Fighting Philofolly! Rewriting the History of Philosophy

Professor Ruth Hagengruber (University of Paderborn, Germany)

Lady Reason criticizes Christine de Pizan for idolatrizing philosophers, who « like to quote the authors they have read», writing «philofolly», instead of «philosophy». The exclusion of women philosophers from the history of philosophy is a result of the centuries-old practice of gendered-minded self-interest of certain groups, supported by a culturally established patriarchal hierarchy.
After centuries of exclusion, the perspective is now changing. Today we have access to valuable sources which show that the history of women philosophers stretches back as far as the history of philosophy itself, from Antiquity up to the present. We start re-reading the history of philosophy with astonishing results. In my talk, I will focus on the critique of the Bible and the male God, presented in writings from 1500 to the Enlightenment. The history of women philosophers as a methodical approach to philosophy turns out to be an indispensable means to widen philosophical insights.

A global philosophy without any gaps

Professor Peter Adamson (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany)

Since 2010, the podcast and book series “A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps” ( has been exploring lesser-known parts of the history of European philosophy, while also delving into classical Indian and Africana philosophy (coverage of Chinese philosophy is still to come). In this presentation the author of the series, Peter Adamson, will describe his motivation and method for the series and the difficulty of knowing where to draw the boundaries of a truly “gap-free” history of philosophy.

God and the Philosopher are Gender Non-conforming: How to Subvert Dogmatic Thinking about the Philosophical Canon. With examples from Plato, Spinoza and Kant

Dr. Marie-Élise Zovko (Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb)

Wonder and curiosity are native to humans and many other species, the desire to know and to understand, to explore the world, ourselves, the way other animals and things, groups and individuals behave. The philosopher above all is driven by the need to understand and to explore, not only the ‘what’, but the ‘why’ of things, and beyond this the conditions of knowledge and existence, of freedom and morality, the meaning and aim of our actions and strivings, of the human condition, of life and death, coming-to-be and passing away, of history and the universe – and much more. The quest of the philosopher requires autonomy, independence of thought, freedom. But we also learn by exploring the mental universe of those who like us sought answers to these same questions before us.  The search for insight in the works of the philosophers can be rich and rewarding. But if that search is subordinate to the prejudices or stereotypes of a specific school or movement, or dogged by prohibition, if the so-called canon is pre-sifted for us, the selection of works to be studied subject to preformed judgments, stereotypes, or even censorship, we are bound to miss out on the depth and richness the great philosophical minds of the past have to offer us. Feminist philosophy, gender and post-colonial studies have begun to break down barriers which subordinated philosophy to the domination of the white European male. I argue, however, that more is necessary, that this approach is not radical enough, and that any philosopher, regardless of gender or descent, needs to be understood on their own terms, requiring us to delve deeper than anthologies and histories, programs and courses of philosophy have permitted us to in the past. Those philosophers who have had the courage to question the standards and stereotypes of their age deserve to be contextualized, their radicality seen against the backdrop of the historical situation in which they lived – and the breaking down of barriers of language and custom which they themselves enacted.
In my lecture, I recall some of prejudices, stereotypes, and prohibitions which determined the philosophical canon and its interpretation since the beginning of the 20th century, including those propagated by positivism, empiricism, the phenomenological school and analytic philosophy. Using examples of stereotypical judgments and preformed interpretations of Plato, Spinoza, and Kant, I highlight the undiminished relevance of the works of these philosophers today and suggest possibilities for their further exploration.
I. Stereotypical judgments and dogmatic thinking about the philosophical canon in 20th century philosophy and beyond
II. Plato as Bridge between the Ancients and the Moderns
a. Elenchus, logos, dialectic, hypothesis –Plato’s “second-best sailing” and the birth of scientific method
b. The perennial value of ideas in the debate regarding reasons and causes
III. Spinoza the Iconoclast
a. Pantheism, materialism, determinism, fatalism – why Spinoza doesn’t fit the mold
b. ordo naturalis, ordo intellectualis, substantia infinita – Freedom, immortality and God in Spinoza
IV. Kant and the Future of Metaphysics
a. Epistemological readings of Kant in the 20th century
b. An inverted reading of Kant – reflective judgment and hypothetical method in the third Critique

Sex, Lies and Bigotry: The History of Philosophy

Professor emerita Mary Ellen Waithe (Cleveland State University, USA)

Several questions are explored here: What does it mean for our understanding of the history of philosophy that women philosophers have been left out and are now being retrieved? What kind of a methodology of the history of philosophy does the recovery of women philosophers imply? Whether and how excluded women philosophers have been included in philosophy? Whether and how feminist philosophy and the history of women philosophers are related? I also explore the questions “Are there any themes or arguments that are common to many women philosophers?” and “Does inclusion of women in the canon require a reconfiguration of philosophical inquiry?” I argue that it is either ineptness or simple bigotry that led most historians of philosophy to intentionally omit women’s contributions from their histories and that such failure replicated itself in the university curricula of recent centuries and can be remedied by suspending for the next two centuries the teaching of men’s contributions to the discipline and teaching works by women only. As an alternative to this drastic and undoubtedly unpopular solution, I propose expanding the length and number of courses in the philosophy curriculum to include discussion of women’s contributions.

First they take Manhattan, then they take Berlin’: cancel culture in philosophy and science

Dr. Boris Kožnjak (Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb)

The social phenomenon of ‘cancel culture’ – basically the most recent and politically more engaging sequel to the earlier phenomena of ‘political correctness’, ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ – is still too young to be even coherently defined let alone historically critically framed, but its ‘empirical results’ can be found everywhere. Having the main intent of defaming, dethroning, de-platforming via public backlash fueled by campaigns on regular and social media, it affects equally well persons, events, and even non-living things. However, not only the phenomenon has affected comedians, politicians, athletes, advertisements, podcasts, conferences, streets, statues, or historical monuments, but recently more and more also philosophers and working scientists, the main consequence of which is the controversy over the need of rethinking the philosophical and scientific canons, or even ‘canceling’ some of their significant parts. The main intention of this talk is to shed light on this ‘cancel culture’ in philosophy and science from as many perspectives as possible – historical, social, political, ideological, psychological, and moral.

