Modesta Pozzo, better known by her pen name, Moderata Fonte, was born in 1555 in Venice. Her parents, Marietta dal Morro and lawyer, Girolama Pozzo, belonged to an educated and wealthy class in Venice referred to as the cittadini originari. After Fonte’s parents died within the first year of her life, she was taken in by her maternal grandmother, Cecilia di Mazzi. Fonte received an education at the Santa Marta convent until the age of 9 and then continued an informal education with the help of Prosperi Saraceni, her grandmother’s second husband, and her brother, Leonardo. She was known as an extremely bright student, writing poetry of her own very early in her childhood. In her twenties, Fonte moved in with Saracena Saraceni, the daughter of Cecilia and Prosperi Saraceni, and Saracena’s husband, Giovanni Niccolò Doglioni. Doglioni, with his many connections to Venice’s literary circles, encouraged Fonte to write and helped her to publish. Much of what we know of Fonte comes from Doglioni’s Vita, a biography written on Fonte’s life published in 1600. At the late age of 27, Fonte married Filippo Di'Zorzi, a lawyer and government worker. After only a year and a half of marriage, Di'Zorzi returned Fonte’s dowry as a show of his deep admiration and appreciation of her. Fonte died in 1592, seemingly after complications with the birth of her fourth child.
By the time she was married, Fonte was well established as an exceptionally skilled poet in Venice. Throughout her lifetime, Fonte wrote various romantic and biblical sonnets, ballads, philosophical dialogues, and dramatic plays. Most famously, Fonte wrote a feminist text entitled, The Worth of Women, published after her death in 1600. The Worth of Women is a dialogue between seven Venetian women who discuss the abuse women face in light of the widely held belief that women are, by nature, inferior to men. The women discuss subjects that include the inequality in education, the abuse women endure in their marriages, and other injustices faced regularly by women in Venice. I will be looking at selected passages in The Worth of Women to explore Fonte’s philosophical analysis of gender relations and her response to the injustices faced by Venetian women.
Image info: Moderata Fonte (Modesta Dal Pozzo, 1555-1592). The frontispiece of Il merito delle donne. Venezia, Domenico Imberti, 1600.
In this episode, Haley Brennan talks with Alison Stone, professor in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University. We discuss the work of British women philosophers of the 19th century, including Frances Power Cobbe, Ada Lovelace, and Harriet Martineau. We cover a range of topics that these philosophers worked on, including animal rights, feminism, ethics, and philosophy of mind. In addition to these topics, we talk about the correspondence that these women had with each other, the influence they had on political movements in 19thc Britain, and where and how to look to find the philosophical writings of women in the period. We also discuss the way that perceived philosophical importance and impact varies across time and place, and how this affects which philosophers we research and teach today.
Works by British Women Philosophers Mentioned in the Episode
Unless otherwise specified, all works listed are in the public domain and are available online
Frances Power Cobbe, ‘The Rights of Man and the Claims of Brutes’
—, An Essay on Intuitive Morals
—, Darwinism in Morals
--, ‘Wife-Torture in England’
—, Essays on the Pursuits of Women, with a paper on Female Education
—, ‘Why Women Desire the Franchise’
Ada Augusta Lovelace, ‘Sketch of the Analytical Engine’
Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy
--, ‘Letters on Mesmerism’
—, with Henry George Atkinson, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development
Victoria Welby, Signifying and Understanding, ed. Susan Petrilli (De Gruyter, 2009)
Alison Stone, ed., Frances Power Cobbe: Essential Writings of a Nineteenth-Century Feminist Philosophy (Oxford University Press, forthcoming early 2022)
Charlotte Alderwick and Alison Stone, ed., Nineteenth-Century Women Philosophers in Britain and America, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 29, no. 2 (2021)
In Capitolo 16, Franco argues that any general weakness found in women comes from a lack of resources and opportunity and not from their nature. Franco wrote this poem as a response to Maffio Venier, a poet who publicly defamed her in his work. She writes,
Franco argues that, given proper “weapons and training,” women would have the same “hands and feet and hearts” as men. While defending the strength of women, Franco confronts an essentialist approach to the sexes. She challenges the idea that qualities like strength and delicacy are mutually exclusive and that either of them belong only to a single sex. She explains that in the same way we find tough, yet cowardly men, we can find delicate and strong women. Seeing women as weaker than men because of their general delicacy, then, fails to capture the complexity of each person as an individual.
