Women of Ideas: Interviews from Philosophy Bites, edited by Suki Finn

Rebecca Buxton is thrilled by a rich and accessible collection that challenges the age-old assumption of male-dominated philosophy

June 3, 2021
Woman’s reflection and a moth in a light bulb illustrating female ideas and women philosophers
Source: Getty

I spend my life surrounded by old, dead men. Other philosophers know the feeling. We pore over books written many years ago that are still thought of as more significant than so many produced by the living.

The small world of professional and academic philosophers is often seen as a “boys’ club”. Most professional and public philosophers are men. When asked to imagine a philosopher, you are likely think of an old man with a beard and toga, or perhaps a black turtleneck and a cigarette. Men of Ideas, Bryan Magee’s popular 1978 BBC television series, reflected this reality. For a popular audience, this was an introduction to the world of philosophy, which was presented as the realm of men. It was given this title in spite of Iris Murdoch being included as a philosopher. The concept of manhood was so inseparable from the realm of ideas that even a woman among the contributors made no difference.

Women of Ideas, a new collection published by Oxford University Press, is a powerful counterforce to this tradition. Each chapter features an interview with a female philosopher about their area of expertise done for David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton’s popular podcast Philosophy Bites. These podcasts have now been edited by Suki Finn, a lecturer in philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, to make them more accessible to a general audience and to show the breadth of expertise among those included. The interviews touch on every area of philosophy. There are chapters on trustworthiness, migration, gender, Plato and non-human animals, to name only a few.

I knew I would love this book. It helped that I had listened to nearly all the interviews included before. But revisiting them in written form showed that this collection is more than the sum of its parts. The interviews are expertly edited to make them clear and accessible, while remaining rigorous and intellectually rich. Both the seasoned philosopher and someone who has never picked up a philosophy book before will learn a great deal. Some of my favourites included Rebecca Roache on swearing, Sarah Fine on the state’s right to exclude migrants and Teresa Bejan on civility.

But my favourite part of the book by far was the beginning. Each philosopher was asked what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy. Any woman who works in philosophy or has taken a philosophy class knows that it can sometimes be difficult. Some, therefore, naturally touch on the difficulties. But so many of the women offer messages of joy. They share their experiences of simply loving philosophy, feeling free to speak their minds and explore difficult, interesting problems with other philosophers. I think Ashwini Vasanthakumar puts it best. In answering this tricky question, she says that being a woman in philosophy is “worthwhile, thanks to other women in philosophy”.

And thanks to this book, we have even more reason to be hopeful.

Rebecca Buxton is a DPhil candidate and lecturer in politics at St Anne’s College, Oxford and co-editor, with Lisa Whiting, of The Philosopher Queens: The Lives and Legacies of Philosophy’s Unsung Women (2020).


Women of Ideas: Interviews from Philosophy Bites
Edited by Suki Finn
Oxford University Press, 352pp, £9.99
ISBN 9780198859925
Published 22 April 2021

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