Philosophical Canon and the Truth: Challenges from The No-Progress View Of Philosophy

Professor Iris Vidmar Jovanović (University of Rijeka)

Intuitively, we can think of philosophical canon as consisting of those philosophers who, throughout the history, developed philosophical systems of significant, timeless value and relevance for the humanity. Thus, from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes, Locke, Hume and Spinoza, to Kant in analytic, or Hegel and other German-idealists in continental tradition, these (add some, leave out some others) are the philosophers worthy of continual, repeated consideration. We teach their views in schools, we focus on their teachings at the universities, and we do so because we believe there is something of everlasting value and relevance in what they said. Independently of some contentious inclusions/exclusions from the canon, when it comes to philosophy, this is the core of what one should study.
We should wonder however, how do we decide what makes someone’s views worthy of such canonical status. In literature, we tend to think that the canon is composed of those whose writings have the highest literary excellence. If excellence within the relevant domain is the criterion for inclusion, we should then consider what makes something a philosophical excellence. One obvious candidate is the truth: since philosophy has always identified itself as the search for the truth, we might think that those who actually found some truth deserve to be included into the canon. They are the ones who achieved philosophical excellence and should be praised for their greatness.
However, for many philosophers on our initial list, it is hard to see where the truth is in their respective systems. Plato was most likely wrong about the realm of ideas (not to mention about emotions, arts and state organization), Aristotle wrongly believed in inherent inadequacy of women (not to mention his views on slavery), and Descartes got it so very wrong with the topic he cared so much about, the mind-body dualism. When it comes to truth, these philosophers were very much very wrong. Still, we hold on to them tightly and believe they are the prime examples of philosophical greatness.
For some, this is a big problem. As the advocates of the No-progress view tend to say, unlike every other science, philosophy does not discard those of its practitioners who got something wrong. Consequently, they argue, philosophy either does not aim to discover the truth, or it does so in some very confusing way. Neither of these options is acceptable to philosophers, and we end up with a problem: how are we to explain the value of philosophy, if the best among us were so wrong on so many things? Why are we imposing the canon, if the canon is so riddled with what is untrue? Is there, as the most pressing challenge would have it, a place for philosophy in contemporary society, culture and education, in light of its repeated embrace of those who did not get it right?
My aim here is to address these challenges. To do so, I examine some of the most highly respected philosophers throughout the history, and I offer an explanation of the fact that, even though their systems may be imbued with some mistakes, they are nevertheless prime examples of philosophical greatness. While I do raise some cautionary comments regarding the formation of the canon itself, I argue that there is more than truth to philosophical greatness; I elaborate on this claim and I conclude that philosophy, even when divorced from the truth, has a lot to contribute to the society. The canon has its value, but that value is not to be measured only by truth.

The canon wars and the decline of the West

Dr. Martino Rossi Monti (Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb)

The advent of mass culture, the effects of globalization and the increasing multi-ethnicity of many Western countries are certainly among the reasons behind the crisis of the so-called “Western canon”, which is often perceived as too elitist or “Eurocentric”. Unfortunately, what should have been a careful process of negotiation and adaptation to a changing scenario has often turned into a war over the historical role and the meaning of Western civilization, which is usually depicted as a monolithic entity endowed with a specific “essence” (either totally positive or totally negative) that should be embraced or rejected. These heated debates take different forms and directions depending on the country in which they take place, but they typically involve at least two opposed camps: one that presents itself as the last line of defense of a supposedly pure and timeless tradition against an impending cultural apocalypse, and another that sees the revision, the “de-colonization” or the abolition of the canon as part of a process of “dismantling” a society and a civilization deemed as intrinsically oppressive and corrupted.
This course will place the current debate over the philosophical canon in a larger cultural and historical context by addressing its relationship with twentieth-century strands of cultural pessimism and narratives of civilizational decline. It will also show how in these discussions the past, instead of being analyzed in its complexity, is often subjected to a process of simplification, distortion or cosmesis in order to fit a preconceived ideological framework.

Is homo unius libri a philosopher? An example of Maria Gondola

Dr. Luka Boršić (Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb)

Very few people ever read or heard about Maria Gondola (Maruša Gundulić) and those who know her name consider her, at best, the author of a 12-page dedicatory letter in which she defends women’s intellectual equality with – if not superiority to – men, published in 1584 and 1585, and a sort of a fictive character in two philosophical dialogues published by her husband, Nicolò Vito di Gozze (Nikola Vitkov Gučetić) in 1581. However, I will show that this way of reading texts is reductive and, ultimately, doesn’t do justice to the texts itself which should be understood as a display of the philosophical thoughts and arguments of the interlocutors, that is Maria Gondola and Fiore Zuzzori (Cvijeta Zuzorić). Such an understanding of the text is supported by a feminist approach to the history of philosophy. This hermeneutical key opens the door of discovering yet another unique and progressive woman philosopher who acts as a sort of a “female Socrates” in the two dialogues from 1581. Postulating the distinction between “writer” and “author” based on the standard interpretation of Plato’s early, so-called Socratic dialogues, we see no reason not to suppose that the thoughts and arguments, which Nicolò Vito di Gozze wrote in these dialogues as proclaimed by the dialogue character Maria Gondola are indeed authored by Maria Gondola, the historical person and a woman philosopher.
This example may show as a path how to approach other “forgotten” women in the history of philosophy.