Franco sees the attack of Maffio as an attack on all women. She promises to “defend all women/ against” men like her attacker and to serve as “an example for them all to follow.” (79-80) In this role, Franco describes how she came to know her own strength. According to Franco, many women, because they lack the right training and tools, feel that they are weaker than men. She writes, “Women so far haven’t seen this is true;/ for if they’d ever resolved to do it,/ they’d have been able to fight you to death.” (70-72) Even Franco admits to feeling “defenseless” and vulnerable to the attacks of men. (22) Yet, after “devoting all [her] efforts to arms,” she came to “no longer fear harm from anyone.” (37-39) Her newfound security taught Franco “that women by nature are no less agile than men.” (34-36) In sharing her own experience, Franco argues that women can escape positions of vulnerability if they are given the same opportunities and resources as men.
I think it is important to note that Franco does not ultimately challenge her attacker to a physical fight. Instead, she defends herself as an intellectual. Franco trains with the metaphorical “arms” of language in preparation for this fight. She tells Maffio that he can choose any language to battle in as she is “equally happy with them all,/ since [she has] learned them for exactly this purpose.” (126-127) She describes her attacker’s weapon as, “The sword that strikes and stabs in [his] hand—/ the common language spoken in Venice” and says that she will also fight using her rhetoric. (112-114) Towards the end of the poem she writes,
By defending herself as a skilled writer while serving as a champion of all women, she defends the intellectual capacities of her sex. Franco also highlights how her education and the chance to “practice” her craft has prepared her to win this fight. Again, she shows how the right resources can prepare a woman for any kind of combat against a man. As seen in my previous post, Franco believes that virtue is not found in bodily strength, but in the “vigor of the soul and mind.” (Capitolo 24, 61-62) Thus, in choosing to ultimately defend her superior intellect instead of focusing merely on physical strength, Franco reinforces the argument that women excel in virtue as seen in their superior reason.
Image info: Newlywed Venetian Bride, Noble Venetian Matron, Venetian Courtesan (engraving) Anonymous Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Lawner. https://venice11.umwblogs.org/venetian-attire-similarities-between-courtesans-and-aristocratic-women/#_edn
I will first look at Franco’s poem, Capitolo 24. Franco wrote this poem as a response to a man who had insulted and threatened another woman, presumably a fellow courtesan. The entire poem is 160 lines. I will examine lines 70-90 as seen below:
Earlier in the poem, Franco argues that virtue lies in the soul and mind and that women “have given/ more than one sign of being greater than men” in this way (65-66). In the excerpt above, Franco outlines the ways in which women show their superiority in virtue. Franco seems to make two arguments here: first, that submission to men serves as an act of virtue and second, that childbearing plays a significant role in both submission and in improving the condition of the world. Through their submission and childbearing, Franco argues, women are superior to men in virtue.
Franco describes the submission of women as an adaptive response to the weakness of men. Women must guide and carry men because men are weak and prone to “fall” without women’s support. Franco implies that because men “do wrong,” they cannot support the weak in the same way women support men. As a result, women must become the submissive party if they want to “avoid pursuing wrongdoing.” Submission is thus a choice women make in order to compensate for the shortcomings of men. Still, Franco reminds the man whom the poem addresses that, if women were to ignore this call to service and reveal their superiority, women would easily “surpass” men. Yet, a woman intentionally “submits to tyrannical, wicked man” and becomes “silent.” The submission of women, for Franco, acts as both a virtue and a reflection of the strength women have in comparison to men.
Childbearing, for Franco, exemplifies the virtuous and indispensable submission of women. An end to the submission of women, according to Franco, directly results in an end to childbearing. Franco presents childbearing as a paradigm act of submission. Yet, in providing offspring, women have the unique ability to play a role in improving the condition of the world. For Franco, women bear children so that women do not “ruin the world” and instead, make the world “beautiful.” In this way, submission can be said to empower women as they are able to affect the world in a significant and unique manner by giving birth. For Franco, childbearing embodies the powerful sacrifice women make in order to improve the condition of the world. This submission is also voluntary and actively chosen as a result of the superior reason and morality of women.
