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Women in Philosophy

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

The course examines the depth of women’s contribution to the Western tradition in philosophy. It will focus on the work of major figures of the recent past such as Susan Stebbing, Elizabeth Anscombe and Mary Midgley, and contemporary philosophers such as Rae Langton and Susan Haack. We discuss the question of why women appear to be underrepresented in philosophy both historically and in modern times, and we examine the evidence for it. We ask whether there is a special contribution which women can bring to philosophy, and in doing so, discuss the nature of philosophy itself. A guide to resources for further study is also provided.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment


Content of Course

1. Introduction and Historical Overview.

The first session discusses the nature of philosophy and the role of women since the early modern period, focussed on Mary Midgley’s last work, ‘What Is Philosophy For’.

2. Philosophy and Public Life.

We engage directly with a classic text such as Susan Stebbing’s ‘Thinking to Some Purpose’, use critical techniques to analyse political rhetoric and advertising, and relate this to the work of contemporary ‘public intellectuals’ such as Martha Nussbaum and Judith Butler.  

3. Contributions to Contemporary Philosophy.

We focus on women’s contributions to different subfields of philosophy, including ethics and philosophy of science. Topics to be discussed may include Elizabeth Anscombe’s work on moral philosophy, Philippa Foot’s famous ‘trolley problem’, and Susan Haack‘s arguments against ‘scientism’ in philosophy.

4. Topics in Feminist Philosophy.

In the final session, we follow and discuss the arguments of philosophers such as Rae Langton regarding pornography, objectification and hate speech.

Teaching method(s)

Discussion is central to philosophy and this course will aim to involve students in plenty of discussion over the two days. We start with a discussion on the nature of philosophy and the role of women in philosophy, building a blueprint to which we can refer throughout the course. We establish a reference list for future study, taking into account any specialist interests of the students on the course. Interspersed with discussions and presentations, there will be short videos to stimulate debate. We will use short extracts of the work of profiled philosophers and engage in short philosophical exercises, including simple logic and conceptual analysis.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain why women have been underrepresented in the Western tradition of philosophy;

  • Identify key resources to explore women’s contributions to philosophy;

  • Engage directly with the work of modern female philosophers.


Core Readings


  • Midgley, M., 2018. What Is Philosophy For? London: Bloomsbury.

Web Sources

On Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Elizabeth Anscombe:

On early modern female philosophers:

Class Handouts

Short extracts from philosophical works and a follow-up resource guide will be provided by the tutor.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.