The My-Stery: Black Women Who Are Philosophers


Kathryn Gines and Joyce Mitchell Cook Source: Feminist Philosophies

Online PhD sent me a link to this list about female philosophers and the post generated some thoughts about the lack of attention around women in philosophy, particularly black women, leading me to a few interesting finds. Philosophy, which means “love of knowledge or wisdom,” is one of the oldest studies in human history. Afrofuturism itself can be considered a philosophy or a philosophical field, since it is a way of thinking about, feeling and engaging with the world. But often philosophy is attributed to men, especially white European men. Philosophers like Aristotle, Sophocles, Kant, and Nietzsche are constantly mentioned and praised with little criticism outside of the usual boundaries. Sometimes other cultures are mentioned in philosophy, like Chinese philosophers, Indian philosophers or a brief mention of the Egyptian Ptahotep, but other than that not much else. So, what space is there for other kinds of philosophers, including female ones of the African Diaspora.

In 2007, the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers had their first meeting to gather together women who are in the field. Later in 2011, when The Philosopher’s Eye did a post on the future of philosophy to celebrate World Philosophy Day, all of the philosopher’s included were men, showing still an uphill battle in recognition of women philosophers and philosophers of color There is already a small percentage of black philosophers, and the amount of women who are is even smaller. Below is a list of some of them:

1) Dr. Angela Davis: Although Davis is know for her political activism and afro, she also has a PhD in philosophy. Davis has done work on the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons.

2) Dr. Kathryn Gines: Gines is the founding director of Collegium of Black Woman Philosophers and has a PhD in philosophy from University of Memphis. Her areas of study include continental philosophy, Africana philosophy, philosophy of race and Black feminist philosophy. She is currently working on Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy and Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question.

3) Dr. Joyce Mitchell Cook: Cook was the first Black woman in the United States to be awarded a PhD in philosophy in 1965 at Yale. She was a managing editor of the Review of Metaphysics, has taught at Howard and worked in the White House as a writer and editor for Jimmy Carter. Her area of interest is ethics and social and political philosophy and she was working on a manuscript on the concept of the black experience.

4) Dr. Anita Allen: Allen is the first African-American woman to have both a JD and a PhD in philosophy, specializing in political and legal philosophy. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

5) Dr. Adrian Piper: Although she stated she does not want to be called a black philosopher, woman philosopher, or a black woman philosopher, only a philosopher, she is still going on this list (haha). Piper is a conceptual artist and analytical philosopher, receiving a PhD in philosophy from Harvard. Her work has included a study of Kant metaethics, the self and the perceptions of race, like in Cornered.

6) Dr. Jaqueline Scott: Earning a PhD in philosophy from Stanford, Scott’s interest include Nietzsche, nineteenth century philosophy, race theory, African American philosophy and Chinese philosophy. Currently, she is working on Nietzsche and African American thought and a book that is tentatively called, Nietzsche’s Worthy Opponents, Socrates, Wagner, the Ascetic Priest, and Women.

7) I could find very little on ancient African women or women from the rest of the diaspora, although I am sure they existed, but I want to mention the mother and goddess of wisdom. Sophia, which is where philosophy gets its name, is the name of a Greek name for wisdom and the goddess of wisdom. Though she is not mentioned in modern Christianity, Wisdom is known as the wife of God in Christian mysticism and pre-Christian religions. Sometimes Sophia is portrayed as a black or dark goddess representing the dark, hidden, divine feminine energy. Various goddesses of wisdom (ex. Oya, Sekhmet, Kali, Athena, Medusa) exist through many religions and some women are said to be incarnations of her, such as the Queen of Sheba.

Sophia (Σοφíα, Greek for “wisdom”) is a central idea in Hellenistic philosophy and religion, Platonism, Gnosticism, Orthodox Christianity, Esoteric Christianity, as well as Christian mysticism. Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of God.Sophia can be traced back to pre-Christianity. A black goddess (Sophia) guards the grail with the interests of the earth at heart.
Bellifortis – Queen of Sheba

Books, African American Philosophers, including some of the women I mentioned above, and Reframing the Practice of Philosophy: Bodies of Color, Bodies of Knowledge.

Situated Black Women’s Voices in/on the Profession of Philosophy
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