In the excerpt above, Franco tells the story of why men became the dominate sex. According to Franco, the power of men results directly from the grace and selflessness of women who are wiser and superior in virtue. In order to compensate for the failures of the weaker sex, women submit and support men. The power given to men, however, can be taken back at any time if women refuse to procreate. Yet, their virtuous and reasonable nature leads them to do what is best for the world as a whole and bring the beauty of offspring into the world. The submission of women to men, seen especially in childbearing, exemplifies the virtue and reason of women as they refrain from revealing their true superiority to better serve the world.
Our first Venetian female philosopher is Veronica Franco (1546-1591), a 16th century courtesan known for her letters and poetry. Franco was born into a working class family with three brothers, all of whom received an education. Fortunately, her mother encouraged her daughter to study under a tutor alongside her brothers. It was not until after her divorce from Paolo Panizza that Franco, left with a child and the loss of her dowry, became a courtesan for highly esteemed men including Henry III and Domenico Venier. Venier, a famous poet himself and head of a renowned literary academy, provided Franco with great friendship and a space to work on her writing.
Franco’s writings critique the treatment of courtesans by the state and men. Her poetry provides insight into her personal relationships as well as her philosophical endorsement of equality between men and women. In her own defense, Franco makes herself representative of all women and argues that, given the opportunity and resources, women would have physical and mental abilities equal to that of men.
Later in her life, Franco published a collection of her correspondence with her clients. Shortly after this publication, however, Franco was accused of witchcraft and her reputation was ruined. Throughout the course of her career, Veronica Franco became known for her esteemed reputation as a courtesan, her defense of equality for women, and her exceptional writing abilities. We will look at selected passages in her ‘Terze Rime’ (1575), a collection of poetry, and selected letters from her “Lettere Familiari a Diversi” (1580), a collection of 50 letters between Franco and her clients.
Image : Jacopo Tintoretto (1575-1594), Portrait of a Lady. Source: Worcester Art Museum. Note: This portrait is taken to be of Franco because her name is written on the lining of the canvas
During the Renaissance, Venice served as a major point of trade in Europe. With a flourishing economy, the city soon became a center for tourism, art, and culture. After adopting the printing press in the early 16th century, Venice began to produce many important works of various Greek and Roman writers. Despite the city’s freedom from the censorship of the Church, religious literature increased in production due to the Counter-Reformation in the 16th century. After the success of the Protestant Reformation, Catholic leaders fought to implement their religious doctrines in places like Venice. By 1580, there were over 60 religious households in Venice filled with thousands of clergymen, friars, monks, and nuns. Both inside and outside of these religious institutions, the production of literature backing the Counter-Reformation called for Catholic values in the home. The virtuous woman was asked to be chaste, modest, obedient, and complementary to their household and husband. As an active publication center, however, Venice also produced non-religious and anti-religious texts. Some of these works were written by Venetian women with the means to an education. They produced texts outside of and in response to the religious ideals encouraging women to serve as tokens of Catholic morality where they would be judged by their ability to perform as devout mothers and obedient wives. Over the next several months this blog will focus on four Venetian female philosophers: Veronica Franco (1546-1591), Moderata Fonte (1555-1592), Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), and Arcangela Tarabotti (1604-1652). By examining selected passages from their texts, we will look to highlight the nuance and significance of the feminist and philosophical insights made by these women during this time.
In this episode, Olivia Branscum speaks with Professor Gary Ostertag, Affiliated Associate Professor at the City University of New York and Professor of Philosophy at Nassau Community College. We discuss the life, context, and achievements of Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones, an early analytic philosopher who was working at the same time as people like Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. Gary and I also talk about the positive philosophical value of writing about other people’s ideas, and the question of what it means to point out that Jones may have anticipated the work of Frege. Gary closes by offering some suggestions for where to start with reading Jones’s work.
E. E. Constance Jones’s texts “Practical Dualism;” “Professor Sidgwick’s Ethics;” “Henry Sidgwick” from Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics; A New Law of Thought and Its Logical Bearings; “Mr. Moore on Hedonism;” others can be found in the bibliography of Gary’s SEP article.
Gottlob Frege, ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’ (On Sense and Reference)
Hermann Lotze, Logic, in Three Books: Volume One
François Poulain de la Barre, On the Equality of the Two Sexes
Bertrand Russell, On Denoting
Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics
Anna Maria van Schurman, The learned maid; or, Whether a maid may be a scholar?
