratic order. It is not impossible, in fact, that some non-democratic empires have a better track-records in some respects with (ethnic, linguistic, etc.) minorities than national democracies. As reading the daily newspaper reminds us, passionate attachment to the (potentially hierarchically organized) manly tribe, which wishes to rule over or exclude others, is always a live possibility in democracy.