Eileen O’Neill, “Disappearing Ink”
Gary Ostertag, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on E. E. Constance Jones
Mary Ellen Waithe, A History of Women Philosophers
Gary Ostertag and Amanda Favia, 2020, “E. E. Constance Jones on the Dualism of Practical Reason,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy.
Christine Ladd-Franklin, 1890, Review of Elements of Logic as a Science of Propositions, Mind, 15: 559–563.
In this episode, Haley Brennan talks with Chike Jeffers, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dalhousie University and Canada Research Chair in Africana Philosophy, about the history of Africana Philosophy. We talk about the work of, and what it is like to work on, figures including Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B Du Bois, Edward Blyden, and Léopold Senghor. In the course of talking about these figures, we discuss the value of language to philosophy, identity, and culture, connections between the Africana tradition and current philosophical theories of race and oppression, the importance of being critical about why and how philosophical methods are appropriate for evaluating these texts, and what it means to read someone as a philosopher.
Selina Wang provided research for this episode.
To listen to this episode go to our podcast page.
Works Mentioned in the Episode
Unless otherwise specified, all works listed are in the public domain and are available free online.
Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South.
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk.
Edward Blyden, “The Origin and Purpose of African Colonization.”
Chike Jeffers, “Embodying Justice in Ancient Egypt: The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as a Classic of Political Philosophy.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 421-442: 2013.
African-American Philosophers: 17 Conversations, edited by George Yancy. New York: Routledge: 1998.
Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy, edited by Chike Jeffers. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013.
Souleymane Bachir Diagne, African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bashir, and the Art of Negritude (Translated by Chike Jeffers). New York: Seagull Press, 2011.
Further Reading and References
Chike Jeffers, “Anna Julia Cooper and the Black Gift Thesis.” History of Philosophy Quarterly, 79-97: 2016.
——, “Rights, Race, and the Beginnings of Modern African Philosophy.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Race.
History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps Africana Philosophy Series:
In this episode, Haley Brennan talks with Dalia Nassar, senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. We discuss the works of several German women philosophers in the late 18th and 19th centuries, including Germaine de Staël, Rosa Luxemburg, and Karoline von Günderrode. The women we discuss wrote on a wide range of topics: idealism, phenomenology, feminism, labour movements, workers’ rights, socialism, and environmental ethics. In addition to these topics, we talk about why it is that these women, who published and were discussed in their own time, have not received modern philosophical attention, the accessibility of their philosophical writings, the importance of being aware of the full range of philosophers writing and corresponding in Germany in the 19th century, and the variety of benefits that come from including the works of these philosophers in classes on German philosophy in the 19th century. We also talk about the value of being flexible and open about what counts as philosophical question, and the ways that philosophy can be applicable to real-world issues.
To listen to this episode, please visit our podcast page.
Works by German Women Philosophers Mentioned in the Episode
Unless otherwise specified, all works listed are in the public domain and are available in the original language and (often) in English translation online.
Germaine de Staël, De l’Allemange (On Germany).
Bettina Brentano von Arnim, Die Günderrode.
——, Armenbuch (The Book of the Poor).
Margaret Fuller, “Bettina Brentano and her friend Günderrode.” The Dial Vol VII.
Clara Zetkin, “In Defence of Rosa Luxemburg.”
——, “Social-Democracy and Women’s Suffrage.”
Karoline von Günderrode, “The Idea of the Earth.” Available in English in Women Philosophers in the Long Nineteenth Century: The German Tradition, edited by Dalia Nassar and Kristin Gjesdal.
Rosa Luxemburg, “Wage Labour.” Available in English in Women Philosophers in the Long Nineteenth Century: The German Tradition, edited by Dalia Nassar and Kristin Gjesdal.
Hedwig Dohm, “Nietzsche and Women.” Available in English in Women Philosophers in the Long Nineteenth Century: The German Tradition, edited by Dalia Nassar and Kristin Gjesdal.
Other Works Mentioned
Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy.
Copleston, A History of Philosophy.
Women Philosophers in the Long Nineteenth Century: The German Tradition, edited by Dalia Nassar and Kristin Gjesdal, New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.
Nassar, Dalia. “The Human Vocation and the Question of the Earth: Karoline von Günderrode’s Philosophy of Nature.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 20, 2021.
It’s time for the second episode of New Voices in Philosophy. In this episode, Olivia Branscum talks with Christina Van Dyke, professor emerita of philosophy at Calvin University, about women philosophers in the medieval Latin west. We discuss the contemplative and mystical traditions of philosophy in the middle ages, which focused on an engaged, practical search for truth rather than the abstract arguments that dominated other philosophical traditions. Many women medieval philosophers – such as Julian of Norwich, Angela Foligno, Catherine of Siena, Hadewijch, Margaret Ebner, and Hildegard von Bingen – were writing in the contemplative and mystical traditions, so recovering their work involves learning about different philosophical forms and genres. We also talk about the value of being yourself when pursuing academic philosophy.
Madeleine Birdsell provided research for this episode. To listen to this episode, please visit our podcast page.
We hope you enjoy! Thanks for listening.
Works by Medieval Women Philosophers Mentioned in the Episode
Julian of Norwich, Shewings: Revelations of Divine Love. Available in modern English from Paulist Press and W.W. Norton & Co.
Angela Foligno, Il Libro della Beata Angela da Foligno (Book of Visions and Instructions). Complete works available in English translation from Paulist Press.
Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue of Divine Providence. Catherine also wrote numerous letters and prayers that remain extant. The Dialogue is available in English translation from Newman Press. An English-language anthology of her main ideas (drawn from the Dialogue, selected letters, and prayers) is available from ACMRS (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies).
Hadewijch composed poems, letters, and a visionary text. Complete works available in English translation from Paulist Press.
Margaret Ebner, Offenbarungen (Revelations). Available in English translation from Paulist Press.
Hildegard von Bingen was a relatively prolific author. Several of her best-known treatises are listed below, all of which can be found in translation.
Scivias (Know the Ways), available in English translation from Paulist Press.
Liber Vitae Meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life), available in English translation from Garland.
Liber Divinorum Operum (Book of Divine Works/Book of the Operations of God), available in English translation from The Catholic University of America Press.
Physica, available in English translation from Healing Arts Press.
Causae et Curae (Causes and Cures), available in English translation from MedievalMS.
Other Texts Mentioned in the Episode
The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy, ed. Robert Pasnau in association with Christina Van Dyke.
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
Articles by Christina on medieval contemplative philosophy:
"From Meditation to Contemplation: Broadening the Borders of Philosophy in the 13th-15th Centuries" (for Pluralizing Philosophy’s Past – New Reflections in the History of Philosophy, eds. A. Griffioen and M. Backmann, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming)
“Taking the ‘Dis’ out of ‘Disability’: Martyrs, Mothers, and Mystics in the Middle Ages” (for Disability in Medieval Christian Philosophy and Theology, ed. S. Williams, Routledge Press)
“Medieval Mystics on Persons: What John Locke Didn't Tell You,” for Persons: a History, ed. A. Lolordo (Oxford Philosophical Concepts Series, Oxford University Press, 2019), 123-153.
“The Phenomenology of Immortality,” The History of the Philosophy of Mind.Vol. 2: Philosophy of Mind in the Early and High Middle Ages, ed. M. Cameron. (London: Routledge, 2019), 219-239.
“‘Many Know Much, but Do Not Know Themselves’: The Centrality of Self-Knowledge in the Affective Medieval Contemplative Tradition” in Consciousness and Self-Knowledge in Medieval Philosophy: Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics Volume 14, eds. G Klima and A. Hall (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018), 89-106.
“What has History to do with Philosophy? Insights from the Medieval Contemplative Tradition” in Philosophy and the Historical Perspective, ed. M. Van Ackeren, Proceedings of the British Academy, Oxford University Press, 214 (2018) 155-170.
“Self-Knowledge, Abnegation, and Fulfillment in Medieval Mysticism,” Self-Knowledge, ed. U. Renz (Oxford Philosophical Concepts Series, Oxford University Press, 2016) 131-145.
“Mysticism,” in The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy, eds. Pasnau and Van Dyke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 720-34.
For information on Christina’s forthcoming book about women medieval contemplatives (and other fun stuff!), visit https://www.cvdphilosopher.net/.
Olivia Branscum is a PhD student in Philosophy at Columbia University. She is co-producer of the ENN New Voices podcast